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5 Things Running Has Taught Me

1. You are more capable than you know. 

When I first started running, I couldn’t go more than half a mile without getting a stitch, never mind a parkrun. When I started racing, I didn’t think I’d be winning races just a year later. I am someone who likes to be in control, and I think I used to focus too much on trying to control the outcome of a race. I’d focus on coming first more than anything else. But there are so many outside factors to winning – that aren’t in your control. I’ve learnt that it is better to control what you can. Things like training, sleep, and nutrition. With hard work, training, consistency and dedication you might surprise yourself. During the first lockdown, I really focused on my training and I really surprised myself with how fast I actually got.

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2. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others. 

Unless you’re getting world records or winning world championship races, there will always be people faster than you. If you base your expectations on others, you’ll be disappointed. Most of us want to be successful in running. But I think a lot of us don’t actually have a definition of what success would mean for us. We just strive for what society tells us too – to win and be the best. In my opinion, success is living the life you want to live now, and doing the things you want to do – now. We should be choosing our goals based on how much we’ll enjoy pursuing them. I could probably be an alright track runner, but I don’t enjoy track so I’m not going to pursue it. It’s like the saying ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey that matters’. The process is what takes up most of your time. The actual goal takes up a very small proportion. Think about an olympic sprinter. They spend years working towards a 10ish second race! I don’t think that you have to enjoy every part of the journey, but neither do I think it is good to do things for the sake of conforming. Your motivation should come from within yourself. I try to just focus on myself and my training. I focus on training where I’m at and don’t try to train at the times I think that I should be reaching. I was to be privileged enough to train with a talented group of runners but found that it just wasn’t for me so went back to training on my own.

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3. Celebrate success – no matter how small. 

The same way you might break up the sections of a race as you go along, you can break up any challenge into smaller steps. Celebrating these small steps will motivate you to keep going and achieve your goals. It’s not always about the end goal but more the smaller steps you take to reach those goals, and how you learn and grow along the way. At one time, a small goal for me would be managing half a day without having a panic attack. One of my goals now is to no go over my weekly budget at Uni! The biggest thing I’ve learnt about training is that consistency is key. Small steps taken consistently over a long period lead to the biggest result.  

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4. Embrace obstacles.  

Things rarely go to plan. Obstacles are part of life, and it is important to learn how to overcome them and be resilient. Whether it is adjusting your training to ensure you don’t get injured or having to reevaluate your goals after missing out on a selection race – obstacles teach us lessons. 

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5. Look after yourself 

In order to be our best selves, we have to look after our mind and body. It isn’t about striving for perfection but striving to be a better person whilst looking after ourselves. 

Now, I don’t usually watch tennis but a few weeks ago, I heard about Emma Radu-canu winning the US open. It was all over the news because not only was she the first woman to win a Grand Slam singles title in 44 years but just two months ago, she withdrew from Wimbledon after suffering breathing difficulties and dizziness. In an honest statement she spoke of being overwhelmed and the whole experience catching up with her – which is to be expected because she is only 18. She said that it was a great learning experience and that she hoped next time she’d be more prepared. This commitment to looking after herself in order to build resilience makes her part of the growing movement of athletes, raising the profile of looking after mental health in sport. Other athletes such as Marcus Rashford, and Simone Biles are also showing that you don’t need to sacrifice your mental health for sport. In fact, Biles said that she would treasure her bronze more than her golds after taking a break for her mental health. You define your own success. Having aspirations is great but they can also be an issue because we end up focusing too much on failure when we should just be focusing on the present. You can see how much fun Raducanu has when she plays from her smile, and it just shows that you can still enjoy something and be the top of your game. 

Personally, I will always respect someone who knows their limits and is able to stop when they need to. Being strong isn’t carrying on until you can’t no more, it isn’t pushing through no matter what. It is deciding to do what is best for you despite your inner ego. I love running and I do it because I enjoy it. I probably don’t train as seriously as I should, but I’m happy. That’s what matters to me. It has taken me a long time to reach a balance with my running and I want to keep it that way. Any winning is a bonus to me. I firmly believe it is healthy to have things to do outside of running. I am not my sport. It doesn’t define me because there is much more to me than running. I think sometimes we push ourselves too far because we want to prove something. Prove that we are good enough because we fear what people will think if we don’t perform. But this sport isn’t all about winning. It’s about making friends, having good experiences, and becoming better people. 

There is so much research that shows the amazing benefits of running on mental health. I think the movement of just putting one foot in front of the other allows the mind to heal and get rid of any anxieties. I find the rhythm of my strides and breathing silences any negative thought patterns in my head. I use the same internal thoughts I use during a hard run such as “you can do this”, “push through” and “keep going”, to help me when I’m struggling with something. Running reminds me that I can have a positive internal dialogue.  Exercise is the thing that reduces my anxiety the most. I feel like running is a way of directing the “flight” response into something within my control and something that I enjoy. 

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