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The Reaper Within - by Andrew Cohen-Wray
The Reaper Within - by Andrew Cohen-Wray - blog post image

Following on from Andrea’s great blog recently titled ‘Slow down, don’t stop’ I thought it would be good to put some answers to the numerous questions she was asking herself during her half marathon.

Nagging doubt

There often comes a point during a race or a tough session when you are pushing your body to its physical limits and nagging doubts start to creep in, all those negative questions begin, can I keep this pace going? What if I stop? the list goes on and on as Andrea discovered!!

Doubt creeps in when confidence runs out, if we aren’t prepared with adequate training, we are racing over a distance we aren’t used to, or we have gone out too fast and natural talent has begun to run out, the positive conversations we are having internally quickly turn to more negative thoughts and then the downward spiral begins.

Running Reaper

The ‘Reaper’ is the internal dialogue we have with ourselves especially when things aren’t going our way during a race, it sabotages our mindset and hinders our performance and success. It becomes the dominant noise we here, telling us to stop, it hurts, we can’t continue.

So how do we turn that noise down??

The first thing to do is to stop fuelling it, stop feeding it. If you are half way through a race and the wheels have fallen off you will be overwhelmed, and your brain will go into a sensory chaos, you will be all consumed with making it to the finish line which will seem like such a long way away and possibly out of reach. Break the rest of the run down into smaller, more manageable chunks. For example, if you have 5k to go into a 10k, tick off each kilometre one at a time, this way you will see small successes which will increase your mood and encourage a more positive mindset and dialogue with yourself.These little wins no matter how small will increase confidence and overpower the reaper.

What is confidence?

If I asked you to draw me confidence, what would you draw? Would you be able to draw it at all? Confidence as a solid or as a form doesn’t exist as such, when working with athletes there is no magic pill to give them to boost confidence, so we have to create it.

Confidence is a belief in your ability to achieve a task, based on a previous experience.

In order to create confidence, we have to rely on elements from a past experience and believe in that positive outcome to help make us confident. If you watch children on a roller-coaster the first time they will be apprehensive, scared and not wanting to go on it, once they have done it, their confidence increases, and you usually find by the end of the day you can’t get them off of a ride. This is the same with running, the first time we do something we are often nervous or anxious, however once we’ve completed a distance for the first time the confidence increases and then we want to do it again, often faster than the time before.

So, when the Reaper is in full flow, take the small wins and gains and build on them into the next mile or kilometre. Keep topping the dialogue up with positivity and this will rule over the negative thoughts.

For what purpose?

This is often the other big motivator of the reaper, your purpose for running or racing. When we don’t have a fundamentally solid plan or goal for a run or race this leaves space for doubt to creep in, and once you give it a metre, it will take a mile and keep on running.

On Friday I ran a marathon with just 3 week’s notice, the purpose was to use the opportunity as kind of social experiment. My longest run was just 6 miles and the Sunday before I was competing over 400m hurdles. I was running with Danny Crates, Paralympic Gold medallist and Tim Lawler the CEO of Sport said. We ran self-navigated from Stoke Mandeville to Milton Keynes as part of SportsAid week and the #MyMiles campaign.

I wanted to see to which dark places I would go to mentally. What would the Reaper say to me? How would I respond? Would it get the better of me? Would I even finish?

My goal was to learn, to gain a better understanding and knowledge of myself and how I tick mentally.

We had a couple of short stops around 7 and 12miles, we also had a visit to a school booked around the 22/23mile mark. The first 10miles were comfortable, we were clipping along at a reasonable pace and the hilly route was of little trouble. At around the 14mile mark I began to run out of talent and had to rely on sheer determination to carry me, and it’s here the nagging noise kicked in.

I found myself about 20-30metres off the back of Danny and Tim, it felt like there was an imaginary rope between us pulling me along, as the fatigue kicked in this gap grew and the bigger it got, the noisier the Reaper became trying to beat me in to submission. At 16 miles I started to count the miles down, once into single figures it felt a lot more manageable. When we got closer to Milton Keynes the underpasses became my biggest problem, the short inclines zapped energy and the descents pushed my quads to their limits and the perceived pain was incredible, but I didn’t stop moving forward.

Noisy Reaper Vs Noisy Kids

At the planned school visit the highlight of the run began, nearly 200 kids had lined their school drive to shout encouragement and high 5 us, the noise was incredible, and I have to admit I was quite emotional, thankfully the sunglasses hid the eyes welling up. The sound, support and encouragement took away all the pain I was in and this euphoria lasted a good couple of miles after, probably because my adrenaline levels had fired off the scale.

With the high came the low, a few miles after leaving the school and what felt like another hundred underpasses later our clocks beeped at 26.2 miles, wooohooo, except we were still a good 2 miles or so from the hotel where the finish line was……….talk about hitting a wall, I was elated to have covered the distance but now I had to dig even deeper if I wanted to make the lunch we were due to attend and get the cold beer I had been promised.

I broke the run down into really small chunks, 1 minute at a time was all I could really focus on competing, each minute was one closer to the end and the more I picked off the better I felt.

Not recommended

I wouldn’t recommend partaking in such an experiment however it does show what the body can achieve when you put your mind to something. I had not time goals, no sponsorship pressures, all I had to do was put one foot in front of the other and complete the distance. I’m pleased to report that 6 days later I feel great, physically and mentally and I’m looking forward to getting winter training underway ahead of a busy indoor track season.


Keep the Reaper at bay by not fuelling it, look for the small positives and build on them to create confidence to achieve your goal or to finish your race. Believe in past experiences and carry these forward rather than holding on to the negatives. And remember if you want to achieve something, make a positive decision to do it, then go do it.


Andrew Cohen-Wray is a Mental Performance Coach working with Athletes and Formula 1 drivers. Andrew set up ‘Athlete in Mind’ and is the creator of the ‘Running Reaper’ mind management tool. Andrew is also a director of 1404 Performance Ltd with Paralympian Danny Crates.


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