Sunday, 11 January 2015

Launching the Morley Holliday Tribute Fund

Dad with Mum in his beloved El Campello, 2014
Last year my family went through the sad event of my Dad contracting and passing away from the blood cancer Leukaemia. Those that knew my Dad would know he was a larger than life character who left a huge impression - often in more ways than one. His loss is hugely felt amongst us closest to him but we're determined not to forget him. That would be hard given his enthusiasm for life!

As a family, we've used his positive force and zest for life in order to remember him permanently, by setting up the Morley Holliday Tribute fund for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. This is a dedicated account where all donations made in his memory will be grouped together as a lasting legacy to him to help others by contributing to researching blood cancers or supporting those with it and their families. So whether you're a friend or relative who makes a bit of money from a coffee morning, a 10k/half/marathon, or indeed any way in which money is raised and you want to give to this worthwhile charity - the only one in the UK that is dedicated into researching blood cancers and providing support for those living with blood cancers - there is now this option. The bank details of how to do so are below.

There are 30,000 people in the UK diagnosed with blood cancers every year. Set up 50 years ago, before its founding, very little was known about blood cancers, and survival rates were very low. Doctors knew next to nothing about blood cancer or how to treat it, and support for patients and their loved ones was almost non-existent. 

The charity has ambitions to try and work to beat blood cancer and make 100% survival a reality.

We've set up a justgiving page where online donations can be made at or if you would like to send a cheque, these can be made payable to the 'Morley Holliday Tribute Fund.' If you would prefer to make a bank transfer, you can using the reference number 790430. 

Bank Account Name: Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research

Bank Account Number: 33856143
Bank Sort Code: 20-00-00
Bank Reference: 790430 (Must be used for the money to go to the fund)

If you don't want to give anything financially then that is absolutely fine. Maybe you'd prefer to register yourself as a blood stem cell donor? This can be done here: - where more information can be found. Their aim is to provide a suitable donor for every person in need of a blood stem cell donation. And as ever, if you want to be a blood donor, more information can be found here on how to at

This feels a fitting way to remember our Dad/husband to Mum, helping others to the last.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Researching the mental health & eating habits of endurance runners

As well as blogging on Sport Psychology and coaching, I spend my time working to help athletes. Fundamentally, I try to look at the whole athlete and ask how they want to be psychologically in order to be happy and work with them to remove any obstacles in their path to better performance. For some it may be a small thing about how they think in races, maybe how they get on with their coach or they may have a mental blocker that is somehow holding them back.

In our work, Sport Psychologists can also come across more serious conditions that impact on the mental health and well being of athletes both in terms of performance and also as people. As well as helping athletes I do research at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) where I work with Dr Vaithehy Shanmugam, a specialist in Eating Disorders who is now also researching the precursors of ahtlete well being and depression in athletes.

The project work we are doing currently is exploring the amount (or prevalence) of both eating disordered and depressive symptoms that exist within a large representative group of endurance athletes and a similarly sized comparison group of members of the general public. This doesn't mean identifying solely individuals who have clinically diagnosed depression or an eating disorder, but trying to identify amongst large populations of each group where individuals *may* be experiencing some of the symptoms of these conditions as well. Whether or not you are a runner, exercise at the gym, take classes, yoga, any kind of exercise in fact, or do no exercise at all, I'd really appreciate if after you've read this piece and are based in the UK, that you go to and take the survey that applies to you.

The majority of previous research in eating habits within sport has focused mainly on small groups of elite female athletes. The findings have shown that endurance athletes tend to exhibit greater levels of eating disordered symptoms than the same amount of people from the general public. This study differs in that it is comparing a large sample of both male and female endurance athletes of all abilities against a control group of non-athletes. Whilst clinical research has shown depression is the most commonly co-existing mental illness with eating disorders in both men and women, other research has shown that running can have a positive effect on depression. I'm really interested in establishing what the true picture in the United Kingdom is. Whenever I speak to runners about mental health, anecdotally, a lot of them state that the activity helps them feel positive. However, the research from (non-running) people suffering from eating disorders (or eating disorder symptoms) finds high levels of depression/depression symptoms jointly occurring.

The reason for including a sample of people from the general population (whether they do up to the Government recommended 5 hours of exercise a week or not), is to see if runners have greater levels of these conditions or less than normal, which will help be able to confirm or contradict previous findings.

