For the first time in 5 months, I finally got to put my racing shoes on and pin a number to my top, and gosh it felt good! Going into the event I felt pretty relaxed, I didn’t believe that I was actually going to be putting all the hard work from lockdown to the test. However, once I arrived at the race, the nerves started to kick in and it all became a little bit more real.
How things had changed.
One of the things I was most unsure about was how racing might have changed due to Covid. Prior to race day, we had been allocated into a ‘wave’ of at most 10 people. Each wave was set off in 5 minute intervals in order to avoid having too many people in one part of the course at one time. The waves were seeded depending on athletes predicted times and PB’s. There were 3 elite races for men and women, splitting the usual fields up quite a bit.
I’m used to getting to races with hours to spare, however, people were advised not to get there too early. We were also told not to collect our race number until 20 minutes before our race and to only be in the waiting area 5-10 minutes before our race start time, so the waiting was massively reduced (no bad thing!).
On the start line, the nerves were pretty high. I sort of felt like I had never raced before, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I knew I just wanted to get going. I had seen that nearly all the girls had already raced, so they knew what to expect, but I had no idea. Racing seemed like such a world ago, I definitely had become rusty! I must say, it also felt very weird lining up with only 8 other girls (one girl dropped out of the race).
Leading up to the race I had reminded myself that it would be painful. Whilst training is tough, you can never replicate or reach the level you go to in racing. You can set yourself up for it and then dig as deep as you can in the race. I won’t lie, it did feel like a big shock to the system and I think I went out pretty hard, but it felt so good to feel that race pain again. The k’s seemed to pass by very quickly and once I got into the rhythm of the race, it didn’t seem so bizarre.
How did it go?
If I’m being picky, it wasn’t quite what I was after time wise, but in the company of Storm Ellen, realistically, it was more than I could’ve hoped for. I went into the race with a track PB of 16:24 and a road PB of 17:30 (set in 2017) and I came out with a road PB of 16:19, so I can’t complain.
Reflecting on the race, I am actually really proud of my performance. To have beaten my track personal best in my first race back, incredibly tough conditions and with the last 1.5k being uphill for the majority, I think I should be proud. Somebody told me a while ago, when a session didn’t go as I hoped, that I should always consider the factors and put it into perspective, rather than focus on one thing (the time). I think, when I consider the factors, that the time was more than I could’ve hoped for, and it’s not just about the time. Racing is about ignoring the clock at times and pushing yourself against your competitors and yourself. It is about putting all that hard work in training to play.
So, whilst we can become slaves to paces and to our watches, it is important to just throw paces out the window and focus on giving it our all effort some of the time. The pace on our watch isn’t the be all and end all.
We can all be guilty of feeling guilty when we put ourselves before others, but at times it DOES need to be done. We can’t always do things for other people, no matter how much we enjoy doing it, and not put time aside for ourselves. In fact, in order to be there for others as best we can, we need to take care of ourselves and put us first.
What is self-care?
Quite simply, self-care is what it sounds like. It is taking care of yourself, in whatever way that may be. For some, it may be taking 30 minutes of the day and going for a walk, with no distractions, no one else, just you, nature, and your own thoughts. It is the act of consciously doing things for yourself to preserve, or improve your mental or physical health. It can also take the form of almost anything, such as:
It can even be putting the time aside to get your haircut, because this is something you do for your own wellbeing. Whatever you do to care for yourself, it also doesn’t have to be the same thing every time of everyday, every week. You can vary it slightly depending on your mood, or what it is you need to do to look after your physical and mental health.
Self-care is just as important as looking after others, if not more.
A lot of us fail to set time aside for self-care, because we always think it is more important to help others before we do something for ourselves. We actually feel guilty if we do put ourselves first, which is madness. If we want to look after others and do things for other people, we need to put ourselves first at times. There is no point feeling guilty about this, because it is all part of the journey of life. It is also highly likely that your guilt will last longer than the person you think you ‘let down’ by putting yourself first. Just remember, you will never let anyone down by putting self-care first. If you asked them, chances are they would feel proud of you for doing so. It takes strength to recognise the importance of self-care.
Why do it?
Ultimately, we are the only person who is in charge of our own life. Therefore, if you are feeling down or lost, or just not quite right, whilst others can help, only we can sort ourself out. We are each individually responsible for our own happiness. Other people can boost our mood, but we can’t rely on them to make us feel happy. This is also unsustainable as we can’t always be with someone and they too will experience their own problems. Therefore, we must prioritise doing things that allow us to step towards being the happiest, most stable version of ourselves, and self-care is part of this.
There are plenty of other reasons why self-care is essential. It might seem like a relatively new concept, but it has in fact be around for hundreds of years, it is just more recently that people need to be reminded to do it. Self-care helps boost physical and mental health. It helps to reduce stress, which contributes massively to how you feel inside your head as well as how you feel inside your body.
Another key component of self-care is its ability to improve your self esteem. Your self esteem is your perception of your own worth and how you feel about yourself. Taking time for yourself, to do things that help you relax and feel more positive, will set you in a good mindset to aero towards being able to accept who you are. You may not completely love yourself (who does?), but it will allow your to be more accepting of the person you are. Self-care enables you to be more present, therefore you will potentially spend less time worrying about other people, and more time being content within yourself.
There are so many more reasons why you should incorporate time for self-care into your life, but these were just a few.
I’m not saying we should all love ourselves, as this can be extremely difficult, but what I am saying is we should dedicate time to ourselves, so we can step towards being as happy as we can within our own skin and allow time for our minds to be calm and accepting of ourselves in the chaotic world.
