What did 2018 ever do for us?

2018 could have been the year I was forced to give up running: As the year started I was about to start my new job in London and I knew that with weekdays taken up by the longer commute and everything else crammed in the weekends as a result, I would be very hard pressed to find any time to run.

But it wasn’t: And having failed to kill my running, 2018 made it incredibly stronger. I’m not talking about smashing PBs or accumulating a hoard of medals, something much better has happened instead…

…I have racked my brains to find a way to describe it, and the closest I can come is to say that I am much more happy and at peace when I run!

I enjoy running so much more – even the tough, thankless runs, when neither mind nor body are in it. The ones that I would never contemplate doing less than a year ago: like the 12km run a round a city I didn’t know, straight after an intense two-day training course. It shows on my face, too: seven years after taking up the sport in earnest, I finally have running photos of me with a big smile! And that’s not me posing for camera, I’ve noticed that I instinctively begin smiling two-thirds in a run; and the harder the run, the more I smile!

I am now much more happy and at peace when I run!

So what has happened to bring about this change?

There’s not one thing I can point to. Quite a few things have happened, but the extent to which each has contributed… I’ll let you judge:

1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

I think that first of all, it was the threat of not being able to run at all that changed my perspective: Especially when I was getting adjusted to my new routine and long commute, I was desperate for opportunities to get out for a run, any run, rather than look for conditions to be just right for me to lace my shoes up. That’s how I started my run commute from Euston station to the office, with an 11 kg (24 lb) load on my back: It wasn’t pretty, or fast, or pleasant in rush hour London traffic, but it was something!

It also helps you connect with the reason you run in the first place. Unable to find time to run, I didn’t miss progressing towards a new Parkrun PB: I missed the pleasure running gave me, pure and simple!

2. NRC+

Then I came across Nike’s Nike Running Club (NRC+) and specifically its Guided Runs: I’ve mixed thoughts about the way the training plans are built, work and adapt in NRC+, but I absolutely adore the Guided Runs element! They range from 5′ (yes, really!) to 90′ and 10 miles long (although there have been many requests for longer ones, so fingers crossed!), and can be anything from a nice chat between a coach and an athlete (inc Eliud Kipchoge, Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe or even Headspace’s co-founder Andy Puddicombe, a very popular run series) as they keep you company during a recovery run, or motivation and instructions for a Tempo, Speed Interval or Hill Run. There is even a treadmill series which is gradually being assembled. And who would pass on the opportunity to be coached through a tempo by Paula Radcliffe, or hear Eliud Kipchoge tell them to be kind to themselves in the early stages of a long run?

I didn’t expect to enjoy these so much, but they have been a revelation! I find the tone pitched perfectly to be humourous but not distracting, motivational but not corny and filled with loads of good advice which everyone from a new runner to a seasoned marathoner will benefit from – but without pointing out the blooming obvious!

Who would pass on the opportunity to be coached through a tempo by Paula Radcliffe, or hear Eliud Kipchoge tell them to be kind to themselves in the early stages of a long run?

Most (but not all) Guided Runs are led by Chris Bennett, who is the Nike Running Global Head Coach; others by regional Nike coaches. Not a bad team to have in your corner, right? The app is free and available on Google Play and Apple App Store. More about it (and links to download) can be found on Nike’s website

3. Technology helps:

A running watch with route navigation for example: Being able to find a route which a runner I’ve never met, nor know the name of, had created and which happened to pass close to the hotel I was staying in Madrid, tweak it on the Suunto online platform so I could follow it from the hotel door and then download it to my watch to follow is incredibly powerful!

I am amazed that real time navigation hasn’t become a standard feature on all GPS-enabled running watches, and absolutely aghast that Polar had the cheek to launch their £440 top-of-the rabge multisport watch without it! I wasn’t the only one to feel that way apparently, and following popular reaction, Polar have now announced that route guidance functionality will become available at some undetermined future date, via a firmware update. They still however want all of your money in advance as I understand it…

Anyway, the ability to chart routes on my desk, or trust routes others had created in cities I am not familiar with, and then follow them on my watch has been a great enabler this year, allowing me to add variety to my runs, run-commute to work with confidence and even fit a number of runs when I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

4. But in the end, it comes from within:

In one of the guided runs (the 90′ Long Run if I’m not mistaken) Coach Bennett uses the metaphor of the runner becoming calloused through longer and harded training: Like a pair of hands which will get blistered and raw when first starting a manual activity but then get caloused and tougher as they get accustomed to it, so does the runner get mentally stronger as his or her training becomes longer and tougher.

But I find that there is something else that comes from that toughness, or callousness to use Chris’ expression: A kind of inner peace, an acceptance of whatever the run has in store for you: be it the weather, the terrain, the incline, the length, duration…

It’s not resignation, nor underestimating it. It’s not pumping yourself up, pretending the difficulties aren’t there, nor complaining about them. Just accepting the run, for what it is. With the quiet confidence that all the runs you’ve completed gives you.

I felt like that on my last evening in Madrid: After three long days (inc. flights and after-hours network events) the training course ended, I said my good-byes and went to my room to change into my running gear. I hurried out to not miss the daylight and headed out in the footsteps of the runner who had originally created the run I was following: I hadn’t checked its precise length or elevation profile, all I knew was that it was somewhere between 10k and 15k, and it took in a park at the edge of the city.

It turns out the park (Dehesa de la Villa) is on a hill: I was conscious of the incline (looking at the numbers later they showed that 40% of the run was uphill, and the average uphill grade was 9%!) and I felt tired from the Leicester half the Sunday before and the long working week since. But I didn’t mind one bit: I was in no hurry, and there is always a pace slow enough to get you up the steepest hill.

I was so grateful to be out there, seeing a new city from not only the windows of a conference centre, and running in the early evening air. I could smell the earth of the park, it smelt of dust and pines, the familiar smell of the arid parks of my childhood. There were parakeets flying amongst the trees and distant views of the empty plains of Castilla. I passed runners sporting finisher t-shirts of foreign races I had never heard of, and one (Madrid marathon) that I had. Mine was from the 2011 Athens marathon.

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