As a runner, I understand the levels of commitment required to train for races. At the peak of marathon training, it is not unusual to have to fit in up to 10 hours a week of running, swimming, yoga, cycling or gym work. As the body needs to receive more fuel to power this level of activity on top of every day requirements and runners may also want to stay lean to be able to run quicker, it can push individuals to eating habits that would otherwise be classified as at risk in 'normal life'.

Fortunately, I don't think I've ever got to a point where I have been close to displaying eating disorder like (or eating disorder specific) symptoms, though some people have commented on how lean I may look compared to normal.  Some people being naturally lean will obviously look even thinner, though that doesn't in itself count as a diagnosis for eating disorders or any other mental health issues.

Given how positive an impact running has had on my life, and those who I know in my community, I feel I'm in a lucky position to be able to try and help in our understanding and influence help that may be useful to those who are at risk or may not know that they are close to developing some of the symptoms of what are very serious conditions. Since putting my survey live ( and gathering responses from both runners and the public, I have had very positive feedback from people who may have been touched by either eating disorders or other mental health issues. Though I can't extrapolate scientifically or put an exact figure on it, there are runners you know who you won't know have been through some very serious psychological conditions and are on a daily basis fighting their personal battle whilst outwardly appearing a smiley, lycra clad-running buddy.

I know there are a lot more people joining the running community every year, which is fantastic to see from a health point of view, new races that pop up and friendships forged over a simple activity that we have done as a species for a very long time and for which we are well built to do. What I want you to take home is that eating disorders and mental health are still stigmatised in this country but are probably a lot closer than you realise within your running circles. Another reason for doing this research is to be able to quantify that and not scare monger. Thankfully the numbers of at risk cases is not at epidemic proportions, but mental health issues are still very serious and upsetting for those experiencing them. I hope my research can help any runners and the public out there who may be having a difficult time and shine a light on how they can get stay fit and healthy both physically and mentally.

Details of the study:
I am a PhD student at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) investigating the prevalence (or amount) of depressive or eating disorder symptoms and their co-morbidity amongst runners and recreational exercisers. I am collecting data via an online questionnaire. There is a separate questionnaire for runners and for non-runners:

As long as you are:
  • Over 16 years of age
  • Living in the United Kingdom
  • Not currently injured or pregnant
  • Not receiving medical or mental health treatment can take part in this research!

HAVE YOU: participated in any organised UK recreational or competitive race from 800 metre to Ultramarathon distance on track or road since August 15th 2012, or are a University 1st to 3rd team athlete? If so, then please complete this survey:

Runners questionnaire:

If you do NOT participate in any other kind of organised sport, or running races and don't exercise any more than 5 hours a week in any activity, then please complete this survey:

Non-runner questionnaire:

Individuals who participate in the study will be asked to complete an online survey and be given the opportunity for support if required. Anonymity is ensured and express consent will be required. Although individuals are required to complete their name at the beginning of the survey, the data provided will not be identifiable to them. Those who do take part are free to withdraw from the study at any time up until the questionnaires have been returned (after which they can not withdraw) and no reason is required.

Full details and eligibility criteria for runners and non-runners can be found at With regard to people who have suffered from an eating disorder, eating disorder symptoms or any other clinical health issue, they are eligible to participate providing they are not in treatment. The survey will run from September 2013 to March 2014 and should take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.

All your answers will be anonymous, but would significantly help us to improve our understanding of an under-researched topic in order to better devise effective interventions. The research is carried out as part of a Doctorate Programme at (UCLan) and it has received ethical approval from the University, and has the backing of UK Athletics and the British Milers Club. If you would like to ask more questions about the research, please contact me via: sholliday3 at

Monday, 30 September 2013

Berlin Marathon, 2013 - Dragon Slayed

So... I made a vow to myself, if not the World, that I would run 5 marathons. Then that was it. Over. Having PB'd Barcelona 2010 in 3 hours 27 minutes, I achieved two successive 3:30 marathons where both times I melted in the heat...

I felt I'd hit a glass ceiling. I varied my training for both 3:30s. I thought I'd done the right stuff. On reflection maybe I hadn't run enough miles or done enough speed work to push me to the next level. I found hitting 3:27 relatively easy... but got stuck. And now it was affecting my belief about whether I could go faster. In the last marathon (Barcelona 2012) I walked for the first time in 5 efforts, which didn't seem right.

