The amount of sleep I get each night has become something I am much more conscious of. I am now aware of the need to get enough to aid recovery. In the past, I have been a slave to denying myself sleep in order to squeeze in as much training as possible. I now realise this is not always the best thing to do, and if it can be avoided, we don’t need to do it. Of course, at times we have to get up early to train before work, but if this is the case, I try to get an early night the evening before to ensure I still get enough sleep.
Sleep is integral to recovery. It allows our bodies to repair from the damage we have caused them throughout the day from training. Frequently, after a tough session, I am knackered. As soon as my head hits the pillow I am asleep. Nights like that show how important sleep is. This is a sign our body is craving all the sleep it can get. If another early morning awaits you, GO TO BED EARLY! When I was denying myself the sleep my body needed, I would wake up feeling as tired as I was going to bed. Not only did I feel physically exhausted, but also mentally. This is the point at which we put ourselves at risk of injury. If we are going into every run or session tired, we aren’t going to be gaining as much from the session as we would going into it fresh. If you are constantly feeling tired, make sure you give yourself the rest you need. If you do this, you’ll soon be raring to go again.
In contrast, we may not always need lots of sleep. I for one find myself getting so fixated on getting at least eight hours sleep, that I become anxious if I haven’t got it, even when I have naturally woken up before I’ve had eight hours. This is ok! Sometimes we don’t need lots of sleep. If we wake up feeling wide awake before our alarm, we must not need anymore. It is so important to listen to our bodies; they know much more than we do about what they need, and they usually do tell us what they want.
The main thing I try to remember is how vital it is not to get caught up in an incessant cycle of sleep deprivation. Give your body the amount of sleep it requires. If it’s shouting at you for more, give it more. If it’s telling you its had enough, believe it. Early mornings are ok, if you get enough sleep beforehand, and vice versa with late nights.
I find it best not to get too hung up on how much sleep I get, but instead just ensure I don’t deprive myself of it. This way I can maintain a positive balance between sleep and training without overthinking it.
One of the questions I get asked quite a lot is, how did I know when my stress fracture had healed? Unless you get an MRI obviously you can never be 100% sure, but I wasn’t in the position to be able to get a rescan.
So, without being able to get a follow-up MRI how did I know I was ready to start slowly running again?
Well, alongside the incredible physio support I received, the honest answer is time. It is so important to give yourself enough time, even more than enough time to allow your fracture to heal. In the grand scheme of things, having a few more weeks off than the doctor/physio says is never going to harm you. It is better to be safe than sorry, especially at the latter stage of your recovery. If you have given yourself more than enough time to heal, unless there is a severe underlying problem, nature should’ve done its job and repaired the fracture.
At the start of my injury I would’ve done anything to get back running. If someone mentioned the possibility of me running, I would’ve jumped at the opportunity. However, as time went on, whilst I was so desperate to get back running, I didn’t want to ruin all the time I had spent repairing my fracture. As a result, I was willing to wait a few weeks longer than I was advised to, to make sure there was no possibility it was still there. I had heard so many stories about people who tried to run sooner than they should’ve done, and they found themselves having to undergo the entire process again. I did NOT want to do this! Injury recovery is a long process!
When returning back to running I was very anxious. I had a heightened awareness to any sort of pain, discomfort, tickle, or niggle in my calf area. To put it simply, I was very neurotic and focused on my fracture spot 24:7! Whilst this is understandable, and it does take time to overcome it, it is important not to let this override your rationality. If you have been given the green light, and have given it even longer, chances are you just need to get started. Once you start the process back to running, you will slowly remember what good discomfort is and what is dangerous. This cautious mindset is beneficial though, as it is the only way you will progress slowly without risking another fracture. It may be healed, but the area of the fracture will be weaker due to lack of use, so it is important to go slowly. This is where I was very thankful for the physio help I received, as they built me up with strengthening exercises and a gradual increase in load, to make sure that when I did start running again, I had as much strength in the fractured area as possible.
Did/Do I still feel pain?
When I returned to running I definitely didn’t feel pain, but I did feel something. I think because I had become so fixated on that area of my body, I was convinced I could feel something, purely because I was so aware of it. I didn’t feel any pain, but I did feel an ache-like feeling. As much as I grew to hate it when people mentioned the word ‘psychological’, I do believe the latter discomfort was partly psychological. I had become so used to feeling discomfort it that area, that it was understandable my brain still thought I could feel an abnormal sensation. It wasn’t until I had been back running for a few months and had actually forgotten about my calves, that the discomfort went away. Whilst it was annoying being conscious of every sort of feeling in my fracture area, it made me take my recovery seriously. I wasn’t going to suddenly start running fast or do anything irresponsibly. I would rather stay on the safe side than risk pushing myself backwards.
