Growing up, we are all taught about the importance of being kind to others and treating people how we want to be treated, but there is little, if nothing, taught about being kind to yourself. Consequently, many of us treat ourselves in a way we would never dream of treating somebody else. For example, those destructive thoughts can creep in and tell you that you aren’t good enough and constantly grind you down. Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would never contemplate telling someone there weren’t good enough to pursue their dreams. Would you? So why do we speak to ourselves like that?
Being kind to yourself is so important, and here’s how I work towards doing that.
Set time aside for you.
Life can be busy, with everyday jam packed with training, work, catching up with friends and household jobs, that you rarely have time to sit back and relax. Sometimes just incorporating 15 minutes in your day for yourself can do the world of good. It allows you to step back from the chaos of the world and breathe. Those few moments to yourself allow you to come back to the present and remember who you are and what you stand for. It allows you to check you are in a positive place and haven’t forgotten to take care of your own mental state.
Get plenty of sleep.
I’m not myself when I’m tired, and I definitely can’t think straight let alone rationally. I think it is so important to get a sufficient amount of sleep. I aim for 8.5-9 hours and because I know I will always wake up between 6-6:30, I make sure I’m in bed nice and early. A well rested mind is a lot stronger and more focused for the day ahead than a tired one, so be kind and allow yourself those much-needed hours in bed.
Fuel your body sufficiently.
Just like a tired person, a hungry person is illogical. And even worse, a constantly hungry person lacks all sense of coherent judgement. Taking the time to factor three decent meals into the day doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it can have a significant effect on how we handle the days in front of us. Food not only fuels our bodies, it fuels our brains
Take time away from social media.
Something I find significantly affects my mental state, is if I spend too much time scrolling through Instagram. I can be guilty of comparing myself to others too much and as a consequence I end up in a bad place. At times, the first thing I would do is check instagram when I wake up, therefore I am already starting the day by comparing myself. When I feel it getting the better of me, I make the conscious decision to not scroll and not check instagram as soon as I wake up. I use Instagram to post but stop myself from constantly checking to see what other people are doing. This allows me to be happier with myself, rather than feeling the need to be living up to the lives of others.
Whatever it is that helps you, be kind to yourself. There are also some phenomenal charities out there such as Mind, that offer a phone line service to those that want to talk.
The definition of ‘good’ refers to the need ‘to be desired or approved of’ (Oxford Languages, 2021). But why do we feel the need to be seen as ‘good enough’ by other people who are sometimes even strangers? Why do we spend so much of our lives trying to be approved of? What gives other people the right to decide if we are ‘good enough’?
Sustained happiness cannot be guaranteed by others. This is something I have worked hard to recognise and deal with. No one else is in charge of our lives, only we are. Therefore, essentially, we need to please ourselves and be proud of who we are, because only we can guarantee our own happiness. How we perceive ourselves has a significant effect on how we feel within ourselves.
I think running is very powerful in this respect. A lot of runners spend more time on their own than many other people do. I personally do the majority of my running solo, and I have come to love it. I think the act of running alone teaches you to seek happiness from yourself rather than from others as you have spend a lot more time with yourself.
So, how can we step towards believing we are good enough without seeking approval from others?
Step 1: Accepting others will have their opinions
Step 2: Trust yourself.
Step 3: Be comfortable in your own skin
I don’t know about you, but I can be guilty of catastrohising. Somehow I manage to escalate something simplistic and explainable into a career ending disaster. Why is this?
I believe, for me, this is because I have an incessant desire to always want a complex reason for everything. I want to strive for perfection. Therefore, if something didn’t go ‘perfectly’ in my eyes (which is an unrealistic goal), I believe there must be a deep reason for it. This is where the catastrophising commences. The cycle of searching deeper and deeper for a reason that likely doesn’t exist begins. When there isn’t a deeper explanation for something, I always come back to the same exhausting explanation, that I must not be good enough, but I am. We are all good enough.
So, how do I try to stop myself when the spiralling hat of disaster sits on my head?
