As most of you dear readers will know, I have a bit of a running habit. It started a few years ago, and last year led to me running London Marathon. You can read about how and why I got into running here.
Running is an interesting hobby to have when it comes to social media. It’s followers are such fanatics, it’s brilliant. Strava, runfies, Facebook, Twitter – any time you run there’s always a ton of people in the running community who think it’s ace. And it’s prolific. I mean, I’ve worked out all my life and I’ve never had props like I do for running for my weekly pilates, swimming or weight lifting! Even when I was a competitive windsurfer and martial artist, no one cared, and I WON TROPHIES DAMMIT haha.
On one hand, this huge social push and acknowledgement for this particular sport is amazing. It got me out the house for the first year when my moral was low and I couldn’t even. It helped me round the marathon, and through the crazy 4 months of training in the snow and rain. It’s helped me up hills, and through mud, and hangovers 😉 BUT! It is also a little dangerous. I’m someone who (like a lot of other people) thrives on attention, competition and wanting to do my best, and get better. I enjoy being inspiration to others to get fit, and have been told on a few occasions that I’ve been someone’s catalyst to starting training.
This has often meant pushing myself more than I should, for the sake of ego. “You only ever race against yourself” is something that gets said a lot in running, but I have frequently found myself training harder to get my times anywhere near those in my stream who are almost all faster and “better” runners than me. And when you meet a fellow runner it’s often a topic of conversation on times. I’ve always felt pretty embarrassed by mine. I’m surrounded by amazing runners in my social feeds, so my poxy times (27 5k, 55 10k, 2hr15 half, 5hr mara) seem pretty useless. So I pushed ever harder and faster both in speed and distance in the hope to be accepted as a “real” runner.
A couple of things went wrong with this approach. Firstly, I really knackered my knee during marathon training. It was ludicrously painful and ended up with me doing the tail end of my training and the actual marathon on anti-inflammatory painkillers, as well as the psychological terror that my knee might go “bonk” on the run and I wouldn’t be able to even walk-finish. Thankfully it didn’t, and I completed the marathon with a big smile (you can watch the Vlog I did whilst running it here). It’s been fine ever since, interestingly and thankfully. Probably because I do a lot of cross training now.
Secondly, and perhaps more worryingly, I noticed whilst comparing myself to others on Strava (yep, a fairly frequent thing to work out why I wasn’t getting faster.. sigh..) that my heart was going at a really high rate. On average, 180bpm for the whole time I was running, even if that was for hours. I’m 37, so using the usual 220-37 that’s actually my (generic) max heart rate, and 80% which is considered safe for distance training is around 145-150. So I ended up under a cardiologist recently to find out what was going on. Numerous tests (various types of ECG, an echo-cardiogram, running data etc) pointed that my heart itself is fine and not doing anything it shouldn’t, I was just running at a level that was too hard, too long and too fast for my physiological make up. Also may be why I’ve never got faster: I’ve always trained at a level that’s been too stressful to my system by pushing myself as hard as I can most runs.
Here’s an interesting end of a 10k just before the marathon last year – when I would be at my fittest. 187 HR!! With an average of 174 for an hour…
So, I’ve decided it’s time to take my ego out of running.
I’m listening to the advice the cardiologist is giving me, and running with a heart rate of no more than 165, but ideally 150-160. I find 160 a really comfortable rate to run at, it’s made running so much nicer this last couple of weeks. But, it is *really* hard to watch my times slip back quite a big way, and watch friends power on faster with their lovely slow heart rates.
It will mean I can’t run with people like I used to: I won’t be able to keep up without causing some heart mischief. But that’s ok – it means I can get back to just enjoying running without the pressure on myself. In a lot of ways it feels like a nice psychological return to the first year of running where just lacing up felt like an achievement. Where a 5k made me feel like the Goddess of Running, and where I didn’t beat myself up most weeks for not getting my name down for an ultra.. I never compared myself to others at the start. I was just impressed at myself for getting out the door.
I’m slow. Sometimes I run short distances, and sometimes I run far. I love it all.
I’ll never be the fastest or the longest, but I am one of the happiest when I’m out there. Meandering runs with no purpose than the joy or running and keeping fit and healthy are for me, the best runs there are.
I’ve also since found out that actually training at the right heart rate for you can reap some excellent rewards in running faster with a lower heart rate once you’ve given your body the time to adjust. So you never know, maybe one day my times might “get better” again. I’m not going to worry if they don’t, though.
So if you ever fancy a long, slow run with someone who stops frequently and walks up the hills, I’m your woman. I’m learning to be ok with that, now.