It’s got to that time of year when it’s time to say farewell to Cross Country for another year. Whilst this season has been my strongest cross-country season yet by far, I am glad to be coming off the mud and onto the road. It’s nice to have different focuses for the year, but I now feel ready to do some speedy racing and focus on improving my times.
So, how does XC racing compare to road?
One of the main differences in racing cross country compared to road racing is the preoccupation with time. When you are racing XC you run as hard as you can for X amount of km and focus on position. Time is irrelevant in cross country as no two courses are the same, and NO course is completely flat, therefore you can’t compare your times across races (especially if it’s proper British cross country). It is much more important to focus on position and effort in cross country. Give it all you have and dig deep. It is tough, but it’s worth it at the end!
In contrast, time is a major part of road racing. Whilst position does come into play, and some races are more tactful than other, the main focus is to improve your time over the distance you are focusing on. If you are working towards a specific time you may wish to pace the race in a particular way. Whilst I do not pace myself according to my watch in road races, and just give it all I have from start to finish, some people find it better to work with their watch to achieve the time they are chasing. Road racing allows you to put your hard speed work, and winter miles to the test, by allowing you to see what times you can produce. As the season goes on you are constantly working on improving your times.
Whilst it is fun to work towards achieving PB’s on the road and track, it is great to have the cross-country season to break up your goals and give yourself another focus. It can be mentally tiring chasing PB’s constantly, therefore changing your focus can be vital to ensuring you go into the summer season feeling refreshed and determined.
How do I prepare?
Training in preparation for Cross country, over the road and track does tend to vary. Whilst the winter involves lots of tough hill session and longer reps, the summer months see the end of hills, and an increase in speed work. Whilst there is no dramatic change in my overall weekly mileage, the specific sessions I do change significantly. I will also do more faster reps, to try and get the speed back in my legs for track. Throughout the summer months, races are more frequent, therefore I will naturally do fewer long sessions to allow my legs to recover before/ after races. In the build-up to a race I will focus much more on quality, rather than quantity, especially if I have quite a few races in one month.
My pre-race preparation for Cross country, road and track is pretty similar. I have the same pre-race breakfast, do the same warm up, and get my mind focusing on the task ahead. However, I do find myself adopting a different mindset in the buildup to XC and road races. Having struggled in the past, especially with cross country, I constantly remind myself of my strength. Cross country can be a killer, and whilst I love hills, you can’t always prepare yourself for the toughness of the course ahead. I find it so important to keep reminding myself that I am strong enough, and I do have the ability to perform well in cross country. Whilst I do tell myself I am strong enough when it comes to road races and track, I find I am able to get in the zone and block out what is around me much easier as I am less worried about the actual course itself, it is more a fact of telling myself I can race as fast as my mind lets me.
There are loads of other things that make XC, road, and track races very different, but these are the ones that I find the most significant. oh, and of course, the fact there is NO MUD on the road or track!!!!!!
This is not a question that has a universal answer for everybody. Lifting weights works for some people, and not for others. However, the sort of weight can also vary. As soon as someone mentions the word weights, it is assumed they mean benching huge weights or using the squat rack to lift double your body weight, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Well, I don’t do this!
Lifting weights can come in all shapes and sizes. I don’t lift heavy weights, nor use the squat racks, but I do make use of barbells. A little bit of weight can be good for everyone, but it doesn’t need to be a lot in my opinion. An exercise I love, is single leg Romanian deadlifts with a weight between 6-8kg. I have been doing this exercise since my injury rehabilitation began and I believe it is excellent for leg and ankle stability and strength, as well as core strength. This is not a particularly strenuous or heavy exercise, but that little bit of extra weight helps. It isn’t enough to tire my legs out, which was the danger of the weights I was doing before, but it is enough to engage the muscles and improve lower leg stability.
Another aspect of weight training that I find beneficial to do is ‘bodyweight’ exercises. This gets your body working and forces you to focus on that particular area you are working, ensuring you are engaging it properly. Starting all exercises with only your bodyweight is so important to make sure you target technique before you are then pushing yourself intensity wise. Start every exercise from bodyweight and perfect this first. The difficultly with using weights for exercises if they are not done correctly, are they may contribute to injury, rather than prevent it. Since injury prevention is key, this is not the best thing to do!
Whilst weights and the gym may seem boring and tedious, it is so worthwhile. Since doing such exercises I have noticed a massive improvement in the strength and stability of my lower legs, especially my ankles. If we have stronger limbs and better control over them, we are less likely to be struck with injury. The use of low weights is key to injury prevention.
