I don’t know about you, but I can be guilty of catastrohising. Somehow I manage to escalate something simplistic and explainable into a career ending disaster. Why is this?
I believe, for me, this is because I have an incessant desire to always want a complex reason for everything. I want to strive for perfection. Therefore, if something didn’t go ‘perfectly’ in my eyes (which is an unrealistic goal), I believe there must be a deep reason for it. This is where the catastrophising commences. The cycle of searching deeper and deeper for a reason that likely doesn’t exist begins. When there isn’t a deeper explanation for something, I always come back to the same exhausting explanation, that I must not be good enough, but I am. We are all good enough.
So, how do I try to stop myself when the spiralling hat of disaster sits on my head?
Catch your thoughts
The best way to stop your thoughts spiralling is to catch them. Stop the spiral from unravelling by redirecting your thoughts. Whatever it is that is causing you to stress and worry, stop dwelling on it and focus on something else. Whether that be distracting yourself by watching a movie, going on a walk, or doing some colouring, catch your thoughts by focusing on something in the present. I find this helps stop my thoughts wonder off into would could be, and redirects my attention to focusing on the now.
Chat it through with someone
Discussing whatever it is you are catastrophising about can really help rationalise those thoughts. I find this the most effective method of dealing with spiralling thoughts. Whatever I am worrying about, if I talk it through with someone else, I quickly recognise that I am over reacting and over thinking. Chatting it through allows someone else to offer you an outside perspective and get you to see that there is no logic to the way you are thinking. It can also help you understand why you are having these thoughts and how you can confront them.
Be kind to yourself and accept it.
It is normal for things to go wrong, not go to plan, or go perfectly for plan, and there can be little reason for this, it is just part of life. There is no point beating yourself up and being harsh on yourself every time something doesn’t go to plan. Be kind and accept it. I am guilty of feeling that everything must have a complex reason. As a result, I search and search until I find what could be the reason for why it didn’t go to plan. More often than not there isn’t a reason, so I conclude that it must be my fault, I must not be good enough. This is not the case and should not be how we react. We are good enough and it is just part of life. There is no need to over-inflate the meaning of something.
Next time we find our thoughts running away with themselves and becoming destructive, try to recognise that the chances are we are just catastrophising and nothing has genuinely gone that wrong.
The main thing I want to do this year is step out of my comfort zone and try new things in order to improve as an athlete, and I think this week I did that. On Wednesday I took to the track to take part in a 3,000m BMC race. My first 3k in 5 years! It was very much out of my comfort zone, but a great experience. The event was put on by the BMC and Luke Gunn, and it ran very smoothly and safely.
My plan going into the race was to go out hard and hang on, but I think I took it a bit too literally. I was prepared for the race to hurt, but I think I approached it more as if it was a 1500 than a 3,000. I was hoping to run somewhere between 9:15 and 9:20, and that was very much doable, if I paced the race evenly, which I did not. After a 3:02 first kilometre, I was surprised how good I felt, but it was only a lap later that the pain kicked in.
I did what I hoped and went outside of my comfort zone, it just didn’t go quite as planned. That being said, it wasn’t a disastrous time. I finished in 9:31, a little bit off my target, but there are positives to take from the race as I learnt a lot of lessons.
How not to pace a race
This was probably the main lesson I took from the race. I got a bit carried away and went out too hard. Whilst it was only a few seconds faster than the pace I was aiming for, over 3k, that can be a big difference and make for a painful race, which it did! However, I am proud of myself for taking the plunge and pushing myself. I really enjoyed doing a shorter race and hopefully by the end of the season I’ll be more familiar with that 3k feel.
My legs do move faster than I thought.
At least, by going off hard, I found out that my legs can actually move a little bit faster. This is a bit of a confidence boost to know that I can throw in a faster k if I need to, it just may be better if I do it at the end of the race rather than the start. And, I just need to work on holding the pace for a longer period of time.
Racing is well and truly back
After a long time of racing returning for one race and then disappearing again, or being completely non-existent, it feels so nice to have a period of consistent racing in the diary. It is exciting to have lots of opportunities ahead to try and improve my times and gain race experience.
So, going forward, I am going to always note the positives there are from every race and session, and use these as opportunities to develop and learn.
This week I had a session to put in the ‘f*** it bucket’. In fact, I knew as soon as I started that something wasn’t right. My legs just felt heavy and clunky and had absolutely no drive in them. It was one of those where it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you just go nowhere. If you reread the second sentence of this paragraph, you’ll see that ‘I knew’ something wasn’t right, it wasn’t just a case of being fatigued.
Rather than ploughing on through what would be a significantly sub par session, I made the decision to stop, get on the phone to my coach, and we made some edits to the session. For that, I am pretty proud of myself. I didn’t cry (something I’m not too proud to say I have done in the past when a session hasn’t gone to plan), I simply took on board what my coach said and got on with a shorter session that just got the legs moving slightly.
There is reason to why I approached not completing the session with a more stable mindset, and that was because I knew there were factors contributing to why I felt how I did. When something doesn’t go to plan, there is usually a reason, not always, but most of the time. Rather than letting my mind convince me I was a rubbish runner and that was the end of my career, I looked at the bigger picture.
