Obsessed? No. I am Dedicated!

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

 

Want to know more about running, personal training or nutrition?

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation

Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com

Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community

www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk

 

Time For Local Exploration!

I am writing this in England on 22nd April 2020 and using guidelines that are current at the time of writing here. Please check with your own government if elsewhere in the world on your current guidance.

Covid-19 has changed the running landscape for the foreseeable future. No races. No running with clubs. No running with friends. No driving to our favourite places to run. 

At first it can be tough to get your head around this and I know a few people who are struggling to find any motivation to get out and run with the uncertainty of when normality (whatever that will look like) will resume.

However, I think that this gives us new opportunities of exploring our local area and finding new routes from our doorstep that we may not have tried before if we are in ‘training mode’ or if we are restricted by club running routes.  As long as we do not drive excessively to start our run, we can run for our normal daily time anywhere close by. I’d suggest not doing too much as we don’t want to damage our immune system at this point – see this other blog (How to Train in Uncertain Times) I wrote recently.

There are more daylight hours in the coming months, so this gives us the opportunity of running in areas without street lights for more hours (I love running over local fields and local towpaths first thing in the morning).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do we find new routes?

Well for me personally, I just run. Instead of taking the turning I usually do, I’ll take the opposite turn and go a different way. I know most of the distances from my house in Leicester so I am quite lucky that I can gauge how long I’ll be running for.  For those less experienced, you can do the same, just turn a different way, but always make sure you can find your way home again. Make sure you carry your phone so that Maps can come to your rescue if needed, as has happened to me a few times when on holiday and exploring (getting lost!!).

Another alternative to this is each day of the week, turn a different way as soon as you can (left one day, right the next, straight on the next, etc) and see where you end up.

There are also a number of apps and websites that you can use to help you explore as well.  I’ll go through a few but there are many more available I’m sure:

 

City Strideshttps://citystrides.com/

This is probably the one I would recommend the most at the moment. This website links with various running apps such as Strava and allows you to create a map of your local area and challenges you to run every street.  You can challenge friends to see how many streets you can run in a week or a month, so it gives you a social challenge without actual interacting with people. It can also be interesting to run on local roads that you have never run on before and to notice things in your neighbourhood you would never usually notice when running with others (I find I run much more ‘open-eyed’ alone than with others).  This is great for staying local.

 

Stravawww.strava.com

Most of us have our runs uploaded to Strava. After all, if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen right? 

Strava have updated their Explore function (unfortunately only part of their Summit membership) so that you can now find new routes around your area. If you allow your location to be used by Strava (I have it on only when using the app) then it finds routes around your area, and these can be refined by distance of run, elevation and surface.  Once you’ve chosen a route you like the look of, you can then save that as one of your routes.

Once the route has been saved you can then edit the route on Strava in the My Routes section and use the route, following it on your phone, including audio cues if you don’t want to be looking down at your phone all the time.  More information can be found in this blog post from Strava.

If you have more time and want to build your own routes, you can do this in Strava as well. It is a little like MapMyRun or Plot a Route and once the routes have been set up you can use these on your phone.  Depending on your watch, (I’ve only ever used Garmin) you can export the file as a GPX file to be used by your watch.

If you prefer to do things directly from your phone, you can download an app called Garmin Connect IQ.  In the app search for Strava Routes and install this add on. You can then send the routes created in Strava directly to your watch when you sync it.

You can also use the Explore function to find local Strava segments. These are part of a route, anything from 50 metres to miles, that someone has created and where there is now a leaderboard of the fastest runners. You can challenge yourself on a segment to get as high up the leaderboard as possible, which can also be broken down in to gender, age categories, year, day and more.  You can also challenge people of a similar pace to you to see who can run the segments the fastest.  

Finally, (keep this one quiet) if you want to be top of the leaderboard (Strava Crown) then you can set up your own segment on part of your route!

 

Garmin Connecthttps://connect.garmin.com/

As I said earlier, I only have experience of using Garmin watches, so I will assume that other watch companies offer the same or similar functionality.

