The Return: Reintroducing Sessions
The real return to running finally feels like it has begun. My coach has started reintroducing running sessions into my plan. I have now had 4 sessions back and with every one, my body is slowly remembering what it is doing and starting to move a bit more naturally. That being said, the first session really did feel VERY hard and VERY weird. In order to ease back in gently, I started with a simple, but effective, 2x8 minutes @tempo pace with 2 minutes recovery. Since then my coach has introduced some shorter 1-4 minute reps whilst also building my tempo base up.
How did I approach the first session?
I knew it was going to feel hard, of course it was going to be, I hadn’t run fast in over 5 months, so I knew I needed to approach try session slightly differently. I had no expectations. I didn’t set myself any specific paces to hit, the plan was just to ‘run’ and go by feel. This way I took any pressure off the session and I couldn’t be deflated by my current fitness as I had no expectation for where I should be. I just wanted to enjoy being back sessioning, and that I did.
How did the first session feel?
It was a shock. I’ve been staying fit and doing sessions on the bike and in the pool, but nothing compares to running. There is nothing that quite gets me working like a run session does. I felt strong and my breathing was all ok, I just felt extremely rusty. The first 8 min tempo felt a lot harder than expected, but what showed me that it wasn’t a lack of fitness, just a lack of running conditioning, was that the second rep actually felt better. I have found with all of my sessions since then that I’ve felt better the further I get into the session.
Was I surprised by how it went?
As I said earlier, I didn’t set myself any expectations or paces for the introductory sessions, I simply went by feel/effort. If it felt like tempo, regardless of pace, I was doing it right. I didn’t look at the paces during the session, but I did afterwards, and to be honest I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t necessarily focus on the pace I ran but more the consistency, and this was there. It didn’t feel as easy as I would’ve liked, but no pace on the first session was going to feel comfortable. However, I was able to maintain a consistent pace for both reps and feel more comfortable at this pace as the session went on. I didn’t pick the pace up, but I adjusted more to the pace as I went on and felt increasingly more comfortable.
How did you feel after?
In all honesty, I expected to feel quite tired and achey the days following the first session back. However, as we eased into it gradually, I actually didn’t. With all the cross training and strengthening I have been doing, my body was more prepared than I anticipated. My coach has increased the volume and intensity of the running very gradually, so nothing has been a huge shock to the system.
From here on, the progression will continue to be very gradual but we are making developments week on week. Each week introduces a little bit more volume or intensity, so we are able to take consistent steps forward. There is a long road ahead, but I am excited for what is to come and the progress I can make.
Do you always feel like you are on the way to somewhere else? Never content in the moment? If so, keep reading. This blog is not about what you can do to be where you want to be, but instead what you don’t need to do because you are right where you should to be.
A lot of the time a lot of us are constantly striving forward. We are always looking for the next thing we can do or focus on. I for one am guilty of this, even on my blog. I regularly write about what we can do to become better athletes, recover better, worry less. This always involves doing something and making a conscious change to your behaviour, but frequently, the best thing is we can do is nothing. Just be where you are.
Whilst ambition is good, and gives us purpose, it can also cause us to feel unsettled and like we are never happy with what we have.
However, have you ever stopped and looked at where you are currently, and realised that you are exactly where you need to be right now. There is nothing else you need to be doing. Whatever you are or aren’t doing right now, in any amount or form, is completely enough. There is nowhere else you NEED to be, except here, in the now. Every emotion you feel, or action you take, is exactly as it should be at this time and place. It is all part of your journey, whether you realise it or not.
As complicated, or uncomplicated, as it sounds, what does being where you need to be look like?
As humans, we frequently experience the need to find solutions and meanings to all of our feelings/emotions. When we feel a certain way, we quickly label it as something such as sadness, anxiety, excitement, or apprehension, giving it preconceived connotations, then go about finding the best way to deal with this emotion.
What if we didn’t do this? What if we just let ourselves be?
