Like many people, I suppose, I started running to lose weight and keep fit. Somewhere in my cortex was the nagging feeling that I really shouldn’t live such a sedentary life: out of bed, sit down for breakfast, walk to the car or the tube and sit down on my commute to the office… where I sit down for the day and then sit down on my commute home before sitting down for dinner and then on the sofa for a couple of hours before going back to bed. I just instinctively knew that was all wrong.
The difference with training
But training for something is different to running to keep fit or running because you feel that you ought to. Training, for me, is about constantly pushing the boundaries of what you are, and what you believe you are, capable of. You don’t need to run six, seven, eight or even nine or ten times a week to keep a promise to your ancestors. You probably should, but you don’t need to.
Once you are into running every day and then twice a day a few days a week, with only the occasional rest day and then adding cross-training or strength and conditioning work on top of that, then you must be training for something: something challenging and motivating and slightly beyond what you have done before. A target.
And this is why I believe that targets are so important
Once you have set yourself a target, then you know what you have to achieve and by when. From that point, it is a matter of working out what you need to do between then and now to achieve your target. There are suggestions for how you should plan the time you have between when you set your target and the date of the target:
- don’t increase the amount and intensity of the training you are doing too fast – you’ll just get tired and/or injured
- make sure you incorporate rest into your schedule – that includes whole days off and weeks when you drop the mileage and intensity
- plan for sore muscles and fatigue by making sure you get a massage from time to time and making sure you can sleep enough
- have some flexibility in your schedule to take into account illness or commitments that you weren’t expecting
- try to make sure that you have the means to eat well as you ramp up the training
I also think that it is important that the target should be a logical step on from something you have done before. If you’ve run a 10km then target a half-marathon. If you’ve run a half-marathon then target a marathon. If you’ve run any distance, set a target to run it faster. The reason I say this, is that I think it’s important for the target to be challenging, but not feel impossible. I once worked for a chap who used to talk about the portion of our sales target that was “unidentified reach” – which basically meant the sales that we had no idea where we there were going to come from. If the portion of the sales target that was unidentified reach go too big, the stress levels would really rise. So make your target something that you are at least partly confident you can achieve.
So what do I do when I have set myself a target. Well it is a combination of the following:
- get advice from people who have already achieved what you are hoping to achieve – think Felix Baumgartner calling upon Colonel Joe Kittinger for his super-sky dive.
- surround yourself with positive people who believe in you as much, if not more, than you do.
- research: read books and watch videos, especially when your fortitude starts to waver.
- have a store of inspiration – videos, books or music – that really gets you pumped up. This is one of my favourites.
- break it all down. You don’t need to go and run your marathon PB tomorrow – take each day, each week, each month one at a time and bank each one for when the day comes.
- be consistent. It is important that you do go for that run today or stretch or do that core session or not get plastered on a Friday night. All of these things will add up to deliver you to you target in great shape.
- be patient. There are no shortcuts. It will be hard at times and there will be set-backs, but just keep steadfastly plodding along and you’ll get there.
- visualise the moment when it all pays off. I can’t tell you how many times, in my mind, I ran up the Mall towards the finish line in the 2012 London marathon before I did it on the day. It felt good every time I imagined it. It felt indescribably good when I actually did it!
This, of course, is not gospel. It is only my take on it. But I do believe there are some universal truths in here, the main one being that you cannot blag a marathon – not a good one anyway. So set yourself a target, create a plan, put the right things in place and – as my friend Charlie Dark says – DO DA TING!