As we say goodbye to the summer season, and welcome the winter ahead, it is important to approach the year with a clear mindset, one that isn’t weighed down by comparison. Comparison can be beneficial, when you are looking at the athlete you used to be and the one you are becoming. However, it can be mentally degrading and exhausting when you constantly compare yourself to others.
Whoever you are and whatever you are trying to achieve, there is no one like you. Even if someone else has the same goal as you, it still isn’t comparable. Their starting point, the obstacles they face, their journey of progression, is all different to yours.
So, how can we avoid comparison?
Flip how you see/use it. Comparison doesn’t have to have a negative effect. There is no need to constantly compare yourself to others, but likewise, there is no need to use it in a self destructive way. There is no need to feel like you are less, based on your judgement of somebody else. Therefore, use comparison as a force to drive and motivate you. Use their progression, hard work and success as a form of inspiration. This way, rather than getting you down, it will only push you on, because ultimately, if they can do it, so can we.
Take time away from social media.
More often than not, social media is used as a platform to celebrate and display success. Only on occasion do you see someone actively relaying their struggles and battles, but when you do it is very powerful. Therefore, if you find the highlight reel of Instagram to be getting to you, take some time away. There is absolutely no harm in switching it off from time to time. Do what you need to do, but also be strong enough to know when you would benefit from a bit of distance from social media. This is something I have come to recognise quite well on myself, that there are times I need to step away from it.
Celebrate other people’s success.
I think this is a very important point. Success doesn’t come without hard work. Therefore, if somebody is absolutely smashing it, they have reason to do so, because they are worked hard to get there. For this reason, we should celebrate their success. Sport is a wonderful thing, especially running, as very rarely (if ever) does somebody show up, do absolutely no training, and succeed. Even if they bubble along for a while, it is destined to stop, as that mindset is not conducive with a successful athlete. We all know how hard running can be, so let’s celebrate one another and support them on their journey.
Focus on your journey.
Finally, focus on you. Your journey is the only one that will get you to where you want to go, so don’t waste energy by focusing on others too much. There is no magic button in sport, just consistency, hard work and recovery. Channel your energy into being the best you can be, and let others do what they will do. We all progress at different rates, so don’t let somebody else’s journey distract you from enjoying your own.
After a bit of a break, this week has been back to work, and I am so glad to be back. Those few weeks don’t fail to remind you how much you love it, and make you hungry to work even harder over the coming year. That being said, whilst the motivation may come easily after some time away, the fitness doesn’t, and that is what we have to work hard to chase.
Tuesday was my first session back and I started with a 45 minute progression run. I was so excited to get the legs working hard, but boy was it a shock to the system. Whilst two weeks isn’t that long, and they say it takes more than 2 weeks to lose fitness, it definitely didn’t feel as easy as it usually does, but that is ok, and that is good. We’d be shocked, and probably actually disappointed, if it did feel easy.
There is no point dwelling over lost fitness as that was inevitable, but also the point! We need to reset to restart and get stronger. Rather than be frustrated by how hard it may feel now, I am SO excited by the hard work I can put in to get back to my previous fitness and beyond. I love a challenge and I am so excited for the winter of training and racing ahead.
Winter training holds some of my favourite sessions and I love the grind it poses, but it can be really tough at times. When it is, as cheesy as it sounds, remember, winter miles bring summer smiles. The hard work we all put in over the winter will be so so worth it come it the summer. So, if it’s a cold, wet day, and you ask yourself, should I go out today? The answer is YES, because it’s those days that make you stronger. It’s not necessarily the PB sessions that go exactly to plan, it’s the ones where you battled through to complete them. Those are the ones that count.
So, bring on the winter (but a few more weeks of sunshine first would be welcome).
These past two weeks, I have been prioritising rest above anything else. I have done very little training, I have slept till my hearts content, I have moved in non-strenuous ways, and I have continued to eat lots of good wholesome food, just as I would when in full training. Foods that I would eat at ANY time of the year.
