Sometimes running is all reward. You’re getting fitter, you’re improving times, and nailing tough workouts. Mood is good, mind is right. You’re a demi-God, proving to mortal folk what can be achieved with Positive Mental Attitude.
That was my February to May. In my head I was thinking: “why have I never done this before?! This training every day is easy! I’m indestructible!”
London Marathon came and it went perfectly, I went through the rest of the week still running and clocked 50 miles (my week starts on the Sunday!).
I kept going. “Rest weeks are for the weak!” I thought, arrogance and stupidity in perfect balance.
Next week 36 miles, no breaks. The next, 55, no breaks. I had a tough off-road marathon (the AONB North Devon Marathon) at the end of June. “Too late to stop now”, I thought, “might as well keep the mileage up!”.
The following week I was due for a biggie: 70 miles. But a busy weekend meant I only managed 13 on the Sunday which meant a week of relentless running. I was running twice a day to try and get on top of it.
This was all topped off on the Friday with a fast race; the first ‘Run Exe Relay’. A member of my team dropped out on the day. “No problem”, says I, full of swagger, “I’ll run first and last”.
It was the first time I’d raced 4k and it was hard to know how to pace it. I ran my fastest ever race average and my fastest ever 2 miles; I was delighted. While I was waiting to do the second leg of the relay my body got cold in bad weather. I tried to do the same again; I was a touch slower, a bit sore, but I survived.
And got out the next day and ran 10 miles to finish the week off.
And got out on the Sunday and ran 18 to get stuck into my new week.
Then I went to run on the Monday and a stabbing pain went through my right ankle. And the whole house of cards collapsed.
That was Monday the 23rd of May and since then I have run 11 times in 27 days, quite a disappointing tally for a man preaching the values of running everyday.
Only a minority of that missed time was due to injury. The sprain (probably due to tight calves) healed within a few days and I ran 4 days later. The damage was really psychological.
A lot of people get injured and are worried about doing the same thing again. I had an element of that but really, I had enjoyed the break. Massively.
4 months of running nearly every day; getting up at 4.45 to foam roller for an hour before work; getting into bed exhausted after a non-stop evening of domestic chores and running, it was relentless. The little breaks weren’t quite enough. My heart rate refused to drop down to its usual minimum, staying elevated by about 5-6 BPM even with rests.
So when the break came I didn’t want to go back. My mind sought reasons to extend it. I researched overtraining, something I obviously had done, but really as more of an excuse to rest rather than out of concern of injuring myself.
The dilemma in these situations for most runners is the fear of losing gains.
I felt I had been really proving something to myself, I could see marked progress and the feeling that a bad 2-4 weeks was going to put me right back was powerful.
The second problem is it then made me feel guilty and a bit rubbish for stopping. It was a vicious cycle of second guessing my motivations for everything and then questioning my decisions.
The third problem with that is all the uncertainty. All that self-doubt about what’s really going on with your body and mind makes you fret a lot about your decisions: “Should I rest or push through?” “Do I really need more rest?” “Should I really be going out for this run?” “Is there any point going out for 3 miles?” “Is 5 miles too much for an easy run?” “What pace?” “What route?” “What shoes?” “Is it even worth it now?”
I got decision fatigue.
I lost all confidence in my ability to guage what was best for me and completely lost any semblance of a plan.
In the end I thought, if I’m at that point might as well just relax and go with the flow. I just stopped and let it happen. I got some good advice and reassurance from a coach at my club which really helped address my fitness fears for the forthcoming marathon.
Once the decision was made and I relaxed it all got a lot easier and quieter in my head. The last two weeks I have run when it has been convenient and not worried when I haven’t. That includes long runs, easy runs and a hard run.
The hard run was a good marker of both where my head and fitness were at; the run went better than I expected but it did leave me a little crocked. However, after a day off I still got out and ran on the next day despite some soreness. I recognised the muscle soreness was expected and not an injury as such, so I got out for an easy short run and felt fine. Today it is improved. I had the opportunity to bunk off but I didn’t. Equilibrium is being restored.
I have learnt a lot from this experience. Maintaining such a punishing schedule is admirable but ultimately unsustainable. It was unhealthy and inflexible and left me feeling dependant on it to improve.
I’d like to get back to running every day of the week, I think that is healthy and achievable. What I need to change is my flexibility.
The renowned coach Jack Daniels, whose famous formula I have been following, suggests 3 days easy after races/quality sessions. I had been ignoring that to achieve mileage when really I should have worried more about my body and mind.
Another positive change was while I was resting and wrestling with my motivation, my wife and I worked out a weekly schedule for training and cooking. This means when one of us has a busy week-night, the other will use it as an easy day and sort the food out! Knowing we are covering each other and that we don’t have to work, train and be domestic every day of the week seems to have been quite liberating so far and I’m excited to see how well it works.
My final change in approach will be to target only a couple of ‘A’ races each year. The temptation as a club runner is to try and train, improve and race all year round, with no periodisation. Until an injury strikes of course! Then it’s two steps back…
If I hadn’t been worrying about the marathon at the end of June I might have allowed myself some rest time after London, letting my mind and body recover and feeling ready to go again. Moving straight on just made me view the rest of the year as one looooooong slog, a feeling that broke me! I may have been able to keep running in the week after London but it wasn’t actually a positive thing if it led to a bad month further down the line…
So next and last ‘A’ race of the year is New Forest Marathon. Then any further races in the rest of the year will be for fun with a no-pressure build-up. Fingers crossed lessons learnt now will help me train smarter and more consistently. And I look forward to some planned breaks!
Then in November start London 2017 training….!