Catch your thoughts
The best way to stop your thoughts spiralling is to catch them. Stop the spiral from unravelling by redirecting your thoughts. Whatever it is that is causing you to stress and worry, stop dwelling on it and focus on something else. Whether that be distracting yourself by watching a movie, going on a walk, or doing some colouring, catch your thoughts by focusing on something in the present. I find this helps stop my thoughts wonder off into would could be, and redirects my attention to focusing on the now.
Chat it through with someone
Discussing whatever it is you are catastrophising about can really help rationalise those thoughts. I find this the most effective method of dealing with spiralling thoughts. Whatever I am worrying about, if I talk it through with someone else, I quickly recognise that I am over reacting and over thinking. Chatting it through allows someone else to offer you an outside perspective and get you to see that there is no logic to the way you are thinking. It can also help you understand why you are having these thoughts and how you can confront them.
Be kind to yourself and accept it.
It is normal for things to go wrong, not go to plan, or go perfectly for plan, and there can be little reason for this, it is just part of life. There is no point beating yourself up and being harsh on yourself every time something doesn’t go to plan. Be kind and accept it. I am guilty of feeling that everything must have a complex reason. As a result, I search and search until I find what could be the reason for why it didn’t go to plan. More often than not there isn’t a reason, so I conclude that it must be my fault, I must not be good enough. This is not the case and should not be how we react. We are good enough and it is just part of life. There is no need to over-inflate the meaning of something.
Next time we find our thoughts running away with themselves and becoming destructive, try to recognise that the chances are we are just catastrophising and nothing has genuinely gone that wrong.
The main thing I want to do this year is step out of my comfort zone and try new things in order to improve as an athlete, and I think this week I did that. On Wednesday I took to the track to take part in a 3,000m BMC race. My first 3k in 5 years! It was very much out of my comfort zone, but a great experience. The event was put on by the BMC and Luke Gunn, and it ran very smoothly and safely.
My plan going into the race was to go out hard and hang on, but I think I took it a bit too literally. I was prepared for the race to hurt, but I think I approached it more as if it was a 1500 than a 3,000. I was hoping to run somewhere between 9:15 and 9:20, and that was very much doable, if I paced the race evenly, which I did not. After a 3:02 first kilometre, I was surprised how good I felt, but it was only a lap later that the pain kicked in.
I did what I hoped and went outside of my comfort zone, it just didn’t go quite as planned. That being said, it wasn’t a disastrous time. I finished in 9:31, a little bit off my target, but there are positives to take from the race as I learnt a lot of lessons.
How not to pace a race
This was probably the main lesson I took from the race. I got a bit carried away and went out too hard. Whilst it was only a few seconds faster than the pace I was aiming for, over 3k, that can be a big difference and make for a painful race, which it did! However, I am proud of myself for taking the plunge and pushing myself. I really enjoyed doing a shorter race and hopefully by the end of the season I’ll be more familiar with that 3k feel.
My legs do move faster than I thought.
At least, by going off hard, I found out that my legs can actually move a little bit faster. This is a bit of a confidence boost to know that I can throw in a faster k if I need to, it just may be better if I do it at the end of the race rather than the start. And, I just need to work on holding the pace for a longer period of time.
Racing is well and truly back
After a long time of racing returning for one race and then disappearing again, or being completely non-existent, it feels so nice to have a period of consistent racing in the diary. It is exciting to have lots of opportunities ahead to try and improve my times and gain race experience.
So, going forward, I am going to always note the positives there are from every race and session, and use these as opportunities to develop and learn.
This week I had a session to put in the ‘f*** it bucket’. In fact, I knew as soon as I started that something wasn’t right. My legs just felt heavy and clunky and had absolutely no drive in them. It was one of those where it doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you just go nowhere. If you reread the second sentence of this paragraph, you’ll see that ‘I knew’ something wasn’t right, it wasn’t just a case of being fatigued.
Rather than ploughing on through what would be a significantly sub par session, I made the decision to stop, get on the phone to my coach, and we made some edits to the session. For that, I am pretty proud of myself. I didn’t cry (something I’m not too proud to say I have done in the past when a session hasn’t gone to plan), I simply took on board what my coach said and got on with a shorter session that just got the legs moving slightly.
