How Running Changed My Life: My not so glamorous story

how running changed my life

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

 

How Running Changed My Life: My not so glamorous story 

It might sound overly dramatic when I say, ‘running changed my life’. The reason I say this is because we’ve all heard it before, a story about a person who struggled through various life adversities and found an outlet in sport or another profession that requires dedication, resilience, and many years of hard work. I’m no different from those people, however, I only truly figured out just how important this sport is to me at the beginning of 2021. It isn’t just something I do, it is a lifeline. This may be unhealthy, or what is often coined ‘an over-reliance because the question is always raised – what happens when you get injured? What happens if for ‘insert reason here’ you can’t run anymore? 

Injury is a part of competitive, high-level sport. If I am going to push my body and test my limits, an injury may just be heralding that I’ve found a limit or pushed it a bit far this time. Next time, I’ll approach it differently, in a smarter manner, or address the weakness. Then try again. This is the beauty of sport. You’re either all in for the journey and can understand this, or you’re not willing to risk it. I have had multiple sprained and dislocated ankles from trail running, and a torn tendon from sudden, consistent high-mileage and not enough rest. I’ve learnt my lessons, and I still very likely have many more to learn. The trials and tribulations of being a distance runner! 

 

“There is always darkness before dawn.” 

Thanks Malia. 

 

Running has always been a part of my life. 

 

I have always run in some way for the most part of my 22 years. I’d mostly use it to train for other sports or dip my toes in junior and high school cross country for fun. I didn’t experience true competitive running until 17, in my final months of high school. I ‘accidentally’ won a race I entered on a whim, coming back from a week of high altitude nordic ski training. I wasn’t having the most success in nordic skiing, and running seemed to click with me better, and suit my busy life schedule in final exams. After all, you truly can run anywhere – there aren’t a lot of excuses. 

This race win was a really big moment for me. Primarily because I didn’t feel like I always fit in throughout my entire schooling. I was sporty, but also very academically driven and was a part of all the school vocal and music-writing groups. I didn’t really have a ‘group’ and there were times I felt extremely ostracized because I wasn’t defined by something. I wasn’t heading out to parties every weekend. I achieved everything I wanted, but not without a fair share of tears, excessive hours of studying and training. Suddenly, after winning the Sydney Harbour 5km, I was known as a ‘runner’. People seemed to change the way they treated me. Almost with more respect. I don’t think this is a good thing, I think we shouldn’t categorize people and define them by what they do – but it got me through, and it definitely still has a lasting impact.  

One very cold, rainy morning at 5:30 am, I turned up to a training session with a group in centennial park, Sydney. I might sound a bit strange, but I love training in crazy weather – I am used to it having a background as a nordic skier when we’d wait in the nordic shelter waiting to hear if our heat was going to still run in gale force winds and sideways snow. One time I raced a 5km skate race without poles, the wind was so strong. It was all good fun.  I stuck with the consistent run training program my coaches prescribed and never looked back. 

 

Running Saved My Life in multiple low points and in contextual depression. 

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m in training for the Australian Cross Country Championships. I’d had a killer year with multiple wins and massive improvement  – what is known as the upward training trend in a runner’s improvement before they hit a natural plateau. Unfortunately, a very close family member was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, and I knew I would have to step up my game to support the family in a way I never had before. Aged 18/19 I was not the most emotionally mature, so to comprehend the emotional rollercoaster I went into auto-pilot with my run training. I won the U20 Australian XC Championships because I was so determined, fuelled by very strong emotions and a sense of helplessness. My sick family member was able to come especially to watch this event and to come home with a title I doubted I would ever achieve meant the world to me. To this day, this is one of the most important and joyful days of my entire life.

 I am so lucky that my family member has recovered, and I have learned the importance of life at a young age. It is short. It is so important to do everything you can to shape your life around what you value and surround yourself with people who make you a better you. 

Long story short, running really saved me during this time, and I am extremely lucky that I was able to run consistently during this period.