From the Garmin Connect website you can click on Training, Courses and then you can search for courses (routes) in your area, filtering by road, trail, distance and elevation. From here, you can also create your own course, which, on most newer Garmin watches, will automatically upload when you sync your watch. You can export the file manually to your watch as a GPX file if not.  You can create courses via a manual ‘join the dots’ type experience or ‘round trip’ where you set the start point and it works a route for you.  This is definitely worth a play with the create some new routes.

Below are screen shots from the app.

 

Crossroads or Compass Runs

Finally, for those of you who are a little nervous about venturing too far away from home in these times of uncertainty, there is the Crossroads or Compass run (pictured below).

You start at home, run so far in one direction, then back to home, then so far in another direction and then back home, and so on, until you have completed a crossroad.  For example, if you ran one mile away from home, one mile back again and repeated, you would complete an 8 mile run whilst only ever being one mile away from home.  This is especially good if you are coming back from an injury or illness and need an ‘escape route’ if things don’t feel right.

 

OS Maps (Ordnance Survey)

The app is the best version of OS Maps unless you like to carry a paper map. However, the app is paid for and good for randomly following way-markers across fields, but not worth it if you are staying fairly close to home. It is probably better saved for when we are able to run freely without restrictions.

A couple of things that I need to say from a professional point of view: always stick to suitable roads (no running down motorway hard shoulders please); be aware when running off road or in new areas (men and women) and stay safe. Sorry if that sounds scary, it is just the normal general safety advice I would give everyone as a coach.

 

I think that gives you enough to think about. These ideas work just as well if you are new to an area, on holiday (when we are able to do that in the future), or at the present time when you are thinking of new local running routes.  You can also revisit this blog when we are allowed to travel further afield to run so that you can explore more new areas.

Enjoy your new routes and I’d love to hear more about what you find and where you go on www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk and https://www.facebook.com/groups/155082958638805/ 

 

Want to know more about running, personal training or nutrition?

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation

Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com

Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire

www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk  https://www.facebook.com/groups/155082958638805/ 

The Squeaky Wheel Gets Fixed

I’ve always been very conflicted when it comes to writing about mental health and exercise. The reason for my conflict is that I never quite know how to broach the subject to a broader audience (I’m more than happy talking to my individual clients about it though).


In the past I’ve never thought that I exercised for my mental health. For those that know me or my running, you’ll know that I am competitive and that I enjoy training for events and doing the best I can in those races. I can also be my harshest critic when it comes to my own achievements. After all, my mantra for my PB in the 2019 London Marathon was “don’t be a glorious failure”. By that, I mean I was going for a big PB, had I got a small PB or just missed it, people would still have been congratulatory and told me how well I’d done, but I knew that I had a chance to achieve what I want.


This year I was training jointly for the London Marathon and a 40-mile race and was running around 70 miles per week. I don’t really think too much about the mental side of these training runs, I just generally go out and run and then rest when I am physically tired. However, now that all races have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, I was left in limbo. This limbo is the same as everyone else who runs, whether it is starting Couch25K with a friend, parkruns every Saturday or training for races; what now is the point?


I’ve suddenly realised just how much I love pressure free running and how much pressure I put on ‘training’ for events. As the weather has started to improve, I’ve found myself heading over the fields and towpaths near to my house. I’ve even stopped to take photos (something I’d never do when ‘training’). I’ve had all my most enjoyable runs of the year in the last week. No pressure, no training and just running.

Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, grass, outdoor and nature



And this is something that we need to remind ourselves. Most of us take running and walking for granted. Then, when our lives suddenly change and we can no longer to go the gym, work or shopping when we want to, where do we get the endorphins that we are used to? This is why suddenly more people are seen out walking or running. They have nowhere else to go. They cannot run on a treadmill in a gym. They cannot go for a walk around town in their lunch break. They cannot walk around shops 2-3 times a week. And this is where the media is causing (in my opinion) problems and divisions in society.


