Feeling anxious is incredibly normal. I am yet to meet someone who does not deal with some sort of anxiety on some level. If there is someone out there that doesn’t, I’d love to meet you! However, feelings of anxiety can be overwhelming and all consuming at times. What is important, is how you deal with them in order to prevent them spiralling out of control.
When I begin to feel a wave of anxiety and consuming thoughts approaching me, I work to reframe the thoughts. Anxious thoughts can be incredibly irrational, even though they may not seem like it at the time. Just because your brain is telling you something, doesn’t mean it’s true. For example, if your thoughts are telling you that you are not good enough, ask yourself why is it saying this? More often than not there is no genuine evidence to back up the thoughts. If you counter the thoughts by telling yourself, you have worked as hard as you can and you will give your best which is always enough, you can reframe the negativity. Ultimately being ‘good enough’ is unmeasurable and only created by you. These are the limits and constraints we put on ourselves. We will be the best we can be at any given moment, and that is alway enough.
Additionally, our bodies feel the emotions we interpret them to feel. For example, if every time we were sad we told ourselves that we were scared, we might begin to interpret sadness as fear. Similarly, when we feel the physical and mental feelings of anxiety, we tell ourselves that we feel anxious. However, we can interpret this differently. We can tell ourselves that this simply building excitement. Going into a race, these feelings we call ‘anxiety’, are actually our body building up excitement that it will release when we race. This conservation process, allows us to perform to our best. So, conversely to feeling worried, we should feel relieved and reassured by these feelings.
Body’s natural reaction.
It is also important to recognise that anxiety is a natural bodily reaction. It is at times our bodies way of preparing us for what is ahead. It is trying to protect and prepare us. For example, if you feel anxious going into a race, exam or important meeting, it is not necessarily a bad sign. It is a sign that you care, but also your body genuinely preparing yourself to have the energy to fight when you need to. If we did not feel anxious at important times, we would be too relaxed and may not perform as well as we could if our body had experienced the feelings we interpret as ‘anxiety’.
This is the number one response for me. As soon as anxious feelings arise, I get outside. Spending time in the fresh air, listening to nature, walking the dogs, or just sitting on the grass, makes me feel very grounded and prevents me from becoming over anxious. It allows me to find peace from the most simplest things in life and realise that there is so much more to life than the thoughts in my head.
Finally, you are NOT ALONE. Whilst feeling anxious can cause you to feel quite solitary at times. It is one of the most inclusive things there is. More people than you can imagine feel anxious at times, it just isn’t spoken about by everyone. Some people don’t even know that they experience anxiety because they reframe it into a different emotion. So, whenever you feel alone, read this, because I hope it reminds you that you are not.
As a summer of racing gets closer and closer, sessions start to get a little bit faster. I’m not one to have a very high level of natural speed, so these sessions can come as a bit of a shock to the system, but I’m learning to love them more and more. Here are my three favourite speedier sessions. To prepare yourself even more for races, you may want to pull the spikes on. They can all be adapted to make them a little bit longer if you still want to get the volume in.
3 x 1200,400 + bonus 400.
I used to hate speedier sessions, but I’m learning to love them, because ultimately, what’s not to like about making your weaknesses stronger? As soon as I see something less than 5k in volume in my training plan, I know it’s going to be fast. This is one of my faves. I tend to have 1 minute recovery between the 1200 and 400, and 4 minutes between sets. This gives you plenty of time to recover, but also the minutes between the reps really start to bite by the final set. I always try to focus on my form to distract me from my legs feeling tired. Get those legs turning over as quickly as you can and keep driving forward.
This session is great for getting your legs quickly changing from fast to slow, so you can deal with surges in races. I usually have 100m float as the recovery, so your legs constantly turn over and flow into the next rep. To start with the float feels nice, but trust me, by rep 12 you will start to feel it. 100m float goes very very quickly. If you want to up the volume, I sometimes add a tempo mile at the start and finish. The final mile also gets you used to running on tired legs as the fast 200’s will get that lactic flowing.
