Listen to Your Body; But make sure it listens to you!

Listening to your body makes a lot of sense. Pregnant mums- to -be have cravings, often associated with deficiencies in their diet. When our bodies need water, we experience the feeling of thirst. Listening to your body can help keep you out of trouble, especially in long distance events. Ignore the thirst voice, and you could end up a shrivelled prune. Ignore the painful knee, you may become lame. Almost instinctively, we listen to our body and its demands.

But over the years, I developed the ability to make my body listen to me. I do not mean the words grunted out of our mouths in desperate situations but rather, the silent, mind contained self-talk we are barely aware of. Perhaps this sounds strange at first. But what is determination, what is will power? You talking to your body.

Like any kind of speech, there are degrees of effectiveness in talking to your body, there are ways of making yourself heard and understood. Take the unruly class at school; one teacher achieves order with a few spoken words, another fails, even when shouting. I believe the successful teacher has told himself that children will listen to him so many times that it has become an innate part  of his self talk. He does not need to remind himself of this, because his mind has been programmed by his repeated self-talk. His continued success affirms his self talk, which supports continued success.

Winners have an early advantage over other competitors; they have told themselves they will win over and again, so much that their body believes them. Every win just adds weight to the words. Eventually, the strength of the words goes subliminal, the winner “knows” he will win, without consciously saying or thinking a word. At a more day to day level, the success of the training run depends on our sub-conscious; what are the messages you have been feeding yourself lately? Are you struggling, and have you been stressing about this? If you have, welcome to continued failure. Or are you doing well, and have you been praising yourself, are you confident? If so, you have a head start. You expect success, your mind has been programmed to expect success, that’s what you will likely get.

Of course, you sometimes have to tell yourself little white lies. Most of my bad training runs are interpreted as good, because of a range of convenient excuses eg; I trained hard yesterday, today was good considering this. I did well to put so much effort in to this run. This self-deceit is justified, because it maintains your self-confidence and therefore your motivation. Even a bad run can help your confidence, if you see it as a lesson in suffering. I have trained badly all week becomes I have trained hard all week.

When the winner does not win, the effort made in this race will help him towards victory in the next race.

When the going gets hard, it’s communication at this sub-conscious level that is all important. The will to continue is supported by a silent narrative that you have generated over many hard miles. You still have to concentrate, you still have to be well motivated and determined. But the support of the silent narrative gives added strength to your conscious effort. It is the foundation, the bedrock, of your determination and your motivation.

So think “win”, think “achieve”, think “can”. Think anything other than “can’t”.

Dealing with Fallout; Recovering from a Long Run

 

The harder and longer the run, the more fallout you will have to suffer. Your legs will ache, your shoulders will moan, your mood will be low. All of this is remembered the next time you plan a run. Yes, your body will remind you of “last time”, and your mind’s survival instinct will say something like “all things in moderation”, or “err on the side of caution”, in its attempt to avoid a repetition of the big pain. Left to its own devices, your conscience will take you for a steady walk around the block, and you will justify it a thousand times with thoughts such as “you have to leave something in the bank”, and “it’s so easy to over-train”.

Listen to this, and you will never achieve your potential. Mediocrity is our default setting; a reasonable training regime producing average results for a typical runner.

Unless you are tremendously gifted, mediocrity beckons for us all. Very few will become superstars, but we can all become our own heroes, champions of our own bodies. We can all excel in our efforts, no matter how fast or slow we may be. Make no mistake, many race runners who fill the lower placings are trying just as hard as the leaders, and are just as dedicated. We can modify our bodies through training and diet, but we can’t suddenly grow a race –winning heart, or a pair of extra long speedy legs.

So no matter what, any big effort on the part of us mere mortals is going to produce some undesirable consequences, physical and mental. Accept that, and we are part of the way towards becoming the best we can be, whether we finish first or last.

Of course, recovery begins before the run finishes. I always ease off during the last few minutes of a run; warming down is as important as warming up. I start and finish my runs with a ten minute brisk walk. People say you should stretch before and after. I don’t, because I worry about damaging cold or tired muscles.

As soon as possible after a run, I eat and drink, but not to excess. Again, people will advocate “wonder foods” and “recovery drinks”, but I just go for fruit, carbohydrate and milk. Not very scientific, but it works for me.

After a long run, I sometimes suffer pain in my thighs which means I struggle to walk upstairs or down. I have found the best thing to do is to ignore the pain, and ensure I hobble up and down stairs regularly for the rest of the day. In the meantime, I try to elevate my legs as much as possible, though with a youngish family, it’s sometimes impossible.