There is reason to why I approached not completing the session with a more stable mindset, and that was because I knew there were factors contributing to why I felt how I did. When something doesn’t go to plan, there is usually a reason, not always, but most of the time. Rather than letting my mind convince me I was a rubbish runner and that was the end of my career, I looked at the bigger picture.
Some people are lucky enough to not experience many symptoms when it’s their time of the month, and some months I don’t, but for me, heavy legs and feeling energy zapped can be very real at the start. It only tends to be particularly bad just as I come on, and only for a few days. I like to think that it doesn’t effect me, but that is no way to deal with it. You just have to accept it and move on. It is completely normal to experience such symptoms!
I had my vaccine.
This was exciting, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to get my vaccine pretty early on, but for anyone out there who hasn’t had theirs yet, you can expect to feel a bit rubbish for a few days. The night of the vaccine I felt very fluey, shivery and achey. Following that I felt much better in everyday life, but I didn’t feel myself when running. This lasted for about five days. My legs were heavy and I felt very lethargic. My heart rate remained relatively low and stable but my body just wasn’t there to go with it.
I find it important to accept that bad session do happen, it is just part of the parcel. If every one was amazing, they would all just be average. However, for me, mentally, it is vital that I let go of the session and don’t let it weigh me down. Otherwise I make it into a much bigger deal than it is and drag it on for longer than necessary.
Every runner has their own selection of pre race rituals. Whether it be the outfit they race in, what they have for breakfast, or how they wear their hair, there is always something. I used to have countless things I would do before racing, most would say too many, so much so that they were actually superstitions rather than rituals. However, when I came back from my injury, I set myself a clean slate. I chose to only focus on the pre-race rituals that actually mattered; the ones that were practical and genuinely had a benefit.
So, what rituals do I have before a race?
I tend to follow the same food plan the night and day of a race. There isn’t anything superstitious linked to this, it is purely practical. I know what fuels me sufficiently, but also sits well in my stomach when I’m about to race. It doesn’t differ massively from my everyday diet, so I know my stomach won’t be thrown off course.
The night before I also always have pasta for dinner. I have always done this. I’m not too fussy with which sort of pasta I have, just nothing too creamy as my stomach doesn’t always take well to rich creamy foods before running. For breakfast, or 2.5/3 hours before I am due to race, I will have an almond butter bagel and a banana. This is because again, I know it sits well in my stomach and is something I eat most days without a problem.
For pre-race foods, it is very much about trial and error. It is important to recognise that what works for me, might not work for you. So, play around with what you eat before training and racing to find out what works best for you and doesn’t cause you any stomach problems and fuels you sufficiently.
I tend to wear the same pair of knickers for every race. This is again practical- it is all about comfort! I know the pair of underwear I wear for racing doesn’t give me a wedgy or cause any discomfort, so why worry about it. If I just wear the same pair (obviously clean every time!!), I don’t have any problems.
I also always race with my hair in two plaits. I wear it in plaits everyday for training, and even tighter plaits for racing. I know this hairstyle won’t fall out or annoy me, so it is another thing to not worry about. Whenever I put my hair in plaits, I know it is time to run. I feel prepared and focused for the session ahead.
Whilst there are practical associations with all these things, they also have a psychological impact. For example, I know every time I have that pre-race meal, pull on my comfortable underwear, and tie my hair in plaits, a race is just around the corner. As much as it is practical, it also prepares my mind to race. It starts the process of getting me in the zone and mindset to race.
There was only one post I could write this week, and that is because for the first time in a long while, something exciting and out of the ordinary actually happened... I got to race!
My last race prior to this week was the PB5k in Ardingly back at the beginning of December 2020. Training was going well leading into it, but the good old British winter weather came out in full force. Regardless, I felt strong and determined to hit the rest of the winter with full force. Fast forward through a LONG January and the arrival of some nice and not so nice weather, and we’re in April, and with that, racing has returned!!
On Wednesday, I was lucky enough to be able to pull on my spikes and get on the track to race in the Comeback 5,000m in Battersea Park. Whilst I was nervous, I was also very excited. Excited to see what I could do, and just buzzed to be back racing in a field of very strong girls. As my coach said, the focus was on racing first, then the time second, so I just wanted to give my all.