2k tempo + 2x400,300,200 (200 jog)
This session is great to get the legs turning ahead of a race. The tempo allows you to warm your legs up before you spin them that bit faster. Also, not having too many reps, means you can go fast without worrying about tiring the legs massively ahead of racing. If you want to do this session outside of race week, you could do 3 sets just for slightly more volume and really hit them hard.
Whether you love speed work or you hate it, it is a must, especially ahead of a summer of track racing. If you're unsure where to start, try one of these sessions and let me know how you get on!
We always talk about listening to our bodies and understanding the warning signs/messages they tell us. Being able to understand what they are saying can be imperative in allowing yourself to improve as an athlete. However, there are times when it is worth NOT listening to your body. Controversial, I know.
There is a lot of talk about intuitive eating. This is listening to your body and eating when it tells you it is hungry. This is great, but it doesn’t always work if you are an active person or an athlete. Why? Because we often need to eat more than our body tells us to. I used to believe that it was only acceptable to eat if I was really hungry. I would let myself get to the point where I felt lightheaded and struggled to move before I would allow myself to eat. This is a point we do not need to get to if we are lucky enough to have the privilege to avoid it. There is so much more to eating food than just to fill a hole. So, when is this sometimes the case?
Because you want to!
This is the only place to start. Sometimes you aren’t hungry at all, but something takes your fancy, and it is ok to eat it. You don’t always need to be at the point of hunger in order for it to be ok to eat. Food is a source of enjoyment for many, and for this reason, if you want to eat, don’t let yourself not. If you are a healthy individual, it is ok to eat whenever food takes your fancy! In the past I would’ve never let myself eat if I was not hungry, and for this reason I missed out on a lot of good food! So now, I eat whenever I want to.
It is important to refuel your body after training in order to kickstart the recovery process. Quite often, as soon as you’ve finished training, you aren’t hungry, but the sooner you can get some fuel in, the quicker your body can begin to repair ahead of the next session. If you take a flask of milk, an energy bar, or my favourite, a carton of Drink EO3, you can get this into your system as soon as you are finished. It can take a little while to get into the routine, but as soon as it becomes habit, you don’t even think about whether you are hungry or not, because you know you need to refuel. When I was at my worst, exercise was a way to burn calories, therefore the last thing I wanted to do was eat more after I’d burnt them off. As a consequence, I lost any muscle and strength I had, because I was never giving my body the fuel it needed to repair and build.
Before an early morning run.
Sometimes if you train early in the morning, you aren’t hungry when you wake up, and therefore you decide to skip breakfast. However, I for one hate to run on empty. I don’t want my to body to eat into my fat stores too often, so waking up even 30 minutes early, allows me time to get a light snack in. This also prevents hitting that point 30 minutes into a run where all you want is food and hunger hits. A morning run is a lot more enjoyable, and also productive, when you have energy from a bit of food.
For the social benefit.
Not only is it a necessity, but food is also a social experience. We often meet up with friends for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, at all times of the day, whether we are hungry or not. We don’t have to be hungry to justify going out for something to eat with a friend. I used to avoid social situations involving food because I did not want to eat, and consequently I lost out on a lot of amazing times with friends. Being able to eat for the social benefit of it is a valuable thing that helps build strong and happy bonds.
So, next time you hesitate having a bite to eat because you aren't hungry enough, remind yourself that you don't always NEED to be super hungry to justify eating. Food serves a lot of other purposes, enjoy it.
We are all different, in almost every single way. For this reason, what is right for you might not be right for somebody else. Just because you have seen someone else doing something, and it works for them, doesn’t mean it will work well for you. It might not.
