Over a year ago, I wrote a post called Begin Again. I knew that what I had been doing for the year before that wasn’t working. I knew that I needed to approach running with a different perspective and some fresh goals. But I didn’t know how to. I finished the post by asking for advice.
I love asking for advice. Crowdsourcing was made for me. But, ultimately, last year taught me that the holes we dig ourselves into, we can only dig ourselves out of by ourselves. Last year was a really difficult year for me and my most beloved people. I was running myself ragged trying to “help”, and figuring out things to “do”. And while some of the things I helped my beloveds with, and some of the things I did for my beloveds, did help – ultimately they needed to get to the point where they decided to help themselves, and do stuff themselves. They found that point – thankfully – and things are, overall, much better than they were for them. But I had to learn – the hard way, is there any other way? – that I had to wait and be patient and let them do it by and for themselves, and that the only one I could really help was myself.
And while all this was happening running was little relief. I know, disappointing, right? It would be so wonderful to think that life’s difficulties can always be overcome by a good run, but sadly I did not find that. Instead, I found myself hanging onto a challenging training program for dear life, getting injured, taking 2 weeks off, and then getting back into hard training and getting injured. And again. The running equivalent, really, of hurling oneself at a brick wall, repeatedly.
By this stage I had been listening to the Another Mother Runner podcasts for months (yes, I know, I was late to the party. But I got caught up!). And in early 2016 I listened to an episode in which a running coach on their program, Mary Katherine Brooks Fleming, advocated a different kind of training, a training where the focus was on truly easy running on the easy runs. By this stage I had read plenty of different books and articles supporting her training methods, which can be broadly described as based on those by Maffetone. I knew there was plenty of evidence to back up her claim that way too many amateur athletes train too hard, too much of the time, to really benefit themselves. And so, in late May, I signed up with this coach, and a wonderful TLAM program, and started running again. Every run, in the beginning, had to be run at sub 140bpm. Except for the ones which had to be run at sub 120bpm. The coach warned us, in her podcasts, that this would mess with our egos and it really, really did. I saw 12 minute miles. When I hit an incline, I had to walk to keep my heartrate down.
But my life changed. Ha! No – nothing is ever that simple. I trained with Coach MK, as she is affectionately known, in body, but my mind was still desperately clinging on to old goals. I was running slowly, but in the meantime I told myself that only if I could BQ again, then I could go back to Boston where I’d had such a magical experience years ago and it would all be okay again. (Yeah, I know). MK kept trying to gently tell me to relax, to see running as something for me, as a way to carve out time and attention and self care, and not as something to use to prove something to others… But I didn’t hear her, because I wasn’t ready to listen. Eventually, though, and thankfully, even my batteries ran out. And so, in mid August, I stopped running altogether. Abandoned the goals, abandoned running. Stopped. I finally realised that I had to let go of the stuff I had clung to, and was still clinging to, from the past, and move forward in a new way.
4 weeks later, I started with the TLAM beginner program – HR101. Super easy, super gentle. All I was interested in was seeing whether I still liked running. And I did. By mid November, I realised that I still had a place in the London marathon in the spring of 2017. The last time I had run London, I had had a miserable experience (despite a PR and a BQ), and I wondered whether running it with a new perspective might be a good thing. And so, in early January, I started back on marathon training program. Tentatively, nervously. Wondering whether it was the right thing to do, whether I would be able to stick to the program, and whether I would be able to cope with running slowly.
Well, here I am. Less than 2 weeks out from London, and I’m nearly there. It’s been a somewhat messy training cycle. I’ve done most of the runs, but not all. I have been less than assidious with strength training. But, on the other hand, I’ve absolutely loved my training. Relieved of the pressure of having to hit paces I have just enjoyed being outside and letting the miles roll past. For the first time ever, I am running most of my runs without media, just focusing on my breath going in and out, 4 steps on the in breath, 4 steps on the out breath. And for the first time in years, I have decided to use my race as a fundraiser for a goal that is not personal, but something that will better life for other people.
My ego is alive and well. But whenever I feel horror at my 10:30 min/miles, I remind myself of how happy this 10:30 min/mile is. There were times last year when I couldn’t find that joy, either on the run or in my life. It’s back. And I am very grateful for that.