Feelings are a part of every human, and we all interpret them differently. What I classify as feelings of anxiety, might be what someone else understands as excitement. Therefore, don’t label your feelings. Recognise them when the arise, but let them pass in their own time. Don’t judge them, or yourself for feeling them, and don’t rush to label them. Accept them as they are and watch them pass like a cloud.
More often than not, this allows us to be more accepting of the emotions we do feel, and realise that they have arisen at this moment because they are meant to. Therefore, we don’t need to do anything to force them past.
Don’t force it.
Understanding that I am exactly where I need to be has allowed me to try and go with the flow of my mind and body. It has allowed me to embark on the journey of learning to live in the now. Whether this be an emotion I am feeling, or a physical state, I have always been driven to force it to be where I think it need to be.
For example, if I go into a session tired, rather than accepting this and adjusting to my current physical state, I would force myself to be as fast as I thought I should be. Consequently, I would frequently suffer as a result the following week when I still felt tired. I should have accepted that my body felt the way it did because it is meant to.
It was simply adjusting to the hard work I asked of it in previous days and weeks, and telling me that a slightly easier day was needed in order for me to progress as I wished. I shouldn’t punish myself for not being on top form, but instead praise my body for telling me what it needed.
This similarly applies to your mental state. If your mind is screaming at you for a chilled day without any social interaction, don’t force yourself out of the house. This is likely only going to prolong the feelings you are experiencing. Instead, allow yourself the time to recuperate and feel as you need. Do whatever you do or don’t want to do, nothing more. It is likely you will come around quicker than if you had thought. If you don’t, that is also ok. Just remind yourself, that this is what you need right now. You are exactly where you should be.
As I said at the start, this blog is not about what you can do to be where you want to be, but instead what you don’t need to do, because you are right where you should to be.
Becoming A More Robust Athlete.
One of the main things I have prioritised over the past few years as a runner, is becoming as strong, and injury-resistant as possible. Sadly, this did not quite work out as well as I hoped, as I ended up with a stress fracture in my foot at the Commonwealth Games. However, as with any life difficulty, this injury offered me with an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and become an even more robust athlete! More robust than I previously thought I could be. As a result, here are some of the changes I have implemented into my plan.
Recovery is key.
It is not rocket sign that in order to reap the benefits of hard work, we need to give our bodies the time to recover and rebuild. However, sometimes it can be easy to dismiss the importance of recovery. I have therefore focused on prioritising recovery. For example, ensuring I don’t spend the whole day on my feet, or that I am getting plenty of rest in between sessions. It may be that every now and then you cannot help it, but if I spend the majority of the day on my feet regularly, it is going to hinder my recovery, thus affecting my next run session.
I have also never been a fan of rest days, I don’t think many athletes are. However, I am working hard to change my mindset towards them. They are quite simply, one of the easiest ways to boost performance. Rest days allow your body to recover from all the hard work you have put it through, and repair your muscles so they can become stronger. On occasion, I have been guilty of pushing my rest days longer and longer, but this has changed. I am now being strict with incorporating rest into my training schedule, whether I feel I need it or not, because rest is my friend and secret weapon.
Vary cross training.
I have always loved the cross trainer (or elliptical as some call it). When lockdown struck and the gyms were shut, I resorted to doing all my cross training on it and neglecting other forms of cross training. Whilst it was not as demanding on my body as running, it still put a lot of weight through my feet. Therefore, I have made the conscious decision to mix up my cross training and utilise the bike and the pool a lot more. This allows me to still work my body, but in a non-weight bearing manner, allowing my body to recover better in between running sessions.
Before about 3 months ago, my S&C programme consisted of the exact same programme, 3 days a week, every week, for the past 5 years. Ultimately, it was doing nothing, because there has been no change to it. My body became wise to the exercises and no longer got any benefit or recovery prevention from it. I have since joined with a qualified S&C coach in order to become stronger and more robust. I can honestly say that I have worked areas of my body that have never been strengthened before. This excites me, because if I can become stronger, I can become faster, and a lot more injury-resistant.
