It’s now exactly 12 months since I last raced (well, not counting three parkruns, but they’re not really races are they?!). Little did I know when I crossed the line to win the European Corporate Games 10k last August that I wouldn’t race again for at least 12 months, and still counting.
First it was another episode of high hamstring tendinopathy, then two carpal tunnel operations (one on each hand, four months apart) then, of course, the small matter of a global pandemic! But although I miss racing when I’m injured I haven’t really missed it all during the pandemic. I think this is partly because the situation has been the same for everyone, with races cancelled worldwide, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’ve just accepted it and not let myself get frustrated or disappointed about it. After all, as both my dad and my coach, Les, always tell me, there’s no point in getting stressed or unhappy about things that I have no control over.
For the past 34 years I’ve always said I train to race, which up to now has been true, but since lockdown began I’ve realised that actually I don’t need races to motivate me to get outdoors and run. Running is part of me; it’s who I am and is as much a part of my life as eating, sleeping or cleaning my teeth! I run for lots of reasons; the competitive element and wanting to get the best out of myself being just two of many.
Of course, there are the health benefits. Lots of research has been done into how running can reduce the risk of preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, mental health and some cancers – all of which put massive pressure on the NHS. I feel like I’m playing my own small part in trying to help the NHS by looking after my body. If only all those people who stood on their doorsteps clapping for our key workers felt the same way! My body is precious to me – after all, it’s the only one I’ll ever have – and so I want to look after it and keep it healthy as best as I can. And, of course, the benefit of keeping my weight under control through running means I can enjoy the occasional slice of cake or glass of wine!
Running also helps my mental health and wellbeing too, by boosting my mood and making me feel more positive. Studies have shown that exercise is one of the most effective natural anti-depressants in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It’s all to do with the endorphins and endocannabinoids released in the brain – apparently! And exercising in nature adds even greater benefits, hence Vitamin G(reen). Again, research has shown that being outdoors in a natural environment can reduce stress and depression, improve mood, improve sleep, lower blood pressure and boost your immune system. I can definitely relate to the ‘feel-good factor’ of being in a ‘green’ space. I think it’s so important to get nature into our towns and cities so that everyone has a chance to access some ‘green’ and re-connect with plants and animals, trees and water as it really does have a positive effect on health and well-being.
I’ve been brought up with a love of the outdoors and natural world right from birth. As a baby I was carried around various nature reserves in a baby carrier on my dad’s back! This love has stayed with me all my life and even influenced my choice of career as a landscape architect. I know I’m very fortunate to live surrounded by the lovely Warwickshire countryside and I especially appreciated this during lockdown. Just to be able to lace up my Mizuno shoes and set off around the lanes or across the fields made me feel so much calmer, and more able to cope with the uncertainty of everything going on in the world. I’ve had great fun exploring new routes and footpaths too. It’s easy to stick to the usual tried-and-tested routes, but it’s been an adventure to discover new paths across the fields, especially as I haven’t needed to run to a certain pace schedule as I would when training for a big race. And you can cover so much more ground when you’re running, compared to walking!
Most of my running is usually done alone so I didn’t find it an issue when we could only exercise alone during lockdown. Although I must say I’m missing my weekly interval session with my club-mates at Leamington C&AC. I miss the friendly chat and the support and encouragement everyone gives to each other. I’ve made so many friends through running, both locally at my club and local races, as well as further afield through competing nationally and internationally. I might go out running on my own, but I feel part of a much wider community.
I’ve also missed training with my coach, Les, and recovery has been harder not having the benefit of the sports massages that he previously gave me. I’ve also obviously been unable to see my physio, Mark Buckingham, although I’ve had a couple of sessions with him via Zoom which actually worked surprisingly well. He was able to diagnose just by asking me what I felt when he got me to do various things. With the help of diagrams on a shared screen he showed me how to treat any issues myself. It worked really well and could be a useful way of getting physio advice in the future when away on training camps etc.