Up until changing coaches at the end of last year, my training followed a very regular routine. I tended to do the same sessions on repeat on a 2-3 week cycle. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it helped me improve, it did take away some of my enjoyment for the sport and prevented me from working all my different speeds.
On reflection, there were some pace zones I had never worked in. I had never done a steady run. I didn’t even know what steady running was. I assumed it was the same as easy. Steady running is essentially in between easy and tempo. I didn’t know this. I had also never done an extended tempo. The longest time I had ever tempo’ed for was 10 minutes at a time. I had never ventured into the zone of continuous tempos. The thought of these was definitely scary and something I didn’t think I was capable of. However, with a little bit of confidence, self-belief, and the right guidance, I actually surprised myself at being able to do it. They are now one of my favourite sessions! I LOVE extended tempos! I have also started operating regularly at paces faster than 5k pace, another previous unknown.
The lack of enjoyment I started to experience was mostly because of the comparison factor. I did every session so regularly that I would constantly compare each session to the last. I wanted each week to be faster than the previous one. Of course everyone wants to get faster, but it isn’t possible to be faster every week, progression unfortunately isn’t quite that linear. There is a time and a place for comparing sessions to previous ones, and it is helpful to track progress by repeating sessions every now and then. It can help you see improvements, however, doing the exact same sessions on a 2 week cycle caused me to compare each session way too much and stress constantly about the times and paces I was hitting. I would get down if I was slightly slower than the previous time I did the session, even if the conditions were bad. I would fail to take into consideration the variation in weather, what other training I had been doing, or factors that were taking place outside of running. This is because I had a constant benchmark of what times I should be running for what session, and I didn’t want to not hit them, or I felt as though I was going backwards.
Since varying my sessions, I have noticed a massive change to my mentality going into them. Rather than getting unhealthily nervous and fearing not hitting the times I did previously, I get excited by the challenge ahead of me. I have enjoyed each workout a lot more and finished them with a greater sense of accomplishment. It is such an amazing feeling when you finish a session that was a massive challenge you have never done before. There is a lot more enjoyment, less comparison, and much more eagerness to give it everything when the sessions change regularly. This means I go into each session fresh. I have nothing to compare against so I just give my all and know that is all I can do.
If I could speak to my previous self, I would say don’t be afraid to vary your sessions. Whilst unknown sessions can be scary, one of the best ways to improve is by doing what scares you. As with my word for the year (courage), strength lies in doing what scares you. I now find the prospect of going into an unknown session exciting. I love that feeling of knowing you are going to have to work as hard as you can for a new challenge, and that is exciting. Variation is important, not something to be feared.
We have yet again been faced with another hiatus from racing, and for a lot of us, our last race was well before Christmas. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that end is very near!! To say the concept of racing again is exciting, would be an understatement, as I can’t wait to get back out there and see where I’m at!
This got me thinking, what is it about racing that we love so much?
Opportunity to test
One of the greatest things about racing is the opportunity it provides us with to test ourselves. It gives us the chance to test our fitness, our mindset, and our training. When in a race setting, we do all we can to prepare our body to be pushed to the limit. By doing so, we can clearly see where our fitness is. Thus, this allows us to recognise whether we are heading in the right direction or if we need to reevaluate a few things. It is an exciting challenge that allows us to step outside our comfort zones and see what we are capable of.
It also allows us to test our mindset. Training is very different to racing. No matter how hard we push ourselves in training, racing is a different game and a chance to really see what our body is capable of. For that reason, when we go into a race, we adopt a very different mindset than we do for every training session. For a race, we mentally, just as much as physically, prepare ourselves. We are much more focused, we get ‘in the zone’ and we shut off to outside distractions. Whereas it is difficult to adopt this mindset for every training session that we do. This is why racing allows us to test our minds as it gets us used to focus on the task ahead and shutting off any distractions.
In training, there are things that signal to you that everything is going in the right direction. Whether it be rep times or time trials, you can tell roughly where your fitness is at. However, no time trial or session can exactly replicate a race, therefore you can never gage the exact time you will run in a race until you do it. By racing regularly, we can recognise when training is coming together nicely and propelling us forward, and when we may need to look at what we are doing and highlight the aspects that aren’t working so well.
Chance to see friends again
The running community is such a close knit one as it is the same faces you see at every race. Whilst they may be your competition in the midst of a race, before and after, they are your friends. I have met some incredible people through running, and ones that have become good friends. With the absence of racing, it has meant that it has been a year since I last saw some of them. The return of racing will once again mean I can finally see these people, and I can’t wait.
Throughout lockdown, whilst we have all been training hard and making progress, it has felt at times as though you are stagnant and not doing anything to step towards your goals. The return of racing will mean that finally we can actually move forward and take proactive steps towards our goals. It will feel great to have regular races to work towards and keep determination high.
