Struggling with your runs? Here’s why you shouldn’t worry

One of the most common questions I get asked on social media nowadays is ‘does it get easier?!’ – usually in reference to running. Running is difficult for the vast majority of people. It requires not only physical strength, but also huge amounts of mental strength, never more so than when you’re just starting out.

Evidence suggests that self control and self motivation may be limited resources, and that forcing yourself to do something – whether that’s doing the washing up, sitting at your desk all day or sending yourself out on a run – takes energy (i.e. ego depletion). This is one of the reasons why forming a new habit, such as running, can be so difficult. Not only is the running itself hard, but doing something that takes some level of self control everyday can take its toll energetically.

However, we are currently uniquely placed to start forming new habits. Fitting in ‘extra exercise’ around your usual workload, home and social lives can be extremely difficult. Currently, though, without the need for commuting, socialising, workplace politics or much else, our pot of energy is only being used on work, home life and exercise. This isn’t to say that everything is fine and dandy at the moment, simply that forming a new habit when there aren’t all the usual distractions and displacement activities may be easier. If you’re thinking of starting running now, don’t forget to give this article a read.

Just remember – not every run is going to feel great, even if the general trend is up. As with everything, some days are good days and other days aren’t – we don’t always feel happy, so why should it be any different for running? I frequently go weeks without feeling like I’ve had a good run, where every step feels like my legs are made from lead and I wonder why I do it. In these times, however, I always think of myself building mental resilience. I may not be at my fastest, but getting out when you feel like you really don’t want to means that getting out on the good days is a hell of a lot easier. I think of it as the running equivalent of ‘character building’.

So here are my top experiences of how it really does get easier:

  1. You start to form a habit.

Making the decision to get out everyday takes energy, but the more you do it, the less of a ‘mental battle’ you have to have each time. Yes, the initial 2 weeks or month or 2 months can be difficult. Hell, I still struggle to get myself out the door sometimes, but exercise is not a question for me – it’s a habit, so whether I go to the gym (obviously not now), get out for a run or simply a long walk, the question is not whether I get out, it’s when. If you’re new to running, form a habit by getting a running plan and do your best to stick to it. Don’t want to go out? Tell yourself that you can stop whenever you like, as long as you get out the door and to the end of the road. Chances are, once you’re up and out, you’ll be fine to keep going.

2. You get fitter

This sounds so obvious, but I think it’s easy to overlook your progress when you have a goal in mind that you haven’t hit yet. Try tracking your progress loosely, so that when you get the feeling you’re not progressing at all, you can look back and see how far you’ve come. Don’t forget – every time you go out for a run, you’re making mental and physical improvements, even if you can’t see them yet. One day they’ll all come together and you’ll feel on top of the world.

3. Running becomes more natural

When I take a few weeks off running for whatever reason, or forget to do speed sessions, my runs sometimes feel like my legs have forgotten what they’re supposed to do! The more you run (up to a point), the more natural running will become to you. It would be useful if we could all work with running coaches to get cadence and form right, but even without this, your body will naturally move towards a more efficient way of running. You probably won’t notice this all at once, but over time you’ll feel it happening!

4. A sense of achievement will motivate you

As you start to improve, especially if you’re following a plan, you’ll be motivated by the improvement itself. Being able to run a distance or time you couldn’t have run 2 or 3 weeks ago feels pretty great, and will motivate you to get out the door again and again. Just don’t expect constant improvements – limit your expectations and try to enjoy the process, not just the outcome.

5. Find your ‘why’

Without spring or summer races to motivate you, it can be hard to think of reasons to keep up with all the running. Why should you, when there’s no official PB time or medal at the end? Well, although it may be tough, this time is perfect to remember why you started running in the first place. Write down your reasons and think on them. Have they changed? What drives you? Remembering this can help you get out the door, and make future training sessions that extra bit enjoyable.

