From parkrun to marathon -meet the man who used his thinking skills to get up and running

By Shaun Lowthorpe

Main picture of Stuart Sayer courtesy of

When Stuart Sayer finished running the Marriot’s Way half marathon on February 19 his first thought was how come his running buddies Clive and Angela had finished so strongly ahead of him – even though they had done the Brundall Parkrun the day before, whereas he had opted to marshall instead?

Thinking is a big part of what the 57-year-old does – it is at the heart of his day job running Upthinkers which helps train people in improving their thinking skills at work, though he has also used the techniques to help others, including a local under-13s football team get back to winning ways.

It also underpins another venture he is embarking on as part of Yellow Brick Road with businessman Ian Hacon, who as it happens, has also become a successful tri-athlete.

(If you don’t have much time right now – here is at an at a glance at what I learned from Stuart)

Five tips on how to think yourself into the runner you want to be based on speaking to Stuart.

  1. Visualise the outcome you want to achieve – and write it down, even
  2. ‘Chunk’ your run into manageable stages
  3. Start small and build up
  4. Always see yourself as a runner (and may be join a club)
  5. Think big! (or Upthink as Stuart might put it)


And it is something which has informed Stuart’s approach to running, too.

In fact, Stuart has already visualised how he plans to tackle his first 26 miler – The Greater Manchester Marathon on April 2.

And he has committed it to paper too in the form of a motivational poster, showing how he has ‘chunked’ the race into stages which he equates to the stages of an air plane trip with an ascent and descent, and  a mid-section ‘flight’.

And here it is …


The statement, he notes, is written in the first person and “positively engages emotion with the end-result already achieved”.

He has also written the time he wants to finish in, and how he will feel.

“It’s nearly 2pm and I feel exhilarated, my run time was 4 hours and 45 minutes.”


“I’m very visual, I create pictures in my mind,” he says.

Meanwhile, he explains, Clive apparently chunks his runs into four, so if he is running 20 miles he’ll break it into four sections.

But if Stuart’s next big run is a marathon – how did it all start?

Again work played a part, but this time it was a need to get fit after a career in sales and business development had seen him rack up thousands of miles driving across the country. Combined with the effects of a back injury sustained after falling from a ladder in his 20s taking its toll, he decided he needed to break the cycle and get back in shape.

That saw him head one evening for a run around his home in Brundall.

“I used to feel out of kilter. All my ‘self-talk’ was pretty rubbish, it was defeatist and it wasn’t very positive. I thought ‘you need to change your self-talk to break this cycle,” he says.

“I used to eat my tea, and one night I thought I would go for a run. I got half way up the hill and then had to walk/run.

“After about 10 days of doing this I was able to run. It was a huge thing. I would go out at 10pm under cover of darkness so nobody could see me and run this lap.”

After that Stuart progressed to run Braydeston Hills and a local fun run, but he was still happy to run on his own.

“I ran on my own for about three years and people said I should do a half marathon.”

That half was Broadland, but by his own admission he had left it pretty late.

“I signed up about five weeks before and I knew I had to taper, which basically gave me about two weeks to train!”

Yet despite losing a toe nail (because he was wearing the wrong socks), he finished in one piece and after completing the run decided it was time to join a club, so he signed up to Norwich Roadrunners.

“I resisted it for ages – I still didn’t see myself as a runner, I was just a bloke who once he had got to 50 needed to do something to keep fit.”

So how can runners apply some of the techniques he uses at Upthinkers? He points to an example he uses in his training sessions.

“Do you focus on, 1. Success, 2. avoiding failure, or 3 failure?”

“A lot of people are in two or three,” says Stuart.  “A lot of people say ‘I can’t see myself doing that’. Well you are right then!

“What most people think about in life is trying to avoid failure. But if you look at the top 2%, they are striving for top performance and thinking ‘how good can I be’.

“When it comes to running I often hear people who are in the failure group, and will say things like ‘when I tried it my knees really hurt’, so they give up.

“But how do you know? If you get past that, you might get stronger?

“I always thought that I just had to get to three miles. Once you have done that, you get a second wind and miles 4, 5 and 6 are somehow easier than miles 1, 2 and 3. But what if you do stop at 3 miles?

“How do you know what you are capable of if you don’t push yourself? It’s not rocket science really, and you will always have obstacles.

“I can honestly say that I am fitter now than I was in my 20s/30s and 40s even, which I think is pretty good going.

“I would encourage anybody who wants to change their life, to go for a run.”

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