"There are so many amazing, dedicated and highly educated coaches out there [...]if a coach ever suggests weight loss is the way to becoming faster, walk away."
I was recently chatting to someone about their competitive running history and the coaches they had. They told me something that made me so sad and disappointed. Mostly because I felt they had only been exposed to the dark side of the sport.
They told me that they had once joined with a coach, but they found it to be a bit too structured for them. I initially thought this was just referring to the structure of the training, but I was wrong, it didn’t stop at that. They had been told by their coach that they needed to lose weight. The coach had given them strict information on what they could and couldn’t eat. So much so, that they had lost their enjoyment for the sport, which is why they decided to become self-coached.
I’m not saying this is a common trait in coaches, because it is not, but I want to expose that this is not how our sport should operate, and this is not normal! Young athletes need to recognise that instruction to lose weight is not a natural part of our sport, and is not something you should expect to be told to do by a coach.
Irresponsible guidance such as this can be so damaging to athletes in sport. Not only can it cause them long term physical and mental damage, but in a lot of cases it turns people away from the competitive side of the sport. It is so sad when this happens, because it is not a true representation of the sport. There are so many amazing, dedicated and highly educated coaches out there, that it is awful to think some people never get to experience this positivity. Instead, they experience the destructive, dark side of athletics.
Most coaches are not like this, so please, if a coach ever suggests weight loss is the way to becoming faster, walk away. Do not feel like this is a normal thing to be told, because it is not. Decline their support and keep searching, because very quickly you’ll find the right coach for you with positive ideas. There are SO many of them.
Essentially, listen to what your coach says, but don’t lose sight of what is right and wrong, and don’t feel like you can’t question them. If you aren’t sure about what they are saying, ask them why, and always trust your gut if something doesn’t feel right.
‘You look like a distance runner’
This is a statement that is thrown around all too often. As soon as you say, I’m a distance runner, someone is very quick to say ‘oh, you look like one’ or ‘I can tell by how you look’. But, what does this really mean and how should we take comments like this, because ultimately, we can’t control whether someone says it to us or not, but we can control how we interpret it.
Comments like this symbolise the inherent lack of understanding in the world surrounding body image in sport. The majority of the time, the people they are coming from have no idea about what it means to be a runner and how this looks. That is more often than not because they do not run themselves, but sometimes it comes from experienced runners. However, even in this case, they cannot think of anything else to say constructive to say to you. Therefore, their comments have no standing. It is easier said than done, but we should try to look past these comments, reword them and remember these things:
A distance runner can look a million ways
Firstly, there is no specific way a distance runner should or does look. We all look different to the next person, and this is simply because we have different makeups. If you run, and happen to be a distance runner too, however your body is, is how a distance runner looks. No two people will look the same even if they do both enjoy distance running. There is no set body shape or figure that you should fit into in order to be the best runner you can be. The best body shape for you, that will allow you to follow your ambitions, is one that is healthy and allows you to be a happy individual. Nobody knows what this is like from the outside in, only you know, so don’t let their comments affect you.
How you look doesn’t define you or categorise you
How you look does not define who you are. Just because someone tells you that you look a certain way, does not mean that this puts you into a specific box. Your physique does not set you up to follow a specific path. There is so much more to an individual than their body. It is very shallow of people to make assumptions about you because of your image, and not take the time to get to know everything else about you. However, your body is your body, and this is the last thing that should govern how you live your life. It cannot tell you that you can or can’t do something. Regardless of your body shape, try it, and you’ll soon find out if the sport is for you or not.
How you look does not determine your success
Thirdly, you should not have your hard work and passion reduced to how you look. As athletes, we spend a lot of time training and work our hardest to become better athletes in all aspects. Whether we have achieved this or not does not come down to whether we look like a ‘distance runner’ in the eyes of someone else. Our body shape does not reflect our success. The only things that can reflect our hard work is the training and race that we do. Our body’s will change throughout the year, week on week, depending on so many different factors. These changes do not mean our performance level has changed, so why do we put so much stress on looking a specific way all the time.
We all have different body shapes. If you enjoy distance running and that is what you do, then you have the body of a distance runner. Whatever you look like that’s how a runner should look.
The last time I stepped foot on an indoor track was back in 2016 at an open meet over the 3,000m distance. At that point I was struggling mentally and physically physically. I gave my all and came out with a time of 11:57. Fast forward 6 years, with no time on and indoor track since then, I decided to take on an indoor 5,000m BMC race. When my coach first suggested it, I was a little apprehensive, but I keep reminding myself that if it’s outside of my comfort zone, it is something I need to do. Ultimately, no one progressed without stepping outside of their comfort zone. The indoor track was very different to say the least, and here are a few key differences I noticed.
