Image by Linh Nguyen

It took me 8 weeks to remember fresh legs go a long way

In just over a month I’m running a half marathon. Up until the first one I did last year, I never thought it’d be something I’d manage to crack. Not for lack of trying, I just kept getting injured. However, with the first one under my belt I caught the bug and ended up doing two more before the year was out.

Each time I’ve prepared for a half, my training technique has changed. Or rather, the way I’ve planned to train has changed. I’ve read a lot of books and blogs all with varying styles of advice. For each race, I’ve adopted one technique and plotted it down as my running schedule for a certain number of weeks leading up to the event, usually 12.

But every time, the same thing happens. I completely blow out by going too hard too soon.

In a way, it’s to be expected. It’s a race. By its very nature, running does not lend itself well to the idea of pacing yourself. But it’s so important.

For the past 8 weeks or so I’ve been on my ‘build up’ plan where on paper my runs get longer and longer. But in reality I’ve struggled to break through the 10km wall. If I’m honest, I’ve been finding distances as low as 6km a struggle. I wind up back at home having run a fairly average pace thinking “there’s no way I could do that twice over plus more”.

After my Wednesday attempt I genuinely thought I’d need to pull out of May’s run. My shins were burning, I was short of breath, and above all I didn’t want to to do it.

So I took a break.

Six days of nothing. And it felt so weird.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to exercise, but it’s a very enjoyable part of my daily routine. So a few days off and I felt like a couch potato. In an analogy I usually reserve for when I’ve eaten too much chocolate, my skin felt like a wetsuit.

But by Tuesday I wanted to run again. ‘Want’ being the operative word.

I didn’t hold up much hope I’d be able to bust out a long distance, but I figured if I could hit the 10km mark, it’d do wonders for my confidence in being able to double by race day.

And I ended up running 18.

Mad, right?

I ran 18km, with a faster average pace than all my recent, shorter runs and I enjoyed every minute of it. Truly, I kept on adding streets and think I was even smiling as I ran around Hyde Park. I mean, who runs and smiles? You look dippy as anything.

I didn’t set out to run 18km and there was nothing extraordinary that happened that day that might’ve given me the extra oomph. When I came to try and figure out what it was that did it, I could only think one thing: fresh legs.

Pacing ourselves in important. I think my boyfriend, who constantly tells me I need to slow down, will appreciate reading this. (Look, see! I’m finally listening!).

Sometimes we get so fixated on the task at large that ‘getting there’ can feel overwhelming. The common advice here is that the goal needs to be broken down into little nuggets. However, what’s often not given the same focus is how important intermittent switch offs are.

When you’re training for a long run, even though it’s mentally challenging, rest days are vital for recovery. Sometimes it’s hard to adopt this thinking because it feels like you’re not putting 100% into hitting your goal, but that’s a barrier that needs to be broken down.

And really, this thinking goes for everything. Projects at work, weight loss, building a house, whatever. Anything that isn’t immediately achievable requires calculated breaks as much as it does planned steps to get there. Sometimes breaks feel counterintuitive to making progress, but they’re a crucial part of the process.

In more corporate speak I believe this is called ‘strategic distance’, but personally I think a better name is ‘fresh legs’. Take a break, take stock, measure progress, get some fresh legs. My team is used to me coming up with strange terms for things, but I think this one might stick.

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