I’ve had a number of ideas in my head which I had wanted to form into a blog post at some point. Reading another running blogger‘s concerns over where they are with their own running has possibly galvanised me into action. Unlike my regular ‘race-review’ type posts, this one is far more like my earlier style in the old blog. The intention is to do more general posts going forward, but we’ll see how that pans out!
A bit of background
Many of the feelings I’m drawing for this post have been pulled from the times when I’ve been out injured.
When you’re an active person, being sidelined is something of a nightmare scenario. Especially when the running itself helps to moderate one’s own mental health. As such, when one is out of action, it does tend to result in a lot of strong feelings about everything, running and otherwise.
For me, this happened in 2017. I had set myself a goal to improve my marathon PB and had expectations of managing to get a Good For Age time to enable me to run at some of the World Majors. It was certainly well within my grasp, I just needed to focus my training and get a good race executed.
Except it wasn’t to be. I managed a huge improvement in my result at the 26.2 mile distance when I dropped in a run at Wrexham marathon, just half-way through my training. However, by the end of my training plan, I managed to aggravate the piriformis syndrome injury of old, and was out of action for a number of months. In fact it was the best part of 12 months before things had settled back to where they were pre-injury.
Being out of action is not fun. Races you’ve paid for but can’t attend. Training you can’t do because the body hurts.
Whilst dwelling on my broken-ness, it did begin to make me think about my running, and in a much wider context. The whole ‘Why?’ question.
The Question ‘Why?’
When I started on my running journey, I loved it. I loved going out and running and getting out of the house. Getting out of the hustle of modern life. Getting those noisy voices inside my head to shut up and to focus on just being. I had discovered mindfulness in running long before ever having heard of ‘mindfulness’, nor how running could help with low mood.
I completed my first 10k in 2006 as a focus to me doing all the training. However I discovered I loved the buzz of running in a race. Having been an outsider at sport as a child, I was finally having a chance to experience something competitive on my terms. It helped that I had exceedingly low expectations about my abilities as a runner; expectations I was able to exceed. So that was an added bonus. Going to places, familiar and unfamiliar to run was a real joy.
I would not be classed as a competitive person in general. However, there is a streak in me that wants to know ‘what can I actually achieve in my running, having come this far?’ So plenty more races and training and suddenly PBs are abound at 5k, 10k, HM and even marathon. However as I got better at the shorter distances, the marathon PB seemed increasingly out of kilter. And whilst I never had much enthusiasm for that distance, suddenly I’m entering marathons left right and centre with a view to ‘correct’ the ‘anomaly’.
At this point things started to go wrong. As the training intensity at those longer distances increased, so did my rate of injury. This is nothing particularly unusual amongst runners, however in 4 years of chasing marathon times, I’ve written myself off in all 4 years due to injury. That’s a lot of down-time.
It was in 2017 whilst moping around with a bad back and piriformis syndrome raging on I then came back to my initial question: “Why do I run?”
It turns out that has nothing to do with marathons. Or PBs. Not at all.
Realigning the focus
Sometimes we kid ourselves about what is going on around us. And we have to grow up and swallow some truths, no matter how hard they seem.
The reality is that I’ve never liked road marathons. I hate the distance, loathe the training and we won’t speak further about the injuries I’ve picked up along the way!
My first marathon, in 2012, was purely a fund-raising exercise. It was a challenge for me and we raised a couple of thousand pounds for Myeloma UK, a charity close to my heart. The race itself was on a terrible day, I finished it in a hypothermic condition and swearing I’d never repeat the experience. Yet by 2014 I’d seemingly forgotten the pain and started training for Edinburgh marathon, which I failed to start (DNS) because of injury! 2016 saw a similar story training for Liverpool Marathon (another DNS).
It was more of the same as I DNF’d at Liverpool Marathon in 2017 after the injury (which hadn’t quite healed) flared back up.
That nagging question; “Why am I doing this to myself?”. Except the injury plagued me for longer and being out of action for several months gave me plenty of time to think of answers.
The reality was that I’d somehow moved away from running ‘for the fun of it’ into a world where everything was linked to a training plan for a goal I ultimately didn’t really like. And this was my hobby!
I realised that there wasn’t any ‘fun’ in my running anymore. Instead just a borderline obsession about getting the best I could out of my body before it finally fell apart. Something I was doing a sterling job of accelerating!
It made the ultimate decision to quit road marathon running altogether, relatively easy. I would no longer pine after a ‘Good For Age’ place at London; I don’t like marathons and I hate crowded events – what on earth was I thinking?! And a general decision to do less on the road and more on the hills where I do enjoy my time. I’ll still do a few road half-marathons, but despite that being a favourite distance, the attraction has lessened from where it once was.
I undertook a two-month Run Every Day challenge at the end of 2017 just to try to get myself out of the door and to build up a bit of fitness. Getting into a routine was beneficial, although the relentless nature of the challenge meant that it was a relief when it was all over. Again, the enjoyment being overshadowed by other factors, although I thoroughly enjoyed the two fell races that occurred during the December.
Despite the piriformis injury not fully settling until March 2018, I also took part in a number of shorter races during the back end of 2017. I’d already booked a small number of road half-marathons for 2018 but they didn’t worry me too unduly. The plan was a winter training session to focus on my two spring HMs (Anglesey and Limassol) before swapping over to (predominantly) short trail and fell races. Whilst there were PB aspirations still for the road half-marathons (in reality I didn’t come close!) the main aim of 2018 was to try to find the fun again, and find the mojo that had gone astray at some forgotten point.
In fact I’ve raced more in 2018 than I have in any previous year, and that’s with only 8 months of the year done. Accepting though there’s been precious little training going on to date; getting out of the door for a non-specific run is still lacking in enthusiasm.
That said I have enjoyed most of the races I’ve done in 2018. I’m neither at my fittest (I’m well above my “normal” running weight) nor at my fastest, but as it stands, that’s not a worry to me. Whilst I still haven’t got my running mojo back, I at least feel it’s out there waiting to be found, rather than being lost forever. Interestingly, friends who haven’t seen me for a while have pointed out I look well, as if before I didn’t.
And where from here
From a coaching point of view, I would consider 2018 as unfocused and of little/no benefit for event training. Despite this pretty damning reality, I’m not too concerned as I believe at the moment the important factor lies in trying to regain enough enjoyment to make training worthwhile again. Otherwise, what is the point? I need running in my life as it’s the time when I’m at my most relaxed mentally as well as keeping me fit physically. But whilst it needs to be there, the appropriate parameters and ground rules need to be adhered to.
2018 has been one of new experiences; racing abroad for the first time, making new running friends, joining a new club, taking part in unfamiliar races requiring new skills to get around (I won’t use the term ‘compete’ as that’s precisely not what this year has been about). And despite quitting long-distance road running, I’ve still run a trail ultra-marathon with a second such race taking place within the next fortnight. The training for these has been less than ideal, but we are where we are. The piriformis is achey and not impressed with these long distances, but it’s still intact.
2018 has been a very positive year in my running, but for very different reasons from previous years.
A take home message
I started this blog almost as a reaction to reading the concerns of another writer/runner as plenty of his content chimed with me, although it’s been a topic I’ve wanted to address for some time. Somehow, the path I was originally following with my running has strayed into territory which ultimately hasn’t fulfilled my own needs. Recognising that is an important fact. Acting on it is equally important. I’m reminding myself that it’s my body and my decision as to what running I do. Just because all and sundry are doing xyz event doesn’t mean to say that’s what I should be doing. Instead, I’m picking events that tick the right boxes for me, and me alone.