Perhaps the most difficult fallout to deal with is the mental. Even if the run has been a disaster, I always search for the positive, something I can take and build into a useful outcome. It may be as basic as thinking that the run was not as bad as it could have been, or that I held up well considering the circumstances. In this way, every run can have a positive outcome. Of course, we have to learn from mistakes, but we also have to approach the next run with a positive frame of mind. Wallowing in self pity, or beating ourselves up will get us nowhere.

Following a hard run, I usually have an easy run the day after. Occasionally I will make it a rest day or go out on my bike for a couple of hours. The beauty of going for a steady run is that you can experience running again without the pain of yesterday. Your mind, full of fear and wary of another hammering, can be put at ease by these few gentle miles. The day after a steady recovery run, I often feel really good. I don’t think this is coincidental. Experiment with this, and find the best strategy for you in terms of work and rest.

So do what works for you, warm down, eat and drink, rest and recuperate. But most of all, be positive, and take that through to the next run. Look forward to the next run, it is another opportunity to develop your fitness further, and to show yourself how fit you are becoming.

Learning to Suffer on Two Feet 

 

I learned about pain in sport a long time ago. My cycling days began in the Chilterns, as a 15 year old with the CTC (Beds DA), often out eight or ten hours on a Sunday. I remember the long hot baths afterwards, and legs feeling as though they had deserted me. A few years later, and it was to be the Peak District climbs around Hathersage and Chesterfield that would cause me all kinds of pain. In the latter years of my racing career, it would be the relatively short, but sharp inclines of the Lincolnshire Wolds that would torment me.

When in trouble on a bike, you have several options; change to a lower gear, reduce cadence or even freewheel. I have had countless rides into the hills, where on the return journey every yard possible has been covered at a freewheel. Pockets of food emptied, drinking bottles drunk dry, tick the miles off one by one. Pray for a tailwind.

I found that distance running is different. Certainly, to slow down or take smaller strides are options, but the relief offered is minimal. Walking has never really been an option that I’ve considered on shorter runs. Does this mean I’ve never tried hard enough? I don’t know. When the pain of exhaustion hits you, the checklist includes food and liquid intake, but that is pretty much it. You are on your own, you and your pain. You have to continue.

I had been running and cycling alternate days, and it was working well – no injuries or excessive fatigue. Then I began to feel fitter and became more ambitious. I started running two or three days together, though no more than about 15 miles each day. This was working well, so of course my confidence increased. My weekly long run had been building by one hour each month, it was now six hours.

Just before Christmas, I ran a brisk twelve miles or so one afternoon then rested a couple of hours. That evening I went head torching, with the Lincolnshire Wolds Head Torchers (see Post3).

I coped with both runs quite well, so I decided to do my  long run the next day. The way I rationalised it was that it would help me learn how to run with tired legs. But I learned how to run with tired everything.

My long run varies between an out and home course, and laps of a twelve mile figure of eight circuit containing a short, hard climb. I chose the circuit this time.

I was tired when I started, the night run had been finished barely twelve hours when the long run started. Never mind I thought to myself, six hours of this will make a man of me. It nearly killed me. I am usually positive when running, and the idea of walking or stopping is well suppressed. But after three hours I was realising I had bitten off too much. I had never run twice in one day, and I had never done a long run the day after almost twenty miles of running the previous day. It was a double whammy, and it was hurting. My run slowed and slowed. After four hours, I approached the hill, and I walked. The first time I had to walk on the road since the springtime, and my first forays into the world of running.

Although the walk, about five minutes, offered some relief, it was temporary. As soon as I started running again, everything was screaming at me. My strides had become more pixie steps, and my cadence was like slow motion. My head was a disaster zone. Stupid, stupid, stupid, how stupid was I to think I could do this? Failure. Having to walk hurt my pride, it was a first. My legs were exploding, my feet were elsewhere, and my mind was wishing that it was anywhere other than attached to this disaster zone of a body.

I was eating and drinking at my usual rate; small drink at five minute intervals, eat at every hour. This had been working well for me over the past few weeks. It was not the bonk – I wasn’t lightheaded or detached enough for that. I think it was simply exhaustion.

The final two hours of the run were a good test for me. I made contracts with myself like like run to the next village then walk through it, then run to the next. This worked to a certain extent, but my mind was in failure mode. I felt so awful, I even questioned why I was running at all. I was battling negativity and losing, but I kept going, very slowly. Dead man running.

It would have been easy to phone home for rescue, but that would have been defeat with a capital D. Instead I carried on to the five hour point, when I made the pre-arranged call home, for Wendy to run out to meet me and act as pacer over the last few miles. I don’t think she has ever seen me run more slowly.