The upsides of the track are, there’s no hills and you can’t get lost, but that means, there’s nothing to hide behind... it’s just you, your competitors and 12.5 laps. Whilst I love a hill in cross country, I love the purity of track racing and the ability to simply run as fast as you can on the day. For my bizarre mind, laps are great. I’ve never been phased by doing a lot of laps. I once did a 90 minute long run around 2 rugby pitches and aqua jogging certainly teaches you to get used to monotony (you learn to switch off!).
After a pretty delayed start, I went out with intention. The race was being paced for 75 second laps and 79 laps, but I was aiming for 76/77. For that reason, I made the bold decision to go out hard with the 75 second pacer and just hang on for as long as I could. After a couple of laps, I dropped back slightly, so the majority of the race was ran on my own, but I managed to hold on to what I was aiming for and just focused on ticking one lap off after another. Also, at least I didn’t have to worry about social distancing!
Coming down the final home straight, I could see the clock flicking by. I gave it everything my little legs had, but couldn’t quite get over the line quickly enough to dip under the 16-minute barrier. However, I am more than chuffed to have knocked 23 seconds off my previous 5,000m PB! I know I have more to come and that’s a goal for another day at another race, which I’m excited for. The first race was about getting out there, racing and enjoying the process, and I can confidently say that’s what I did. Now it’s back to work 💪🏼💪🏼
Up until changing coaches at the end of last year, my training followed a very regular routine. I tended to do the same sessions on repeat on a 2-3 week cycle. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it helped me improve, it did take away some of my enjoyment for the sport and prevented me from working all my different speeds.
On reflection, there were some pace zones I had never worked in. I had never done a steady run. I didn’t even know what steady running was. I assumed it was the same as easy. Steady running is essentially in between easy and tempo. I didn’t know this. I had also never done an extended tempo. The longest time I had ever tempo’ed for was 10 minutes at a time. I had never ventured into the zone of continuous tempos. The thought of these was definitely scary and something I didn’t think I was capable of. However, with a little bit of confidence, self-belief, and the right guidance, I actually surprised myself at being able to do it. They are now one of my favourite sessions! I LOVE extended tempos! I have also started operating regularly at paces faster than 5k pace, another previous unknown.
The lack of enjoyment I started to experience was mostly because of the comparison factor. I did every session so regularly that I would constantly compare each session to the last. I wanted each week to be faster than the previous one. Of course everyone wants to get faster, but it isn’t possible to be faster every week, progression unfortunately isn’t quite that linear. There is a time and a place for comparing sessions to previous ones, and it is helpful to track progress by repeating sessions every now and then. It can help you see improvements, however, doing the exact same sessions on a 2 week cycle caused me to compare each session way too much and stress constantly about the times and paces I was hitting. I would get down if I was slightly slower than the previous time I did the session, even if the conditions were bad. I would fail to take into consideration the variation in weather, what other training I had been doing, or factors that were taking place outside of running. This is because I had a constant benchmark of what times I should be running for what session, and I didn’t want to not hit them, or I felt as though I was going backwards.
Since varying my sessions, I have noticed a massive change to my mentality going into them. Rather than getting unhealthily nervous and fearing not hitting the times I did previously, I get excited by the challenge ahead of me. I have enjoyed each workout a lot more and finished them with a greater sense of accomplishment. It is such an amazing feeling when you finish a session that was a massive challenge you have never done before. There is a lot more enjoyment, less comparison, and much more eagerness to give it everything when the sessions change regularly. This means I go into each session fresh. I have nothing to compare against so I just give my all and know that is all I can do.
If I could speak to my previous self, I would say don’t be afraid to vary your sessions. Whilst unknown sessions can be scary, one of the best ways to improve is by doing what scares you. As with my word for the year (courage), strength lies in doing what scares you. I now find the prospect of going into an unknown session exciting. I love that feeling of knowing you are going to have to work as hard as you can for a new challenge, and that is exciting. Variation is important, not something to be feared.
