Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What Running Is Teaching Me

Image result for half marathon inspirational quotes

The aftermath of running fourteen miles last week has been interesting, physically and intellectually. Physically, I recovered quickly. I was a bit achy in my left leg the day after but nothing major and on Saturday (two days after the run) I did a reasonably fast Parkrun with no problems in the lungs or the legs department. I wasn't especially tired but I was extra hungry for about three days and I was more thirsty than I have ever been for several hours afterwards. I slept deep and well and long the night after the run and woke feeling rested the next morning.

Intellectually or mentally it had far more of an impact than I had been prepared for. I felt what can only be described as grey for several days afterwards. M recognised it instantly and told me all endurance runners experience this at some point in their training. It comes when you've pushed your mind more than your body.

I felt my centre had been knocked about, that the harmony that is usually in the middle of me had been buffeted, so I went back to running quietly three miles at an easy pace, concentrating on the simple rhythm of my breathing, on allowing the physicality of the act of running to flow through me, reconnecting with my core and simply enjoying the run, forgetting all about targets and training and aims and ambitions. I also walked the dogs through the fields and didn't think about running at all on the days that I wasn't. That all helped restore me.

I reckon it took about five days to get back to feeling normal. I suspect I pushed myself close to my current limit, but then that is what training is. If you don't test your limits you don't really know what they are. Training for any distance is about push, recover, push, recover. My fitness is at a point now where my body can cope with running 14 miles, but my mind wasn't properly prepared for it and that was a new experience for me.

The next test is to do the distance again and see what happens. I'm going to give myself a couple of weeks before I do that, with a longer run this weekend of 8-10 miles in the meantime. I will be more mindful of the mental aspect of an endurance run, and perhaps more respectful of the distance too.

Half marathons are the fastest growing competitive distance in this country right now. That's because they provide a real endurance test that is achievable with three months of training, regardless of how much running you've done before. They don't require the time commitment in preparation terms that a full marathon does, and they don't ask as much of your mind and body, but what they do ask is still significant, and so they represent a real challenge and achievement for many people.

M always says a marathon is a mental test- it's ultimately won or lost in your head. I'm increasingly interested in the connection between the physical and mental focus required to do longer runs because the thoughts you have on a long run definitely effect the way you run it. They can be the difference between carrying on and stopping, regardless of your actual physical fitness. I read a great quote that went along the lines of this: people give up because they concentrate on how far they've still got to go, instead of how far they've come. This is something I'm going to be mindful of now when I'm clocking up longer distances.

I started this training very focused on the physical effort required, which is perhaps understandable in someone training for their first half marathon. I thought carefully about managing that side of thing, having treatment if my joints or muscles hurt, making sure I had the right kinds of shoes for the right conditions, I thought about how I would incrementally work up my distances, working out a rough training schedule and being sensible about rest days. By comparison, I thought about the mental side largely in terms of positive thoughts and keeping go mantras, I didn't fully appreciate the mental fitness or strength you need to do a long run, and the effect running that kind of distance would have on it.

I don't know yet whether half marathon distance (13.1 miles) will be my thing. I went through a few days after the 14 miler thinking I'd made a mistake and didn't want to run that kind of distance again. I didn't want to feel like that again. But I've taken time to ease myself back in. I've acknowledged the importance of the recovery time being longer than anything I've needed yet. I've worked with my system, both mind and body, giving it time and listening to it, allowing things to change and develop, and I've spoken to M who is a hugely experienced endurance runner (my time over 14 miles was 2.15 hours, his time over 26 is 3!). He's done mountain marathons (Jungfrau), road marathons (London), Trail marathons (Clarendon) and beach/ cliff/ bog/ mud marathons (Grizzly) so he is a great source of experience and guidance for me. I've also allowed myself to acknowledge that the fall-out from that distance was, this first time of running it at least, harder and more different than I'd anticipated. And now I feel ready to carry on. I feel excited by the thought of pushing on again. I'm more respectful of the distance, but I still want to do it and I want to do it well.

