Running On Empty

Strive: verb to try very hard to do something or to make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties:

I like the word Strive. I think it is so important, especially as we get older that we keep striving. Striving keeps us energised, relevant and ultimately alive.

I have always been a striver, its in my nature. Even as a child I can remember regularly getting one of those back handed Scottish compliments “aye he might no be the best but he tries hard”….

2019 has been a year where no matter how much effort I put in to my running, nothing worked. My racing year has been so bad it is almost comical. A wee look at my goal races for the year and you will see why

  • March: TransGranCanaria – Did Not Start. After various colds I picked up a calf injury which just wuldnt heal quickly enough. I got as far as standing in the queue for the bus to the start before common sense prevailed and I realised that running a big mountain ultra on a dodgy calf which hadn’t gone further than 10K in weeks wasn’t smart.
  • April: Big Sur Marathon – The calf had finally healed, I had worked hard and managed to get some fitness. Unfortunately I picked up a stinker of a cold which mean I ran the whole race with a temperature and snot streaming from my nose and ran respectably but no performance to speak of.
  • April: Miwok 100 – I had trained hard for this because last time I was here I DNF’ed with plantar fasciatis. The thursday before the race I came down with what we shall euphemistically call stomach issues. Running just wasnt physically possible so it was a DNS to go with my DNF.
  • July: John Lucas 50 – since returning from the States, my grumbly achilles had started misbehaving so I started, fully expecting not to make it past the first checkpoint. As it turned out I still had a fair amount of unused fitness left from my Miwok misadventure and just about managed a respectable run, but not what I would have planned
  • November: Oman by UTMB 170K – This was the big race of the year. I had DNF’ed last year so was determined to come in to the race in a good place. Back spasms and a recurrance of a foot injury I developed two weeks before the race and I was out – DNF after only a few hours

5 Races, 3 starts, 2 finishes, 0 performances. I had struggled all year. Every time I managed to get fit, something went wrong, I either got sick, injured or life intervened.

I was motivated. I wanted to do these races and commit to them with the respect they deserved, yet no matter how hard I tried I just couldnt maintain enough consistency in my training to deliver any sort of racing performance. Was that it? Had old age finally caught up and should I stop striving and buy a pair of slippers?

I have a challenging 10 mile loop round the hills at home that I do. Today while running up one of its long steep hills, it struck me that something was different, it felt almost easy. This was perplexing because I am definitely not significantly fitter than I have been in the past and then it struck me that I felt lighter, I wasn’t having to fight. My shoulders were lower, my muscles were loose and I was relaxed (or at least as relaxed as I get – I don’t do relaxed), like there was a weight off my shoulders.

And that was the clue. There was a weight off my shoulders. The weight which had gone was stress. Stress is a real killer of performance. It affects you physically, it makes you tired, it impacts your focus and concentration, your mood, your motivation and resilience. I had been stressed.

This a bit of an admission for me because one of the things I am good at is dealing with stressful situations. It doesn’t matter whether it is work situations like deadlines, big things going wrong or domestic crises like deaths, I am really good at rationalising my way through these situations and have the ability to stay calm, unemotional, compartmentalise them and plot a logical route through whatever the disaster. One of my former colleagues used to joke after yet another of her epic red faced rants about the latest nonsense being inficted upon us from “on high”, that my pulse never got above 55!

Just as I am really bad at organising my personal life despite being good at it professionally, I maybe haven’t been as good at managing my personal stresses as I have my professional ones. The last year or so has been challenging. Work has been really dispiriting. The never ending battle with budget cuts has meant that everything has been focussed on negatives rather on making the world a better place which is what really floats my boat. Throw in a disfunctional organisation, some colleagues who have the ability to suck the life out of you with their negativity, a neverending management restructure which means you lose the kudos and reputation you have built up over the years as you have to train up yet another new boss and lose your support network as your contemporaries leave or retire and going to work became an unpleasant chore. A few half hearted forays into the job market offered no great encouragement and suddenly the clock of approaching old age is ticking inexorably while you question your own self worth and legacy as well as criticising yourself for not doing smething about it. It has been something of an Annus Horribilius.

Talking of Annus Horribilus – don’t fail your poo test chaps, it is literally a pain in the arse – but that took ages to resolve and hung over us for a good few months before I finally got the all clear. Strive though I might, my head has been full of things other than running.

This has wandered into the realms of a wee bit of a mental health disclosure, but it isn’t really. These are just the stresses that everyone encounters at some point in their life. Life goes on, lots of fun things were happening but even the usual round of things like volunteering at races was hard work. It was still enjoyable, but it was struggle to get going sometimes. as it was just one. more. thing.

I was coping, because coping is what I do, I just wasn’t enjoying it. It isn’t any big deal, except it has probably been at the root of my struggle with my running this year and that ongoing struggle to get the miles done, get fit and stay fit has in itself been part of a vicious circle.

I am a fan of these words of wisdom from Amby Burfoot, long time editor of Runner’s World (back in the day when it was interesting)

“Life requires us to make adjustments, to change course. Some years, when the waters of your life are calm and you feel a sense of control at the helm, you’ll race hard, and hope for personal bests. Other years, beset by a perfect storm of turbulence, you’ll have to settle for less. That’s okay. Less is still something; just don’t surrender and abandon ship.”

Amby Burfoot

In due course my wee medical scare was resolved successfuly and I was given the opportunity to take early retirement, so it all worked out in the end.

Since stopping work nearly 4 weeks ago my resting heart rate has dropped by about 8 beats per minute. I have also become a dab hand at the hoovering.

I don’t quite know what the future holds, but that is in its own way exciting and scary, a bit like starting a long ultra race in the mountains. On the subject of racing in the mountains I have managed to put together some rather ambitious racing plans for next year.

The one thing I do know is that I will definitely be striving and who knows I may even start blogging about it again.

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