 

2020/21

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

The past 1.5 years have been the toughest of my life – more specifically the last 10 months. The coronavirus situation in the U.S. was handled very differently from my home country, Australia. I made the choice early in 2020 not to return home to Australia. My family and I hoped that the situation would clear up for a visit home later, which we now know isn’t the case. Running on a collegiate cross country and track team, I found myself in multiple quarantines which I didn’t handle particularly well. I was lucky enough to never catch the virus and obtain a full dose of vaccination recently. In my first quarantine, whilst being tested continually I was allowed out once a day to run at odd hours in a mask. That was the only thing I could do – so of course, I ran myself silly. 

In the second quarantine, we experienced a team shut down. This meant no more practices for the rest of the year and a lack of familiar training structure that we’d become so accustomed to.  I found myself sinking into quite a low place, feeling like I’d only just got out of the first quarantine. Radiating pain in my adductor longus started to appear due to overuse combined with poor biomechanics due to lack of strength and conditioning work to supplement my mileage over these quarantines. The inability to run pain-free and a team shut down weighed on me. With an abundance of time alone with my thoughts, I think I began to feel slightly homesick and get really stuck in my thoughts. At one point I needed some medication to help me out of this hole alongside some serious meditation and mindfulness work. During this time I turned to books, I learned new songs on my guitar, I went on walks and collected various rocks/crystals, and learned about how they are formed in the different ecosystems of Idaho. Looking back, it is important to know what you enjoy outside of sport and keep fostering these alongside it.

Early this year I had to take a break from collegiate running as I couldn’t handle high-pressure situations or more quarantines. I was also in a situation that involved a serious breach of trust, and in a minor car accident which sent me plummeting further into the ‘weeds’ (an analogy). I honestly hit a very low spot, and am still working my way out of this. I am frustrated at myself for not being able to bounce back from this quicker. I am working on acknowledging the headspace I am in, and justifying that these new feelings I am experiencing are normal given the situation. The biggest part of all of this is not feeling like I was a part of something, being away from family and away from my team-mates felt extremely lonely. After all, I moved to the U.S. to run collegiately. At one point, the team and the lifestyle of the team were all I knew in this country. 

 

The Choice Point. 

cross training benefits

Photography by Pro-Image Photography

Over the last 2 months, I have made a very large effort to get myself back on track. I gave myself an all-or-nothing attitude. I made a choice. My mentor calls it, ‘The Choice Point.’ It is to ‘act in a manner that is either consistent or inconsistent with your values.’ Essentially, if we let ourselves think consistently in a negative manner on auto-pilot, we don’t make any changes. I like to trouble-shoot this by allowing myself to feel the feelings for a minute or so, and then choose to act in a way that is beneficial to me. Sometimes we won’t be able to do this and instead fall back into old habits. That is ok – practice grace for yourself in these moments. It takes practice and consistent work. As does every skill. The simplest way to remember is when you have a choice about a feeling or action, stop and evaluate, then act in a way consistent with your goals and values. 

Some food for thought – we also create our reality through the thoughts, feelings, words, visuals, images, and conversations we experience day in and day out. Watch that the narrative you are creating in the present and moving forward doesn’t follow a consistently negative storyline. We are in charge. The past is the past, it happened, it will resolve naturally. We can only impact the now because only the now exists. It might sound airy-fairy, I know, but it’s the stone-cold truth. 

 

Running Social Media is not reality

This is so important to remember. Everything you see on social media is the carefully selected, best parts of someone’s life. This includes my Instagram, Facebook and Strava. It is just running and sports, and the best parts selected. Why would I post the bad days, or write about the bad times? No one really wants to see that or hear about it. Social media is meant to be a quick fix. But maybe we should normalize this? I wonder what change or response it would create across these platforms if people were a little more genuine about what they post and how they post.

Essentially, it is what they want you to see. In the case of sponsored athletes and professionals of certain disciplines, it is often what is required or expected by the receiving audience. Don’t get sucked in, or as I am trying to very lamely coin, ‘Don’t get stuck in the suck.’ It’s an addiction – looking at what others are doing, what equipment they have, the scenery they get to run in, their stats. The negative side can be a game of comparison or ‘I’m not good enough’. The positive side can be a place of camaraderie, knowledge sharing, connecting with friends and family, and having a laugh. 

 

Running is my fallback when the going gets tough

When push comes to shove, running is my fallback. I won’t lie about this. I simply am a better person if I get out the door each day to run. Whether or not this is considered ‘healthy, I don’t really care. I make it through my injuries perfectly fine and with a greater knowledge of the human body and how to take care of my own even better. I can’t even shoot out some decent anatomy terms now! Not the coolest party trick, but I will take what I can get! I also love to work hard so when rest time happens, I can really kickback. 