How did it compare?
Laps upon laps.
The most obvious difference is the laps. An indoor track is only 200m in distance, so a 5k is a massive 25 laps. It sounds a lot of laps, and some may say it sounds boring, but I actually really enjoyed it. Due to only being 200m, I found it a lot easier to stay focused and just concentrate on ticking off lap after lap. The laps ticked by super quickly, and before you had time to think about what you were doing, you were on to the next lap. It’s also good training for getting used to 25 laps ahead of the 10,000m on the outdoor track, which whilst being the same number of laps, makes you nowhere near as dizzy as it is obviously further for each lap!
It’s also pretty obvious, but the massive bonus of racing indoors, especially in the UK at this time of the year, is that there is no need to worry about the weather conditions. We all know, this winter so far has been characterised by wind and rain, as it is most years. This isn’t always conducive for an enjoyable and fast race. Therefore, stepping inside and getting on the track, offers the chance to get a decent race in without having to battle agains the British weather. It was also pretty satisfying warming up in the wind and rain and knowing that I didn’t have to be in those conditions for the race.
Breathing slightly different.
Stepping indoors also has a slightly different feel on your body, specifically your breathing. The air indoors is a lot drier, and therefore can get to your throat. Going into the race, I treated it as though I was going into a race on a summers day. I also try to stay hydrated as much as I can, but in the days preceding the race, I was sure to drink more than usual, just to prepare for the conditions indoors.
Corners and banks.
Besides from only being 200m, the track itself is very different to a normal track. This is because the corners are a lot sharper and the corners are banked. Therefore, every 50m you run on a camber. I wasn’t sure how I would find this, but I actually preferred the bends to the straights as they give you a bit of moment going round. It does however make it slightly harder to overtake, as you have less opportunity to do so. If you want to overtake on the straight, when the thought/opportunity arises, you have to commit and really go for it, because in a matter of seconds the opportunity will have passed.
These are the main differences I noticed, so if you’re thinking about giving an indoor race a go, do it, and I hope this helps you prepare for the race a little better.
We all do it, some more than others, but it just seems to come naturally to us. However, just because it comes naturally, doesn’t mean it can’t be invasive and overwhelming. There are times it would be helpful to detach our brain from our body to prevent it from overthinking, but we can’t, so we have to learn to deal with it. My 2022 promise to myself is to try not to overthink, and here are a few things I do when overthinking arises that might help you too.
Talk/Write them down.
When we start to overthink things in our minds and go over and over them, the best thing to do can be to release them. Sometimes chatting about the thoughts in your head helps. It isn’t necessarily feedback you need, but releasing them and having someone listening to you can be a big help. Alternatively, if you don’t feel like chatting to someone, write your thoughts down. Putting your thoughts on paper helps get them out of your mind so they aren’t continually whirling around.
Question your thoughts.
Just because our brain tells us to think something, doesn’t mean we have to accept it. We can contest those thoughts that we don’t want to experience and question them their value. If we try to understand where the thoughts are coming from and unpack them, we can very quickly turn them around. When negative, overinflated thoughts enter into our minds, we can ask ourselves, are they rational? More often than not, they aren’t. Frequently, they are the scared little version of ourselves that is afraid of failing. If we tell that part of ourself that they are irrational and their beliefs do not come from any concrete location, we can understand that they have no worth.
There is only one way to reverse something that is having a negative effect on you, and that is by turning it positive. It is definitely easier said than done, but once you start the process, it will soon become second nature. Every time you overthink something in a negative way, reverse the thought. For example, if you find your brain overthinking a session that didn’t go to plan, rather than telling yourself it is because you have lost fitness and you are not a good runner, think about it positively. Remind yourself that it is good for a session to not go to plan than a race, that there is always something to learn from why it didn’t go to plan, and thank your body, because it is telling you that today it didn’t feel 100% so it held you back. There will always be good, average, and not quite so great sessions, and this is imperative to us developing as strong athletes. Therefore, behind every over-thought negative thought is a positive to take away, you just have to search for it.
Remember, there is no need to beat yourself up when you find yourself overthinking something, but don’t let those thoughts overpower you. Try the above methods and see if things start to seem a bit brighter. You are never alone.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!