Being a runner has a different meaning for everyone, and not everybody is good at all distances if they are classified as, a ‘good runner’. This may have been the case when we were at school, and you could get a clean slate all the way from 100m through to 1500m on sports day. I remember being on the start line for a 100m and saying to my friends, ‘I hate the 100m, I’m terrible at it’. At this all my friends looked in horror, replying, ‘Hannah you know you will win it, so you clearly aren’t terrible’. They may have thought this but the truth was I was, and am still terrible at 100m. I may have won as I was the only one who specifically trained for running, but in the wider world of running, I am an atrocious sprinter. But why is that? Quite simply, it is because I’m not built for it.
Sprinting requires power and strength. Yes, I would be extremely offended if someone told me I was weak and powerless, as I am not, but the power I possess is on a different scale to those who train to sprint. As a long-distance runner, I do not need this power. I require enough power to sustain a good speed for a long period of time, I do not however require so much power and strength that the weight of it is too heavy to carry. This would only result in me slowing down. The training of a sprinter is guided by power and strength, they wouldn’t go out for a 2-hour run as this would be pointless and extremely difficult for them. It would not build up the muscle mass they require. The training of a long-distance runner is governed by endurance and importantly speed endurance. We want to be fast, but at a sustainable pace. We are leaner athletes. Our muscle mass is considerably less, but we are not skinny. We are lean and strong. Efficiently build if you ask me! No space is wasted.
Sometimes I look at even middle-distance runners, say those who are built for 1500m, and in comparison, my legs are tiny. Personally, I feel as though I have quite muscly legs, but when standing next to a 1500m runner, I merely have twigs. This isn’t something to be ashamed of, or feel weak because of. We are all built differently, if we were all built the same there wouldn’t be the huge range of disciplines and distances that there are! I may not be the fastest going up the hills, or the quickest on the 200m reps, but I can pace myself well and keep going beyond that of others. I get up those hills in a strong manner, especially a strong manner for a long-distance runner. If you give me 1k reps, or simply a long run, I am in my element.
There is no point trying to be good at something you are not naturally built for. No one is built to be good at every distance. There is no point torturing yourself mentally through training for a distance you were never meant to be good at, when you can focus on what you can do. Enjoy what you’re made of, and don’t force yourself to be something you’re not supposed to be.
It is amazing the impact stress can have on your body and your athletic performance. Even more than you know. I for one can say first hand, stress has been the largest impacting factor on my running in the past years. More than I knew!
Stress impacted my running both directly and indirectly. The direct impact it had was on my mental state. How I thought and how I was mentally feeling. My thoughts became very negative. From the stress I was experiencing from exams, unfortunate health problems within close family members, the loss of one of my closest friends, and finally general changes as life moved forward. Whilst life may have been forward, I most definitely was not. I would go into a running session, or even easy run, already psyched out. Before I had even started my run, I had already convinced myself I would perform badly, I was not good enough, and all the stresses of life were continually running through my head. Instead of running being a time to switch off and focus simply on the here and now, the isolation and thinking time lead to me dwelling on what was stressing me out, and as a result intensified the extent to which I was worrying. I was no longer able to momentarily forget my worries and escape them, rather than running away from them for an hour, I was running further into them. This was not conductive for my performance.
Thankfully, I am now able to cope better with life’s stresses. Running allows me to escape what is worrying me, and allows me to put them into perspective. Whilst it is impossible to avoid stress, I now realise it is important to allow yourself time to get away from stress and put your head in a clear space. This is now once again what running does for me. I don’t allow my head to ‘run away’ with itself, I have control over how I allow stress to affect me, and don’t let it hinder my performance. I do realise that this is sometimes something that cannot be escaped, but I can put all my worries and stresses into perspective.
The indirect affect stress had on me is also something I have now rectified, and looking back on it I wish I would not have let it happen. But as I strongly believe, everything happens for a reason, and although I may not have wished to have experienced the things I did, I am much stronger, both physically and mentally for it. Stress indirectly led to my physical dilapidation. Due to being immensely stressed, I resorted to restraining and controlling what I was eating. Quite possibly the worst thing any person can do, especially an athlete. Everyday I was thinking of the next food I could reduce. As a result, I reached a point of being roughly 2.5 stone lighter than I am now. A place I never wish to return to. Stress, along with a weak body, was no combination for a strong, successful runner. Whilst worrying about my stresses on a run, I was also struggling to run physically. My body was not strong enough to support what I was continually asking it to do. The lack of food it was receiving meant running was impossible, but I continued to do it.
Eventually, after several years of struggling with my mind and body, I am now in a stronger state than I ever have been. Being able to see the effects of a physically strong, and mentally stable runner, I can now see the stupidity in restricting what you eat. It didn’t help my running or mental state in any way, but I have learnt from this and am wiser for it!