Growing up, you are surrounded by so many social pressures that encourage you to be the same as those around you. You feel that in order to be accepted, you need to fit in, therefore being different is not necessarily encouraged. You determine what is right or wrong based on what the majority around you are doing. However, as you get older, you realise that being different is actually a very valuable thing, and in order to get the best out of yourself, you need to do what is right for YOU, not somebody else. Going with the heard won’t necessarily allow you to flourish as an individual. It may gain you acceptance, but it might not benefit you, and is this really all we want out of life? This week I was reminded of the importance of doing what is best for me.
I was due to head off altitude training today, and quite frankly I was super excited. I have never done an altitude trip and I felt like this was a great time to start. I was given a great opportunity that seemed ideal. However, I didn't really consider whether it was great for me, or just for those around me.
I kept an eye on the forecast and although it wasn't looking great, I expected it to change. My mother did keep reminding me that it is still ski season, but like any child, I chose not to listen. It is due to be heavy snowfall with temperatures down to -15 over the weekend and into the start of next week. Having dealt with a niggle and just got back into the rhythm of training, the thought of running in snow was starting to make me quite worried. I don’t try to be, but I can be a bit clumsy, and the last thing I want is to slip and pull something or stir up the injury I have just got to settle. Therefore, I decided it would be sensible not to head out this weekend.
I considered moving my flights and heading out towards the end of next week, but it didn't seem like the way forward. In order to get the best benefits of altitude, it is recommended you go for at least 3 weeks. If I flew out later in the week, I would only be there for 2 weeks, and factoring in adjustment time, it could end up being more disruptive than beneficial. I have got into a good routine at home and training has been positive, so I didn't want to risk upsetting the balance. I knew that not going was the right thing to do, but I needed to get these thoughts confirmed. So, I spoke to my coach, and surprise surprise, he felt the same! (I wasn’t being dramatic!! Haha)
As soon as I had made the decision not to go, it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders. I had listened to myself and believed in what my gut was saying. I had lots of voices in my head telling reminding me of how many people were still going, and how not going would set me apart from the majority, but, when I took a step back and looked at my own needs and training demands, I knew going wouldn’t necessarily benefit me.
Essentially, I want to say, do what works for you. Just because somebody else says it is a good idea, or it works for them, doesn’t mean it is the best thing for you. Trust your opinion and understand your needs, and don’t be afraid to go against the grain. Once you have made your decision, stick with it, and don't think about what could've been. Trust yourself and YOU DO YOU.
The running world is slowly turning away from the belief that you need to eat less in order to run faster. There is more and more education around the dangers and the damage this can cause. However, this message can never be reiterated enough, because there is always someone who has a small voice in their head telling them it is true. I had that voice in mine for a long time, so are not alone. I hope this blog can help you realise why eating less won’t make you run faster.
Eating less in order to loose weight and run faster may leave you feel great for a short amount of time. This is enough time to trick your brain into believing you are doing the right thing and reinforce such behaviours. However, before long, your body will run out of energy, quite simply because you are not giving it enough fuel and it will go into conservation mode. Think of your body like a car. Without fuel, it literally cannot function. As a result, you will not have the energy needed to run fast, let alone train at the standard you wish to. When I was at my unhealthiest point, I did not have enough energy to even run 1 lap of a rugby pitch and my performance plummeted as a result.
If your body isn’t being given enough fuel, neither is your brain. Both need to be fuelled sufficiently in order for them to operate optimally. If we don’t provide our minds with plenty of fuel, it can be difficult to focus and concentrate. This can therefore make it hard to knock out solid fast sessions, as your brain just doesn’t have the mental energy to focus on the task ahead. Sessions can require a lot of mental energy, so you need to have a fuelled brain in order to get the hard work done. I found myself feeling mentally drained before the session even began, therefore I rarely had the mental strength to get to the end.
If your stomach is tossing and turning, you likely will be too at night. You may not think it, but sleep actually requires energy too. If you under-eat, there may not be enough energy readily available to support your sleep activity. Therefore you may struggle to get to sleep, but also to remain asleep for a long period of time. Additionally, if you find yourself waking up hungry in the night, your body is likely telling you that it needs more food. As humans, let alone athletes, we need plenty of sleep in order to meet the demands of training. When I was underfueling my sleep took a hit as my brain didn’t have the ability to rest like it needed to. This in turn leads to my next point.