Remember,

“It’s not what you think you can do that holds you back, it’s what you think you can’t.”

Thank you again, Malia. 

(Malia, my team-mate was sitting opposite me the entire time I wrote this article, firing these inspirational quotes at me as I harassed her with questions about how to write and structure this article. Much love.)

Meditation Running: A Guide to Running As Meditation

Running meditation

Meditation Running

If the idea of meditation running or running as meditation seems like a foreign concept to you, consider the fact that you’ve probably already participated in it. Many of us like to pop in the ear buds and check out while logging our miles, especially for long distances. For some, this is the easiest way to “get through” a workout.

However, the idea of meditation running is not to “get through” your run, but rather “get into” your run. Meditation and running do not have to exist as separate entities. In fact, for those of you who prefer to proverbially “kill two birds with one stone,” meditation running can save time allowing you to benefit from both at once.

 

Running as Meditation

Running as meditation

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Running as meditation can turn what sometimes feels like a chore, or something you’re forcing yourself to do, into an adventure. It offers deeper meaning, mental clarity and healing on top of your physical fitness routine. In the state of today’s world, who doesn’t need a little clarity and healing?

If you’ve ever gone out for a run in a new neighborhood or on an especially craggy trail, chances are good that you’ve participated in meditation running. Meditation in itself is not meant to clear your mind, but instead to become present in the given moment. In a new city or on a rugged trail, you must be vigilant and focus on where you are and the ground beneath you. This action causes you to be present in the moment and to concentrate on right now.

This is just a simple and common example of how you may have already used running as meditation. You can set out to purposefully participate in meditation and running, and I will tell you how in the following sections. Of course, distracting thoughts are going to pop up now and then. That’s normal and expected. Acknowledge them and come back to the moment. Put a pin in those recurring thoughts for later, and be careful not to follow them down the rabbit hole.

 

How to Meditate While Running

meditation running

Meditation while running is not necessarily hard, but it may require some practice. This is especially true for those who prefer to zone out with some tunes while running instead of tuning into your zone. The following ideas are a good starting point for learning how to practice meditation while running. Later, I will give you a few more resources to help you use running as meditation.

 

Counting Breaths or Footfalls

Counting your breaths or foot steps can help keep you grounded in the now. Make up a pattern such as a 1, 2, 3, 1, 1, 2, 3, 2 count or count by twos or fives. You can even incorporate counting breaths to footfalls and take note of which foot lands on what numbers each time.

 

Acknowledge Pain or Discomfort

Obviously, intense pain means you should end your workout immediately, but I’m talking about the normal running aches and fatigue that sometimes appear. Don’t ignore these tinges, but don’t focus intently on them, either. This also goes to uncomfortable or stressing thoughts. As mentioned, put a pin in those, save them for later, and come back to now.

 

Use Mantras or Devotions

meditation and running

Whether you choose a quote from Rocky or prefer a Bible verse, mantras can help keep you focused and present in the moment. Simply repeating positive phrases like I am strong and bold, I can do all things, or I am tougher than this trail can keep you focused. The key is concentrating on what you are saying and repeating it.

 

Be Aware of All Sounds and Sights

It may be a bird chirping in a tree or a simple stop sign—just take notice and focus on it for just a moment. Perhaps you choose to run as the sun rises and sets. Focusing on the grandeur of the setting and which senses are being triggered can offer a feeling of relaxation—even when you’re running. It may be easier to focus on things by stating what you see, hear, feel, or smell. For example, you could say to yourself I see a tall, green Oak tree, or I feel a gust of cool air on my neck.

 

Mindful Running: Being in the Moment

mindful running

Running Meditation has many benefits beyond maintaining your physical fitness and health. For example, let’s go back to rugged trail running. You have to constantly scan the terrain ahead of you and make decisions about where your foot should fall to reduce the risk of injury. You might be dodging low-lying tree limbs, circling around mud pits, or hopping over roots and other natural debris.