So lesson learned. You may feel good, but don’t get carried away. Your body and mind need rest, as well as work. I have not repeated this foolhardiness since, and I now ensure the day before my long run is an easy one. When exhaustion really strikes, running can become next to impossible. And the bigger the hole you dig for yourself, the harder it is to get out. The suffering of a hard run can last for days, the impact much longer. Like nuclear fall out, there is the initial blast, then the nuclear winter.

Portpatrick; A Short but Sweet  Autumn Visit  

 

Shortly after the Spires and Steeples run, we had a family holiday in south western Scotland. It was a chance to spend some time with my beloved Dad, and also to see some of the beautiful scenery in that part of the world. I took my running shoes more in hope than anything, but I was certainly pleased that I did.

After we had arrived at our destination, Portpatrick, I learned that this  beautiful little fishing village marks the start of the Southern Upland Way, with the long flight of steps climbing out from the harbour. The route description sounded fascinating, with Killantringan Lighthouse a couple of miles along the coast being the place to head inland. I found a  four or five mile route using the footpath, and returning to the village via the B738, a small, quiet road, with little traffic.

Our hotel was on the cliff overlooking Portpatrick, and so my run started with a steep flight of steps down to the harbour, where I picked up the Southern Upland Way with the other flight of steps out of the harbour. Once at the top, the first thing that hits you is the wind off the sea; blustery, eye-watering and occasionally deafening. The path clings to the top of the cliff, next to the golf course, this must be one of the most exposed courses around. It was quite soggy underfoot, and there were puddles to be dodged, and wet slippery rocks to catch you out. A steep descent takes you to a small cove, and then the obligatory steep ascent of the carved out steps, out and back on to the peaty moor. The waves were crashing against the rocks, and the wind (luckily) was coming in off the sea, keeping me safely on the path.

After another cove, there is  a wonderful downhill stretch where you can see the path meandering across the moor towards the lighthouse, crossing small streams and offering one or two stiles to negotiate. The sheep seemed interested to see a lycra – clad shape moving along the path, the walkers I had seen were all sensibly dressed in waterproofs and thick jumpers. From the lighthouse you take a single track road heading inland. This is a long, tiring climb, punctuated with several cattle grids. The wind was behind me, but it was still hard work, all the way to the small road that heads back into Portpatrick. This last stretch was largely downhill, and a chance to feel like a runner again.

The circuit took some effort to complete, but this was more than repaid by the amazing scenery. I was very fortunate to be able to run it on each of the three days we were in Portpatrick. My running experience is very limited, but this has to be my favourite course to date. There was a real sense of wilderness, especially along the cliffs, something I had not previously experienced as a runner.

Running here had certainly confirmed and refreshed my sense of enjoyment, my motivation to run.

But, of course, the life of a long distance runner is not always bathed in sunshine….

Spires and Steeples Challenge; My first test.

 

And so, very shortly after my return from the cycle tour, the day came to test my running. How would my running legs be after two thousand miles of cycling? The few runs that I had managed since my return home had gone quite well, so I was hopeful.

The Spires and Steeples Challenge event takes place in October each year. You can choose either 13 miles or 26 miles, either walk or run. The route is well signed, and takes you along tracks and across fields, through lovely Lincolnshire villages and along quiet twisty lanes. Everybody gets a hero’s welcome at the finish in Sleaford. It is a friendly, very well organised event, with a bus to transport you from the finish to your starting point. The 26 milers get the thrill of descending Steep Hill in Lincoln, before joining the Waterway Trail out of the city.

I opted for the 13 mile run, starting in Metheringham. I was relying on fitness gained from my cycling holiday to get me around the course, and so I started at a steady jog, keeping pace with those in the slower half of the field. I didn’t exactly zip around the course, but I managed to develop and then maintain my pace to the finish. The obstacles included flights of steps and numerous stiles, and added interest to the run. A field full of free range hens meant we had to watch our step, they were reluctant to give way to paltry runners (groan).

Everyone involved with the event was cheerful and supportive – even the competitors! The marshalls and aid station staff were truly wonderful. It was a good first event for me, and we even had a tailwind for the whole run. The route through different villages, and along new tracks was a delight.

One danger of training for distance races is boredom; boredom with the long hours, and boredom with the same old lanes near home. But this event is like a celebration of the joys of trail running, and how it can refresh and renew the motivation that drives us. My legs held out, and I wasn’t looking too enviously at the cyclists who passed us on the lanes. My target had been to run an even pace, and not slow too much in the latter stages. I managed this, and I went home happy.