Increased risk of injury.
If you are not sleeping well on a constant basis, you are not able to give your body the level of recovery it requires. A lot of our adaptation occurs overnight, and poor sleep will affect the rate of this. A lack of sleep may lead to poor recovery, which in turn contributes to a higher risk of injury. Additionally, an increased risk of injury comes from the added destruction that comes with under fuelling. If your body does not have enough fuel to function properly, it will not be able to repair your muscles and bones. Consequently they can become weak and fragile. This can thus lead to an increased risk of injury. It may also damage your bone health and physical health. For example, under eating may cause periods to stop, something I experienced in the past, which in the long run can affect bone health and make injury more likely.
Loss of enjoyment.
This is a big one. Ultimately, the main thing that will make you run faster is if you enjoy what you are doing. If you are excited to get out the door and work hard, it won’t even seem like hard work. When I was underfueling, I lost all my love for the sport. This was because every run was a struggle. I didn’t have the energy to make even a recovery run feel easy. Consequently, my enjoyment levels were zapped because I didn’t have the energy to make running enjoyable. I also became difficult as a person because I was “running” on empty at all times of the day. This did not help me run any faster at all.
There are many more reasons why underfueling can be damaging and hinder your performance, but I hope these give some insight into why it does a lot more bad than good.
Values are an important part of life in order to give you a sense of equilibrium. When we remain true to our values, we ultimately remain true to ourselves, which allows us to to feel a sense of balance throughout our lives.
What are values?
Values are a set of beliefs that you live and work by. They ultimately determine where your priorities lie and what is valuable to you. They allow you to measure whether something is or isn’t important to you and whether it aligns with your personal ethos. They let you determine whether you are or aren’t being true to yourself in all aspects of your life.
What are your values?
The first and most important thing to do is decide what your values are. In order to recognise if you are being true to yourself, you need to ascertain what your values lie. These can relate to all aspects of your life, specific ones, or very generic ones. For example, a few of the generic traits I like to live by are honesty, kindness, respect and positivity. However, if I hone in on a specific sector of my life, for example, running, my values would be enjoyment, courage, hard work and determination. Therefore depending on what I am doing, I consult my different beliefs.
When to use your values.
Values can be used at different points in your life, and on a daily basis. They are especially useful in times of conflict or uncertainty. If you feel lost and unsure of the best way to proceed, consulting your values can determine the best path to follow to ensure an outcome that will sit well with you. If you have been asked to do something, but you are not sure if it is the right thing to do, you can consult your values and see where you align. If you find that specific thing opposes many of your values, perhaps it would be important to rethink whether you do it or not, but if you find your values are strengthened by this approach, you can believe it is the best way forward.
You don’t need to have your values at the forefront of you mind at all times, but it is worthwhile checking in with them every now and then and recognising whether you are remaining true to yourself, or perhaps recognising that you have lost a little bit of direction. Our values will change, and at different points of our lives some may be more important that others, but they allow us to remain grounded. They also, most importantly, allow us to maintain a level of self respect.
Our brains just like our bodies get tired. We can only work them so hard before they start to scream out to us for rest. Just like our bodies, they need to be nurtured and looked after. However, sometimes we aren’t able to recognise when mental fatigue hits us and we can end up in a downward spiral without even realising.
So, what can we do to try and prevent our minds from getting too fatigued? And how can we stay as mentally fresh and motivated as possible?
Remember your why.
Mental fatigue can get the better of us at times when it doesn’t need to. We can find ourselves getting pulled down, especially when our direction of focus disappears. For this reason, I find it incredibly important to remember your why. Remind yourself what it is you are training for. Perhaps it is a specific race, simply for the enjoyment of it, or just to get fit. Keep this focus in your mind at all times, especially on the harder days. This will help keep you motivated and prevent your mind from fatiguing due to a lack of direction.