You see a lot of athletes post on social media about how the arrival of ‘off season’ means they can finally eat the foods they have been craving. They can finally delve into a big pizza and eat cake, burgers and ice cream. It’s like they have successfully resisted such foods for a whole year, and now they can finally devour them, but why do they not eat these throughout the rest of the year? Why do they feel the need to restrict themselves for the rest of the year. Yes, some athletes may feel they perform better with different diets, who am I to say, I’m not a professional, but for me, I perform best when I am healthy mentally and physically, and I give my body the foods it asks for.
If my body is craving a brownie, I’ll have a brownie. Chances are I haven’t eaten much sugar and my body is need of some. But also, if I constantly fight that desire to have a brownie and don’t allow myself to eat it, I’ll constantly be reinforcing the idea that denying myself certain foods is something I should do. It isn’t. I don’t need to earn certain foods for a whole year just to be able to eat them for two weeks. I believe, everything can be eaten in moderation, and this is what I do, because it is more sustainable. I eat pizza and I eat ice cream, but I don’t just eat it in my off season, I eat it at any time of the year.
Due to my past (and potentially controlling personality traits, haha!), I don’t want to reinforce this idea in my mind that I should restrict myself throughout the year except for 2 weeks. I know for certain, I would then be in a potentially damaging mindset. One that could overtime cause more harm than good. I therefore, like to listen to my body and my mind.
To me, running and my diet are both part of my lifestyle. It is all about consistency and balance. If I constantly fuel my body with a balanced diet, that includes every type of food, I will have a healthy body and mind. Similarly to running, if I aim to be consistent, incorporate all types of sessions and have a balance of running and cross training, I will have a healthy body and mind. Consistency is key! I eat what I want, when I want, whilst maintaining the balance overall.
So, next time you see a post about an athlete finally being able to enjoy the foods they crave in their off season, and feel you need to earn certain foods, remind yourself that everyone is different. Just because they don’t eat certain foods throughout the year, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Don’t feel bad, feel proud. Be proud that you are doing what works for YOU, physically, but more importantly mentally!
Last Sunday, I took on the challenge of running my first ever half marathon, at The Big Half. It was a bit further than I was used to as I hadn’t ever run a race further than 10k. I had run the half marathon distance in training before, so it wasn’t completely out of my reach. I know that my strength tends to lie in my aerobic system, but having never raced the longer distance, I was slightly nervous. After asking lots of questions to my coach about why it would be a good idea, and what the purpose of it was, I finally came round to the idea of doing one.
I was pretty nervous on the few days between Manchester International and the Big Half, mostly because I was heading into the unknown. Arriving at the hotel, my nerves suddenly intensified, but it was bizarre, as soon as I saw a few people I knew, the nerves vanished. So much so, that on the morning of the race, I didn’t really have any nerves at all! Obviously a little bit of normal pre race nerves, but it was mostly excitement and intrigue.
From the race itself, I remember very little, except running over Tower Bridge and loving every minute of the 13.1 mile distance. The first 10k was an amazing experience. I have never felt so strong and fluid in a race, for that long. Around mile 7, I got struck with a stitch, but managed to fight through it for a couple of k until it disappeared. It was the last 3 miles of the race when the tiredness started to kick in. It was a very different sort of feeling to how you feel in the last kilometre of a 5,000m, but I felt strong. I was enjoying that feeling of your legs feeling heavy but being able to keep them spinning and ticking off the miles. One of the other things I enjoyed the most was running in miles instead of kilometres, because I had no clue what time I was on for or how I was doing. My brain doesn’t seem to get to grips with miles, so it was a refreshing change to have no idea what pace you are running at. I did wear my watch, but apart from the very first K, I didn’t look at it once. This meant I had no idea what time I was on for until I crossed I actually crossed the line.