Some people are lucky enough to not experience many symptoms when it’s their time of the month, and some months I don’t, but for me, heavy legs and feeling energy zapped can be very real at the start. It only tends to be particularly bad just as I come on, and only for a few days. I like to think that it doesn’t effect me, but that is no way to deal with it. You just have to accept it and move on. It is completely normal to experience such symptoms!
I had my vaccine.
This was exciting, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to get my vaccine pretty early on, but for anyone out there who hasn’t had theirs yet, you can expect to feel a bit rubbish for a few days. The night of the vaccine I felt very fluey, shivery and achey. Following that I felt much better in everyday life, but I didn’t feel myself when running. This lasted for about five days. My legs were heavy and I felt very lethargic. My heart rate remained relatively low and stable but my body just wasn’t there to go with it.
I find it important to accept that bad session do happen, it is just part of the parcel. If every one was amazing, they would all just be average. However, for me, mentally, it is vital that I let go of the session and don’t let it weigh me down. Otherwise I make it into a much bigger deal than it is and drag it on for longer than necessary.
Every runner has their own selection of pre race rituals. Whether it be the outfit they race in, what they have for breakfast, or how they wear their hair, there is always something. I used to have countless things I would do before racing, most would say too many, so much so that they were actually superstitions rather than rituals. However, when I came back from my injury, I set myself a clean slate. I chose to only focus on the pre-race rituals that actually mattered; the ones that were practical and genuinely had a benefit.
So, what rituals do I have before a race?
I tend to follow the same food plan the night and day of a race. There isn’t anything superstitious linked to this, it is purely practical. I know what fuels me sufficiently, but also sits well in my stomach when I’m about to race. It doesn’t differ massively from my everyday diet, so I know my stomach won’t be thrown off course.
The night before I also always have pasta for dinner. I have always done this. I’m not too fussy with which sort of pasta I have, just nothing too creamy as my stomach doesn’t always take well to rich creamy foods before running. For breakfast, or 2.5/3 hours before I am due to race, I will have an almond butter bagel and a banana. This is because again, I know it sits well in my stomach and is something I eat most days without a problem.
For pre-race foods, it is very much about trial and error. It is important to recognise that what works for me, might not work for you. So, play around with what you eat before training and racing to find out what works best for you and doesn’t cause you any stomach problems and fuels you sufficiently.
I tend to wear the same pair of knickers for every race. This is again practical- it is all about comfort! I know the pair of underwear I wear for racing doesn’t give me a wedgy or cause any discomfort, so why worry about it. If I just wear the same pair (obviously clean every time!!), I don’t have any problems.
I also always race with my hair in two plaits. I wear it in plaits everyday for training, and even tighter plaits for racing. I know this hairstyle won’t fall out or annoy me, so it is another thing to not worry about. Whenever I put my hair in plaits, I know it is time to run. I feel prepared and focused for the session ahead.
Whilst there are practical associations with all these things, they also have a psychological impact. For example, I know every time I have that pre-race meal, pull on my comfortable underwear, and tie my hair in plaits, a race is just around the corner. As much as it is practical, it also prepares my mind to race. It starts the process of getting me in the zone and mindset to race.
There was only one post I could write this week, and that is because for the first time in a long while, something exciting and out of the ordinary actually happened... I got to race!
My last race prior to this week was the PB5k in Ardingly back at the beginning of December 2020. Training was going well leading into it, but the good old British winter weather came out in full force. Regardless, I felt strong and determined to hit the rest of the winter with full force. Fast forward through a LONG January and the arrival of some nice and not so nice weather, and we’re in April, and with that, racing has returned!!
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be able to pull on my spikes and get on the track to race in the Comeback 5,000m in Battersea Park. Whilst I was nervous, I was also very excited. Excited to see what I could do, and just buzzed to be back racing in a field of very strong girls. As my coach said, the focus was on racing first, then the time second, so I just wanted to give my all.
The upsides of the track are, there’s no hills and you can’t get lost, but that means, there’s nothing to hide behind... it’s just you, your competitors and 12.5 laps. Whilst I love a hill in cross country, I love the purity of track racing and the ability to simply run as fast as you can on the day. For my bizarre mind, laps are great. I’ve never been phased by doing a lot of laps. I once did a 90 minute long run around 2 rugby pitches and aqua jogging certainly teaches you to get used to monotony (you learn to switch off!).
After a pretty delayed start, I went out with intention. The race was being paced for 75 second laps and 79 laps, but I was aiming for 76/77. For that reason, I made the bold decision to go out hard with the 75 second pacer and just hang on for as long as I could. After a couple of laps, I dropped back slightly, so the majority of the race was ran on my own, but I managed to hold on to what I was aiming for and just focused on ticking one lap off after another. Also, at least I didn’t have to worry about social distancing!
Coming down the final home straight, I could see the clock flicking by. I gave it everything my little legs had, but couldn’t quite get over the line quickly enough to dip under the 16-minute barrier. However, I am more than chuffed to have knocked 23 seconds off my previous 5,000m PB! I know I have more to come and that’s a goal for another day at another race, which I’m excited for. The first race was about getting out there, racing and enjoying the process, and I can confidently say that’s what I did. Now it’s back to work 💪🏼💪🏼
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!