Get it checked!
As runners, we frequently get niggles and tightnesses. I however, have always been very quick to dismiss them and pretend that everything is completely fine, even when it’s not. I have always looked on admitting to niggles as a sign of weakness, but this has got to stop, because they aren't. They are just part of sport. Therefore, I no longer want to look on niggles as a sign of weakness, but instead be smart and listen to my body. If something does not feel right, no matter how small it is, I need to trust myself, because ultimately, we know ourselves better than anybody else. When something is causing discomfort, this IS a sign of an existing physical weakness, but responding to it is a sign of strength. In order to be the strongest, most robust athlete I can be, I need to address them at every stage they occur, before they become serious.
It’s not a revolutionary statement to say that sleep is such an important part of our daily lives, especially if you are very active. However, I still think it is often neglected. I have always been very quick to get up an hour earlier just to ensure I can fit everything in, but this isn’t necessarily the best way forward. By doing this on a regular basis, I would skip out on one of the easiest ways to make gains in training. When we sleep, our bodies recover, therefore the better and more we sleep, the better they can recover, allowing us to improve. Waking up early, or going to bed late, can hinder this recovery process, leaving you tired going into the next session, and putting yourself more at risk of injury. Therefore, following my injury, I have vowed to put sleep first. Unless unavoidable, getting plenty of sleep is non-negotiable.
These are just a few changes I have made in order to become the strongest, fastest, most robust athlete I can be going forward.
For many, the new year brings a new lease of motivation. Whatever it is we want to achieve, we feel a stronger drive to get after it on the 1st of January than we did on the 31st of December. We have an overwhelming desire to seize the year and make the most of everyday. However, when we go out at 100%, it is near on impossible to maintain this level of enthusiasm day on day.
What can we do to ensure our new year motivation stays as high as possible and lasts the entire year?
Slow and steady.
This saying really does say it all. Pace yourself! Whether you are an Olympic athlete or a recreational jogger, it is impossible to feel completely motivated every hour of every single day. Therefore, it is important to commit to a level that you can maintain for the whole year. For example, if you have never run before, it may be better to commit to 2/3 runs a week throughout the year, rather than starting with 5/6 days and struggling to maintain it after a few weeks. This is the same for competitive athletes. If you have decided to incorporate strength and conditioning into your training, it is better to ease yourself in otherwise you may risk overdoing it and not only losing motivation, but ending up injured.
Even if you are a creature of habit, variety is always a good thing. If you keep it varied and interesting, your motivation is less likely to dwindle as your brain does not get wise to what you are doing. The variety keeps you excited to get up and train each day. Too much of the same thing makes up complacent, and without even realising, our brains have become lazy and we have taken the foot off the gas .
The best part about training with company is that it makes you accountable. On the days you wake up and don’t want to get out of bed, or the cold evenings when you curling up on the sofa seems very inviting, having someone waiting for you to train makes you a lot less likely to sack it in. Not only do you not want to let them down, but you also don’t want them to see you giving in. Once you are there, the company will also allow you to work harder, go for longer, and simply just enjoy it a bit more!
This point is very important. In order to prevent burning out and to remain feeling fresh, regular rest days are a must. Rest not only allows you to stay mentally motivated as it allows you to appreciate the days you get to run, it also allows your body to reap the benefits of the training you have been doing. Personally, when I start to get more physically fatigued, my motivation reduces slightly. This is usually because my body tired, but so is my mind. Regular rest prevents you from reaching those extended periods of fatigue that leave you feeling demotivated. Rest is also the precious time when the muscles you have broken down from training can repair, rebuild and allow you to become even stronger.
There are so many things you can employ in order to ensure your new year motivation doesn’t flounder. These are just a few of them and I hope they help you keep up the good work!
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!