For obvious reasons, people have had a lot of time recently to think about and re-assess the important things in their life. Personally, this comes down to deciding whether to have Custard Creams or Bourbon biscuits with my cup of tea, but club member Matt Walker has been using his time more wisely and contemplating what running (and all that it entails) means to him.
Read Matt’s article (below) and it may set you on a new path of running.
Lockdown: An opportunity to redefine success.
As runners the clearest and easiest way to define success is with the stopwatch. The simple goal of running is to get faster, be that over meters or miles , the clock is King! The hours of training ultimately measured and justified by the size of the PB fruit harvest. Lockdown restrictions might have eased for now but we are still a long way from the return of racing as we once knew it. The orchard (how long do you think I can continue with this analogy?) is all but closed. The fruit is still there to be picked, but the gates are locked.
There have been plenty of virtual races and events to get involved with but, for me at least, they just don’t quite shine the apple when it comes to getting the best out of myself. I always feel under-ripe without all the usual race elements; other people to compete with directly; independent timing; the farmer chasing you with a shotgun (or is that just the imaginary orchard getting too far?). Where the virtual races certainly can help, and have been a great help for many, is with motivation. You have committed yourself to getting that two mile effort done by the end of the week so at some point you have to put down your drink, get out the door and enjoy that well earned glass of fresh pressed cider when you have checked off your solo hard effort.
Eventually though, for me at least, that motivation starts to lose its potency and this is the problem. Races get cancelled, especially now, injuries put you out of that big marathon you have been training for all summer, and who can honestly say they have stood on the start line looking back on 18 months of “perfect” training, even without a world changing pandemic? Lots of things can go wrong in a race build up, and each one threatens the outcome and potentially your “success” and so many of them are outside of your control. Races, virtual or real, are unquestionably a great motivator, but being outcome orientated is not a sustainable approach to running for most people; especially during a time when the outcomes are much less certain.
I don’t run for medals and glory (probably a good thing given the glaring lack of either), I run because I enjoy it, because my feet can take me to some fantastic places and with some amazing people. Do I really want to risk all that by having a bad race, or becoming physically and mentally burnt out from chasing an arbitrary goal, then hang up my shoes for months while I put myself back together? Sounds a bit counter productive if you ask me.
What if we flip the goal around, making the training itself the focus and races a sweetener, something to give some direction to the training. Make happiness and health the priority and running one of the tools in the shed. Suddenly that cancelled race is a bump in the road, not a fallen bridge. If health and running for years to come is more important than your race time you won’t feel guilty for having a few days off to let the painful ankle recover; you spend more time listening to your body, and less time cursing it for being injured. Resting keeps you running, which is more important than a few seconds off your next 5k.
So, now I have sold you on what is known as having a “process mindset” (if I haven’t, read this, Brad Stulberg is far better at explaining it than me) how do you get hold of one? Right now, we have the perfect opportunity to practice switching focus, there are no big races to train for and no confidence in when they might return. You don’t have the pressure of a specific race to train for, so train for life. Redefine success. Success is going out for a run when you really want to sit on the sofa and eat all the cookies, even if the run wasn’t the tempo session you had planned; success is finishing a run happier than when you started; success is making the decision to rest when you feel broken and not feeling guilty.
I have tried to follow this mindset during lockdown and with the return to training sessions. Everyone has been struggling with their own stresses, and I am thankful that the last few months has been relatively smooth for me, but on the days and weeks when I was struggling, success came in the shape of getting out for my daily allotted exercise knowing it was helping. Sometimes it was a steady run, sometimes it was a turn the dial up to 11 session, often it was as simple as a walk along the river with my wife. I got to the end of the week knowing I had done my best and so success came easily. Now, as I am following a training plan for a race I am hoping for in November, success is trying to morph into a different shape that looks agonisingly like a training plan. I have to keep reminding myself that missing a planned session is not “failure” as long as it was a conscious decision for the right reasons.
Of course you can, and should, have targets, write or follow a training plan, but focus on the process, not the outcome. We spend months training for at most a few hours, why pick being happy for a day after a good race over months of enjoying the process? If you enjoy the training, the outcome is immaterial, a byproduct of being happier, more confident and putting less pressure on yourself. Get today right, and tomorrow will look after itself.
So why not turn adversity and upheaval into opportunity and learn to put yourself before your achievements, you might be surprised to find that you had a basket full of fruit all along.