I am the first to admit that running is a major part of my life. It predominantly governs everything I do, from when I wake up, to when I eat, or when I meet my friends, etc. There is a lot to be considered, because ultimately, if I want to get to the best out of my ability, I have to do everything I can to help me get there, even if that means not doing certain things. However, whilst running occupies a lot of my time, which I enjoy as I love it, there is more to my life than just running, and I find this important in helping me improve as an athlete.
Can’t run all day, everyday.
No matter how hard you might train, you simply can’t run for every hour of the day. Firstly, you likely wouldn’t be able to do that much training without breaking and falling apart, and secondly, chances are your training would be absolutely awful in quality because you would be doing way too much. Whilst training does take up quite a lot of time, there is still a lot of the day left to do other things. For me, this spare time is spent reading, writing (I’m doing a masters in creative writing), doing work (writing related again), cooking, or spending time with my family/friends and my dogs. Running is a huge part of my life, but without all these other things, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. There is more to me than just running.
Have other hobbies.
In addition to running, I have lots of other hobbies that I enjoy doing. A lot of the time, doing other things, whether that is working or doing another hobby, makes you continue to appreciate your training. Every time you have training to go and do, because you have been occupied by other things in the meantime, you are ready for the release that it provides. When I have completed a training session, I am able to switch off from running and focus on something else. I find this helps keep my mind refreshed, so it can recharge before I go into the next session or run.
Need other focuses.
I personally find I run at my best when I am happy and enjoying the sport. This coincides with me not overthinking my training or putting too much pressure on myself. Therefore, having other things to think about each day allows my mind to focus on something other than running. This means running doesn’t become the be all and end all of everything. If a session or run doesn’t go to plan, I can do other things to take my mind of it and remind myself that there is more to life than running.
Will come a time when running isn’t so important.
At the moment and for many years to come, running is and will be a massive part of my life. However, when the times come for me to give my all to something else, without other hobbies or aspects of my life, I would be extremely lost as an individual and with what to do. I know one day I will have to channel my energy elsewhere, so by having other things I enjoy, I know I am preparing myself as much as possible for when this comes. This way, when I can’t do so much running (which I love), I can do something else that I enjoy doing.
Ultimately, I keep telling myself, that whilst I love giving as much of my time as I can to running, it is important to do my other hobbies too, because these make us who we are and give us another focus in life.
Running isn’t just simply a sport, it is so much more than that. Whilst the actual motion itself is relatively straight forward, the ways in which the sport helps us can be quite complex. Whether you are a competitive runner or enjoy running recreationally, there is plenty to thank the sport for.
Clears your mind.
We all have those days where your brain and mind can seem like a blur. It can be difficult to concentrate on whatever it is you have ahead of you that day. Nothing seems to fix it as well as a run. Whether that be a session or an easy run, getting outside and running, can have a magical affect. If you haven’t tried running to help clear your head, you would be surprised at how powerful it can be. I know, my mind can be wandering off in all sorts of directions, worrying about things completely out of my control or in the distant future, and by the time I’ve completed by training, the worries don’t seem quite as big as they were. Running has a powerful way of putting things into perspective. It allows you to filter out the unnecessary stresses and focus on what actually matters. More often than not, I return from a run and have actually forgotten what was playing on my mind.
Another powerful thing running provides you with is a sense of direction. Whatever else is going on in life, every time you step outside and get your training done, you feel like you are taking a step forward. This sense of daily achievement and progress allows you to feel like life is going in a positive way. When I was finding the stresses and pressures of life weighing me down, running gave me the direction I needed to move forward. It allowed me to get out of the dark place I was in as I had something I wanted to succeed at, and this drove me each day to think more positively and act constructively. The drive I had to give my all in running and prove to myself that I could be a strong runner, reminded me of the importance of correcting my behaviour and not letting it get destructive. Some believe running can be destructive, and yes it can be, but it can also help reverse destructive behaviour by giving you something to be healthy for.
In society, pre coronavirus, once you have left university (or even at university) it can be difficult to meet new people outside of work, especially if you aren’t massively into going to bars and clubs. Getting into running brings such a large sense of community. Whether you join a club, or link up with other runners you see out and about, there is an immediate connection that forms between you. Runners are like runners, we have similar interests and tend to be quite like-minded. Some of my best friends I have met through running, simply because we understand one another so well and we are understanding of the ‘runners lifestyle’.
One of the biggest problems facing us today, is inactivity. Plenty of people go to work and come home without doing any form of exercise. Especially when many of us are working from home and the only form of necessary movement is from your room to the kitchen. Without even realising, you are getting minimal exercise, which not only affects your physical health, but your mental health. As a result, this is likely to affect your productivity and focus at work. Getting some fresh air, whether that be before or after work, will improve how you are feeling and consequently working.