6. You can switch off

One of the positives of not having races to aim for at the moment is that training sessions don’t have to be so rigid. Instead of X minute miles or weekly fartlek sessions, you can run for the sheer joy of it. Remember point number 5, take off your GPS watch and just get out there. Our level of effort is almost always measured against what we feel we ‘should’ be doing. That’s why runs on days we’re really not feeling it can seem so hard – we’re expecting a certain level of effort to be expended to get a certain pace, and if we don’t hit that, it’s easy to feel down. By taking off your watch and abandoning all perceptions of ‘should’, it’s possible to have some of the best runs of your life.

 

This time is difficult for all of us for numerous reasons, but don’t make running one of them. Running is an escape and can lead to a sense of achievement nothing else can right now. There is no ‘should’ when it comes to training at the moment. Do what feels right, what feels good and what will make you happy in the long run. Running gets easier the more you do it, but it also makes other things easier, so get out there if you can and enjoy it!

 

Keeping happy at home

Everyone is talking about COVID-19 right now, and with the global measures ensuring that people stay at home as much as possible, there’s very little to take our mind off it. Not all the emotions and thoughts we have are helpful though – anxiety above and beyond what we can change (e.g. washing hands, social distancing etc.) is only likely to exacerbate any issues, and cause more harm than good.

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Try not to stay in bed all day, tempting though it may be!

Harvard University has released a document with helpful resources designed to help people struggling with anxiety, especially health-related anxiety. They have some really useful advice on there, so please do share it (or this post) around!

Here are some of my favourite ways to cope with anxiety/stress of any variety:

 

Limit time on media of any form

It can be tempting to spend more time on social media and news sites when you’re stressed. Waiting for validation and dopamine hits through social media, and constantly checking up on evolving situations through news sites won’t help your brain switch off. You are allowed to take time away from the news if it is causing anxiety. I prefer to get my news from friends at times like these, because at least that way we are able to discuss in a productive way, rather than sit and dwell.

Focus on problem solving

With any issue, there will be things you can solve, and things you can’t. The feeling of helplessness is one of the worst feelings, so try to separate out concerns into ‘can fix’ and ‘can’t change’. This way you can work towards fixing what you can (washing hands, staying home, eating healthily, sleeping, social distancing/isolation) and accepting what you can’t (global spread, NHS limitations, general rules of biology).

Keep connected

Mental health struggles love isolation. Concerningly, people struggling from depression and anxiety can often feel like time alone is the only time they feel safe. Maintaining social connections, especially in a time when you can’t meet people face to face, is so important. FaceTime/Skype are great alternatives to face-to-face meeting – why not get in touch with people you haven’t had time to speak to in a while? Try to talk about things other than your concerns if you can.

Form a routine

When I struggled with depression, I found getting out of bed incredibly difficult, but staying in bed would give me a feeling of hopelessness, as if I couldn’t leave bed. Try framing your day around key points. Stick to regular mealtimes, wake at a reasonable hour, and try to fit in some form of movement in your day, whether inside or outside.

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Try to form routine, including meal times!

Gratitude journal

One of the main ways I totally changed my mindset when I was younger from ‘everyone hates me and everything is awful’ to a mindset of positivity was by keeping a gratitude journal. At first I hated it as I could barely find anything good to write in it, but slowly my mind switched from seeing the negatives in everything, to seeing the positives, if just to write it in the journal! At the end of each day, write down 5 things you are grateful for, however small.

Find purpose

At the beginning of the day, write a small list of things you want to achieve, and how you’ll go about achieving them. They don’t have to be complicated, but ticking off things from a to-do list can increase feelings of purpose (thought to be the most important factor in enjoyment of work). These can include doing laundry, loading/unloading the dishwasher, handing/rearranging paintings, watering plants, going for a run, applying for jobs, sending an email etc.

Do something selfless

Helping others is an intrinsically rewarding activity, promoting positive emotions in our own brains. It also can add perspective to problems. Doing good also improves optimism, confidence and gives you a feeling of purpose, without which many people struggle. Consider donating to charity, volunteering or simply helping someone out online.