Reflecting on the half, I have realised a few things. Firstly, that it is important to have faith, in yourself and your coach. This race was an area of unchartered territory for me, but my coach told me two things: that I would love it and I would do better than I thought, and he was right. I did love every single minute, and to be honest, I am still buzzing off it five days later. I also surprised myself. I didn’t set a time goal as I just wanted to give it a go, but in my mind I wanted to run under 75 minutes, and that I did by a significant amount! The faith in myself relates to two things. One, having faith in my mind. Initially I was very unsure on doing the half, but my mind raised hundreds of questions about WHY I was doing the distance. I asked every single question I had to my coach and that allowed me to see so much clearer. So don’t be afraid to question what you are doing and the reasoning behind it. It also showed the importance of having faith in your ability. Sometimes if you don’t think too much about the practicalities and just dive into something, you end up surprising yourself. Have faith in your body and your fitness and you will be rewarded justly.
I also recognised the importance of variety. My goal distances may be 5,000m and 10,000m but it is important to race above and below this. I raced over 3,000m and the half, to work on my speed and my endurance. I now would even go as far as saying I would also like to race some 1500’s to shock these legs into spinning faster.
End of a season.
The half signified the end of my summer season. So it is goodbye to the track for a short while and hello to some muddy fields. I have gained more experience this season than I feel I have in a long time, and learnt lots about myself that I will take forward to become a stronger and more resilient athlete.
This week’s post is yet another short but sweet one. My dissertation deadline is just 2 weeks away, which is a scary thought. Whilst it is petrifying, I hope that the hard work I put in will pay off, similarly to running.
One of the main things I have been learning to do this year is what scares me. If it feels a big, scary, unknown concept, I probably should be doing it. There is that saying, ‘Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to help you grow’. I think this is genuinely true. The only way we will improve is and step towards our goals is by doing things that our out of our comfort zone, that we have never done before. Ultimately, if we want to progress, we have to step into the unknown, because you never know where it might lead to.
Whether it be doing different sessions, running different paces, or structuring your week differently, those scary unknowns can sometimes be the exact ingredients you need to add.
One thing I said to myself this year, was that I would be courageous and do things that scared me. Previously, I always trained hard, but I mostly just did sessions that were within my comfort zone, and as a consequence, I left a lot of stones unturned. Something that has been surprising, is the amount of enjoyment I have gained from doing those ‘scary’ concepts. The act of doing something that scares you and coming out the other side, gives you the confidence and strength to grow. If we never venture towards what scares us, we are unlikely to progress beyond where we feel comfortable.
I’m not saying, if you’re scared of spiders you should sit in a room infested with spiders, but what I am saying is that you should at least peer inside the window. When you take things step by step, they don’t have quite the same effect as they do if you dive straight in. But, if you learn to sometimes disengage your brain and let your body take over, you might amaze yourself with what you are capable of.
So, this is just a little message to say, don’t hold back. If it scares you, do it, because the feeling afterwards will be so rewarding.
After 2 weeks of watching the Olympics, it is safe to say the inspiration and motivation levels are high. There were some phenomenal performances and there is no way you could come away from them not feeling driven to chase after your goals. Seeing some of the athletes competing at the Olympics, that you see also racing at BMC’s and British champs, makes it seem very real and human. It makes you see first hand what hard work and perseverance can achieve.
Even if you are not a competitor with the dream of competing at the Olympics, you can’t help but feel inspired. It is amazing to see so many athletes achieving life long goals, as well as starting off their careers. For some, the achievement is in making it to the Olympics, and for others, it is about setting PB’s or winning medals. In my eyes, anyone who has made it to the Olympics is a hero and an inspiration.
