I have recently begun to work with runners using some of the professional coaching methods I use in my work as a head teacher. One thing that strikes a chord with my own experiences is the amount of importance I attach to an event after I have entered. Sometimes it gets about of all proportion. Why do I do that?
Running is at the centre of many of our lives. Our social lives can revolve around club nights and races. For a long time my entire social life and group of friends was linked to weeknight runs, a drink afterwards and Sunday races. When I was injured, my whole social life collapsed and added to the feeling of despair that I felt when out of action.
We run with our club mates and look forward to the camaraderie and competition of the race meetings. We plan our races well ahead of schedule and have favourites that we feel we cannot miss. We may be running for points in a club championship or running as part of a team in a relay. If we cannot take part, it leaves an empty space in our lives.
We may have set ourselves a target for the year. It may be a marathon and we have a schedule of races that are part of our preparation. We feel that we can’t miss them. We may have set ourselves a target number of races to complete rough the year. I know of a few runners who have aimed for 50 races to celebrate their 50th birthday or something similar.
I have entered races well ahead of time as a challenge and a new experience. They were not cheap and I was determined to get there no matter what. Sometimes, I have not listened to my body and not made it to the start line.
My whole well being is attached to this. When I am running well and things are on track, I am much more able to deal win the ups and downs of everyday life. Running keeps me emotionally level. I have had good spells where I have been on top of other aspects of my life and only recently realised that they coincide with being able to run consistently.
We enter an event and tell people all about it. We plan our trips and accommodation ahead of time. Sometimes we are raising money for a good cause and persuade our friends to take part alongside us. We attach such emotional importance to a day on the calendar and feel that we cannot back off from it even if it is the sensible and obvious thing to do.
Working with a runner recently, she said that if she had not managed to complete her first event then she would have felt like she was a failure as a runner. It was make or break for her. She knew that it wasn’t a rational point of view it but it is an example of how much importance we attach to the events we have entered.
All that means that we do things that no sensible person would ever do. We are crazy and although we know it, it is hard to stop. We do a whole host of things in training that can lead to us being out for a long time.
Firstly, we find ourselves a training plan.
The schedule is working and we can feel the improvement. We begin to feel the need for speed. We are mixing longer runs with quick ones or follow a generic plan created for someone else and sooner or later we pick up a bit of a niggle.
Secondly, we stick to the plan when we need to back off.
It is just a niggle that needs us to back off a little for a few days. The trouble is that we are on a schedule. We have a training plan and feel the need to stick to it. Deep down, we know that it is all going to end in tears but we are superb at sticking our heads in the sand. We plough on until we are forced to stop.
Finally, we cram in the miles to make up for lost time
We have a look at the calendar and we realise that time is moving on. We get a sense of unease in the pits of our stomachs and we start to work out how we can make up for lost time. We come back just a Iittle bit too early and try and make up the miles we have missed. Again, we know that it will end it tears but we cling to the hope that it may just pay off.
All because we have attached such importance to a single event in the calendar.
The calendar is awash with events. I used to scour Runners World each month for likely races to enter. Nowadays, I have a few online lists that I use to keep in touch with what is going on. One thing that is guaranteed is that if we miss a race there will be another one along the week after.
We all know that but accepting that you are going to miss an event is a hard blow to take. The funny thing is that when we do accept it and let go, the sense of relief is sometimes enormous. We can start to plan for the next thing and move on. We can life to run another day. It is when we don’t accept it that we become desparate and do silly things.
So….what is the answer?
I have been in this position so many times that I needed to change my attitude. I no longer put all my eggs in one race’s basket. I tend to enter more than one event so that I have a backup if I need it. I also now do more events on the spur of huge moment. If I am running well and fancy it, I go for it. Park Runs are perfect for that. You always know that there will be one the following week.
I don’t follow generic training plans. I feel what my body is capable of and add speed or distance when I am good and ready. I back off when I feel that I need to. This means that I can run more consistently over a long period rather than piling it on and then having spells where I need to sit out on the sidelines.
I was working with a runner recently and we went through all the points above but we were talking about her first ever event. Injuries had kicked in and the day was getting closer. It was clear that she was going to take part in the event no matter what. She had so much invested in it that she decided the risk was worth it. We worked on all the pitfalls and how to avoid them and she got to the start line in one piece.
We can only decide whether the risk is worth it for ourselves and it is good to go into that with all the emotional baggage laid out before us. For her, it was worth it and she is now planning her next event a little bit wiser and with more balance.
I hope that I can follow her lead and learn how to be sensible too. Like many experienced runners, I am great at giving advice but not that great at taking it.
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