Stress may have temporarily weakened me, but when dealt with appropriately it has only made me stronger. Remember that when starting something new, whether it be uni or a new job, or if you are going through stressful life experiences, don’t allow the stress to affect your running or your health. Use running as a stress reliever and eat to your benefit.
Let me know how stress affects you or if you have any questions about dealing with it.
Food and nutrition hasn’t always been something I have paid attention to in a constructive way. Ensuring I got an adequate variety of different foods and nutrients was not my top priority. Being someone who has an absolute weakness for bread, has meant when hunger strikes, a lovely slice of fresh bread would hit the spot in one. Thinking about it, bread isn’t unhealthy, therefore eating lots of bread isn’t healthy? Right and wrong. A lot of bread is ok to a limit, but when it is not accompanied by anything else, it is. That’s where I went wrong. I was compromising all the other nutrients my body needed and instead just having bread. I was limiting my calorific intake by eating little else, and restricting the nutrients my body was receiving. As a result, I was loading myself up on carbohydrate for energy, and neglecting almost all other food groups. It was a severe case, but because of the lack of nutrients my body was getting, I became severely anaemic, having a haemoglobin of 7!
I must admit, when I am suddenly caught by hunger now I still resort to bread on occasion. There is however a huge difference. This now consists of toast with almond butter, eggs on toast with avocado, or depending on the student budget, smoked salmon. This helps to supply your body with healthy fats as well as protein and carbohydrate in a balanced, quick, and effective way. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be fancy, but ensuring you are getting all he right nutrients is essential. Especially if you are pushing your body to higher limits by running. This is a vital note.
An individual who engages in regular exercises or intense activity, will require more protein, carbohydrate and an all-round greater number of calories. Therefore, if you want to take exercise seriously, make sure you fuel yourself seriously. It is far more complex and influential than you think. And this does not just apply to serious competitive athletes. Anybody who enjoys exercises and wishes to do it for other reasons than to lose weight, must ensure enough fuel is going into the tank. Even if you goal is to lose weight, it is extremely important you are giving your body all the nutrients it needs and not avoiding the key ones in order to cut calories. This is not conductive and it is not sustainable.
It is important to be healthy, but there is no need to ‘cut’ anything from your diet. ‘Everything in moderation’ as they say, is the answer. Allow yourself treats every now and then, eat pizza, but make sure you are getting everything your body requires alongside it. Pizza has all the nutrients you need; protein, carbs and lots of veggies (my favourite topping), so there is no reason to deny yourself of such food. I do eat healthily myself, and don’t have a massive sweet tooth, but my weakness when it comes to dessert is a warm chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. If you had it every day, yes, it would become unhealthy, but again, all in moderation.
It may sound like a joke, and I get jokes about it all the time, but your body is a temple. Treat it well, take care of it, fuel it efficiently, and it will do the job you want it to do.
Last Thursday was a big day, the biggest in the past 8 months. Finally since recovering from injury, I was able to do a session! It wasn’t a big session, and didn’t last very long, but that isn’t what matters. What matters is it was a huge step in the right direction, and a huge step in my progression to getting back to a full training week.
As expected it hurt. All I had planned to allow me to get rid of a bit of speed, was a 10-minute tempo. It may not sound long enough to be effective, but gosh I was knackered!
I had told myself I was not to look at my watch until I was finished as I did not want to be put off by the speed I was going at. I had an idea of what speed I wanted to go at, but I understood this may not have been achievable. Consequently, I decided to do what I could and then go from there.
I purely used my watch as a time marker to allow me to know when I had done 10 minutes. After setting off I pledged not to look at my watch for as long as I could. I peered down after 7 minutes and told myself to push on. I was already exhausted!!! At the end of the 10 minutes, once I had caught my breath back, I was beyond ecstatic. This was the moment I had been waiting for, for a very long time. The moment I would be out of breath and in pain from having run hard. It felt amazing! To those non-runners reading, it probably sounds insane to enjoy being in pain, but to finally be in positive pain, instead of injury pain, was a complete relief and joy!
The next morning when I proceeded to get out of bed and venture to the top of the stairs, I realised my legs were a tad on the stiff side. Let’s just say I may have resembled a robot walking down the stairs. The feeling is a feeling incomparable to that I felt when I couldn’t get out of bed because of my injury, and that feeling is one I never hope to feel again. However, the feeling I felt the day after my session was a reassuring one, as it told me I was heading in the direction I wanted, and my muscles were working and strengthening.
It may sound crazy, but the pain after a tough session or run is a feeling to be cherished and proud of. Do any of you enjoy the pain of a tough session after you have done it? I can’t say I enjoy the pain throughout every instant, but it is all worth it at the end.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!