ST: Mastering your self during a run!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 25 November 2018

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EDGAR THAM – Fatigue, boredom in training, mistakes, and the lack of progress are common challenges highlighted by runners of varying, and all, levels. These issues do not just pop up on race day, but they can also manifest in the training leading up to it. Research points to a few tricks that athletes can use to overcome these mental barriers.

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Be one with nature

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A recent study concluded that runners who ran with sunshine, trees and flower beds felt happier. Running with nature can help improve your mood, leaving you more excited and refreshed than before. To enjoy your next race to the fullest, take in the greenery of our garden city. For example, if you are running at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, look out for pretty or unique flowers, plants, and trees as you make your way to The Float @ Marina Bay.

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Training indoors, battling the rainy season or is the weather not working in your favor? Watching a video tour of a garden or public park while getting your workout in the gym can also give you a similar positivity boost!

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Sport & Performance Psychologist Edgar Tham, sharing with ONEathlete Banjamin Quek, on how he can hone his mental muscle/toughness ahead of the latter’s half-marathon at SCSM 2018. Photo credits: RunONE

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Psych up with music (and even video!)

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Not just about the latest trend, running with earbuds or headphones on can help you do better too. Researchers found that athletes who ran with their choice of entertainment, i.e., favorite music, had more positive attitudes and performance overall. Having considered the benefits, some may ask “what type of music should I listen to?” The answer lies in the tempo. Fast-paced music gets one pumped up and running faster, while slow-paced music relaxes. However, if, listening to music is not allowed during your race, grooving to your personal hits during your warm-up could also help get you in the right emotional state, and therefore help you get ready for your race. For some, the music might still be lingering in your head — use it to help you in your actual run!

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Running on a treadmill but not a big music junkie? Research has shown that streaming a show or movie can bring similar benefits too. The next time you are looking to achieve a new personal best and cover a longer distance while training, try setting up your playlist or your favorite show before you start! Caution: Be careful and remain fully alert when training on the treadmill. Safety first!

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Hone your mental muscle

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Training your mind helps train your body too! Research with world-class athletes points to mental toughness as pivotal to peak performance. Athletes who are calm, focused and confident are better prepared, and more likely, to overcome race challenges and mistakes.

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To train like a champion marathoner, have your own race plan and rehearse it both physically (through training) and mentally (by going through the race over and over again in your mind). It can help you approach the actual event with more poise and confidence. To design your own race plan, study the race route and consider how you will run and motivate yourself during the race. How should I start? When would I pick up my pace? What are some potential challenges I may face (e.g., uphill, fatigue) and how can I cope with them? Anticipate the times you may “hit the wall” and prepare yourself with possible workarounds (e.g., keep your mind on your running form, adjust your breathing). Explore and identify what works for you, and be prepared to charge ahead the next time the burn kicks in!

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IMG_3737 “It was a good reminder to reignite my passion for running. Edgar reminded me to enjoy the process rather than to just focus on results. I walked away with very useful tips, e.g. on how i can do a visualization exercise, and split the workouts into parts; prior to a tough workout.” Banjamin Quek, who will be running his half-marathon at SCSM 2018.  

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Find your running tribe

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Athletes with stronger support networks tackle stress and challenge better. Research also shows that the stress-support relationship works in two ways. One, we seek out others when stressed. Gather your own tribe – trusted people you can turn to for love and support. Share with them about the difficulties you face, and celebrate small wins too! Struggling during training or the actual race? Turn to your running buddy for some encouragement and support. Two, supporting others helps lower their stress levels and yours in return too! Keep your stress levels healthy by lending a helping hand to support your running buddy, particularly when the going gets tough. The next time you hit a plateau during training or need an extra boost during the race, lean on your family and friends or consult with a mental toughness coach for more support.

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Whether you are a professional athlete or weekend warrior, try out some of these tips to bring your running performance to another level! I hope these would come in handy as you run the SCSM 2018 on 9 December!

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Edgar K. Tham is Singapore’s pioneer Sport & Performance Psychologist, amongst many other diverse accolades. Edgar was the founding Head of the Sports Psychology Unit of the Singapore Sports Council in 1996. He was team consultant and traveling psychologist to numerous national teams preparing for major world games/championships, including the Olympics and World Championships. Edgar is the founder and chief sport & performance psychologist at http://www.sportpsychconsulting.com.  He is an associate lecturer in sport psychology at the Singapore University of Social Science, Edinburgh Napier University (UK), and University of Wollongong (AUS). He is the co-author of Mental Toughness Strategies of the World’s Greatest Athletes and In the Zone: The Mindset for Peak Performance in Sport.

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