I research and write about endurance, from advice to first timers to assessing the mental health of the UK endurance population to one to one advice with athletes. But thinking about running another marathon gave me slight palpitations. Don't get me wrong, I love running, giving it 100% in shorter distances and the discipline/relaxation that training gives me. But could I be bothered going through the rigmarole of running lots in training and then being disappointed by another slower time than my PB...

I gave it thought and was convinced by my best running mate, a late starter who has evolved into a running MACHINE to give the marathon at least 1 more crack in Berlin. My first Autumn marathon, a flat course where the weather tends to be more forgiving and is renowned for hitting Personal Bests. What's the worst that could happen? At least I'd be in Berlin, a place I love. I only have to prove this to myself. So I kept the fitness up, worked hard at running, clocked PBs through Summer and kept quiet on my intentions. "We go in, do the kill then get out, OK?" Less pressure. Still, my chimp was uneasy.
But through serious physical and mental preparation, by 8.45am yesterday I was on the start line.

This is the story to act either as a deterrent or inspiration if you're wavering as I did. Just don't say I didn't warn you!

The plan was simple. Run the first 10 miles 5 seconds slower than marathon pace (7:25 minute miles), the next 10 miles roughly 5 seconds quicker (7:20 minute miles), then aim to go for 7:15ish minute miles from 20 miles to the finish. On the day, I managed the 20 miles part fine, the last 6 less well. I had tested whether I would be able to push on in the last few miles during training, with success, but was aware of what an unforgiving mistress the marathon distance is, so approached with some caution and a bit of wiggle room to allow some slow down. In the event I lost about 30 seconds per mile for the last 6 miles compared to the plan, but in the event, ended up with a 10 minute PB, which before the race if you'd offered to me, I'd have happily taken off your hands! After all, though going for 3:15 was the main target time, this race was about laying ghosts to rest and doing the best of my ability come race day.

Looking back this is how I remember the day.

1KM to 8KM - A bit crazy! Busy finding position. Easy to stay on pace. Was getting balance to stay in the groove; legs turning OK, getting to a point where didn't need to check watch every few minutes. (Note to self: Get better in training at running marathon pace without the need to check the watch). Mentally was jumping around a bit because of the huge crowds, new course, tonnes of runners, and not having run a marathon for 18 months... The pressure. Self inflicted...

Saw the Reichstag. Phase 1 completed. Smile on face.

8KM to 16KM - Reichstag to Kottbusser Tor. Was checking to see if I could stay on pace. Answer? Yes! Still a bit jangly on nerves but had simmered as the hoards of runners thinned out. Loads of bands, nice scenery, in my favourite suburb of the city. Sun shining but nice cool breeze. Bit of fear about what might happen later but calmed chimp down and stayed within each mile I was running rather than getting too far ahead with my thinking. Pace felt easy and comfortable.

17KM to 25KM - Kottbusser Tor to Wilmersdorf. Tucking nicely into race. Miles felt good. Go up a gear and go sub 7.20 per mile. Saw my girlfriend and friend at half way; spirits lifted. Legs felt good and strong. Lost a bit of running form, but caught myself and got back into groove. Running is beginning to feel a bit harder...

26KM to 32KM - Now we're getting down to business! Sub 7:20 pace is feeling harder work now. Reading my Garmin is hard work. Every time it clicked over a mile split, it began to take about quarter of a mile to re-calibrate so you're doing a bit of a dance to speed up/slow down to stay where you want to be speed wise. Was sticking hard to the blue line that marks the most efficient route of 26.2 miles to keep the overall mileage you run in check. But, mental fatigue was beginning to creep in. That first 10 miles? The pace felt a doddle. I saw Padraig from my club at mile 19. My God that cheered me up! ("Yes Pod!" I hollered). Every time I crossed a KM marker, I'd raise my arms like a boxer signalling he was ready to fight. It energises me, but by this point, my arms were beginning to feel heavier each time I did it... I just kept thinking: "18 to 19. Nearly 20, then it will ONLY be a 10K run to home." At the time though, it might as well have been double the distance. I didn't ache anywhere, but felt zapped, like superman when someone wafts a piece of kryptonite in front of his face. But in mile 19 I thought I wasn't doing well, but I still clocked an 'on time mile' of 7:19. Next mile though was not as strong and overall average race pace was slipping from 7:23.. to 7:25.. to 7:27.  The mind was willing, the body was not. However, it wasn't disastrous at all. I just found it hard to kick. The battle with the mind and getting to the finish was just beginning....