One of the most obvious benefits of running is its ability to improve your fitness. Whether you are embarking on a couch to 5k programme or trying to progress as a competitive athlete, running helps improve your fitness. Observing your progression can be extremely rewarding and give you a target to focus on and work towards.
So, running can help us in many different ways, not just by improving our fitness. It can help different people for different reasons, but for many it gives us something to get up in the morning for and turn up to day in and day out.
I thought I would write a honest blog that may help some people step towards accepting themselves. When you have been through a stage in your life when you have restricted your food intake and have battled to come out the other side, you come to learn that the voices in your head don’t go away as easily as you thought. I speak for myself in saying, I thought I was completely alone in this. I thought, one day, I would never have controlling, doubtful thoughts, I thought this was what normal is, but as time goes on, I come to think it isn’t. It is possible to overcome the controlling thoughts and be stronger than them, but they don’t ever completely disappear, you just learn how to deal with them. They don’t have the same domineering power they once did, they don’t control you like they used to, but they still have a presence. Restrictive and controlling thoughts will pop up, but we learn to acknowledge them without letting them take control. But how do we do this, and what do we do when they do pop up?
As time goes on, whilst your mind still reminds you that it’s controlling powers are still there, you develop methods of dealing with them when they arise. These mechanisms may be different for everyone, but they act as your own way of ensuring your behaviour does not spiral out of control. A method I frequently use, is positive self talk. I find this a helpful way of regathering my thoughts when they start to run away with themselves. If my mind starts to tell me to eat less, I reverse the thought. I positively keep telling myself the importance of eating a sufficient amount. When my mind says eat less, I tell myself to eat more than whatever it is suggesting. Sometimes, it may tell me not to have anything to eat after dinner, but I always actively do the opposite. I tell myself to eat some sort of dessert, even if my mind is telling me otherwise.
Mindfulness can also be a beneficial thing to do. Whether this is listening to a tape, going on a walk, or recognising nature's beauty, putting time aside to bring your thoughts to the present moment can help stop them from drifting. This can be an extremely important thing to incorporate into your day. Just taking a little bit of time to yourself to focus on the now, rather than letting your thoughts get carried away and spiral into worry. I find, if I am in a calm headspace, I have more strength to do what I know is right, rather than what the controlling thoughts say. Mindfulness allows you to come back to the present, ready to regain strength.
Remind yourself what matters.
When I can sense my mind telling me to control my intake, I quickly remind myself of what truly matters. To me that is running. I now know, if I want to succeed within the sport, I need to fuel myself properly so I have the energy to be able to train and race to the best of my ability. I can recognise that if I restrict my intake, my training will suffer. Not only will I have an insufficient amount of energy, but my recovery will be hindered which can increase the risk of injury. Whilst at times my mind may tell me to restrict what I’m eating, I am able to recognise the detrimental effect this could have on my performance now and in the future.
Recognise the signs.
When controlling thoughts reenter my mind, I know that there is more to them than I initially think. It isn’t necessarily the food itself or what I am eating that is causing the problem, but instead a sign of how I am feeling. If I feel I need to eat less, or not eat certain things, this I my mind telling me something is wrong. This usually indicates that there is more going on in my thoughts than I have recognised. Most of the time it is because I am worried or stressed about something else. In the past, I wasn’t strong enough to handle this and instead of recognising the signs and dealing with the problem, I did what my mind was telling me to do, restrict my eating. Now, I know, if my mind is telling me to control my intake, I shouldn’t do what it is telling, instead, I should recognise there is something else going on and deal with what is making me worry.
You are not alone.
Lastly, even though it may feel like it at the time, remind yourself, you are not alone. Even though you may be strong enough to not let your controlling thoughts take effect, it is ok for them to reappear at times. You aren’t alone in this. Even people who haven’t had difficulties with food feel tempted to control what they are eating at times. Those who have had such pasts and have managed to gain strength over their thoughts, also have controlling thoughts at times. You are not alone. I mean, if no-one else does think like this, I can say I do, so there is always another person.
Recently, I have been struggling to accept that I can't control everything, especially with the uncertainty that continues to flourish. I’m not afraid to say it, but I am a control freak. Therefore, I like to be in control of everything that is happening in my life, but this is rarely ever actually possible. It can also be very dangerous and suffocating, like when you decide to control your food intake (but I’ve learnt not to do this!). I am also a planner and I hate it when plans get changed, but this can happen quite frequently. Therefore, with the arrival of such uncertainty, I have had to focus on the things I can control and stop worrying about the things I can’t. When life throws us uncertainty, we have to be strong minded and control only the constructive things. Use your energy to control the positive controllables.
Direct your thoughts.
