Frank Horwill



  • These articles were first published many year's ago and whilst some are as relevant today as they were when new, many are now mostly of historical interest as modern research and coaching methods have superseded them.

Getting the best out of yourself in sport

by Frank Horwill

Set a goal which is achievable but challenging. Your concept of the target should be both clear and positive. Come to an agreement with your coach on having to act without his detailed guidance and ultimate goals. Improvement should be measurable, time-phased and aimed at producing the optimum performance at the right time. If you have run well or badly, ask yourself why? Consider the several days beforehand and how you executed your performance. Above all, did you have a clear plan in your head when you were called to your marks?

  • Muscle relaxation and controlled breathing can be learned. Remember that the legs do the work – everything else in the body is relaxed.
  • Practise mental training whilst engaged in physical activity. eg "I’m training at 1 min 55 sec pace for 800m. The sooner I get to grips with it the better."
  • Concentrate on the now. Do not think of a sub-4 min mile when training at 4 min for 1,500m. Think now – this is the current task.
  • When approaching major races, avoid distractions. Excessive drinking or partying, late nights, running around in circles over a member of the opposite sex - these are common distractions.
  • Overcome the pain of training by rating it. "Am I really suffering? How do I rate it on a scale of 1-10? With 10 putting me in hospital and 0 no discomfort at all. No, I’m not suffering all that much."

Visualisation can decrease the tension associated with competition. You need to relax first alone. Then you see yourself in the race – you are watching a film of yourself. Then, you are in the race. You can hear the breathing of others, you can hear their footsteps, you can feel their elbows touch yours. You are thinking only of what you want to do. Is the pace too fast or slow? What am I going to do about it?

The adrenal system secretes hormones for physical activity to be undertaken. Label each training session as either a "stress" one or "recovery" one. Press the right key in your brain to bring about the appropriate physical reaction. If it’s going to be tough, tell yourself so, "This is going to be tough. I need a resolute attitude." Or, "This is a recovery run. I can afford to look around at the trees, women or men in the park." When warming up think positive, "Have the others trained as hard as I have? No they haven’t. My conscience is clear – I’ve trained hard for this." "What is my target and how am I going to achieve it." "The rest of the field are not superhuman, I’m their equal, perhaps even better." When doing recovery runs, think recovery. Do not dwell on past or future races. When you want to relax, relax. Just floating on water in a swimming pool is very useful. Learn what rest suits you best. It may be that training severely every other day is your cup-of-tea. It could be that one ultra severe session a week with all the others easy prepares you well for races. You may feel only at ease with yourself training hard off the track in parks. Reduce as far as is possible other stresses in your life. If you earn a labourer’s wages you cannot live like a lord.Avoid high concentrations of refined sugar, it affects brain stability.

Eat every 4 hours. Eat non-fat foods. Avoid take-aways. Don’t eat the same type of meals two days running. In theory this means seven different types of breakfast, lunch and dinner each week. Protein requirements for runners have been under-estimated.

Your stance portrays your confidence. Remember – you are someone, you matter. Walk tall and upright. Your opinion matters as much as anyone else’s. Don’t shrink behind others in gatherings. You may not be an intellectual heavyweight, but you can exercise your common sense. "I cannot do this," should be restated, "I will try this and conquer it."

Your feet are your fortune. Daily hygiene is imperative. Strengthen them with a daily exercise. (Place your foot at the edge of a towel and screw the towel up with your toes). Walk barefoot around the house. Replace or repair normal and running shoes long before they get excessively worn.

Identify the cause of injuries and avoid repetition. When injured, never rest. Swim or cycle daily. Ice is the great cure-all. Ice old injuries after training for 15 minutes; make it a ritual. Injuries respond to 2 minutes of ice application, followed by 2 minutes of hot water, for a total of 16 minutes.

Phase your training:

Phase 1 – 12 weeks of endurance running with some relative speed work. Strength exercises every other day.

Phase 2 – 12 weeks of endurance running with more relative speed. The quality of strength-work increases.

Phase 3 – 24 weeks of endurance with much more relative and specific speed.

Monitor stress. Your pulse is the key stress detector. You may feel bad, but if your pulse is normal, you’re not so bad. Get in the habit of taking your pulse each morning for a full minute and writing it down. If it is elevated by more than five beats – don’t train.

Once very twelve weeks, go away from home for a weekend and train in more pleasant surroundings. Or, go to a sunshine training camp for a week or two in mid-winter.

There is nothing wrong with being strong. A simple and effective routine is to do a muscle fatigue saturation exercise daily. For example: Day 1 – Press ups to maximum. Rest 60 secs. Repeat press ups to maximum. Rest 60 secs. Repeat exercise to maximum. Day 2 – do the same with bent-knee abdominals. Day 3 – The same with squat thrusts. Day 4 – Chin the bar. Day 5 – One-legged squats onto a chair. Day 6 – Hop 25 metres on each leg, repeat twice more with 60 secs rest in between.

Stretching is controversial. Research tells us that women need to stretch more than men before training and competition. Both men and women remain more injury free if they stretch after all physical activity.

Start each day with this thought – I am going to enjoy this day. Next, think whom can I help today? Many start the day miserable and get more miserable. We have a limited span of about 70 years on this planet. Our role is to enjoy living and to make the lives of others more tolerable. It is never too late to alter our attitude. Our attitude decides everything we do – especially in sport.

The difference between the good club runner and Olympic champions physically is not so great. It is in their mental attitude that the difference occurs. The writer has coached five sub-4 minute milers. What marked them out from others? They:-

  • Never missed a training session, unless it was a prescribed day of rest.
  • Did not question the training validity given.
  • As training feats escalated so did their belief increase with regards performance.
  • Did not fear "blowing up" in races. They never said after a race, "I could have run faster." They gave their all.
  • Were polite. They respected me, and I, them.
  • Each had a favourite track session which, when completed well, boosted their confidence to perform well.
  • Had a sense of humour.
  • They kept at it. A bad race was not a catastrophe. It was a reason to train harder, a reason to be more determined.

A comment by one of them summed up all their attitudes, "Anyone who wants to beat me will have to run his guts out." (James Douglas – 1971 UK 1,500m record.)