32KM to the finish - I knew I hadn't hit the wall. That was great. And though I was slowing, I was only losing 15 to 20 seconds a mile. I kept thinking, "If I can get to mile 23 then maybe I'll get a burst of energy and be able to imagine going for a slower than normal park run,"but the long streets of Berlin from mile 23 to 26 seemed to have been stretched to double their normal length. Fatigue had kicked in. You know its coming, you can prepare yourself as much as possible, but you're running either at your limits and wringing out the best performance, or as I experienced in Barcelona 2010, you find another gear and can kick on to the desired pace. Until you're in mile 23 though, you won't know which option is going to present itself on the day. [Another note to self, forget thinking about the first half of the race. That will take care of itself. Double your investment in psych skills in the last 6 miles. It is SO true that mile 20 is halfway mentally!].

Those last 6 miles felt like they'd pushed me too far. Didn't want to step out of the race, but could not help myself thinking: "Why do you put yourself through this. Stick to half marathon, 10k, park run, anything but this!" Whatever psych skills you try, its hard not to shake such thoughts. I did use a strategy that instead of focusing on the watch to instead focus on a person ahead, run up and past them, find another, repeat. Which I was able to do, but then I'd get a bit stuck at 'the slow pace' where just moving seemed like achievement.

I could see the dome at the Reichstag. "Ah! The finish! Not far away, but who keeps effin' moving it! Now its getting farther away! Wheres that fricking Brandenburg gate?? The watch says almost 26 miles. ALMOST THERE! but make this mother end!!!

"Please. I promise. I solemnly promise, I WILL NEVER RUN ANOTHER MARATHON AGAIN. THAT BLOODY ENRIQUE! NEXT TIME, PLEASE SOMEONE, GET A GUN, PUT IT TO MY HEAD AND MAKE ME REMEMBER THIS MOMENT. You're a good athlete, but just stick to shorter distances, OK?"


"Try and remember someone significant, focus on that individual. Distract yourself from the pain."
But its not pain. I've just lost the turbo injection to my engine. The car is still running. It's just not going to do anymore bursts of speed today. I keep going. I spot an official marathon clock with a mile to go read: 3:10:00.

"Hang on! I didn't cross the start line till 3 minutes after the official start... that means I've got 8 minutes... Is the 3:15 still on? Whoop! Catch that guy in the yellow vest. Turn the corner. There you are Brandenburg gate. Hang on, watch says 26.2 miles. Is that blue inflatable display in front of the gate the finish? I swear I was told the finish was AFTER the Brandenburg gate. Oh it is. Bugger!"

"Screaming on the limits. I WANT TO GO FAST! Keep those legs turning. Try for a sprint finish." The most pathetic sprint finish I've probably run. I tiredly raise those arms as I cross the line. It's over. "Oh my God! I've PB'd. Massively. Goodbye 3.30. It's been nice knowing you. Hello sub 200 minute marathon: 3:17:59. You took your time...." Dragon slayed. Just don't ask me if I'll ever do it again.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

So you want to run a marathon? Here's how to...

Caveat: This post is aimed at people who have never run or have run a bit.

This could be you! (1 day)
I spent some time this year watching the London marathon on the BBC after I got back in from my Sunday morning training run. I'm not a big fan of watching the race on the TV. I've ran it 3 times and watched friends a few times live, but this year, after the tragedy that happened at Boston, the fact Mo Farah was competing up to half way and a lot of people I knew were running, forced me to switch on.

At the same time I was tracking friends splits on the official VLM site and taking joy from the brilliant occasion. Given the factors mentioned, it seemed this years crowd was the biggest ever (Olympic effect?). Looking over Twitter I spotted a lot of people inspired from both my running fraternity and beyond. One such person, @Thayer, an old mucker and fellow Dartfordian from my London days, posted the immortal words: "I am *so* doing the marathon next year"

Now if I had a £ for every person who I have been with at the race or chatted to afterwards who uttered these words, I'd probably be posting to you from the Bahamas right now :-) but as a dedicated running nut I totally get why people say these prophetic words. So I promised Thayer I'd write a blog post for just such an occasion, and since Sunday I've been mulling over what should go in here. This is one of those posts that if you do read and follow, I'd advise coming back to at different points during the training cycle. Why? Because if you do go on this journey, it ain't going to be easy. If you see it through, it will be really rewarding, you will feel a sense of immense satisfaction but you will have highs and lows along the way that you won't have been through before. It is easy to lose heart. I'm not Alberto Salazar or Dave Bedford, but I've run 5 marathons, advised a lot of runners and know what it takes to the step from the couch to the finish line.

