One thing that comes to the fore at the end of the summer season, is the camaraderie associated with running. The summer season whilst very support focused, tends to be a lot more individual. Everyone has different race calendars, different distances they are training for, and training becomes a lot more intense. As a result, it is difficult for people to train together, as rarely do their sessions interlink. However, fast forward to the winter, and this tends to change. For the majority, weather focusing on the track next year or deciding to do cross country, the winter provides the opportunity to build their base fitness. Sessions tend to be slightly longer, a little bit less speedier, and mileage starts to increase. As a result, it is easier to link up with others and get ready to battle for fitness through the winter.
Sense of community.
If anything, the winter shows the sheer sense of community that floods throughout the running world. When training gets tough, runners come together to help one another. This brings a huge sense of support that allows you to not feel crazy when you head outside in minus degrees and pouring rain, because, guaranteed, even if you are running alone, there are lots of other runners battling through the exact same thing somewhere else.
Another example is shown by the club community. Every Tuesday and Thursday, week on week, all year long, big groups of runners come together to grind it out. It is this that makes people accountable. If you know others are pushing on through, you want to too. You don’t want to let them down, so you turn up too. Even if you are sessioning solo, there is a coach, friend or relative that knows what you should be doing. This also makes you accountable. If they know you have a session to get done, they’ll ask you about it, and you don’t want to say you wimped out.
From runner to runner, whilst individualised, we all tend to share the same goals. It really is true as the saying goes, ‘winter miles bring summer smiles’. Thus, we all share the same want to work as hard as we consistently can throughout the winter in order to set PB’s on the track season. Whether a 1500m runner or a marathon runner, the winter is a crucial time to get your head down and get some consistent months of training under your belt. It is this common aim that unites us all, and allows us to recognise that we truly are, all in this together.
As we say goodbye to the summer season, and welcome the winter ahead, it is important to approach the year with a clear mindset, one that isn’t weighed down by comparison. Comparison can be beneficial, when you are looking at the athlete you used to be and the one you are becoming. However, it can be mentally degrading and exhausting when you constantly compare yourself to others.
Whoever you are and whatever you are trying to achieve, there is no one like you. Even if someone else has the same goal as you, it still isn’t comparable. Their starting point, the obstacles they face, their journey of progression, is all different to yours.
So, how can we avoid comparison?
Flip how you see/use it. Comparison doesn’t have to have a negative effect. There is no need to constantly compare yourself to others, but likewise, there is no need to use it in a self destructive way. There is no need to feel like you are less, based on your judgement of somebody else. Therefore, use comparison as a force to drive and motivate you. Use their progression, hard work and success as a form of inspiration. This way, rather than getting you down, it will only push you on, because ultimately, if they can do it, so can we.
Take time away from social media.
More often than not, social media is used as a platform to celebrate and display success. Only on occasion do you see someone actively relaying their struggles and battles, but when you do it is very powerful. Therefore, if you find the highlight reel of Instagram to be getting to you, take some time away. There is absolutely no harm in switching it off from time to time. Do what you need to do, but also be strong enough to know when you would benefit from a bit of distance from social media. This is something I have come to recognise quite well on myself, that there are times I need to step away from it.
Celebrate other people’s success.
I think this is a very important point. Success doesn’t come without hard work. Therefore, if somebody is absolutely smashing it, they have reason to do so, because they are worked hard to get there. For this reason, we should celebrate their success. Sport is a wonderful thing, especially running, as very rarely (if ever) does somebody show up, do absolutely no training, and succeed. Even if they bubble along for a while, it is destined to stop, as that mindset is not conducive with a successful athlete. We all know how hard running can be, so let’s celebrate one another and support them on their journey.
Focus on your journey.
Finally, focus on you. Your journey is the only one that will get you to where you want to go, so don’t waste energy by focusing on others too much. There is no magic button in sport, just consistency, hard work and recovery. Channel your energy into being the best you can be, and let others do what they will do. We all progress at different rates, so don’t let somebody else’s journey distract you from enjoying your own.
