It's only just turned 2017 but I imagine you're already underwhelmed by 'new year, new you' running articles. So I won’t bore you with a list of new year tips. Instead, I have reflected on the lessons I have learnt in my running and coaching over the last year and want to share one simple piece of advice for 2017. Relax and enjoy it!
This might seem a bit simplistic but, in reality, it's really hard for runners of all levels not to overthink things. Running is centred on you. You control everything, from your effort in training to your choice of race day kit. So when things don’t go to plan you quickly fall into a cycle of self doubt and criticism.
Don't sweat the small stuff
Unless you're a top athlete gunning for Olympic selection then really, running is just a bit of a laugh, isn't it? I am a big advocate of ‘consistency’ in your training, but a missed run here and there isn’t a disaster.
The same goes for disappointing race performances. Even the best performers have tough days, but they tend to be fewer because they won't dwell too long on the bad ones. The only person who thinks long and hard about your most recent race result is the person who stares back at you in the mirror each morning. So learn from it and move on.
Quality not Quantity
So, in January we are all embarking on new training regimes or approaching our old ones with new vigour, but make sure you aren't falling into the ‘more is better’ trap. I moved to Amsterdam last year and joined a training group led by the former Dutch national endurance coach. Training was very different, particularly the interval sessions where prescribed paces were significantly slower than I was used to.
I initially thought it was a test (“let’s see if the Englishman can follow instructions!”), but I soon appreciated the coaches rationale. He wanted us to look forward to sessions, not be overawed by them. Mentally achievable targets encouraged us to relax and enjoy training as a group.
In the end we beat most of the targets anyway but the lack of pressure allowed us to practise good running technique throughout the session. It was a simple mind trick but it was incredibly effective and I was able to train the following day without feeling too stiff and fatigued.
Go easy on yourself
Taking that principle forward perhaps we could all review our running goals and targets. Are they achievable and, most importantly, will you enjoy trying to achieve them? Don’t try and shoehorn a challenging plan into a busy schedule. Give yourself a break and stick to a plan of sessions you know you can follow. If you are used to running twice a week then jumping to 4 or 5 is setting yourself up for disappointment and injury.
This is the reason I don’t like ‘running streak’ campaigns. I don’t think running coaches should advocate them. Your body needs recovery time. Ok, so Ron Hill ran every day for 50 odd years, but Ron Hill was a world class marathoner with 2.09 PB. He was used to running huge miles. You need to condition your body to achieve this. Streaks are fine for a bit of fun but don't expect improved times and fitness.
So, experiment in 2017; try some new races, tweak your training, find some new people to run with. But don’t worry if things go wrong, and most importantly don’t set yourself up to fail by making outlandish targets and goals.