When we spend the majority of our time working hard, both in and out of training, it is unavoidable that we will get tired. Hard work requires a lot of mental energy and focus that can drain us. In order to avoid mentally burning out and fatiguing to an unproductive point, we can implement regular rest days. Whilst these allow our bodies to rest and recover, they also allow our minds to switch off and recharge. Incorporating regular rest days keeps our mind excited for the training ahead of us. This means we can train productively for extended periods of time without burning out, essentially allowing us to make bigger steps forward in terms of our fitness.
Keep it varied.
When we do the same thing over and over again, our brains can easily become tired of what we are doing. The best way to avoid this happening is to keep your training varied and as interesting as possible. This may simply be by changing the location of where you run. Try not to do the same route repeatedly, and perhaps drive to other spots if you have the time. You can also vary the time of day you run at, you don’t always have to get out the door first thing. Also keep your sessions varied. The variation in workouts keeps you excited for the next one to come. Finally, add variety by running with company. Link up with friends, whether it is for an easy run or a session, this will help the time fly by a lot quicker and keep you excited to run.
How can we expect to remain mentally fresh if we don’t allow our brains to sleep? Prioritising a sufficient amount of sleep each night can allow us to go into each day feeling as fresh and motivated as possible. When we are lacking sleep, our brains don’t function quite as well as they can when are fully rested. Therefore getting 8+ hours each night gives us the best possible chance of fighting fatigue.
An element of mental fatigue is unavoidable. We will all experience it from time to time, but the above points can help ensure we stay as mentally fresh as possible and stop fatigue from setting in too deeply.
Whether in sport or other aspects of life, it isn’t always wise to constantly do more and more. There comes a point where more can actually do more harm than good. It is often difficult to see this, and we recognise the need to step back when the damage has already been done.
Looking back on previous years, I am able to see how much I have grown as an athlete and a person. Previously I would’ve pushed on through any niggle, no matter how bad it got (I ran through stress fractures in both legs for months!) as I felt this was the ‘strong’ to do. I also pushed through barriers of hunger because I felt that was the ‘right’ thing to do to get faster. I was wrong and both led to a lot of destruction. Being able to recognise when the need to be smart arises is a very powerful trait to possess, and here is how we can stop ourselves before the damage is done.
Listen to your body
Our bodies are very clever things. They speak to us, and tell us how they are feeling/what they want, just in a language that isn’t always very explicit and can be difficult to understand. This means we have to listen very carefully and recognise as soon as something isn’t quite right. It is important to recognise the signs your body makes, and take it seriously when it tells you something different to normal. If you are feeling energy dead in a session, take a few days to get on top of yourself before sessioning again. If part of your body is in discomfort, cross train or rest until it feels better. Taking a few days or weeks here and there to get your body back to its normal state, is much better than months and months.
Detach yourself from yourself
It can be hard to always look at our own situation with a clear mindset. We constantly see ourselves differently to the way we see others. We are much harsher on ourselves and don’t always think rationally about the consequence of particular behaviours. However, by thinking about our situation as though they were the experiences of someone else, allows us to consider the best way to act. What would you say to a friend who was feeling the way you are? You would have a rational response. Whatever that is, respond in that way.
Look at the bigger picture
Think to yourself. What are you trying to achieve? Are you in it for the long run? If the answer is yes, think about if what you do now will benefit you in the long run? Pushing through whatever you are feeling now won’t benefit you in the future, but being kind to yourself and respecting your body will. There is nothing to be gained. Even if you end up having to take a few months to get yourself strong and healthy, it is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Remember the bigger picture.
There is a lot of value in being SMART. More training, and less fuelling isn’t a smart or constructive thing to do. The route that involves malnourishment and battering your body isn’t the one that will lead you to a better place. Often, taking what we see as the ‘easier’ physically but frequently smarter option (and mentally harder), will lead to a much brighter place.