Suddenly the, usually very supportive, running community are voicing concern that so many ‘non-runners’ and ‘new walkers’ are out on their favourite routes. Yes, they are, but why is that an issue? Ok, so it may not be as quiet as they are used to. They may have to stop sometimes to think about how to pass people and let people pass them. But at least we are all still allowed out to exercise. That has been taken away from other people in other countries. We are still lucky.


So, please do not be put off by what the media and others are saying. We are all entitled to go for our daily exercise. At present when I write this, there are no time limits on how long we can go out for. As long as we are not risking getting into trouble and using the resources of emergency services, you can go out for a longer walk than normal. The only restriction really, is that we stay local and use open spaces near to home where possible (taken from official government information https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-guidance-on-access-to-green-spaces). But as we are lucky enough to be allowed out we should respect that and not take liberties. We would all suffer much more if we had to stay in 24/7.


So, in these times where some people need to be outdoors, running or walking, for their mental health and others are shouting loudly that everyone should stay at home, where do people go to find their safe place with like-minded people? It’s tough. I am part of Facebook running groups where some people are refusing to exercise as it’s not essential to them or they feel that it is wrong in the current climate, others have more time on their hands and are doing more than they usually would and others feel as though they have to stick rigidly to a certain time or distance. Arguments often ensue, people get publicly chastised or even ridiculed (half the time by people who last month had ‘#BeKind’ on their profiles) and then go in to their shell and either don’t want to go out or are scared to participate in online discussions.


However, there is a safe Facebook group. Head Runners was created by Paul Tebbutt as a place where people can talk openly about mental health and how running has helped them. Paul told me “the reason I started Head Runners really is quite simple. I have always used running over the years to help my state of mind as many of us do. I wanted to help raise awareness and create a safe space for people to talk openly about mental health and share their stories about how running has helped them”. Head Runners can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/groups/headrunners I would recommend checking it out.


Another idea to connect with friends who run or walk at this time of physical distancing (I dislike social distancing as currently we can connect online in numerous ways) is virtual walks. One of my clients ran at the weekend whilst on the phone to her friend (obviously be mindful of trip hazards and roads, etc). They really enjoyed being able to run ‘together’ while being apart and have a good catch up chat to pass the time as they would do normally when they run together. This can also be done via apps such as Facetime and WhatsApp among others and you could even share a video call to share your routes.


Finally, the reason for the title of this blog. I’d never heard the saying “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets fixed” until Monday. I listen to podcasts on my runs as I like to listen to and learn from people and as I run a lot, it gives me a lot of learning time. I also found that music often affected my mood, whereas podcasts just let me drift off and listen.


The podcast in question ‘Don’t Tell Me The Score’ is a BBC offering where (mainly) sports people are interviewed about their lives and what they have learnt through sport and life that has helped them improve themselves and help others. There are so many little nuggets of great information and helpful tips in each podcast and you don’t need to be a sports geek to really get benefit from them.


The episode I was listening to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p080zy49 is an interview with former female cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent. They are talking about mental health issues among other things and the interviewer comes out with the statement “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets fixed”.


A lot of people who suffer with mental health problems will never talk about it and will never ask for help. Due to this they do not get help. People were posting after the sad suicide of Catherine Flack that they are there for people who want/need to talk. Unfortunately, most people won’t reach out for help and will tuck themselves away with their own thoughts. This is another reason to look at the Head Runners Facebook group, talk to friends, family, your coach or one of the many charitable organisations such as Head Runners, Mind, or Samaritans.


If you want help you have to be that ‘squeaky wheel’. You must make a noise and either ask for help or make it known to people that you are not in a good place. People will help if you ask for it. Despite what the media (and especially social media) portrays, the majority of people, family, friends and even random strangers are good people and will offer a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on or just an ear to listen to you.


Please make sure you are that squeaky wheel when you need help.


Want to know more about running?
Do you want a personalised training plan or a telephone call to discuss what to do?
Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation
Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com
Martin Hulbert
Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire