It’s a thinking out loud day, and since running London Marathon a few weeks ago I’ve thought a lot about how much I love the journey that is marathon training. Much more than the race itself probably. The painful start in mid-winter, when you can’t believe you’re going to be able to do any long runs, let alone 26 miles in the spring. Feeling like you’re in pieces after anything over 5 miles. Then the slow evolution of strength and stamina. The cold bikes to the pool, and back again, with freezing wet hair. Running long – it gives you time to think.
I tend to seek understanding … of myself and life, and I have always done this through new challenges. As I seek a deeper awareness I need to go further out of/away from myself, to be able to really ‘see’ who I am. After all, we all have those moments of thinking ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘Who am I?’ (Apart from the obvious, which is a mum to three human beings on their own onward journey.) With a busy life, running gives you time to think. Or to not think, if that’s what you need on any particular day.
Of course we all are constantly changing, and I don’t think I did things that differently 20 years ago, I just did what I did more, and thought about why I did it and what it meant to me (or others) a whole lot less. I was quite impatient, impulsive and in the moment. I couldn’t imagine that, in the shake of a head, I would be 45. And not always so able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it.
I find the daily routine, the mundane and the, at times, circular nature of motherhood/family life tricky. Yes, I would like to be flying off to new places and races all the time. But I can’t – and few of us can. Yes, I want to focus 100% of the time on the existential, the creative, the sporty, the fun – but that doesn’t get the jobs done and make the machine of life run smoothly. I’m still coming to terms with this part of my personality. It’s a lifelong project.
What I’ve definitely learnt a whole lot about in the last six months is understanding and respecting my limitations. Getting cross because I’m ill/can’t train/am injured. Forget that – that was for my 20s me. Now, I find a way around it. Running doesn’t have to be your only best friend, the bike and pool can be too. Don’t get frustrated about what others are doing. Find what works for you – and who cares what the training plans or club mates say? I can’t do long runs and bounce back. I need two days of rest at least after a long run, and ideally I need 10-14 days between each one. So that’s what I did. Just take the start date of your marathon back a month so you can plan this in. Get creative.
‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’
When you learn to work with your limitations, suddenly they are no longer so limiting. Find a positive way to deal with them and they become tools for achieving your goals. Many running limitations are caused by lack of strength training, and since last summer I’ve done more than I ever did before. Give myself a pat on the back, I thought. Until race day. My left leg, from pain in my foot, knee, lateral quads and hips, wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. I had done some strength training on it. But had I done enough? No. The strength endurance of my soft tissues is not enough to last 26 miles. So I am going to double what I’ve been doing, adding weights, which I never quite got round to including up till now. (Read that as: I was lazy)
This may sounds obvious, but the longer I run, the more I’m realising how incredibly specific my training has to be to me. Both due to my own physical make up and my lifestyle. It’s taken me quite a long time to truly tune in to my needs – or even realise what they are.
Being so busy bringing up three girls by myself, which often meant I wasn’t thinking about myself, or looking after myself properly, to having a few health issues, then turning 45, it’s made me understand better the importance of my daily routine, rituals and rhythms of life. I’ve finally got it that eating healthily (this includes cake), a good sleep pattern and getting some exercise every day dramatically affect my capacity to function efficiently and feel good.
So I drink mainly water – one coffee a day (two if it’s a risqué kinda day), very rarely have alcohol (such a shame as red wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures) try to sleep eight hours a night and try and do something physical most days. These are essential to my mental health and perception of life.
This has been a long process for me. It probably started as I thought about divorce, and is ongoing. Before divorce how others saw me was much more important to me. It’s gonna take me the whole time on this planet to work through this one I think! I am constantly working towards being more in tune with my sense of who I am. I get flashes of this, or more like feelings of connection, usually when I’m out on the trails, the hills, the mud – they call me. I think I was just deaf to this call for so long.
We all try many different paths before we find the right direction, which makes life so deliciously interesting. You’ve got to keep being daring and experimental and eventually you realise you’re heading for the right destination. For me, this destination, in running terms, has to include more and more strength training. Nearly three weeks on from my marathon I’m still injured, so it’s been back on the bike and to the pool for me. I find this so frustrating and feel like I am going to burst!
How has your running evolved over the years? Do you get injuries easily like me?