Firstly, one of my all time inspirations has to be Jess Judd. I have looked up to her since I was tiny and saw her competing at the Essex Cross Country Champs. She hasn’t had an easy journey, but her ability to persevere and keep going when times get tough is relentless, and I admire her hugely for that. Seeing her race her heart out in the 5,000m and 10,000m was incredible, and it even reduced my mum to tears!! Haha! She gave it absolutely everything and even when I’m sure she was tempted to step off the track, she didn’t. And she smashed it. She also happens to be an incredibly kind and happy person who deserves every bit of success.
One of the races that I’m sure inspired everyone who watched it, was the women’s 800m final. I am no 800m runner, but gosh all three of those girls are amazing. Despite being one of the youngest in the field, Keely Hodgkinson ran a race well beyond her years. Her ability to keep a level head and not get flustered by everything around her is impeccable. I have to say, I think this is what I find most inspiring. Her attitude to running and racing just seems to be so calm and collected. She doesn’t appear to overthink things or let her mind get the better of her, she stays strong physically and mentally, and gets on with the task ahead. As a result, she was awarded with a silver Olympic medal!!
Alike Jess Judd, Alex Bell truly seems to be an incredibly tough cookie. (You can read my interview with her previously here) Even when things have not gone as she planned or hoped, she has never let it get the better of her. She has continued to put in the hard work, stay committed, and not let the words of others get the better of her. This is something I feel we should all do. Others will have their opinions, and they will undoubtedly get to us at times, but it is recognising that the opinions of others do not matter. They do not know you, your journey, or where you will end up, so they cannot say what you will or won’t do. Just like them, we don’t know either, so there is no point doubting yourself, because you don’t know what you are capable of until you go out and chase after it. Finally, Jemma Reekie. She wasn’t faced with the result she wanted, but to finish 4th in an Olympic final, no matter what you expected of yourself, is unbelievable. She has so much dedication to the sport and has given her all to ensure she can get to the level she is capable of and this speaks volumes. We must believe in ourselves.
Whilst there are so many athletes I could mention who have inspired me, the last I want to cover in this blog is Katie Snowden. Despite the set backs of injury, she has continued to fight for what she wants and chase after her goals. She made it to her first Olympics and then proceeded to run an astonishing race in the semi-final. To have got that far and come home from the Olympics with a PB, is no stat to ignore. I can’t wait to see what she achieves over the coming years.
So, for me, whilst there were some stand out performances within the athletics events, there was a lot of inspiration I found from other sports. I even found myself inspired by the BMX riders and skateboarders! Bring on the Paralympics.
Last week, I went on a plane for the first time in a year and a half, and headed to sunny Belfast for the Northern Ireland Senior Track Champs. Seeing as my father is Northern Irish, I am equally eligible for NI as I am for England, and recently I made the decision to switch eligibility to Northern Ireland. The Champs were an essential race to tick off, and it was one of the most enjoyable races of the season.
I headed into the race with no focus on time and purely concentrated all my energy on trying to win. I have to say I loved doing this. I had hoped to sit in for the first few k, but I ended up heading straight to the front of the pack, and staying there for the entire race. A lot of people don’t like doing that, as you have to do all the hard work, but I enjoy having the difficult job because it can only make me stronger and be beneficial in the future.
The first kilometre went out very slowly, and I felt incredibly comfortable, but rather than panic that I’d gone out too slowly, I used the energy I had conserved to my advantage. I worked to pick the pace up slightly each lap, until the point I knew I could create some distance from the rest of the girls. As I hadn’t raced against most of them before, I wasn’t sure where I stood in comparison, so I didn’t want to push on too much incase they did come past me and push on. Instead, I gradually wound the pace up each kilometre and pushed on in the last mile. The great thing was I felt soo strong! I had no idea of the time I was on for, but I expected it to be slow after the pace of the first k. I was very pleasantly surprised when I crossed the line in 16:03, having front run the entire 5k, but knowing I had much more left in me to give.
Confidence going forward.