All this focus directed at the trail in the very moment you are running it keeps other thoughts and worries at bay. There simply isn’t time to think about problems such as how difficult the run actually is when you are running with the mind of meditation. Instead, you are able to explore the world around you, reflect on it and connect to it.

Not only can running meditation offer practice in meditating, it can also help you improve your running. Perhaps you want to run faster or longer distances. Most often, the only things holding us back are the thoughts we have. Meditation can also help to increase your response inhibition, or ability to ignore the instinct to slow down or stop due to muscle aches or fatigue and keep running.

 

Running Meditation Books

To learn more about running meditation and the benefits of it, you can find a great running meditation book or two. Running With the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind is one such book written by Tibetan lama, Sakyong Mipham. The book offers simple and practical advice and instructions on melding meditation and running.

Another highly-rated running meditation book I found is Still Running: The art of Meditation in Motion, written by Zen-practitioner and long-time runner, Vanessa Zuisei Goddard. Like Running with the Mind of Meditation, Still Running offers instructions on practical ways to practice meditation and running. Additionally, it focuses on the power of being still and how that can lead to “wholehearted” living.

 

Running Meditation Apps

how to meditate and run

If you are interested in guided meditation while running, try out a running meditation app. When I went to the app store, I was inundated with meditation apps for relaxation. However, with continued research, I stumbled across Headspace, a website and an app that focuses on meditation for focus and relaxation.

Additionally, Headspace has partnered with Nike to provide a Mindful Running Pack within the Nike Run Club (NRC) app. Choose the length of time you want to run and pick from runs with titles like “Don’t Wanna Run Run,” “Breaking Through Barriers,” and “Mindful Miles.” Then, you simply set out on your preferred route and listen in. This running meditation app does all the focusing for you.

 

Final Thoughts on Meditation While Running

meditation. and running 2

As you can see, meditation can coexist with running, or other activities. You do not have to be sitting still to reap the benefits of meditation, and practicing meditation while running has its own benefits including lowering stress, easing depression or anxiety, and making your runs easier.

It may take even the seasoned runner some practice, but I’m certain with the help of this article and the resources I discussed, anyone can do it. If you want a little more guidance, don’t hesitate to try a running meditation app. Happy trails!

 

 

running meditation book

running meditation book

running with the mind of meditation

running meditation app

Cross Training Workouts: A Guide To Cross Training Workouts For Runners

Cross training workouts running

Cross Training Workouts: A Guide To Cross-Training Workouts For Runners

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Cross Training Workouts should be a part of any runners training program. Cross Training Workouts for Runners provide a more holistic approach to training. By holistic, I mean that we learn to use different muscles, different combinations of muscles and ligaments, different patterns of movement (biomechanics), different mental proprioception, and challenge the body in different ways. Essentially, we keep it interesting and I believe that the athlete becomes more well-rounded. 

It is really tempting to simply want to run as the sole activity of training. It makes sense right? You are a runner, and to get better at running, we have to run. However, cross training workouts are the difference between what we want and what we need. 

This is about listening to your body. Whilst engaging in various forms of cross training does not use the same biomechanical patterning as running (as in a running ‘stride’ or form), the heart is still beating, and therefore you are still improving the amazing engine that is your body. 

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” 

– Ryan Sandes (Pro Salomon Trail Runner) 

Trying a new form of training can be daunting. You can feel vulnerable from the feeling of ‘newness’ after being comfortable in one or a few sports for a while. I personally hadn’t been on a mountain bike or road biking (other than commuting) for a while. Today I decided to take what is a very dodgy, extremely old model mountain bike that I use as transport in Boise and go for my first mountain/road bike ride. Why? I felt like it and I had a curiosity to explore the contagious stoke that the biking community of Boise and Idaho have. I am having a small break from running for physical and mental health purposes. I also wanted to challenge myself a little bit. 

It was a blast. I caught the bug, and I will be trying it again. All it took was one ride. I truly believe this is the same for others, so I encourage you to try a cross training workout next time you are unmotivated to run, feel a little niggle occurring or simply want to experience something else (and still keep the heart beating). I even got to experience the beautiful golden hour in the Foothills of Boise. See my photo below.

 

cross training workouts for runners

This is my favourite photo I have ever taken. I’m not entirely sure why, and it was a bit rushed honestly. My hands were freezing and my heart rate was through the roof after climbing a hill in the cold air. It was exhilarating though. I think it is the colours and obscurities of the sunlight.