It can be very easy to sit and dwell on what we can’t do at the moment. It is very well wishing we could use the gym or go on our usual track, but this isn’t going to help, because we can’t change the current situation. Every time I find myself thinking about such things, I only get annoyed and frustrated, therefore what is the point in doing it? As a result, I work hard to focus my thoughts on the things I can control, and the factors relating to my training that I can influence. These can be how well I recover, ticking off my training each day, fuelling sufficiently, and giving my all in sessions. By focusing on those things I can influence, all of a sudden the situation doesn’t seem so daunting!
Be in the present.
This is another thing I struggle to do. I am very much a forward thinker, and as I said, a planner. I am not very good at going with the flow and being in the present moment. I think this comes with being an athlete a lot of the time, because we are always planning our training towards an event or goal that is in the future. However, with the inability to make any plans I have had to teach myself to be in the present moment. I have found by doing this, I have been worrying a lot less. I can’t control what happens in a week’s time, but I can control what I do now that may influence the future. Therefore, each day, I wake up and think only about the training session imminently ahead of me. The rest of the week’s training doesn’t matter for now. This has helped my mind from wondering too far ahead. I need to be grateful for the time I have now to focus on running and all the other little things instead of stressing about what lies ahead of me.
Something I am proud to say I have been doing a lot less, is comparing myself to others. Earlier in the year I found myself having to delete Instagram on a regular basis, as seeing so much of other athletes lives was affecting my mentality. However, since lockdown, I have found I am a lot more relaxed and content within myself. I think this may be due to the temporary release of pressure with no races in sight (now I can’t wait to race!), as well as the fact everyone is in exact same situation. Focusing on what other people are doing and how they are performing is definitely something that is uncontrollable. We can’t control how well they run, but we can control how we do ourselves. Getting frustrated and consumed by comparison definitely doesn’t aid progression, well it doesn’t for me anyway, so we need to focus on ourselves, not others.
In the end, it is ok not to be in control of everything, in fact it is only normal and is a good thing. There needs to be some element of surprise to life. So, control the controllable and stop worrying about things you can’t do anything about.
Something I used to, and still do at times, worry about, is whether my portion sizes are ‘too big‘. I frequently get told my portions are massive, or told I eat a lot for a little person. This used to really get to me, and I am guilty of letting it still get to me now from time to time, but does it really mean? If I am eating a lot, it is because I am hungry, as I should eat enough to fill me up… who cares what size this looks like on a plate. Should I listen to the voices of people telling me I’m eating too much? No! So, why is this?
Firstly, I believe there is no such thing as ‘too big’. Your portion size is what you feel you need to eat. Portion size is completely individual and depends on your own unique metabolism as well as your activity level. What might seem a lot to one person, may be small to another. Next time you feel tempted to comment on what someone is eating or the size of it, think again, as it may affect them and cause them to subsequently reduce their intake.
We need fuel.
As athletes, we constantly need to fuel ourselves. Whether that’s because we are preparing for a training session ahead of us, refuelling after one, or simply to fuel the recovery process. Therefore, we need to provide our bodies with plenty of fuel in order to aid these processes. Without enough fuel, something will suffer. We likely won’t have enough energy to complete the session ahead of us to our full potential, and we also won’t have enough fuel to support the recovery process after we have been training. Ultimately, this means we have to eat enough to support these functions. To some people this may appear to be a lot, but if our body needs it, we shouldn’t feel bad for providing it with it.
We do a lot!
Additionally, as runners, we tend to do a lot of exercise, whereas other people might not do quite so much. Sometimes we are training multiple times a day, and we can be guilty of comparing ourselves and how much we eat to someone who may have a completely different lifestyle to ourselves. Therefore, the amount of food you need cannot be compared to someone else. I don’t know about you, but I am hungry when it comes to mealtimes, and there is nothing worse than a disappointingly small plate of food.
If your body is asking, it probably needs it.
If I want to eat a lot, it’s because I’m hungry and I know my body need to be sufficiently fuelled. Therefore, I should eat until I’m no longer hungry, why does it matter what size this looks like on a plate. If my body is telling me it is hungry, chances are it is because it is. If I don’t listen to eat and reduce the amount of food I am eating at meals because I worry I look ‘greedy’, this could have a detrimental impact on my body.
I have learnt from past mistakes, where I worried too much about eating ‘too much’, and as a result, I significantly under fuelled my body. Others may have believed I was eating enough, but my body was getting nowhere near as much as it needed. This only resulted in injury and upset. It can be surprising to ourselves and others how much we need to eat as extremely active athletes.
I know I am a healthy individual with a healthy weight. I do lots of exercise, therefore, I feel I can eat what I want and enjoy it without worrying how much I have on my plate. Others shouldn’t make you worry. Fuel your own body, not the body people make you believe you have.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!