Move!

Whether you are able to leave the house or not, if you are feeling up to it, get moving! Household chores are often enough to build up a sweat, but if that doesn’t do it for you, check out these Instagram and YouTube accounts that provide awesome home workouts without equipment. Even just 20 minutes a day is enough to get the endorphins going. If you can safely get outside, try going for a brisk walk at least once a day, or head out for a run. Remember, long distance running may suppress your immune system, so try intervals, or short-but-fast sessions instead.

Follow good news sites

If you can’t stop thinking about negatives, try unfollowing people who make you feel worse (this is a good thing to do anyway) and follow accounts that make you feel positive. The Happy Broadcast is posting lots about COVID 19, but they’re positive and proactive news stories. It’s one of my favourite accounts right now. The Daily Kitten and The Dodo are up there too.

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Try heading out for a run if you’re able to!

All images taken by my amazing friend Tamsin Louise.  

If you’re looking for more advice, check out this post on How to survive Blue Monday or How to beat the Winter Blues.

Notes on living as a human

What I learned from a night of spirituality

I wrote some Instagram stories about what I learned after a panel discussion with a number of leading life coaches, and thought it might be valuable to write them down here too, since I have received so many messages about how useful they are. If you like them, save this page to refer to when you’re feeling a bit down!

Before I get started I think it’s important to say that spirituality definitely isn’t for everyone – for me certainly I like to have a very ‘fact-based’ view of the world, and I find anything as ‘wishy-washy’ as spirituality quite overwhelming and confusing. If you’ve ever suffered from depression, you probably know what it’s like to sit with seemingly millions of thoughts rushing around your head, trying to make sense of them all and feeling like you might be going a bit crazy. Sometimes sitting with those thoughts is the worst thing you can do, and (at least for me), getting out of my own head was the best way to stop the ‘feeling crazy’ thing. So, if you’re suffering I would really recommend trying CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which retrains your mind to get out of those thought clouds and into a healthier way of thinking. Either way, I think there’s some really valuable insights below, so here goes! 🙂

On reaching your full potential

There are a lot of things that hold us back from reaching our full potential in life, but most usually stem down to not feeling ‘worthy’ of achieving something, and lots of self-doubt. A great way of reducing those thoughts is to understand your limiting beliefs and question why you feel them- only by understanding the cause of limiting beliefs can we start to question them.

How to challenge beliefs:

  • Understand that a belief is just a thought – a lense through which we view the world. Our beliefs are OUR truths, but they are not necessarily THE truth. Thoughts are not reality and they can be changed.
  • Speak to people – we have a lot of blind spots in our thinking and the echo chambers in which we live don’t help that. Having people who challenge our beliefs (about the world and about ourselves) helps challenge beliefs. This can be from friends, family, a therapist and/or random strangers.
  • Physically challenge beliefs. Often the best way to change the way you view your abilities is to push yourself outside your comfort zones. Many of our beliefs about ourselves are outdated (e.g. failed a presentation at school and therefore unable to present in public in adult life) and need updating. Push outside your comfort zone and view ‘failures’ as learning experiences.

 

On authenticity:

Authenticity is incredibly hard to come by if you spend your life worrying about what other people think about you. Our ‘true self’ is diluted by trying to bend to the wills of other people. Know that perfection is impossible and chasing perfection is a fools folly. Stop caring so much about what other people think and be true to yourself.

 

Takeaways:

  • When your mind is in the right place and your mindset open to growth and learning, any and every experience in life is an opportunity. From the darkest places grow beautiful things and from the hardest times strength is made.
  • Trust the process
  • Your purpose in life is to be the fullest expression of yourself in everything you do. Fuck what anyone else thinks. As long as you are staying true to your values and remain open to potential other truths, you do you.
  • You are already enough, just the way you are.