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Shine 2013: psychological training tips

How to limber up your mind in preparation for the longest stroll you'll ever take

© Rob Greig

Sports psychologist Rebecca Symes works with a wide variety of sports competitors on all levels. We asked her to give us advice on how to prepare yourself mentally, to take on the best training regime and take on Shine, Cancer Research UK's night-time walking marathon in London.

You will have your own personal reasons for participating in Shine. To keep them at the forefront of your mind, grab a piece of paper and fill it with all your motivators – these might be words, pictures or photos that are significant to you. Then stick this up somewhere you will regularly see it, such as on the back of the front door.

Use the specially designed day by day training plan in your welcome pack, or download it from the Shine website. Although you’ve got a strong overall rationale for participating, a plan will keep you focused one step at a time.

This is a crucial part of your preparation, so that you go into the walk brimming with confidence. Keep a record of all the training you’re doing and, where possible, note down how you feel after each session. At the end of each week, look back over your notes. Spend a few moments reflecting on what you have achieved, and add your achievements to your ‘confidence bank’ in your mind.

Music is a great training aid, but be aware that you will tend to synchronise your steps with the beat of the music. So spend some time thinking about which tracks fit with your walking pace – too quick and you’ll tire more easily, too slow and you’ll feel lethargic. Music also has an influence on your mood, so use tracks that give you a positive feeling.

When left to its own devices, that voice in your head (yes we all have one) can start being negative. ‘I’m too tired’… ‘I haven’t got time’… This can have a domino effect on your beliefs, attitudes, feelings and behaviour. Before you know it, you’re stuck in a vicious cycle. Good news though: you’re in control of that voice! So when you hear it start to be negative, or put doubts in your head, think of a ‘stop signal’ – this could be a red traffic light or a No Entry sign, whatever works for you – and use that as a trigger to turn your thinking around. For example, instead of ‘I’m too tired, I can’t be bothered’ try ‘I might be tired, but I know I’ll perk up as soon as I get going, and this will take me one step closer to my goal.’

On a walk, it can be tempting to wonder how much time you’ve taken or how much further there is to go. Doing this means you are focusing your attention on the outcome, the end result that distracts you from being in the here and now. Try to stay in the moment by mentally checking off milestones along the way, focusing on your walking pace (in time with the music) or really taking in your surroundings.

The brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined, so training your brain to achieve what you want by imagining it happening is really powerful. See yourself completing parts of the course, see yourself cross the finish line, and connect with how it makes you feel. The more regularly you do this, the better.

Try to encourage your family or friends to come on a walk with you, and use your training as an opportunity to catch up. The more support we have, the better we feel. But equally, your training walks can be an opportunity for you to have time to yourself, which is a scarcity in the fast-paced lives we all seem to lead now. Relish the chance to reflect and clear your mind.

Develop a routine before your walks and link this to your physical preparation. For example, when you’re doing some stretching, try to get your ‘head chatter’ in a positive frame of mind. Or when you’re putting on your trainers, visualise yourself starting out on the walk you’re about to do. The more you can link your physical and mental preparation, the better, and the more you can practise having a routine, the more it will become habit. Come event time, you’ll be ready and raring to go!

We all have a bad day, and that’s okay. When training hasn’t gone quite to plan or things have got in the way, try to avoid beating yourself up. While plans are important, there also has to be an element of flexibility, and getting stressed isn’t going to help anybody. Focus on all the good training you’ve already banked and plan ahead for next time.

Find out more about Shine 2013 by going to www.shinewalk.org/timeout, or simply sign up now and help make London shine. The entry fee is £35, which helps cover the cost of putting on the event. Registration closes at midnight on Sunday September 15 2013.

Many thanks to Sporting Success for the above tips.