Interview part 2: Brain training for runners

This is the second episode of our interview with award winning running guru and best-selling author: Matt Fitzgerald. 

Matt shares further insights on the mental side of running, including: effective tapering, race day rituals, what we can learn from elite runners and his ‘Top 3 Tips’ for improving your running performance.

Question: Rundamentalists
Many runners find that their race results do not live up to the potential they display in training – are there tips you can share to help ‘gold-medal’ trainers fulfill their potential on race day? 

Answer: Matt Fitzgerald
Some runners simply psych themselves out on race day. However, the majority make the classic mistake of racing during training. They become intoxicated by their fitness and that club 20 mile training run inevitably becomes a race. In the ideal world, race day should be uncharted territory…. however insecurity leads us to test ourselves in an attempt to gain confidence that we are ‘ready’. Runners need to learn to trust the perfect balance between optimal preparation and optimal ‘restedness’.

There’s a huge difference in physical effort between 95% and 100%. My advice is to run your long runs at a relaxed pace – gaining confidence from knowing “I could’ve gone faster!”

Q: Rundamentalists
Any thoughts on the ‘taper’?

A: Matt Fitzgerald
Many runners struggle with the taper…..unfortunately the brain thinks “it’s vacation time” and runners can over-taper (and over-eat) coming into a race too rested and carrying extra weight. Rather than thinking in terms of the taper, I believe the phrase ‘sharpening’ is more helpful. We’re getting sharp for the race – challenging ourselves with shorter, quality runs and focusing on quality nutrition.

Q: Rundamentalists
What are your views on pre-race rituals and routines?

A: Matt Fitzgerald
My advice is to do things you usually do before race; repeating what worked last time helps to build confidence.

 

Rundamentalists thought

As it says in the Budweiser Superstition commercial, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”

 

I’m not sure I should go public on this…but one of my more bizarre personal habits is to shave my legs before race – this is something I did in my triathlon days and it has just become part of my standard preparation.

I also have a theme song I choose during training. Rundamentalists asks “Eye of a Tiger”?
No… It is a different song for each race….. Years later, if I hear the tune it triggers strong memories of my training regimen and the race itself.

Q: Rundamentalists
Please share a story or two about the mental toughness demonstrated by some of the elite runners you work with.

A: Matt Fitzgerald
The elite runner’s body is built of space material to withstand massive training intensity, they also have a killer instinct and an amazing will to win. I recall a training run with Kara Goucher, who was not in top physical shape coming back after her pregnancy… Even though this was not a race situation (and wasn’t meant to be competitive)….I could literally feel her focus… and an aura around her that she meant business.

I definitely believe the elites have an extra gear beyond their natural physical talent… However, a four hour marathoner can also have an “Olympic mindset” and also overachieve versus their peer group.

Q: Rundamentalists
In your new book: – “The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition”…… my impression is the role of nutrition is amplified versus brain training for avoiding the “Wall Hitters Club”? – Has there been some specific new areas of research or insights that are driving your views? 

A: Matt Fitzgerald
My thinking is always evolving and I’ve realized that everything is important for runners to fulfill their potential. My experience is that general diet improvements and understanding the role of recovery nutrition can definitely lead to positive results. It is the cocktail of minor improvements that makes the difference.

Rundamentalists thought
Sir Dave Brailsford the architect behind Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome’s (clean) Tour de France wins and the phenomenal team GB Olympic cycling successes used extreme performance data analytics that led to miniscule tweaks in equipment, training, diet and so on. He coined the phrase: “the aggregation of marginal gains”.

Q: Rundamentalists
Your top three pieces of advice for busy [’time starved’)] runners wanting to improve their performance?

A: Matt Fitzgerald
Number one is easy, WATCH LESS TELEVISION! Runners who claim they don’t have time for their training runs and cross sessions…. admit they watch three hours of TV every day and play on Facebook.

Rundamentalists thought
“It is hard to resist those Project Runway Repeats” 

My advice is to commit to your running schedule, ring-fence and prioritize the time. Number Two, Don’t try to make up for lack of training volume with intensity (less is not more)… This often leads to injury. Number Three, Sweat the small stuff… As we discussed earlier everything adds up.

"My thinking is always evolving and I’ve realized that everything is important for runners to fulfill their potential."

Matt Fitzgerald


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