(Image c/o Every Second Counts)
I remember early on in my training with trainer Steve Mellor of Freedom2train, he took me running to Wormwood Scrubs. His aim, he said, was to run at a faster pace and I had to keep up, which would increase my fitness levels and make me faster (I was very sloooow). I was quite unfit at the time and I remember feeling really quite scared. He started talking and I told him there was no way I could possibly reply at that pace. At 2 minutes in, with my heart feeling like it was pulsating in my head and my legs feeling like they would never keep this up, I remember saying quite stroppily that ‘There was absolutely no way on God’s earth I would be able to do this’. It was hard -- VERY hard -- but at 18 minutes when I sprinted to the finish and was gasping for breath, I high-fived Steve, and he said “You said you wouldn’t be able to do it but you DID.’ He then said, "It’s all upstairs", pointing to my head.
mind before body
As I stretched at the end, I told him it had scared me, but when he questioned what I was scared of, I found it really hard to say. All I could mumble was something about hating the way it felt, ‘It just feels horrible’ I whimpered, puce in the face. Half an hour later I was, of course, on a euphoric high, and that day was a lesson to me about being pushed out of my comfort zone, about pushing beyond the feelings and the benefits that that brings. Steve told me that your mind gives up before your body, which is something that has stuck with me to this day. Now when I find something hard, or I don’t feel I can run any further or do another rep of a weight, I try (not always successfully) to ignore how I feel and carry on.
when the going gets tough
When the going gets tough, the one trick I have learnt is to try and distract the internal chatter. When I did a triathlon earlier this year, I used various techniques I’d learnt from many trainers and athletes to ignore the voice in my head. We all know how it goes: ‘This hurts, I can’t go on, this is sooo tough….’. One trainer and triathlete, Lucy Fry, told me to distract myself - to just focus on getting to the next tree or landmark or do as Paula Radcliffe does and count your running strides as a way of ignoring your mind. Another physio told me that when your brain starts to complain, it’s a sign your body may need something such as water or food, or a change of pace. This was something that really helped, and drinking water or having a gel mid-race did stop the negative mind process for a bit. But what I found to be the most helpful advice of all was to be mindful, to be in the moment, to focus on what my body was actually doing rather than what my brain was telling me. One trick I learnt off Steve was to swing my arms when I felt tired running, which helped me no end in the run to the finish line at Blenheim as it makes your legs pick up simultaneously. Someone else told me to focus on my technique - how my foot hits the ground and how my legs were working - which immediately made me improve my form. Another great tip I have found useful is to ‘Go into the feelings’ - when you focus on the feeling of your legs working or your arms moving, or your breathing in your chest, it tends to disperse it. They are just feelings, after all. They won’t kill you.
when you push beyond comfort zones
Over the years I’ve learnt that pushing myself beyond my comfort zone reaps bountiful rewards. There’s also a saying that goes ‘If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done’, and challenging yourself (obviously not to the point of injury, but safely and correctly) is the key to really changing your body, not to mention what it does for the mind. Conquering something you never thought you could do, even if that’s a 5k run or five press-ups, works wonders for your confidence and self esteem. It is also an amazing de-stresser and there is no doubt that the harder I push myself, the greater the high afterwards and the long to-do list that was stressing me out pre exercise class literally dissolves by the end of it.
it's all in your head
Even four years from that run to Wormwood Scrubs I still get nervous sometimes before training sessions as I know I will be challenged to my outer limits, but I’ve learnt that it’s important not be put off by the jitters… again it’s your mind at play. I feel there’s nothing better than the feeling that you really accomplished something you couldn’t do before, and there’s nothing worse than feeling that you could have done better. Which leaves one last saying I saw on Instagram recently: ‘Don’t half-ass anything. Whatever you do, always use your full ass.’ Amen to that.