Motivation is the bread and butter of Sport Psychology (along with confidence) and your motivation will take a battering for sure as you prepare you body and mind for what you are signing up to. But in this modern day of knowledge on the internet, friendly helpful people on Twitter and a sizeable running community in the real world, you have everything you need at your fingertips to do it.

You've made your proclamation, you've been motivated enough to come this far, if you want to continue, the rest of this post will forewarn of what you can expect and some of the crucial things you should consider but probably won't have thought of. Use this as a guide. Where possible the advice is from experience, care for the athlete and with as much health concern for you as possible. But (inserts disclaimer) it is not definitive and you are grown up boys and girls so I am not going to take the fall if you come a cropper. You've taken this much ownership, do your research, listen and take my advice with a pinch of salt as big or as little as you want.

If you want to enter VLM 2014, you need to pull your finger out and apply in the ballot with the rest of the population here: (usually at 9am) on Monday the 29th of April 2013. There are usually about 5 to 6 many applications as there are places - I would hazard a guess that it might be even more this year - so you may want to confirm a definite place by choosing a charity that means something to you and fundraising c. £1500 for a good cause instead. By entering  with a charity you negate the ballot. If you apply this Friday on the official website, you will get a letter (usually around December) to tell you whether you have ballot place. If unsuccessful, you can still sign up for charity places then.

If you are determined to do next years race (whether through the ballot or charity) and haven't run a marathon before, then I'd recommend getting going as soon as possible to test the water of running before diving in at the deep end. As I stated right at the beginning, this post is aimed at you if you've been inspired by what you saw at the weekend and I've assumed you've never run or have maybe run a 5 or 10k for fun. I'll go one step further and I'll aim my first part at those who may know that they aren't that healthy, possibly smoke, have a few pounds to shift and may not eat the most balanced diet currently.

The first news is, that with that level of motivation and determination I spoke of, I believe that if you train sensibly, anyone can run a marathon. You may not run a fantastic Paula Radcliffe time, but you will get round and you will feel drained/amazing/possibly slightly sick (and vow never to do one again!). The reason why I'm flagging to get started now is you are the group who will see both the most improvement and life changing journey, but you also need to give your body the most amount of time to prepare it from one kind of life to another.

If you smoke, now is the time to give up the habit for good. You are not alone. Steve Way should be your hero, your source of inspiration and the reason why you can do it! As he himself says: "over a period of 3 years by getting off my backside, losing around 5 stone in weight and giving up smoking... I am now a sub 2:20 marathon runner." I'm by no means suggesting if you're smoking now and start running tomorrow that by VLM 2014 you will run 2:20, but this man is your role model for what can be achieved if you roll your sleeves up and dedicate your time to training properly.

The motto we all will adopt as well is: build slow and steady in preparation. I want you to take your time training and getting ready for a marathon. You need to ease yourself in to this and by building up from a very low mileage base up to that long 22 mile big run 3 weeks before the race, give your body the sufficient time to adapt. Get fit; get confident; then get running. This should also minimise the risk of getting injured. If you start with small manageable distances and add slowly to them (rule of thumb: no more than 10% increases in distance each week) you should be ok.

I went from starting running in the July of 2007 to running the London Marathon in April 2008 from a standing start, but I already used the gym 3 times a week, didn't smoke, cycled a fair bit and trained for doing a 10k (first one in 55 minutes) before doing races at the different distances prior to the big day.

This is the same model that I want you to follow. Serpentine running club in London has some great advice on starting running if you've never run before and you should look to start run/walking before doing any running of any kind. The great thing about this is that you build up from walking to being able to run a mile or two relatively quickly (time wise) and that should give you the confidence to kick on. If you've run a 10k already then you have sufficient fitness to use the various guides for starting your running training from the likes of Runners World.

So lets surmise where we're at:

If you smoke: Stop now. Get the help from the NHS and look to use running to keep you focused to stay off nicotine. You're swapping one form of addiction with another, but seek advice from your GP about the best way to do this. Look at doing some run-walking to get you going.

If you're a non-smoking jogger (or a recovering ex smoker who now run-walks ;-) : Go to your GP and get your heart and fitness checked. I know it sounds motherly and sensible, but if you have some kind of heart defect you don't want to start running and putting untold strain on it. I know some of my running brothers and sisters might sneer a little at taking this step but I do think its vital. When I saw my GP it also turned out he was a runner and he gave me some great advice about core work!