After a bit of a break, this week has been back to work, and I am so glad to be back. Those few weeks don’t fail to remind you how much you love it, and make you hungry to work even harder over the coming year. That being said, whilst the motivation may come easily after some time away, the fitness doesn’t, and that is what we have to work hard to chase.
Tuesday was my first session back and I started with a 45 minute progression run. I was so excited to get the legs working hard, but boy was it a shock to the system. Whilst two weeks isn’t that long, and they say it takes more than 2 weeks to lose fitness, it definitely didn’t feel as easy as it usually does, but that is ok, and that is good. We’d be shocked, and probably actually disappointed, if it did feel easy.
There is no point dwelling over lost fitness as that was inevitable, but also the point! We need to reset to restart and get stronger. Rather than be frustrated by how hard it may feel now, I am SO excited by the hard work I can put in to get back to my previous fitness and beyond. I love a challenge and I am so excited for the winter of training and racing ahead.
Winter training holds some of my favourite sessions and I love the grind it poses, but it can be really tough at times. When it is, as cheesy as it sounds, remember, winter miles bring summer smiles. The hard work we all put in over the winter will be so so worth it come it the summer. So, if it’s a cold, wet day, and you ask yourself, should I go out today? The answer is YES, because it’s those days that make you stronger. It’s not necessarily the PB sessions that go exactly to plan, it’s the ones where you battled through to complete them. Those are the ones that count.
So, bring on the winter (but a few more weeks of sunshine first would be welcome).
These past two weeks, I have been prioritising rest above anything else. I have done very little training, I have slept till my hearts content, I have moved in non-strenuous ways, and I have continued to eat lots of good wholesome food, just as I would when in full training. Foods that I would eat at ANY time of the year.
You see a lot of athletes post on social media about how the arrival of ‘off season’ means they can finally eat the foods they have been craving. They can finally delve into a big pizza and eat cake, burgers and ice cream. It’s like they have successfully resisted such foods for a whole year, and now they can finally devour them, but why do they not eat these throughout the rest of the year? Why do they feel the need to restrict themselves for the rest of the year. Yes, some athletes may feel they perform better with different diets, who am I to say, I’m not a professional, but for me, I perform best when I am healthy mentally and physically, and I give my body the foods it asks for.
If my body is craving a brownie, I’ll have a brownie. Chances are I haven’t eaten much sugar and my body is need of some. But also, if I constantly fight that desire to have a brownie and don’t allow myself to eat it, I’ll constantly be reinforcing the idea that denying myself certain foods is something I should do. It isn’t. I don’t need to earn certain foods for a whole year just to be able to eat them for two weeks. I believe, everything can be eaten in moderation, and this is what I do, because it is more sustainable. I eat pizza and I eat ice cream, but I don’t just eat it in my off season, I eat it at any time of the year.
Due to my past (and potentially controlling personality traits, haha!), I don’t want to reinforce this idea in my mind that I should restrict myself throughout the year except for 2 weeks. I know for certain, I would then be in a potentially damaging mindset. One that could overtime cause more harm than good. I therefore, like to listen to my body and my mind.
To me, running and my diet are both part of my lifestyle. It is all about consistency and balance. If I constantly fuel my body with a balanced diet, that includes every type of food, I will have a healthy body and mind. Similarly to running, if I aim to be consistent, incorporate all types of sessions and have a balance of running and cross training, I will have a healthy body and mind. Consistency is key! I eat what I want, when I want, whilst maintaining the balance overall.
So, next time you see a post about an athlete finally being able to enjoy the foods they crave in their off season, and feel you need to earn certain foods, remind yourself that everyone is different. Just because they don’t eat certain foods throughout the year, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Don’t feel bad, feel proud. Be proud that you are doing what works for YOU, physically, but more importantly mentally!
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!