Distraction: An underutilised tool to enable consistency and performance

“Distract. Distract. Distract.” My grandmother used to say to my mother in relation to my brother and I when we were tormented babies and tormenting all around us.

We use distraction to negate an unpleasant experience. Watch a child who bangs its hand. The child’s parent instinctively either blows on it or rubs it furiously. This form of distraction is useful because it stimulates other nerve fibres and helps to lower the intensity of the pain. However, the unpleasant experience my grandmother was attempting to distract us from was more likely boredom or fatigue.

Boredom and fatigue are unpleasant experiences which accompany us most of our adult lives. Readers of this blog will know that a consistent moderate effort is required to achieve higher level goals. (Read here). A consistent moderate effort can be boring and therefore, the process toward achieving higher level goals can be unpleasant.

How can Distraction Help?

On Thursday, in the first race I’ve done this year, I ran 16:10 for 5-km. That’s basically sticking three 5:12 miles back to back. It’s the fastest I’ve run over that distance for around 10-years and within 10-seconds of what I ran at Christmas when under a big training load (16:20). However, that in itself, is not that impressive relative to my goals. What makes Thursday impressive is what preceded it. Thursday was done off the back of running 3-days a week for about 8-weeks. Not only that but 8-weeks gradually building a training load. From 2x400m up to 12x400m, from 5-miles midweek to 8-miles and from 8-miles on a Sunday to 12-miles. Without a single continuous tempo run or practice effort, I am still running as fast as I ever have. How? A consistency that was maintained and enhanced by distraction.

Creating Distractions

In March, after 2.5 years of consistent running I was forced to stop and rehabilitate my achilles. Injury and cross-training are both unpleasant experiences. (Read here). I’ve written before about the power of changing the narrative around injury and cross-training. This involves viewing oneself less as an injured runner and more as an athlete in training. (Read here).

By changing the narrative, I could power through several weeks of intense cross-training. This was the distraction that got me to May. It doesn’t matter how I got to May, the point is I stopped running in March and I was still fit in May. At this point, I realised that attempting to be ready for PB breaking 10-km races over summer was putting too much pressure on myself and would probably mean pushing my achilles onto the track sooner than it was ready. I let that ambition go and sought a new form of distraction to get me through the next phase.

I signed up to a half-ironman with my cousin which is on July 29th. This was the next bridge of distraction. As a result, whilst I can run 16:10 for 5-km at the moment, I can also swim 2-km and cycle 80-km comfortably. The beauty of the triathlon distraction was that it allowed me to build my running at a pace my legs were happy with. In other words, the development of a consistent running routine was disguised amongst a triathlon routine. The swimming and biking helped me stay fit and mentally feel like I was working hard. As the weeks went by my running was beginning to build. (Note: learning new skills besides running is important for runners in need of distraction).

A Series of Distractions

March to July has been a series of distractions that have helped me bridge the gap from no running toward consistent running again. There has been no pause in my training and so my efforts on Thursday are most likely a product of my efforts over the last 3-years. A consistent, moderate and often unpleasant effort. Hopefully, I will be rewarded in the autumn when I resume 10-km training again. Runners should note how fast they can run off so little when it is done consistently and supplemented with distraction.

Consistency: End of 2017-2018 Season Blog

It’s been another good year since I started this blog in New Zealand last year. I’ve enjoyed writing and watching the readership grow. I’ve been reasonably consistent in hitting a blog every 2-weeks and I hope I can do the same next season. As per last year, I’ll take my season break from blog writing from now until September. I’ll be speaking about running from injury in Dublin next Saturday and then winding down for some annual leave in August. Tickets to that event are here. Until the 2018-2019 season, stay consistent and if you’re struggling, use some distraction! Peter.

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