Success and failure in running is often measured against only one yardstick – that of the stopwatch. But if we stop and think for a minute there are many more helpful benchmarks that can be used to track progress, or even, impossible as it may sound, give us an indication of our overall enjoyment and love of the sport of running.
Not everyone runs competitively in organised races, but even runners who say they run for fitness can tend towards over emphasis on comparing the now to past achievements. This might be number of days run, miles covered, or a time trial over a familiar course. They might not be toeing the line against other runners, but their running world is crowded with competition of their own making. Every stride is dogged by former, fitter, younger, more focused, faster versions of themselves.
Factors like work, family, stress, age, mental state, the weather are rarely considered in this very personal race. These elements are just as important for competitive and regular runners who race the clock and other runners in races. So whatever your level there is almost complete futility in trying to directly compare performances past and present.
Relativity needs to be considered
An idea that should probably be at the forefront of the mind more often is considering the merits of any given performance on the basis of your preparation. What might look like an ordinary or average performance to an outsider, could be something of a personal triumph given the circumstances leading up to it and where it sits and fits with the rest of life’s challenges and complexities. A personal best you could on the day if you like.
Each race has to be analyzed on its merits, not every outing is going to end up in a personal record performance. For this reason alone I believe it’s just as important to focus on how much you’re enjoying your running as it is on how fast or far you are running. After all, if you only ran to run faster or further than you’ve run before then there are going to be a lot of days that end up in disappointment.
This healthier approach to your running is integral to having a good relationship with yourself, other competitors, coach and training partners. Being outside logging some miles pain free in a pleasant environment like the park or forest is a simple but joyful pleasure.
Yes running without pain or injury is a valid benchmark for success – if you couldn’t do this before, then a few months or a year of injury free running is definitely a win worth savoring. As is the chance to get out and train with people you enjoy spending time with: you run, you talk, and share a special experience each and every time.
Not enjoying running? Here are a few suggestions.
Experimenting with different types of training and running can also be a source of enjoyment and discovery in your running. If you’re falling out of love with running, try running fast. It doesn’t matter if you’re a marathoner or ironman triathlete, spending six months training for 800m or 3000m is a fantastic way to get back in touch with the joy of running.
Do training sessions where the only purpose is to run fast and with power – even if you’re slow like me it feels good to run at the top end of your range. And you might surprise yourself by getting faster than you thought possible. Running fast is fun.
Take the pressure off – don’t race for a block of a few months
Constant racing without a good plan of what you’re trying to achieve can become a tiring downward spiral. Take some time out from competitive pressures to work on a different aspect of your running, this could be running faster, spending more time doing some strength work or just jogging some easy miles in the forest.
Whichever aspects you choose to work on make sure you enjoy it; do it because you want to. If you’re beat up, tired or otherwise can’t be bothered, have a day off, a few more rest days could be just the tonic to make you look forward to your next run. If you’re hungry for running you’ll definitely savour the experience more.
This is a slightly perverse notion, but once you begin to get fit then enjoying a little hurt can be part of the fun. Holding it together under duress is a mini success all on its own. How much longer can you hurt and hold on to good form? This is a good game to play when doing hill training or repetitions on the track. But once your technique falls apart it’s time to call it a day.
Train with people whose company you enjoy and especially those that share a similar philosophy to the way you approach your running. If you’re a relaxed character, training with people that are too intense may be counterproductive. Equally if you’re intense and hardcore doing all your running with easy going types is probably going to do your head in. On the flip side of this, intensity mixed with relaxation could help runners find a happy medium.
I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a number of training sessions with training partner Lisa over the course of 2011. In amongst a challenging job and a background of being regularly injured Lisa has put together her first complete year of injury free running in some time. I’ll let her share her personal perspective on a recent performance and what it means in the context of her running and living a busy life.
A change in perspective by Lisa Biffin
Toeing the line in a competitive track race would have once been a completely different experience for me. I would have found myself obsessing over the other competitors, how fast they have run, making subconscious personal comparisons. Have I trained enough, am I fit enough, good enough, fast enough? Negative and doubtful thoughts would infiltrate my thought process.
However something was distinctly different in my approach to this year ending 3000m race. I knew I wasn’t the fastest in the race, nor the fittest. I work 80 hours a week, live in the sky with my job and my training fits around meetings and work events. But I was the calmest and the most excited I had ever been in a race.
It has taken me a while to get to this point. Having a type A personality, goal setting was part of my make up, but one thing I omitted was taking the time to reflect on where I have come from and simply enjoying the moment. Injury and illness over a number of years has restricted my ability to train and run with any consistency.
Heart surgery, hip surgery, ruptured cyst, appendicitis and plantar fasciitis have all visited long non-running phases into my life. It seemed that every second year I was hit with a major setback that kept me watching from the sidelines. My somewhat unhealthy motivation levels meant that as soon as I could get back up on my feet I would throw myself back into hard training, but I would become disappointed when I wasn’t straight back to the level of fitness I had been.
So what has changed? Firstly my approach to why I run. I had lost my perspective on why I run. The simple feeling of being free and being lost in my own thoughts were consumed by competitions, qualifiers and certain times. Secondly my approach to training changed both from a mental and physical perspective.
About 12 months ago I started running with Brian and tweaking my running technique. I also added regular strength training to strengthen and stabilize my wonky hips. A direct quote from my training diary pretty much sums up my journey “my foot has been so sore. Changed my style again. Felt weird. Don’t feel natural running at all. This is going to be a LOOONGGG process!!”
However I stuck with the process. I started running a total of 11km for a week and ensured my harder sessions remained at controlled intensities so I could practice holding my running form together without being constantly maxed out – the way I used to train. Slowly the training increased when I finally managed to run a grand total of 50km a week and that’s where I stayed.
My body felt good, I was still tweaking my style and after only 12 months of a modified technique and a different approach to training I was running competitive times and more importantly loving the process of running.
This was reflected in a recent year ending 3000m race. Despite being in touch with the pack in the early stages, I knew I was in trouble with 1200m to go. Previously I would have panicked, probably given up and spent the post race hours beating myself up after completing some ridiculously long cool down as punishment.
Yesterday, however I kept racing, I raced myself. It still hurt but I pushed on and the first thing I thought of once I crossed the finish line was how happy I was that despite finishing last, I was racing, injury free and doing this purely for myself.
There was no self doubt; there was no self imposed 10km warm down. In fact I had a huge smile, I knew where I had come from and what I had to do to get to where I’m going, grabbed a box of chocolates and walked over to the car.
The day after the race was just as rewarding. I have an even bigger desire to progress my training, race some more and keep challenging myself. I have set myself realistic and long term goals that are purely for me with the confidence that I can look beyond the next 12 months, because I am here for the long haul.
Written by Brian Martin and Lisa Biffin