Something the race gave me was a lot of confidence. It reassured me that I can pick the pace up when a race goes out slowly and my legs can move at a decent pace. I do tend to run better when I gradually build into it, so knowing that I can run a decent time even when I start feeling extremely comfortable is very reassuring. It makes me excited for future races knowing that I can push on in the last few kilometres to make up ground. It also shows that in order to run fast times, I don’t have to go out with the lead back and kill myself immediately. I can run my own race, stay a little bit reserved, and then work even harder in the business end of the race.
Having felt the strongest I have in a race for the past month or two, I now feel more determined and motivated than ever to work hard to achieve my goals. It is so great when you come out of a race feeling excited for the next as motivation in training is incredibly high. I can’t wait to have a few more races, and then focus on working hard over the winter to chase after my goals.
Outside of racing, each week tends to consist of two tough training sessions/workouts. The rest of the week is made up of easy/steady mileage, a long run, gym and cross training. My standard session days tend to fall on a Tuesday and a Friday to give me enough time between to recover and be ready to go again. Previously, for years I would do 3 sessions a week, but I definitely didn’t feel as though this worked for me. Frequently, one of those sessions would go well and the other two would be average or below average. This was because I was tired all the time. Due to the volume of each session being relatively high, I was never quite able to really push myself to that extra level. I was apprehensive about making the transition to 2 sessions a week, but I would now never go back. It works a lot better for me and my body.
There isn’t a massive trend to which sessions I tend to do each week, but Tuesdays are more likely to be on the track and Fridays on the road or trail/grass. I like different sessions for different reasons, but definitely do have some stand out favourites.
The general theme of my favourite sessions are the ones that are longer. To me, the longer the session the better, and the more at home I feel. I do however also enjoy the shorter and faster sessions, as I know I am working on my weaknesses which will help me become a faster athlete. Since changing coach at the end of last year, that is one of the biggest things I have learnt, that you have to do sessions that play to your strengths, but also sessions that work on your weaknesses and push you outside of your comfort zone.
On the track, my favourite types of sessions are something along the lines of 1 mile tempo, followed by 200 reps with a final 1 mile tempo at the end, 400 reps, or 1200m reps at a range of paces from 1500m pace up to 10k pace. I love a track session as you can just switch off and tick off the laps. You also don’t have to worry about dodgy GPS or keeping an eye on your watch for distance, as a lap is 400m, it doesn’t change!
Off of the track, tempos are my absolute FAVOURITE sessions! There is just something absolutely dreamy about a tempo, especially a continuous one. Whether it is 10k or 8 miles, I love getting into that rhythm of pace and just ticking off the k’s. Even on the days where it doesn’t flow quite like you hope it will, there is an incredible sense of achievement when you finish the tempo and have managed to keep your body continuously flowing. I think the thing I like most about the longer sessions, is how you can just become completely entranced by your running and shut off to everything else around you. Some of my other favourite sessions have been, 3x3k or 8x3 mins with reps 3/5/7 being fast!
Session days are definitely the best days of the week as they make you feel as though you are doing everything you can to make your ambitions and goals come true. Especially when the Olympics is on, and motivation is very high, all I want to do is session or race!
In line with the message of this blog, I will keep it a short one, because we don’t all have lots of spare time to sit around a read the rubbish that comes out of my mind. Plus, this time of the year is a very busy one as I am balancing, working, training, racing and my dissertation is due in 5 weeks! When there is lots going on in life, it is important to manage our time well, so how do I ensure I get everything done when time is tight?
To me, it is important to figure out what is the most urgent thing for me to do, what needs to be done as soon as I can, and what can be done at a later date. Once I have figured this out, I can prioritise my work. I tend to structure my day around training. So I set out when I need to get my training done, and then I slot everything else that needs to be done around that. For me, that allows me to add structure to my day without stressing about getting everything done. Currently my two main tasks are paid work and my dissertation. I tend to spend the mornings doing paid work and the afternoon doing my dissertation because these are currently the two most important things outside of training for me at the moment. Anything else, I fit in around that if I have time and use it as a break from the other two things.
