As runners, we all seem to have some strange obsessions. Some of these can be positive, some have little impact on us, but some can really cause mental stress, physical fatigue and in a fair amount of cases, lead to injuries.
When controlled the right way, a bit of obsession can be a good thing as it can help lead us to create positive habits of getting out the door when the weather is bad and to try to drive us to improve. But, we need to learn how to control our obsessions to get the best out of ourselves.
I don’t want this to be a deep blog about overall mental health and well-being, but instead look at some of the stranger things that we do as runners that we wouldn’t necessarily think of in normal daily life and how they may impacts. I will offer a bit of advice in to how we can get out of some of our obsessive habits.
What is it that we obsess about? Targets are often the major focus for runners, with running faster or further the most common.
Always getting faster! – It is often seen as a sign of weakness if your next run is slower than your last. Who has been guilty of writing on Strava or social media that your run was slower than last time you did this route and how can people help to stop it happening again?
This is often more prevalent in newer, less experienced runners who haven’t looked in to how to run different types of run and the best ways of achieving longevity and long term improvements. At some point you will not beat yesterday and when this happens you view yourself as a bad runner. You are not, you’ve had a bad run. Not every run goes well. That’s a fact of life. I will be writing a further blog about how to vary your running in order to improve your pace and distance in the near future.
My advice would be that next time you go for a run cover your watch and try to run as easily as possible and enjoy what is around you. When you get back home, then look at your watch. It will be tough but it is a gamechanger.
Targets. Targets. Targets! – As runners we seem to have to set ourselves targets. And when we have set the target we then have to achieve the target or we disappoint ourselves.
Yearly – By far the most dangerous of a runner’s obsession with numbers. “This year I’m going to run 2020 miles as it’s the year 2020”. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with that. However, break it down a bit and it is about 40 miles per week. Are you capable of that? Is it realistic? What happens if I miss a couple of weeks with holidays, family reasons, illness, injury, weather events, etc, etc? The club I run for give out awards for running a certain amount of miles each year. I applaud that as it recognises how far people have run in a year and for many, they have ran further than the previous year and shows great improvements. However, there are always a few people when it comes to the start of December that still need to run X amount of miles to achieve (for example) 1,000 miles. Unfortunately, the X is often about 150 miles and instead of it being a yearly average of almost 20 miles a week, they now have to run almost double that amount. They then feel pressured to run far more than they have been, they risk injury and not only missing their target, but also not being able to run for a period of time by overstretching themselves.
Monthly – If you are setting yourself monthly running targets then you are getting yourself in to potential trouble if not sensibly done. My advice would be, instead of saying to yourself ‘I’m going to run 200 miles next month’, look at what each week of your running will roughly be and then add them together. That is a rough target, rather than picking a round number out of the sky. If you have an injury or illness in the first week of the month what happens next? Do you chase the miles you’ve missed so that you can hit the monthly target? I would advise against it. You need to accept that what has been missed cannot be made up in the short term without risking further damage. Instead, look at any period you cannot run as a chance to recharge your batteries, recover, rehab or deal with what has happened and then come back sensibly and modify the weekly plans you had.
Weekly – How is your weekly target decided? Is it a round number (for example, 20, 25, 30, etc)? Often, if you write your own plan you will tweak the weekly mileage to finish on a round number. If that is the case you are not planning your runs for the purpose of the individual runs, but more the weekly target. When I write training plans I don’t look at the overall mileage of the week in any way other than is it progressively higher than the previous week (unless it is a cutback week in which case it is less). I balance the week of running and the weekly total (not target) is just the total of the runs. So many people look at the weekly mileage and end up doing more, just to get to that round number (especially where the total is 38 miles and you have to run 40 miles to finish with a round number).
Daily – We get up with the intention of running a certain distance. If we don’t get to that distance then we have failed. Have we? What caused us not to reach the distance? Was it more sensible to shorten the run (injury, illness, toilet issues, etc)? Did we give up mentally? Some things you can’t control so don’t worry about them. I would much rather someone shorten their run than try to complete it if they think they will make something worse. My advice is to write down 3 positive and 3 negative things about the run and learn from them for your next run (when you write things down you’ll probably also realise it wasn’t as bad as you thought). I’ve got the MH Health and Fitness Online Community where people post their daily exercise and give support and perspective to one another as members are at various points of their running journeys. Please feel free to join our supportive community.
Rounding – Have you ever purposely finished a run on 4.99m? No? I didn’t think so! The majority of runners are guilty of rounding up their runs by running up and down the street until they hit that magic round number. That’s fine (apart from the weird thoughts the neighbours have about you). But, how many of you have to keep going to the nearest round number (ending with a .5 or .00)? It’s a bit like the competition we had with ourselves at the petrol pump trying to stop on a round number (anyone? Just me?). My advice to get out of this habit is to try, on your next run, to stop before you hit the next mile. It’s liberating!
Run Every Day – My first question for those who try this is how long are you planning to do this? Is it for a month for charity? If so, and you pitch the daily mileage to what you are capable of, then go for it but realise that if you get ill or injured it may not happen. Are you doing this forever? Ron Hill, ex-GB athlete completed at least one mile every day for 52 years and 39 days (he defined this as ‘completing a distance of at least one mile at any pace’). That is an amazing achievement but what pressure was he putting on himself every day to go out and complete that mile. How would you feel when that came to an end? When his streak came to an end in January 2017 he wrote “after 400m my heart started to hurt and by the time I got to the one mile point I thought I was going to die. I was in such pain and I thought in respect of my wife, two sons and friends I need to stop this”. So he nearly risked his life for his running streak.
For me personally, challenging yourself is great. I love to set myself goals and targets. However, I am no longer obsessed by monthly and yearly numbers and I can leave my weekly mileage at 59.8 miles and not run the extra 0.2 miles. I can run slower than last week and not start researching faster trainers online. And I can run without looking at my watch.
I like to swap the word obsessed with dedicated. Instead of focusing purely on numbers, focus on the process of getting out and getting as close to your goals as possible, while accepting that you cannot hit your targets every time. Not hitting your goals is not failure, it just gives you more to learn about yourself and your running. Look long term and think that by doing less one day means you can improve another day.
When it doesn’t go right, just think of these words from a popular Disney song that I’m sure a lot of you have on your playlists “let it go”.
So stop obsessing, get dedicated and start enjoying
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