There are so many reasons why racing is great and for different people it means something different, but this is what keeps it exciting and motivates us all.
If someone is courageous, they are brave. This means they have the ability to go through with something even when it may frighten them, be daunting, or take them out of their comfort zone. This year, I have pledged to myself to be more courageous and look on difficult challenges as an opportunity to better myself, rather than something to fear. Therefore, courage is my word for the year, and whenever I question my ability to do something, I remind myself to be courageous and just give it a go, because you don’t know unless you try. Plus, what’s the worst that happens? You go out in a race or session too hard and blow up… but you will still learn something from it.
I love the saying from The Wizard of Oz. It goes:
“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
The biggest thing about this quote that jumps out at me is the concept of having ‘confidence in yourself’. We are all guilty at times of doubting ourselves. Not because we don’t think we can do something, but because the challenge we are facing is overwhelming. However, there is no reason to lack self belief. We have to be our own cheerleaders, because if we don’t believe in ourselves, no one will. If self belief can allow someone to be more courageous, why do we ever doubt ourselves?
When I think of getting nervous, I thought that this was a sign of lacking self belief, but nerves are normal. I think sometimes it can be easy to confuse the two. As humans we have so many complex emotions that we can struggle to understand how we feel ourselves. I always thought I was alone in sometimes getting nervous ahead of big sessions and races, and that this was a sign of weakness. I thought it signified a lack of confidence in my own ability but I realise this is only a normal reaction, and to be honest, I think I would be worried if I wasn’t nervous. We need the adrenaline to help us perform at a higher level and spark that race mindset. There is also a sense of pride that needs to be felt from getting nervous, but having the courage to go forward with what is scaring us. Whether it be an important race or something else, getting nervous only shows how much we care about the task ahead of us.
So, this why my word for the year ahead is COURAGE, because I want to make more of an effort to believe in myself and go outside of my comfort zone, even when it may initially seem scary.
*It is important to note this blog is based on my own experiences.
The general definition of ‘restricted’ is ‘limited in extent, number, scope or action’ (Oxford Languages, 2020). The first word alone speaks volumes. 'Limited'. In essence, a restricted runner is a limited one. Therefore, any athlete who restricts their intake rather than eating freely is limiting where their potential lies. Why deny yourself something so simple as food. Restricting is very counter productive. We work so hard in training, yet if we don’t fuel properly, we are placing limits on where that hard work can get us.
If you are focusing on restricting yourself, chances are you are in the wrong mindset. I know from my own experience, that when I was restricting my intake my focus was in the wrong place, and on the wrong thing. I was more preoccupied on ensuring I didn’t eat too much or eat certain things. Whilst my focus wasn’t necessarily on how I looked, it was primarily on food rather than my performance. I thought if I wanted to be the best athlete I could be, I needed to eat less, and this overtook my life. My mindset was on doing something that was limiting my progress rather than boosting my performance, which is now my priority. Now, I want to do my best to become the strongest and fastest athlete I can be, and I know this involves fuelling myself properly to allow me to perform to my best day in and out. When I was restricting I was preoccupied with denying myself vital nutrients more than anything else.
Lack specific nutrients
If you are restricting your intake, then you are undoubtedly denying your body of some nutrients or specific foods. In order to perform to our full potential we need to have a balance of everything in our diet. This ensure nothing is depleted and that we aren't deficient in anything. Restriction and denial is likely to lead to deficiencies which can in turn effect our energy levels, our ability to recover properly and how well our body operates when training. By preventing yourself from having specific foods, whether they are whole food groups or just specific foods, you will be limiting yourself. In the past, I found myself restricting all forms of dairy, thus denying myself vital nutrients such as calcium.
Restricting your intake takes a lot of energy. I speak from experience, it is exhausting. It consumes your entire life. Whether you are feeling slightly flat in a session or over thinking how much you ‘should’ eat in your spare time, it is hard on the mind and body. However, if this energy is channelled elsewhere, and not into restricting, it can have a significantly more positive effect. At my lowest, my energy was so transfixed on restricting that I was knackered when it came to training. Not only physically (because I couldn’t even run a lap of a football pitch) but also mentally, because I had spent the entire day fighting hunger. If all this energy is transferred to a positive place and used in a constructive way, things may head in a better direction. It is also tiring when you waste so much energy doing something you think will help you succeed, but it has the opposite effect. This is part of life, but not when you know what you are doing is detrimental.
So, next time you think about restricting, remember what it is you are trying to achieve and question whether that will help you achieve it. I still have to remind myself when that little voice creeps in, but I know the danger of restriction. If that voice of restriction is still too powerful, or you just need to talk to someone, there are a few links below.
Beat Helpline: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!