Marathon training: how hypnotherapy has helped my running

(Article by Miranda Larbi for Metro)

'You might recall that last week, I went to hypnotherapy.

My appointment fortuitously came just after what felt like a really bad, painful long run and I had started to fall down a self-pity hole.

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Generally, I think I’m a pretty upbeat kind of person but I’m also awfully competitive – mainly against myself. The run I did last week really got to me. Why was it so hard? Why was the time so bad? Why was my body so rubbish?
Turns out that my GPS had actually gone haywire and I’d run slightly further than I thought. But the point was that for much of it, I felt like I was jogging in a pool of molasses. It was awful. I was in such a bad mood, I felt like kicking every dog who got in my way into the Regent’s canal.
Anyway, I went to see a hypnotherapist who specialises in helping sports people visualise success. I sat there listening to all sorts of positive messages, felt like I fell asleep and then went on my way. I didn’t expect much to happen.

That was on Tuesday evening and on Saturday morning, I set out for my longest run yet. I ran around 20 miles from Redbridge (the east end of the Central line) to East Acton (West London) in about three and a half hours. The difference in how the run felt compared to my last one was astonishing. For a start, I had no real aches or pains in my legs. After a week of yoga and short after-work 5k runs, my legs felt as supple as they should for someone my age (which is a novelty these days).

But the thing that made it all the easier was the ~positive thinking~ that the hypnotherapist taught me. He said that whenever a run started to feel tough or I wasn’t sure how comfortable I was feeling, I should say to myself that ‘this is the bit when…’.

I was going along happily until I got to Tottenham Court Road when I found myself struck down with excruciating stomach cramp. Was I going to chunder outside Paperchase - the immediate future looked grim. Normally I’d be panicking at this point. Vomit fear is real.

But using the techniques I’d been taught earlier in the week, I simply said to myself ‘this is the bit when I get stomach cramps. This is the bit when I feel a bit sick. Like all bits, it’s going to pass’. And that simple trick turned out to be so effective. I simply jogged on the spot for about a minute, bending from the waist (I don’t know why…you sometimes see footballers doing that) and sure enough, the cramps passed and I was able to continue on my way.

Around Marble Arch things started getting tough again. This time, I’d just had enough and I was running along the Westway which, in case you didn’t know, is the most depressing, polluted, horrible road in London and should avoided at all costs. So I started chanting ‘this is the bit where I feel like I’m hitting the wall, this is the bit where I feel like I’m hitting the wall – it will pass’. And sure enough, as I came to the Harrow Road and eventually Ladbroke Grove and Latimer Road, things picked up and the gloom lifted.

So much of long distance running is mental and in my experience, it’s really easy to become irrational. I wasn’t joking about the dogs before. Being able to cut through the mental fog and the blaring playlist to talk to yourself proactively is amazing.

Whether I was actually put ‘under’ or simply fell asleep in that hypnotist’s chair, the outcome of the initial chat has been really positive.

On a more earthly level, another motivation was the fact that I actually had to be somewhere by 2 pm. Knowing that someone was waiting for me meant that I couldn’t legitimately take the pressure off because I didn’t want to keep them waiting. And around that blasted Westway, it was basically the thought of eating vegetable fajitas that made me push on.

But perhaps the most miraculous thing was actually post-run. Usually, after these long runs, I’m hobbling around for days, unable to put my full foot down without feeling like someone is sawing my calf muscle in half. This time, there was nothing.
After a 30 minute snooze, I got up and my legs felt completely fine. The next morning, again – nothing. I can’t explain it. Perhaps my muscles have just finally accepted that this is happening and whether they like it or not, they will be running 26 miles.

So now the mile decline begins. For the next couple of weeks, the long runs will be shorter so as not to feel worn out on the day. I’m running 5k after work most days with a little weight or mat work thrown in, and will aim for about 10-15miles on Sunday.

Hopefully, it’s all plain sailing from here until 23 April.