Planning is key. Without planning nothing gets done efficiently. Well, this is how I feel anyway. I go in to each day with a plan. I write out in my notes everything I need to get done and the order in which I need to do them. Firstly, this stops me from forgetting the things I needed to complete, and secondly it allows me to get through things efficiently throughout they day by having direction. As soon as I wake up I know the tasks ahead of me for that day and that means I can organise my time in a way to ensure I can complete them. I find write down my plan for the day makes me accountable to it and also gives me a sense of achievement when I am able to tick off the things I have successfully accomplished.
This is a big one for me. Unless I have loads of time to complete something, I panic that I won’t be able to get it done. In my mind, 4 weeks to complete something doesn’t seem like a lot of time. I used to stress when I got my assessment guidelines 4 months before it was due and panic I didn’t have enough time, but this wasn’t productive. There is no point worrying about what you don’t have (enough time) as this will not help, instead, we must focus on the time we do have and use it wisely and efficiently. Stressing won’t get anything done, it will only make doing it less enjoyable.
The last minute approach works for some, but definitely not for me. As an organised freak, I will to ensure I have given myself as much time as possible to work on something as I like to do it to the best of my ability. As soon as I get set a task, I get to work on it. This helps prevent me from feeling as though things are building up. If I try to do a little bit everyday, before long I have completed more than I realised without any stress, so this is how I operate. Be organised and start working on things well in advance.
Sometimes, the thought of tackling 25 laps of the track can be a scary one. Psychologically it seems a lot further than 10k on the road, but it doesn’t need to. There are a few tricks I try to employ to make the 25-lap distance seem less daunting.
Focus on one lap at a time.
There is no point focusing on the 25 laps ahead of you when you are in the first 400m of the race. If you do this, the race will drag. Try to break it up. I focus on one lap at at a time. I think about keeping those legs spinning and aiming for consistent lap times. It is helpful when the timekeepers shout out the lap times as it allows you to focus on the individual laps and keeping them consistent, rather than the overall time ahead of you. Think of it a bit like a tough session. I don’t focus on how many reps I have left to go, but instead the one I am doing at that exact moment. More often than not you surprise yourself at how quickly each lap goes and before you know it you are over halfway.
Ignore the lap counter for as long as you can.
The lap counter in the 10,000m is something to avoid for as long as possible. If you take a peek too early, it can make the race drag on. I always try to ignore the lap counter. When I go around the start line, I purposely avoid looking at it and keep me eyes directed straight ahead. I try to do this until at least 5k, because then I know I am in the final half of the race and it is all downhill from there. This is how I mentally direct my focus away from the number of laps, because if I haven’t seen the lap counter, I genuinely forget how many laps I have actually done. It then comes as a nice surprise when you do look and have less than 10 laps to go.
Work with someone.
If it is possible, it is great to work with someone or sit in with a group in a track 10k. This way you don’t find yourself doing completely all the work and you have someone else to drag you along and push when you are finding it tough. Often, if you find yourself say within a group, the time goes by a lot quicker as you are purely focused on sitting in and digging deep. It is not always possible to do this, but when it is, make the most of those around you.
Feel good through 5k.
Something a lot of people say, and one I am still learning to accept, is the need to feel good going through the 5k mark, and not cause this to alert you. If you go through 5k and you feel good, don’t be alarmed and think that means you need to push on now, go with it, because, within the next k or 2 you will undoubtedly start to feel the burn. Feeling strong through the 5k point is a very good sign that you are pacing the race well and still have more to give going into the last 5k. In my latest 5k I felt really good going through the 5k mark and in doing so maybe wasted energy surging at points I shouldn’t have because I felt so good. I think it is important to save that energy and use it to really push in the final few k when the pain sets in.
There’s no getting away from the fact that 10,000m on the track is a tough distance. It always will be, no matter how fit you are. These are however a few things I do to make those laps seem less daunting.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!