This is a topic that I feel can never be reiterated enough. Talking about it once will never get people to understand the message. Whether it is young developing athletes, established runners, or someone who knows nothing about the sport, there is still talk about the ‘ideal runner’s body’ which influences how people perceive themselves or other runners. What I write in this blog, is purely my opinion and how I feel the perception of a 'runner's body' needs to change.
Lots of runners, probably more than we realise, at some point in their running journey, will have thought that if they weighed less, they might run faster. And for some, who are already relatively lightweight, this belief can be incredibly damaging. It has become ingrained throughout society that the lighter you are the faster you run. Whilst there is less of you to carry, your body also has considerably less energy to operate and function normally, as it is not receiving enough food to fuel what you are asking of it. Therefore, whilst you might be lighter, you don’t have the energy to run fast, let alone enjoy running at an easier pace. It isn’t this extreme in all cases, but it was for me, because what started off as an innocent desire to run faster, when mixed with other stressors, became incredibly damaging. We, as a sporting community need to work together to remove the stereotypes surrounding runners. Not only is it damaging athlete’s performance, but also to their mental state. We need to show young athletes that their body is a positive thing, and they don’t need to look stick thin if they want to improve. Unfortunately, there are still unhealthily thin athletes out there who are running at a very high level, and this only reinforces such beliefs, but if we can show them how many phenomenally success, healthy athletes there are, their beliefs may begin to change.
So, what truly should we think of as a ‘runner’s body’?
Put simply, the body of someone (anyone) who runs. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. Ask the majority of people to describe the physique of a runner and they will say skinny, lean, slim, the lighter the better, any of these. We should be educating one another and supporting people in understanding that it doesn’t matter what they look like as a runner, as long as they are healthy and have the energy to train as they would like to, they have the ‘ideal runner’s body’.
If you are fuelling yourself sufficiently and don’t feel like you are lacking energy when training, why does it matter what you look like? A healthy ‘runner’s body’ looks different on absolutely everyone. Some people may naturally be quite slight and small-boned, whereas others may be big-boned and larger, and this should be celebrated. It is incredible that the body of a runner can look so different but still run as fast as the next.
Be proud of your body.
Running alone is a tough sport, and our bodies are incredibly strong and resilient to be able to do all the training we ask of them. Rather than punishing ourselves by restricting what we eat, we should care for and praise our bodies by fuelling them sufficiently. We need to care for our mental health too! Training, followed by restrictive eating, followed by training, so on, is incredibly tiring and exhausting! Giving our minds a break from working hard, by allowing ourselves to eat balanced, non-restrictive diets, will not only benefit our physical performance, but also leave our minds feeling fresher, so they are ready to attack every training session as fresh as possible.
So, next time you question whether you should eat that ice cream or have a slightly smaller portion, remind yourself of the amazing things your body has done, and that includes recovering on a rest day, and celebrate by giving your body the fuel it deserves.
Ultimately, you should celebrate your body, because whatever the body of a healthy runner looks like, that is the ‘ideal runner’s body’.
A lot of people comment on all the sacrifices athletes have to make in order to fit their training in and perform to the best of their ability. These include things such as, not going out late with friends, saying no to trips abroad, leaving events early in order to get to bed, or spending less time with family. A lot of these are considered “sacrifices”, but they don’t have to be. To me, a sacrifice is saying no to something you wish you could do but you can’t because training gets in the way. Whilst there may be a lot of things we have to let pass us by, are we really making sacrifices or choices? Is training a drag, or something we voluntarily choose to put ourselves through?
I personally don’t think I make huge sacrifices, and I don’t like to say I do because there are people in far worse situations. For me, everything I say no to because of training is not a sacrifice, it is instead a choice. I am the one who decided to give my all to a sport in order to see where I can get, therefore I am the one who chooses not to do certain things. If I really wanted to go out clubbing, or go on the latest holiday instead of go training, I would, no one is forcing me not to, but the enjoyment I get from training and giving my all to something I want to pursue, far outweighs the enjoyment I would get from doing whatever I said no to. Therefore, I feel, I am not making countless sacrifices, instead I am making a choice.
At times, I even feel bad if people comment on all the “sacrifices” I have had to make. This is because, whilst they may be sacrifices in the eyes of other people, to me they are not. I haven’t spent hours pondering over whether I should go clubbing or get a good night sleep to be raring to go for training in the morning, because training is something I choose to put first. It hasn’t taken all of my will power and self-control to say no to certain things, therefore I am simply being praised for a life choice I have made. There are other people in the world who are forced to make far worse sacrifices for the safety and health of their family, to me, the decisions I make because of training aren’t so bad!
Yes, there are some things that are harder to say no to, such as going away with my family to places I wouldn’t be able to get my training done. I know I would enjoy these trips, but if I wouldn’t be able to get my training done for regular weeks away, I wouldn’t enjoy the holiday. Therefore, whilst this could be seen as a sacrifice, it is again a choice I am consciously making for a sport I love, not a decision I am being forced to make.
Is it all worth it?
Whilst there are certain things training prevents me from doing, I have to weigh up whether it is all worth it. For now, I don’t know if it will be further down the line, but I know, I won’t regret giving my all to running. I would regret it, come 10 years down the line, if I looked back and wished I had done more to see what level I could get to. So, is it all worth it? I can’t answer that, but I know I won’t regret seeing if it is.
Essentially, running is a lifestyle choice, and it is the life I chose. Yes, I do miss out on late nights and spontaneous trips, but those things just don’t fit my personality. Even if I didn’t have training in my life, I still wouldn’t be out every weekend, because that just isn’t what I enjoy. I get my enjoyment from running, spending time with my friends and family, and writing, all of which the lifestyle of a runner allows me to do.
People make bigger sacrifices in other ways, so I don’t see it as a sacrifice, because I’m not suffering, instead it is a choice that I make for something I love, and something my family support me in pursuing.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!