We have yet again been faced with another hiatus from racing, and for a lot of us, our last race was well before Christmas. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that end is very near!! To say the concept of racing again is exciting, would be an understatement, as I can’t wait to get back out there and see where I’m at!
This got me thinking, what is it about racing that we love so much?
Opportunity to test
One of the greatest things about racing is the opportunity it provides us with to test ourselves. It gives us the chance to test our fitness, our mindset, and our training. When in a race setting, we do all we can to prepare our body to be pushed to the limit. By doing so, we can clearly see where our fitness is. Thus, this allows us to recognise whether we are heading in the right direction or if we need to reevaluate a few things. It is an exciting challenge that allows us to step outside our comfort zones and see what we are capable of.
It also allows us to test our mindset. Training is very different to racing. No matter how hard we push ourselves in training, racing is a different game and a chance to really see what our body is capable of. For that reason, when we go into a race, we adopt a very different mindset than we do for every training session. For a race, we mentally, just as much as physically, prepare ourselves. We are much more focused, we get ‘in the zone’ and we shut off to outside distractions. Whereas it is difficult to adopt this mindset for every training session that we do. This is why racing allows us to test our minds as it gets us used to focus on the task ahead and shutting off any distractions.
In training, there are things that signal to you that everything is going in the right direction. Whether it be rep times or time trials, you can tell roughly where your fitness is at. However, no time trial or session can exactly replicate a race, therefore you can never gage the exact time you will run in a race until you do it. By racing regularly, we can recognise when training is coming together nicely and propelling us forward, and when we may need to look at what we are doing and highlight the aspects that aren’t working so well.
Chance to see friends again
The running community is such a close knit one as it is the same faces you see at every race. Whilst they may be your competition in the midst of a race, before and after, they are your friends. I have met some incredible people through running, and ones that have become good friends. With the absence of racing, it has meant that it has been a year since I last saw some of them. The return of racing will once again mean I can finally see these people, and I can’t wait.
Throughout lockdown, whilst we have all been training hard and making progress, it has felt at times as though you are stagnant and not doing anything to step towards your goals. The return of racing will mean that finally we can actually move forward and take proactive steps towards our goals. It will feel great to have regular races to work towards and keep determination high.
There are so many reasons why racing is great and for different people it means something different, but this is what keeps it exciting and motivates us all.
If someone is courageous, they are brave. This means they have the ability to go through with something even when it may frighten them, be daunting, or take them out of their comfort zone. This year, I have pledged to myself to be more courageous and look on difficult challenges as an opportunity to better myself, rather than something to fear. Therefore, courage is my word for the year, and whenever I question my ability to do something, I remind myself to be courageous and just give it a go, because you don’t know unless you try. Plus, what’s the worst that happens? You go out in a race or session too hard and blow up… but you will still learn something from it.
I love the saying from The Wizard of Oz. It goes:
“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
The biggest thing about this quote that jumps out at me is the concept of having ‘confidence in yourself’. We are all guilty at times of doubting ourselves. Not because we don’t think we can do something, but because the challenge we are facing is overwhelming. However, there is no reason to lack self belief. We have to be our own cheerleaders, because if we don’t believe in ourselves, no one will. If self belief can allow someone to be more courageous, why do we ever doubt ourselves?
When I think of getting nervous, I thought that this was a sign of lacking self belief, but nerves are normal. I think sometimes it can be easy to confuse the two. As humans we have so many complex emotions that we can struggle to understand how we feel ourselves. I always thought I was alone in sometimes getting nervous ahead of big sessions and races, and that this was a sign of weakness. I thought it signified a lack of confidence in my own ability but I realise this is only a normal reaction, and to be honest, I think I would be worried if I wasn’t nervous. We need the adrenaline to help us perform at a higher level and spark that race mindset. There is also a sense of pride that needs to be felt from getting nervous, but having the courage to go forward with what is scaring us. Whether it be an important race or something else, getting nervous only shows how much we care about the task ahead of us.
So, this why my word for the year ahead is COURAGE, because I want to make more of an effort to believe in myself and go outside of my comfort zone, even when it may initially seem scary.
I love to run and I love to write, so I write about running!