Whenever you do something repeatedly and do it for years on end, inevitably there are times when you lose sight of the reasons why you started doing it in the first place. You do it out of habit, because you’ve always done it, it’s just what you do. You don’t think about the reasons why. Running became this way for me over the past year or so. To run was still a large focus of my life, as it’s always been; I still trained and raced hard but looking back, for the last year I was doing it without thought, without much planning, without passion, if you like.
I was just going through the motions. I suppose I was taking it for granted and not appreciating it. I raced but deep down my heart wasn’t in it. I pretty much knew how I would perform in races, my results weren’t setting the world alight, and my tendency for pragmatism no doubt stopped me from aiming higher and achieving more.
For that to happen you need a strong initial spark and then a sustained and well-fuelled fire in your belly, you need conviction in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, you need a stubborn, all-or-nothing attitude to your running. With these things you can hold your nerve and not lose faith, you can stick with it no matter what. Without these things, as I found, running can become a little directionless.
Looking back, I realise I talked myself out of running well. I looked for evidence – the fact I’d struggled with injury and lost a lot of base training, that I’d not had a race result I’d been truly happy with in a very long time, that there were too many other things going on in my life to give running my full attention – and then convinced myself that I had no choice but to be realistic and settle for less in my performances.
Stop playing safe and run outside the comfort zone
I was unconsciously telling myself, ‘but-this, but-that.’ Sometimes, though, you’ve got to leave the evidence-based approach to the clinicians and say, to hell with it. Let’s allow myself to be confident, let’s throw things around, shake the training up, chuck in a race that wasn’t on the agenda, let’s set off in a race too fast so it hurts, let’s go and run with a group who train really hard and I know are faster than me, let’s lengthen a long run beyond what’s sensible until we drop. In other words, let’s stop playing safe.
On occasion, pushing the envelope like this reminds us that we’re capable of more than we think. Despite all the evidence to the contrary (with the past few months having been a fun-filled melee of illness and injury), my body has stood up well to several recent tests I’ve thrown at it and the internal confidence this has given me is – in my opinion – worth a dozen speed sessions.
What changed my attitude? What turned me from last year’s ‘I’m a runner so I’ll just carry on running but I’m not expecting any great shakes’ into my current, ‘I’m not only a runner, I’m a bloody good one and I’m excited because my body is stronger than I realised?’ What filled the positivity tank from zero to pretty full? Here’s the crux of the thing: it’s all down to remembering why I do it. Remembering the basics, how much I love to run and all the things I love about it, how lucky I am to be able to do it, how it always makes me feel good. I was forced to remember all this because of a combination of two things.
Big climbs, banter and bottles of beer
First, I was forced to have a break for several months over the winter because of a hamstring running injury and then chronic sinusitis. I guess this enforced rest has reignited my hunger to run.
Secondly, in the last couple of months, just as I’ve been getting back into training, my sister suddenly got really into fell running. Witnessing the positive effect it’s had on her has reopened my eyes as to why I do it. My sister loves fell running and she tells me why. She loves that it can take you from crowded, traffic-ridden streets into a world of your own on the empty hills within minutes. She loves that she barely looks at her running watch because she’s focusing on her footing, on getting up the next climb, on the view that’s just opened up in front of her. She loves the battle that running a steep uphill brings. She loves that she has to dig deep into her resources just to get over the fell. She loves the banter of fell-runners, their modesty and their emphasis on self-sufficiency. She loves that no-one bats an eyelid when a 70-year-old runs the roughest, hilliest races. She loves that it’s £5 to enter and prizes are bottles of beer. She loves that a midweek fell race blows away the cobwebs of work so completely. She finishes one race and immediately wants to do another. She comes near the back of the field but she is enjoying herself far too much to care.
All of these things are the reasons why I fell in love with fell running, why I started doing it in the first place and why I’m still doing it 15 years later. I’d forgotten. Funny that. I feel like a newbie again. Like I don’t know what’s around the corner but I know it will be good. It’s nice to have that feeling back.