So we've checked you out and you're deemed healthy enough to run a bit. You now need to see the marathon as the pinnacle of this journey. To get to the top of that mountain you are going to take in the sights of the 5k, the 10k, the 10 mile race, the half marathon and possibly stop off for a 20 mile race en route. :-) Hey, I told you this wouldn't be easy!

In all seriousness, before going as far as booking in to the marathon, make use of the free resources at your fingertips. Read up on what a marathon is like to run for the first time; find a training plan online that matches where you are on your running journey at this point in time, and enter your nearest Park Run, do some training for that, and see if running is for you. There is no harm in thinking you want to run a marathon, giving park run a go and saying, "Maybe I was a bit hasty in saying I'd run a marathon next year." Some people do like running but ultimately avoid doing races as they don't like the pressure/having to run in an organised race. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, if you've done all of the above and you are still champing at the bit to give the application process a go, then this is the point you should sign up. At the very least you should give yourself 16 weeks to train your body to run the marathon race. As you can tell from my heavy caveating and cajoling to get going now, I recommend you give yourself the better part of a year if you haven't run a competitive race or only 1 or 2 10ks.

Overall, if you do sign up soon, I would recommend the following:

1) Get your feet and gait checked at a proper running shop. If you've not been fitted for running shoes, do so! You're going to be treading a lot of tarmac and to help prevent injury, make your journey comfortable, invest in a proper pair of shoes. You will probably spend between £60 to £120. Get this part right.

2) If you haven't got a good diet and know you can improve, get online and find out the food groups that are most suited. Obviously if you need to lose some weight you will need to do this anyway. Don't just rely on the running to shift the pounds. You are now turning your body into a finely tuned sports car. You wouldn't put crappy cheap supermarket petrol (or god forbid, recycled chip fat) in a ferrari. So go for the high quality expensive Shell + equivalent. You don't need to spend a fortune at Harrods food hall either. Go for fresh food as much as possible, lots of water and cut back on the unhealthy stuff and booze intake. Personally I find the recipes at Runners World and my friend Monica Shaw's Smarter Fitter great sources of information. But get online and research the right food stuffs that suit both running and most importantly, you! And keep this up - the change will be hugely beneficial in the long term and will help you to the finish.

3) For the rest of this spring: Focus on getting comfortable running 5k distances at Park Runs. Get running with friends and other runners and slowly build up your mileage. Keep a record of your runs and use a planner (there are tonnes online and as apps for your phone) to keep motivation up and track your progress.

4) This summer, put in for a 10k and if you're running 3 times a week, you will comfortably finish, but you will see the difference between a 5k and 10k distance. Overall you are using the races as a focus to increase your training. If you're a runner of any kind prior to signing up for a marathon, then you will see that a 5k race is run slightly quicker than a 10k. As you increase your mileage base you slow down the race speed as the distances increase. Ultimately you will run your marathon at the slowest race pace out of 5k/10k/half marathon and full.

5) Late Autumn, be booked in to run a half marathon and see how you do. Again, aim to get round. You will find it tough but if you've got 5 to 6 months of training in your system, it won't be as hard as it sounds right now. Plus, thanks to training over the summer months you will have enjoyed running in the outdoors, and British weather depending, used to running in warmer conditions. Trust me, when it comes to training for VLM from December to April, you will fondly remember the summer running you do this year.

6) Every 3 to 4 weeks you train, cut back your mileage. Don't keep adding more and more as you a) won't have the time to do all that running and b) your body needs time to recover. Plus c) you need to still keep living your life. As I said, between now and Christmas, if you are on the marathon journey, you should on average be looking to run about 2 to 3 times a week, try and incorporate some other sporting activity. The best being cycling, swimming, pilates/yoga, gym and core (I've even had Zumba advocated to me!). Pick and choose from other exercise you like doing and keep your fitness regime varied. There is nothing more tedious than the same training week in week out.

7) Before Christmas, around November, begin to try and pick up your mileage a little, so that when you have downloaded and planned out your 16 week schedule, you're in nice physical shape to hit the training with no injury, feeling great from your summer 5 and 10ks and that you are now just adding additional mileage and building your body up to the marathon itself.