Therefore, I want to remind you to think smart, because often the smart choice isn’t physically the hardest, but it is mentally. It is the option that makes us feel uncomfortable, because it seems surprisingly sensible.
After the race I did 2 weeks ago, I decided to combat the niggle that was grating away at me and take a little bit of time off from running. In the wise words of Grayson Murphy, “If you listen to your body when it whispers, you don’t have to hear it scream”. Therefore, I decided to listen to my body telling me something wasn’t right, and tackle the niggle before it started to scream at me. This meant switching running for cross training, and doing sessions on the cross trainer/elliptical. Whilst no way near as enjoyable, cross training sessions are not something to be laughed at, because they HURT, and I sweat buckets and buckets, and this makes them quite satisfying.
I had quite a few people message me asking for some recommendations of cross training sessions, so I’ve put together my top 5 sessions. If you work hard in these, you will be close to throwing up at the end of your session, and feel quite satisfied.
*Always start with a warm up. You can do it on the elliptical as well or on the bike if you prefer. I tend to do 15-20 minutes. I do the same for a cool down afterwards.
20 x 1 min hard/1 min easy
This is a great session because you can really work on turning those legs over as quickly as possible. I always see a 1 minute rep as a sprint. I go as hard as I can and hold on. For the first 10 reps this will feel quite good, but trust me, by the end it will really bite. This also makes for a very satisfying session as you can push your heart rate up and come away with jelly legs, making you feel like you’ve worked as hard (if not harder) than you would in a running session.
12 x 2 minutes hard with alternating recovery of 60 secs, 45 secs, 30secs recovery
The recovery of this session is what makes it interesting and keeps you on your toes. I always keep the recovery moving, especially because it is hard to get going if you have come to a stop than it is if you are spinning the legs very slowly. This is especially the case when the recovery is only 30 seconds. It is better to keep the momentum going. The alternating recovery stops your mind from switching off, and makes sure you work hard throughout.
Fartlek, 4 x 2 mins, 90 secs, 60 secs, 30 secs (all 30 secs recovery)
In any circumstance, I love a fartlek session. The variation in rep length allows you to work different systems but also prevents your mind from getting bored. Word of warning, this session is TOUGH, but AMAZING. The 30 seconds recovery really comes back to bite you in the final set. When I was doing this session, I was so so close to throwing up, that I actually surprised myself when I didn’t. However, once that final 30 second rep is done, the satisfaction level this session creates is sky high. I would probably say this is my favourite session.
15 x 75 seconds (45 seconds recovery)
This is another great staple session. I try to split it up in my mind into 3 sets of 5 with different focuses for each. For the first 5, I will focus on working hard but feeling comfortable. I will make sure on the middle 5 the legs start to feel it but still feel strong, then the final 5 I will really start to push on and give it everything.
Pyramid: 5 mins, 4 min, 3 min, 2 min, 1 min, 30, 1 min, etc. (60 ses recovery)
A pyramid session is great for going through all the gears. Starting off with the longer rep allows you to work more on your endurance, but working down to the 60 second and 30 second reps gives you the chance to get legs turning over quickly. You then gradually build up through the motions and finish on a 5 minute rep on very tired legs. This will feel tough, but having a longer rep at the end will train your legs to keep going even when the legs tire, like at the end of a race.
Panic attacks aren’t fun and they can happen at any time, no matter where you are, when you least expect them to surface. Fortunately, I haven’t had a panic attack for quite a long time, until last week, when I had two in the space of one 40 minute run. Luckily, I had my boyfriend with me so he could help calm me down, but it has happened before when I’ve been alone. It can be scary, and at first I didn’t know what was happening, which made it even scarier, but now I am able to recognise when one is happening. They don’t however get any easier to manage, but here are the simple steps I take.
What to do? (From my own experience)
These are a few things I do to try and get my breathing under control and get my airways to feel fully open again. What do you do? I would love to hear your tips.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!