At the start of August, I made some fairly drastic changes to my training, nutrition and mindset. I had been feeling somewhat disappointed after the first half of the year, as it seemed that my running had hit a plateau. I’d run five marathons, most in decent times, but had crashed and burned during my sub-3:30 attempt at Paris Marathon and felt like I wasn’t doing the work I needed to do to try and set a PB. The triathlon season went well, but coming into the next set of marathons something needed to change.
I needed to go all-in.
It’s now the middle of September, seven weeks since I made the mental switch to dedicate to marathon training properly. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. If you’ve been reading my weekly training blogs, you will know some of what’s been going on, but I didn’t want to write about my approach before now in fear that it wouldn’t work. However, I’ve seen some great results, feel fabulous (although often tired) and on the whole it’s going really well.
There are still just over four weeks until Amsterdam Marathon, but I wanted to chat a bit about the shift in mindset I’ve had. (I might get to talking about training and nutrition principles at a later stage.)
Choosing the goal
One of my goals for 2017 was to run a sub-3:30 marathon. My PB was 3:41:14, and it seemed like the next nice, round, logical number to choose. However, one of the things that Paris Marathon taught me was that PBs are hard to achieve: they are quite literally the best you’ve ever run! Trying to drop more than 11mins from a marathon time is a lot to achieve in one fell swoop.
So the first thing I did when planning Amsterdam Marathon was to get rid of that pesky 3:2X:XX time from my mind. The new goal became much simpler: run a PB – preferably sub-3:40, but any PB would be fine. That would still mean running 5+ minutes faster than I had achieved in the year-to-date, and would need just as much training as a bigger goal would require, but felt more doable in my mind than going for the big goal straight away.
This is not to say that you can’t have a lofty goal. If you’re a 4:00-marathoner that wants to run 3:20, go for it. Just know that it could take you a few attempts to achieve it – and that you need to be able to cope with that. I know that personally, I don’t deal well with failure, and would rather make my goal a little smaller to increase my chance of succeeding.
The main thing I’ve noticed when reading about and talking to successful runners is their attitude towards their training. If you’ve read Running with the Kenyans, Once a Runner or spoken to Gemma Hockett, Gill Bland (and many others) you’ll start to notice how laser-focussed they are on their goal. It doesn’t matter what that goal is, but if you live and breathe it, it is 100% more likely that you will put in the work to make it a reality.
I’m the sort of person who loves doing everything (just look at my race calendar 😂), but I knew that I needed to properly dedicating to running a PB at Amsterdam Marathon. To do this, I declared August to be ‘All-In August’. In that month, I needed to hit every training session that I planned and stick to the nutrition rules I outlined – without exception. My sole focus became achieving those two things, constantly keeping Amsterdam Marathon and my PB goal at the forefront of my mind. It was tough at first, but (other than some celebratory food after Reykjavik Marathon) I succeeded.
If you’re like me and have a list of 1000 things you want to achieve, trying out the single-focus mindset may help you to crack some of the tough ones. Most people aren’t able to set 5km PBs whilst simultaneously running a 100km ultra well and also completing their first triathlon. Different goals require different training, so taking the time to dedicate to your most important goal for a few months, whilst feeling strange, may be the thing to help you achieve it.
Coming into September, I was starting to flag. I’d had the race of my life at Reykjavik, coming home in 3:37:51 for a new PB. However, this meant that I’d already achieved the goal I was solely dedicated towards, and Amsterdam Marathon was still two months away. I tried to reframe my mind towards 3:30 and kept chugging along with training for a few weeks, but the crazy motivation I had had at the start of All-In August had waned. Why was I trying to run lots of kilometres in a week? Why couldn’t I eat cake? What was the point? It was really getting me down.
I hit a major low last Thursday when I cut my tempo run short due to my shitty mindset (and a minor niggle in my foot). Something had to happen: the answer was a ‘reset’ weekend. I was already heading out to Bordeaux to run Medoc Marathon (which meant lots of wine and food I’ve been avoiding during this training cycle), and decided to let loose for 3 days. I gave myself ‘permission’ to forget about the fact that I wouldn’t hit my target mileage for the week, and to eat and drink whatever I wanted for that time. It was a chance to rediscover ‘normal’, but also to find why I originally decided to make this commitment to Amsterdam Marathon in the first place.
I’m not sure how, but somewhere on that weekend it all clicked back into place and I came back to London ready to smash the final weeks of training. Training is intense, and while it’s all well and good to try and be perfect, occasionally you need a break. It’s a bit like a ‘complete rest’ day but for your soul: take the time out to indulge – and then come back with all guns blazing.
Four weeks to go
I don’t know how Amsterdam Marathon will go: I don’t know if I will set another PB, I don’t know if I will break 3:30. But what I do know is that I am putting in the work and the training so that I am in the best place possible to achieve those things. If it comes together for me on the day, then brilliant. If not, that’s OK too, because I know that I will have put in a lot of effort and one day it will happen.
There are four-and-a-bit weeks to go until the race, and there is still work to be done both mentally and from a training standpoint. Next weekend (Sept 24) is Berlin Marathon, which I am using as a last test before Amsterdam. I want to try out the same strategy that worked at Reykjavik and run a controlled race. After that, it’s all about getting my mind ready for the day, and getting the confidence from my training that this goal is achievable.
I can’t wait to see what happens!