8) After Christmas is where you really put in the work. It will be cold. It will be horrible weather, but you should stick to that training plan like glue as much as possible. The more runs you miss, the harder it will hit you when you're going round the London course. The marathon is an unforgiving mistress, and the better prepared you are, the less awful you will feel. They don't give you that medal at the end for nothing! Remember that when you are dragging your carcass out of bed at 6 am on a cold wet Tuesday in January, not only are you adding the miles into your legs to getting you to Buck Palace, you are also training your brain so that your resilience and mental toughness are fine tuned to see you through, helping you cope with those wonderful miles between 20 and 26.2. Did I not tell you?

When Mo Farah stopped his race at Tower Bridge, despite his Garmin saying 13.1, he wasn't half way. Oh no. Half way, as marathoners love to tell you, is at 20 miles. Up till that point your bodies glycogen has been Ok. From the Tower of London to the Mall is where it really bites. Where you really have to dig in and be strong. Twice I've struggled out of Five marathons to be able to motor as I would have liked at that point. And that was with training! But the more you've put in during the training the cycle the (slightly) easier it is. From the end of summer I'd advocate you really get working on your core. Squats, Lunges, the plank, press ups, chin ups, glute bridges. Build them into your routine. If you over rely on your hamstrings, those last 6 miles will be painful. If you think about a tall, erect runner (no sniggering please) gracefully running like a God or Goddess past you, well thats not most people at mile 20. Tiredness has crept in. Most look dishevelled and form has gone to pot. If you've done that core work, your glutes are stronger, your midriff forces your pose up and the stoop is lessened.

Your quads and body will still ache as cross the line. Our modern bodies are not designed to run 26.2  miles. But you can do it. The reason why anyone who completes a marathon, in whatever time, should be cheered is that it takes sheer blooded mindedness to do the distance. If you've given yourself the best chance physically, you will be able to enjoy the day and feel slightly better as you cross the line.

Hope my 8 point plan hasn't put you off. Please ask any questions in the comments section, and I'll try and add more posts for the wannabe marathon runners out there.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Mustafa Sarkar on Resilience in Sport

Today's guest blogger is a colleague, Mustafa Sarkar from Loughborough University. Mus is a researcher on resilience on sport and currently is completing his PhD on the subject. Having already researched this area at MSc level, and written papers with Dr David Fletcher at Loughborough, he is a go to man for questions on resilience. We spoke a few months ago and I said I'd love him to write an entry based on what we know about resilience in sport relating to psychological resilience in the World's best athletes and how it may help readers of this blog. This post also gives Mus an opportunity to share his research interest with this audience and if you are interested we ask you to please help Mus and participate in his PhD study here: (takes approximately 15 minutes).

With that in mind, over to you Mustafa!

Cheers Stu! Why is it that some sport performers are able to withstand the pressures associated with the Olympics and attain peak performances whereas others succumb to the demands and under-perform? Sport and Performance Psychologists (Dr David Fletcher and Mustafa Sarkar) at Loughborough University aimed to address this question in a recent study by interviewing twelve Olympic champions from a range of sports regarding their experiences of withstanding pressure during their sporting careers. They found that the world’s best athletes shared a unique mental resilience characterised by five key psychological attributes:

A positive personality: Olympic champions possess positive personality characteristics including openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, competitiveness, optimism and proactivity.

Motivation: Gold medallists have multiple internal (i.e. passion for the sport) and external (i.e. proving their worth) motives for competing at the highest level. Champions consciously judge external pressures as important and so choose to perform in challenging sports environments.

Confidence: Gained from various sources including multifaceted preparation, experience, self-awareness, visualisation, coaching, and team mates.

Focus: Champions are able to focus on themselves without distraction, and to concentrate on the process rather than the outcome of events.

Perceived social support: Olympic gold medallists believe high quality social support is available to them, including from family, coaches, team mates and support staff.

Mustafa Sarkar, a PhD student in Sport and Performance Psychology at Loughborough University, and co-author of the report explains:

“The interviews revealed many fascinating aspects of performing under pressure at the highest levels of international sport, but two things were very clear.

“Firstly, Olympic athletes experience considerable adversities during their preparation, training and competition, often over long periods of time.

“Secondly, and most importantly, athletes must learn to develop and maintain a very specific combination of psychological strategies and attributes to enable them to perform at their best and win in Olympic competition”.

Athletes interviewed had won Olympic gold at seven different Olympic Games spanning the past four decades. The champions represented nine different sports: figure skating, pentathlon, hockey, athletics, rowing, cycling, modern pentathlon, curling, and sailing.