Cross Training Benefits

cross training benefits

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Cross training benefits are numerous, particularly the benefits of cross training for runners. 

 

“The Struggle was real, but every second was worth it” 

-Nouria Newman (French Slalom Canoeist, Red Bull)

 

When runners get injured (and I am speaking for myself here too), it can be quite amusing to observe their habits of self-diagnosis before they actually get a diagnosis. Often they’ll use Dr. Google, the usual rehab methods involving tape and ice, maybe they’ll even be wise and take a few days off. However, we can prevent injury often by cross training, and learning to move our body in many different ways, utilizing many different muscles, in different coordination and patterns of movement. 

To put it simply, we allow our body and mind a break from the repetitive movement of running. Often this allows the muscles, ligaments and tendons to heal a bit so you’re better prepared for your next run. 

My mum who is a sports medicine physician in Australia once shared with me some very wise words about cross training for running. The heart is still beating. It doesn’t know the difference between a long swim, long run or long ride. She explained this to me whilst I was recovering from one of many sprained ankles. Whilst our musculoskeletal patterning may differ, we are still getting a very valuable training effect. 

We are also training our mind differently. We are building mental toughness. For example, when I choose swimming as a cross training workout, I am inflicting myself (or am I actually benefiting myself?! That’s the paradox!) staring at some pool tiles and a black line for a significant amount of time. This is difficult when I have the privilege of looking at stunning mountain or seaside landscapes when I run outside. 

Personally, my biggest cross training benefit has been the comfort I have in knowing that if I get injured, I am fully capable of throwing myself into a variety of other sports. In these sports I am distracted from my running injury, yet finding joy in a new and refreshing activity. Again, this is why I’d encourage you to integrate cross training workouts into your running schedule.

Cross Training Examples

cross training examples

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

Below is a list of cross training examples I can think of. Maybe you could integrate a cross training session in instead of a second run, or even in replacement for a recovery run. Looking to increase endurance training load? Why not pop in a cross training workout.

 

“This is your life, live it with passion” 

-Thabang Madiba (Salomon Trail Runner, South Africa)

 

Cycling as Cross Training For Running

Road Cycling

The hardest part about going for a road bike is simply getting on the bike in the first place and starting (at least I find). Whether it’s the cold, the heat, or preparing the bike for the ride. As always, be cautious of vehicles, animals, pedestrians, weather conditions etc. I suggest doing a hilly route and sprinting up the hills, floating the flats, and relaxing on the downs for a solid endurance workout. 

Spin Biking

Spin biking can be a blast, especially with music. I like to create playlists where each song/track has a specific workout purpose allocated to it. For example, there is a mix of sprint songs, high RPM (revolutions per minute) songs, out of the saddle climbing songs, and in the saddle climbing songs, plus recovery songs. It can make for a great workout. If you have the option, you could even try a spin class for some extra motivation. 

 

Mountain Biking as Cross Training For Running

Mountain biking as cross training for running is great as it challenges your proprioception and reaction time, along with continual changes in leg and body movement to navigate the natural changes/variations on the trails. The uphill climbs can really challenge you, as often you’ll be navigating around rocks, facing patches of sand or mud, or avoiding other cyclists and pedestrians (if you’re unlucky). The downhills are simply a hoot. 

 

“I think the mountains have helped keep me alive, keep me going, and keep me focused on this is what I’m doing right now” 

– Jim Morrison (The North Face Mountaineer and Brand Ambassador)

 

Swimming as Cross Training For Running

Swimming is one of my favourite forms of cross training for running. I feel like it works every part of your body, and challenges you to control your oxygen capacity and therefore the breath. To work with the breath when physically exerting yourself is very humbling, and in its own unique way, grounding. The silence of being underwater, and swimming being a solo activity, is also quite meditative. There are so many swim workouts searchable online. I like doing a warm up, cool down, sprint and distance mixed sets, and in the pool fartlek style workouts. 

 

Elliptical as Cross Training For Running

The elliptical trainer is one of the simplest forms of cross training for runners as almost every gym has one, and it doesn’t require you to own any extra equipment. It’s also quite similar to the action of running, without the impact. Many runners I know and train with will supplement running with a session on the elliptical. 