Running teaches you so much about yourself; about your capacity, your ability to endure, how to train, how to identify and avoid the pitfalls and find a way to control the temptations (such as the classic one of running further and faster and longer without resting or building up properly - possibly I was guilty of this last one, the temptation to jump from 10 miles to 14 without doing some 11 or 12 mile runs between proved irresistible and I paid for it).

You learn discipline and focus and determination until it informs your daily life as well as your running life; you learn to go out in all weathers and in all conditions regardless of the pull to stay indoors, and you learn that going out in all weathers and conditions brings its own special buzz of achievement and that drying off and warming up afterwards is all the sweeter for having being wet, cold and muddy. 

Behind it all is the wonderful free simplicity of running: something that costs nothing but the price of a decent pair of shoes. Something you can do in your own time, by yourself or with friends, long distance or short, slow or fast, competitive or for pleasure. And in addition you get the obvious health benefits of being fitter, having stronger bones, muscles, heart, lungs, lower blood pressure, better balanced hormones, weight loss and increased mental fitness. There is a price to be paid for it all (some days I don't feel like running but I push myself and I always feel better for it), but it really isn't a great price all things considered and for me at this time in my life it's more than worth it.

I'm enjoying recording my experiences and what it's teaching me and hope it's of interest to others too. You know I love to encourage you all to take it up :o)

Hope all are well? I'm off to bake some gingerbread for L who is knee-deep in GCSE mocks and has requested some as recovery food :o)



  1. Fascinating post as always. Curious how you had those grey days after the 14 miles. The body is an amazing engine and clearly shuts you down when you've done too much. It is about enjoyment and all those benefits too. Nearly finished week two of my C to 5k. Knees are a bit achy but cycling between exercise days seems to help. Obviously a different type of exercise. Definitely need to bake that recovery food. Mock GCSE's yuck. L has my sympathy. Have a great week. B x

  2. 4000 calories burnt when I ran a marathon. Could do with that every day after Christmas. I need to up my distances, I'm not quite organised enough to have the time to do winter 10 mile plus runs in daylight!

  3. You are so lucky to have M supporting your efforts and giving you so much advice. It must have been horrible feeling grey it must have been reassuring to know that others experience it too. Your post will be so useful to others too. Sarah x

  4. It's fascinating how the body deals with training isn't it. You are just at the beginning of half marathon length runs I think, so maybe you will come to thrive on it. I am full of self-loathing here at the moment. I know exercise makes me feel better, as does cutting out sugar. It helps me sleep and makes me feel more energetic. But every day I find myself slumped over a pile of cookies. Grrr. No more. I am taking myself in hand. CJ xx

  5. This is a super interesting post about the mental and physical part of running. I wonder if that is what you want to do run for the time and winning or running for the joy and health.
    What I have seen of the long distant runners (we have olympic runners train here), It seems to be an compleat lifestyle.
    Before when I could run I never felt the high, happiness of running. I didn't enjoy it. I would rather walk all the trails of the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail or backpack in Yosemite. Now I am house bound and don't even walk let alone run.
    I really give you credit and high fives for deciding what you wanted to do and really enjoy it.

    Yoku Ganbattane
    cheers, parsnip

  6. A very thought provoking post as usual CT. Interesting the tension between the fitness of the body and the endurance of the mind. I haven't managed to run very far yet but I have noticed that whenever I am most reluctant to run but push myself of course I enjoy that run the best! We are curious creatures indeed. Well done on your continued achievements, your posts are an inspiration. Xx

  7. I love that quotation and how true it is - When I run (and I'm a mere amateur compared to you) I'm always mentally working out how much further I have to go. L has my utmost sympathy over the mock GCSEs; I'm sure the gingerbread will help no end. xx

  8. Well done for keeping going, understanding how your body and mind works will make you a stronger runner. Not just for running as well.
    Amanda xx

  9. My feet hurt just thinking about marathons. Give me a shorter distance, up to 10 miles say, and I'm happy and my feet tell me they are happy too.
    Running injury free is what it's all about.

  10. I hadn't given any thought as to the mental aspects of running - or any other sport - really. I can totally see what you mean though, your mind could make you win or lose regardless of physical ability couldn't it. I hope that you win exactly what you want to!


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x