Mustafa Sarkar is a final year PhD student in Sport and Performance Psychology. As part of his PhD, he has designed the Sport Resilience Study, research that explores how sport performers react to and deal with pressure. He would be really grateful if you would consider participating in his research study as he needs to collect 400 completed questionnaires. The only criteria for completion is that individuals have participated in competitive sport over the past month at club level or higher. The study itself takes just fifteen minutes to complete at the online link below. Please note the cut-off date for completion is Wednesday 1st May 2013.

For further information about the research, contact Mustafa Sarkar at


Sarkar, M., & Fletcher, D. (2012, October). Developing resilience: Lessons learned from Olympic champions. The Wave, 36-38.

Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 669-678.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The 30 Day challenge - Day 30. The art of finishing.

I know how he is feeling right now...
So finally! The end of the 30 day challenge is here! Only a mere 126 days overdue! Its not that long! Is it? What on Earth can you achieve in 126 days? Well, thats the amount of time it's taken me to write the last 7 blog posts for The Focused Mind! It's the amount of time the US Congress will sit in session this year! Its the length of time the Da Vinci Science Centre in Pennsylvania exhibited the Bodies Revealed exhibit to 15 million people. And apparently it's the length of time it takes to find your career (should you want one) with your humanities degree! A popular e-book it seems. :-)

Joking aside, I went into the challenge in October with the greatest of intentions and a voyage into the unknown. Initially, I was inspired by Matt Cutts TED talk where he advocated trying something new each day for a month. Equally, I'd been reading on and off the blog of Anna Dahlstrom who went way beyond my remit, and blogged each day for a whole year! (Congratulations on doing that by the way Anna!). During my blogging content explosion, former BBC R & D colleague Ian Forrester did a similar 28 day blogging challenge.

What lessons did I learn from the experience?

Fundamentally, time management (or lack of!) and how long it takes to write web content of a decent standard!

Looking back at the first post I stated I was going to:

"...set myself the small challenge of writing 30 engaging blog posts in a month"

For 23 days I did - moreorless - keep up that level of productivity. Where Ian found he was blogging more than once a day on occasion, I was having to spend more time going off and researching various sport psychology content/fact checking/verifying what was publishable, sometimes eating up hours - which I hadn't initially legislated for.

A couple of very unexpected things also happened... By doing the very researching on this blog, I was learning about topics that helped me attain a PhD post at UCLAN in Preston. That was a very profound and unexpected by-product of the blogging process!

I also had to break off from blogging whilst I was revising for my BPS Sport Psychology Chartership exams and getting ready for 2 months travel to South America. It was great to actually be able to include and blog about the race to Christ the Redeemer in Rio that I did whilst away at Christmas!

But, through updating each post via my Twitter account and putting out a call for guest bloggers to get in touch/contribute, I was able to learn about and publish on "running with will power" (Thanks Simon Freeman), find out more about what it's like to live in Kenya and train with elite athletes (thanks Ad Finn), learn more about Paleo living and diet (thanks Simon Whyatt), find out just how much music and running obsessions have in similarity (thanks Gilles Peterson), explain how great I think the Chimp Paradox concept is (thanks Steve Peters), offer practical advice on how to improve athlete mental toughness (thanks Duncan Simpson), what the secrets of top level pro cycling training are (thanks Carlos Taboas), what you need to know if you want to train for a triathlon (thanks Nick Holt), and finally, how the winning and losing margins in sport can be swung by momentum (thanks Greg Young).

The response has been enormous - re-tweets, new followers, and traffic that I hope I can retain by continuing to write about my passions for educating to those interested about sport psychology and coaching. I don't feel enough of what is taught and learnt in higher education on these subjects gets filtered down to those people who need to read about it. That is why I try and translate the academic without dumbing down, to pass on to those who will most benefit. The academics who have helped contribute over the last month have got this, but also have said that it is much tougher writing for this audience than their usual lectures and publications!

I hope that if you've taken the time to read my ramblings you have enjoyed (and learnt) something along the way. The benefit of doing this exercise is that I still have so much I want to add on to the blog. I research on eating disorders and depression in athletes. There is definitely a requirement to highlight and help in this area. There are books and films to review (Bradley Wiggins & O Zelador in particular), more guest blogs and advice to pass on.

As the picture for this post shows, maybe its not as important to come in at the desired finish time, its  more important to cross the line and finish full stop. It is a cliche I know, but taking on this challenge has definitely been as much about the journey as the destination. For now I'm going to do what is probably the most apt at this point. Close down the computer, stick on my kit and go for a run.

Thanks to all,