 

Nordic Skiing as Cross Training For Running

This is a challenging cross training activity but the benefit is the miraculous fitness benefits you’ll receive from investing time into skate or classic cross country skiing. It is truly a total body workout. Some of the highest recorded VO2 max levels come from nordic skiers. They have to use both their arms and legs uphill, ski downhill without edges, sidestep corners and maintain a very good sense of balance. Also, altitude is often involved, which means altitude training benefits as an extra. 

 

Cross training running

Pro-Image Event Photography, Boise, Idaho

I guess what I am trying to communicate, or the moral of this post if you like, is don’t be afraid to try something new, or take some time off if you need it. Running will always be there for the most part. We don’t want to be risk-averse, as this doesn’t equal an enriched and life fully lived. If we don’t take a risk here and now, we can’t expect to learn new things about ourselves.

Running Motivation: Why We Run

running motivation: why we run

Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

Running Motivation: Why We Run

 

Do you ever find yourself thinking out on a run, “why am I doing this?” Why do we put our body through pain, wake up ridiculously early, sometimes when we don’t want to, and still hit the pavement or trails? 

I contemplate this question often, and what I found for me and others I have asked is that the role running plays in our life changes frequently. For example, I run as it brings me joy, to challenge myself and test my limits on occasion, to learn to be a good team-mate, to be a better decision-maker under pressure (think quick decisions in racing) to better my mental and physical health, to escape traumatic events and situations (as an outlet), and sometimes, quite honestly, running is a coping mechanism for me, especially in times of emotional challenge. 

I was inspired to write this post as I think it’s important to explore this question as a runner. The answer to this question at certain points in your life can reveal the place you are in from a mental health standpoint. Tuning in to this is an immensely powerful tool. I personally have utilized it frequently over this tumultuous world context at present, particularly when I notice I am using running to cope with stress or other life issues. There’s no problem with this when it is ‘your why’ on occasion, however, it is important to recognize if there is a trend and address it. 

 

Why do runners like to run?

running motivation: why we run 2

My lovely team-mate Olivia and I, out for a run and laugh.

Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography 

Interestingly, a lot of my team-mates began running because they weren’t so good at other sports. I can definitely say I am in this boat.orning can often provoke some philosophical thinking (at least for myself!). Sometimes I find it quite meditative, especially on early morning sunrise trail runs. I feel like I am awake before the ‘world’ wakes up in a sense, and very at peace with myself in nature.  

But this isn’t always the story. As soon as I recognized that I tended to place running as a sort of stress coping mechanism tool I asked myself, what is the goal I am trying to achieve by placing running as this form of “tool” in my life? I couldn’t come up with a good answer. I recognized this trend in the early stages of COVID quarantine, back in March and April of this year (2020). I came to the conclusion that running can definitely play this role for me at times in my life, but it is dangerous if it becomes the sole reason for running when races and practices are nowhere to be found. 

Recognizing the trend was my first step in truly understanding my motivation to run, and the role running plays in my life. It actually took COVID, when races are canceled and running is purely self-motivated, to realize these things. It is an important self-discovery as an athlete and has skyrocketed me for further growth. 

It’s important to discern that the role running plays to us personally, and our motivation to run are both interconnected and different. Let me explain.

Definitions: 

Role: The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.

So, running as it fits in our life – what function does it have for you? Because it makes you happy? You like the challenge and testing your limits? Physically and mentally bettering yourself? A coping mechanism? A stress-relief tool? 

running motivation: why we run 4

Photo Credit: Pro Image Event Photography 

These will obviously change depending on the situation and context, as the definition states. The role running plays to us personally underlying motivators to a goal/goals we are trying to achieve. Like goals, our ‘why we run’ should evolve over time as you evolve as both an athlete and a person.

I asked a teammate on a recent run why she runs, looking for a variety of answers for this post. She said because it makes her happy. Surprisingly, I hadn’t thought of this first thing, but as an athlete who dedicates so many hours to running, it should be the number one reason. At the end of the day, when competitions and formal practices are canceled, we run to have fun and because we love it.  better ourselves as people and athletes and become a stronger team player.