If you decide to look to lifting weights, be careful, and do what you feel comfortable with. If you approach an S&C coach, make sure you voice your concerns if you are unsure about anything. You know your body better than anyone else, if an exercise is too hard on your body, or causing you to lose your form or struggle in the rest of the training, tell them. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are unsure about the benefit of something you are doing, ask them, and don’t be afraid to say no to doing it. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel confident enough to say no when I didn’t like an exercise I was doing, and it backfired. Trust your own opinion when it comes to lifting weights.
The amount of weight and the intensity you do them at will be different for everyone and for different distances. If you don't currently include any sort of gym/low-weight work into your training now, be very gradual and cautious if you do decide to. Always start with bodyweight!
We all do it, it’s hard not to. We all compare ourselves to other people. We know we shouldn’t and it’s not helpful for our self-esteem, but we continue to do so. We become so fixated on what other people are doing, what they can do better than us and what they have that we don’t, that we forget to enjoy the here and the now. We forget to enjoy the journey we are on as individuals, and what we do have. The only way we are going to be comfortable within our own skin and be confident in our own ability is if we focus on ourselves and our own potential.
This is especially relevant for me when it comes to training and racing. In the past I have found myself focusing on the training other people are doing and the times they are running, that I have forgotten to pay attention to myself. I have become so preoccupied with comparing myself to them, that I have forgotten about my own mental wellbeing. As a result, I have become so demotivated and down. Instead of looking forward and enjoying the journey I am on, I am caught up in a cycle of believing I am not good enough. We don’t need to compare ourselves to one another; we are all different. We are all good at different things and are at different stages of our own journey, therefore comparisons can’t be made. No two individuals are the same. We are all wonderful in our own way.
Of course, I am still guilty of comparing myself to others at times, it can’t be avoided, but it is important to know how to stop it when it happens. I have learnt how to be happy in my own skin, and what to do if I struggle to believe so.
One of the steps I took to stop comparing myself to others was to come off Strava. Don’t get me wrong I think Strava can be an excellent way of following your own progression , and as a virtual training log, but I feel its benefits operate privately. There is no need to publicise all the training I am doing, it doesn’t benefit me psychologically.
Why was this?
I would find myself running faster than I was supposed to on easy runs because I was conscious of people seeing my run and thinking I was running too slowly. I was also preoccupied with constantly ramping up my mileage week on week, so people didn’t think I was slacking, that I forgot about the impact this would have on my body. I was constantly obsessed with loading my runs up to Strava to get my daily dose of ‘kudos’ that I forgot about the importance of stretching and recovering properly after sessions. I was wasting time obsessing over everyone else. I would check Strava constantly throughout the day to see what other people were doing that I wasn't. This is not the way it should be. Strava began to overtake my life and cloud my judgment of what I should be doing. It made me question what I was doing and if I was fast enough.
I don’t believe Strava is a demon for everyone, but for those of you out there with a similar personality to me, it isn’t constructive. It’s just another device for us to obsess over. It caused me to become preoccupied with what everyone else was doing that I forgot to focus on myself and my training. For those of you out there who are able to distance yourselves from what other people are doing, Strava may be perfect for you. But if you are like me and end up constantly comparing your training to everyone else’s, it may be better for you to come off of it. Consequently, when it came to racing, I had psyched myself out before the race had even begun because I believed I wasn't good enough. I believed there was no way I could be if I hadn't done as much training as everyone else. But it doesn't matter, what matters is you. Everyone is different, focus on your own development.
Don’t force yourself to do things that are destructive to your self-belief.
I for one, love Instagram. I think it is a great way to document your journey and keep up to date on what your friends and family are doing. I think it is amazing that we can convey such important messages through photos and inspire others, but it is also important to recognise what does and doesn’t help your own wellbeing. If people are promoting messages you don’t agree with, don’t be afraid to unfollow them. That is the wonderful power of the unfollow button. If there are people who cause you to feel like you aren’t good enough or make you feel self-conscious, UNFOLLOW them. There is no rule about who you should and shouldn’t be inspired by and enjoy following. If they make you feel demotivated, you don’t need to follow them. If they cause you to question what you look like and how you live, take that negativity away. Think about yourself and your own welfare. This is what I had to do.
At times I go through stages of overly comparing myself to those I see on Instagram, and this is the point at which I allow myself a temporary break from it. Whether it be a few days or a week, we all need an Instagram detox every now and then. Don’t be afraid to do it. You are all that matters, and if social media isn’t helping you believe that, come off it.
Personally, when it comes to focusing on myself, I am better with as little interference as possible. I feel much more confident in my own skin the less I focus on other people’s training, and that is not something to be ashamed of. Be comfortable within yourself, no matter what you have to do to achieve that. Enjoy being unique and different to everyone else that surrounds you. It is important to love yourself, not beat yourself up for being different to those around you.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!