I’m going to let you into a little secret about being a successful ultra-runner….
There is no secret...it is merely a ton of hard work, dedication and a bucket load of flexibility. Many of us have proved this year that we can be flexible when we need to. That we can still be dedicated when goals have moved or disappeared, that races have changed shape into what we perhaps we never envisaged and training schedules have been rewritten numerous times and if you are like me have been written, rewritten, torn up, ignored and cried over many times this year!
I’m a couple of weeks into my training for SDW100 at the start of November. Already my training plan has been changed (almost daily!!). The end of school holidays has brought alone a change of vibe as kids activities restart, they are getting fractious being at home and hubby has gone back to work. In lockdown it was actually relatively easy to fit in training...most days were identical...the hardest part I found was the motivation to get out on the 1km loop, some days I just couldn’t face it or I was exhausted after a day of delightful home schooling. I always went though. Though I am always flexible with my training I am never flexible with where I want to go. Though might route might change and destination be different I keep hold of that fire that when I turn up to a start line I want to be the best I can be. Even if this year that best might be a bit rusty, a little more tired I will get to that start line (if you will lift the quarantine please Mr Boris) fit and healthy, but I will ONLY get there if over the next few months I am flexible with both my training and my life.
So ... how can we go about this flexibility? As runners our success is surely due to our rigid focus and dedication? Well yes...but we mustn’t confuse focus with obsession because at the end of the day for most of us ultra-running is our hobby...life, jobs, family and health always have to come first and I do believe that by doing that we become better runners by being more rounded individuals allowing us to listen to our bodies, back off when needed, change sessions according to how we feeling and not being scared to say, ‘I’m tired’ or ‘That race just doesn’t fit in my schedule right now’ or ‘ It just wasn’t my day.’ I do believe being flexible is the key to a long and most of all happy running career.
So ... how can we go about this flexibility? Well as we all know and have learnt bitterly many times this year...all the best laid plans often go to pot...if they do….it’s not the time to give up...though it often feels that’s the only option...that’s when you need to take a breather and reassess, try a different path, slow down, change tack, but never stop moving forward...in the words of the great Dan Lawson ‘relentless forward motion’ is the key that we need to keep in mind. This doesn’t mean you keep ploughing on in training if you are exhausted, snowed under at work or need to spend time with the family. It means you address what is important...do the stuff that matters first, bin the session if it’s not going to fit in with the day or change it to an easy jog if tired. Act positively with hurdles and you will continue to make progress even if that means having to change your plans...the same goes for when you are in the guts of an ultra. Perhaps your stomach has gone, you are way slower than planned, your head torch has died and you keep wandering into the Thames ... being flexible with where you are going is so important. And being flexible in an ultra teaches us so much about being flexible in real life. I am totally sure that I am a better parent and wife because I have learnt (ahem always learning) so much through my athletic career. How to work on the fly when running. Problem solving as I go, anticipating hurdles as and reacting positively. Being an ultra-runner and a mum are so similar especially during bedtime!!
Your reaction to hurdles is so important especially over the next few months. BTW it is TOTALLY fine to not be doing FKTs, smashing out Pbs or completing huge training blocks. Just getting out in nature and breathing in silence without the need to answer to anyone is worth a million Strava cups. As runners we are programmed to achieve, but I assure you, you are achieving by being kind to yourself, running as and when you can and losing yourself in a solitary hour where ‘our’ world is unchanged is perhaps the most important thing you can do right now. So be flexible with a training plan, race goal or session this isn’t a sign of weakness- it’s a sign of strength. It shows you are confident in your own ability; you are focused on your goal and you are not scared of the challenge ahead. Flexibility is the ultimate underrated sign of both fitness, strength and control.
So, in the next few months, possibly years stay relentlessly focused on your goals, but be prepared to be flexible. It’s an art form, it’s always work in progress …. if I have to change my plan, change my race schedule it still bothers me, but I dont let it linger. Focus on what you can control. Positive mindset and flexibility in both life and my goals make me a much happier person and runner...always achieving whatever the day throws at me, even if that’s just having a quiet cuppa at the end of the day with the hubby whilst the kids sleep and we watch the sun sets over the mountains. I do believe that flexibility equals long term happiness, health and fulfilment.
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