Social support has been reported to be a key element behind athletes’ success, playing a crucial role in both their performance and psychological wellbeing. Social support is the perception of being cared for by others and having a reliable network to turn to in everyday situations or specific moments of crisis.
When it comes to running, we might consider it to be an individual activity. However, research has shown that support from coaches, team-mates, family, physiotherapists and psychologists affects athletes’ cognitive, emotional, and behavioural aspects in a positive manner. When taking on the challenge of a marathon, having the right support structure in place can increase your chances of achieving your goals.
Jessie Barr, Olympian and performance sports psychologist, says support can be wide-reaching. “There’s tangible ways to support someone, such as giving them a lift to training, putting on the immersion after training so they can have a hot shower, or cooking dinner for someone who’s had a long day.
“Emotional support is important, too. It can come from someone like me, a sports psychologist, or from friends or a loved one. Let’s say you haven’t really had a good training session or you’re stressed about it: it’s being able to chat about it and offload. That can be a really powerful one in that sort of suffering stress.”
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Barr is a part of the Irish Life Dublin Marathon and Race Series Runners’ Support Squad, along with fellow Olympians Catherina McKiernan and Mick Clohisey.
The first part of the race series – the Tallaght 5 Mile – takes place on Sunday, June 19th. The start and finish are at Tallaght Stadium. The Fingal 10k then takes place on Sunday, July 17th in Swords, with the Frank Duffy 10 Mile in the Phoenix Park on Saturday, August 20th. The following month, on Saturday, September 17th, the Dublin Half-Marathon takes place, also at Phoenix Park. While entries for the race series is open, the Dublin Marathon, on Sunday, October 30th, is already sold out.
McKiernan and Clohisey have developed training plans for all races in the series, and the marathon. They are part of the overall Runners’ Support Squad to help runners harness the “power of support” to achieve their goals, whether they aim to run sub 60 minutes for the 10km, complete the half marathon distance, or run sub three hours for the marathon.
Marathon training has proved to be more effective through group training. Training with others can be enjoyable and allows people to know where they are in relation to other people or give them that little boost. “The support of having a training partner in terms of motivation and confidence can be so valuable. That support can help in so many ways from that psychological point of view as they prepare for the challenge.” says Barr.
“If you like [training], you’ll work a bit harder as opposed to someone who is on their own. They don’t have a point of reference on how they’re doing.”
“When people decide to take on a marathon on their own, you’re not really accountable to anyone. When you have a training partner, there’s that support and positive peer pressure. You’re accountable to someone else. Social support is a great stress reliever.”
Barr has seen the positive effects of group training first hand with the athletes she works with and anecdotally from talking to people.
While inherently an individual sport, having that sense of someone supporting your journey can be beneficial and vital to running success. Marathon runner Mick Clohisey said that, “for me the support of my clubmates makes such a difference. Working with others pushes us out of our comfort zone, creates accountability and exposes vulnerability.
“Running can be a selfish sport at times, you can get carried away with it. I feel I have a good balance as I am aware that I’m the one doing this, but other people are involved in it. I recognise that there are other things more important to other people but they still give their time to come and watch.
“Through the hard training, there’s people helping me. My wife Cróna and I have a two-year-old son who needs to be looked after, and sometimes I have to go off and run for a few hours, so having people there who respect what I do and give their time to help me achieve what I have.”
- Sign up for one of The Irish Times’ Get Running programmes (it is free!). First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark. Best of luck!