This week I have had to do the hardest thing any runner – professional or hobby, like me – has to do. I had to tell myself not to run.
You may think that this is actually an easy thing to do. It is Christmas. The nights are cold and it is dark for most of the day. I reached my one thousand mile target last week and combined that with far exceeding my targeted mileage for the Run Up to Christmas challenge. So why not kick back, put up my feet and chill out with the chocolates?
And if that had been my reason for resting up then that would have been absolutely fine. I firmly believe in the value of rest – it is one of the key reasons why I choose not to do any of the “run every day” challenges which are out there – but when that decision is enforced on you, then that is where my frustration comes from.
The reason why I had to tell myself not to run was that I was ill. I began to feel unwell the day after I reached my one thousand mile target. Perhaps it was a reaction to how hard I have been pushing myself this month, who knows? That night I had a bit of a sore throat, which by Saturday had begun to migrate from my throat to my nose and then my chest, adding a bit of a coughing to the fun. Now this was not flu (not even remotely man flu) and it certainly did not stop me doing anything else, but I am very wary of training when I do not feel great so I managed to convince myself not to go to parkrun, not to do my long run planned for Sunday (eight miles according to my plan) and then not to run on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
This may not seem like a long time, but five days without running is probably the longest I have gone without lacing up since the start of my holiday to China back in July. I found it quite a disconcerting experience. The one good thing is that I have not panicked about missing a few runs in my plan – which I think would have freaked me out if this was my first marathon training programme – and I am confident that I can refocus, ignore the missed miles and get back on track quite easily. However, I am also convinced I was right and in not taking any risks and running when I felt at my worst, I have minimised the risk of exacerbating my symptoms and forcing me out for longer. I appreciate there are probably people reading this who think I should have sucked it up and forced myself out but I think the risk of doing yourself more long-term harm outweighed my immediate need to get out and run.
It has not been a week of no running though – and I have my wife to thank for that. Come Boxing Day, when I was still feel a bit bleurgh, it was her that said to me, “so, are you going for a run then?’, and it was this which got me out. I only went out for a couple of miles, and I took it pretty easy, but at least I got some miles in to begin to ease my way back to the training regime.
Encouraged that I did not feel like death during the run, I reviewed my training plan and saw that I had a six-mile run scheduled for Thursday. While I thought this might be a stretch, one other factor which encouraged me to attempt it was how benign the weather has been lately (ironically this was also a source of frustration which I could not run was that I could not take advantage of these calm, almost wind-free conditions). While it has been cold, it is not really cold for Aberdeen at this time of year, and then it was quite straightforward to clock up the six miles I needed. I also took advantage of some of the new routes that I have learned as part of the JogScotland group as well to make things more interesting as well.
I still do not feel one hundred per cent right. The sore throat and the cough have pretty much gone, but I steel have a bit of a blocked nose which, for someone with asthma, is not great when it comes to breathing when I am out. But as I am focussing on taking the runs pretty easy just now and racking up the miles in my legs more than anything else, I am optimistic that this cold is on the way out and will not have any lingering impact on my upcoming schedule.
One other point that I wanted to make was to say how much I have enjoyed Christmas and that I have zero guilt about the excess food and drink I have been fortunate to consume through this period – and I think if you have been lucky enough to have done so then you should not feel guilty about it either. For me, my lifestyle is about balance. Yes, the running and exercise are important but so is having some fun and enjoying yourself. As I have said many times before, I run because it is an enjoyable hobby. Yes, I probably do take it too seriously at times and that is fine, but it is much more about the relaxing balance it brings to my life that makes me enjoy it so much.
In my next blog I will reflect on 2018 and look ahead to my running plans for next year.