 

Running is my meditation, mind flush, cosmic telephone, mood elevator, and spiritual communion

 – Lorraine Moller, Olympic Bronze Medalist

 

Motivation: The general desire or willingness of someone to do something or the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

This often changes, different to the role of running. Often races are our motivation, but with no racing, that has had to change. My motivations each day change from a desire to explore a new trail, to feel like I have achieved something first thing in the morning, to catch up with teammates, to maintain fitness for when races do roll back around, to get to the lovely brunch + mimosas waiting on the other side of a long run… 

Motivation to run and role running has in our life can be the same at that very moment. For example, if I am highly stressed, and looking for some outside time, to make myself a little tired and get a hit of endorphins, I am running for mental health and stress relief. 

Strength through adversity

 

running motivation: why we run 3

Credit: Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

When running becomes a coping mechanism to deal with stress, adverse life situations, trauma, and other mental health challenges, it can honestly be a savior. It is great we have a tool like running to help us through these tough times. 

The danger is, what happens if we get injured or sick, and we can’t run for a while?

It’s important to have other things you enjoy and can throw yourself into when you can’t run. Running playing the main role in your life as a coping mechanism is risky, as I mentioned earlier. If you think that you might fall into this boat here and there, or full-time, I challenge you to learn an instrument, find an art form you’re passionate about, learn a skill, like Indian Curry cooking and the purpose of different spices (I learned how to make a variety of curries from scratch over COVID, it was super rewarding and I now have a new life skill). 

Interestingly, at my lowest point this year I had very little energy or motivation to give to running at all. Even if I wanted to, mentally I was drained, which meant physically I had nothing to give. I got myself out of this rut, and I’m much better for it, as a person and athlete. 

Stress is stress to the body, I was always told growing up by the influential sports people in my life. The body can’t tell the difference between stress caused emotionally, to stress accumulated from physical fatigue. I keep this in the back of my mind and provide myself with forgiveness, patience, and love when needed in regards to training if things are on the tougher side. It’s just life! Besides, put things in perspective – for those younger runners out there, missing a session will not impact you in the long term. Distance running is a long term game, reliant on consistency, intuition, self-awareness, and mental + physical health.

Remember the cups analogy (credit to my BSU coach!) from my Smart Running Training post? Here’s a reminder below…..

running motivation: why we run 5

Credit: Pro Image Event Photography (Sports)

 Imagine your life is balanced between different cups, that are each half-filled with water. Considering this analogy, most of us have cups for:

  • Work
  • School/College 
  • Social life
  • Family 
  • Sports/Exercise/Training
  • Recovery/downtime/me-time
  • Hobbies 

 

All these cups need to be balanced with certain amounts of water, not overflowing. This is optimal to reduce stress and anxiety in our life. Before you think, “that’s impossible” – hear me out. 

If 1 cup is overflowing with water, for example – a heavy load at work, something else has to give.  Some of that water needs to go somewhere else to balance the extra work stress out. 

If multiple cups begin to overflow, we start to spread ourselves thin. Don’t panic if this is you, especially at this time in the world at present. We just have to reevaluate priorities and potentially make a few shifts or changes to better suit our needs. 

So, next time you want to push your limits or step outside your comfort zone in training, for example, make sure your cups allow for this. Same for any other endeavor. You’ll recover better, perform better, and develop smart habits for the future. It’s establishing foundations for long-term success in running or whatever it is you want to do. 

 

Running motivation quotes to get you fired up!

I have a few favorite quotes.

 

“Fortune favors the daring”

 – Virgil, The Aeneid

“I always keep in mind that it’s better to be undertrained and healthy rather than incredibly fit but injured” 

– Ashton Eaton, two-time Olympic gold medalist & world record holder

 

“Excellence is not a singular act but a habit. You are what you do repeatedly.” 

– Shaquille O’Neil (15x all-star, won 4 NBA Championships)

 

Remember, we are all just trying to do our best as people. Running is a reflection of life in this sense – hurdles, barriers, obstacles, tough days, great days, proud moments. Feel through them all, one step at a time.

Smart Running: Training smarter, not harder in times of high stress

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Smart running is how you get the most bang for your buck. It involves the time, mileage, and intensity of your training load each week, recovery time between sessions, how often you race, and what cross-training activities you do to assist with fitness and/or strength. In light of the recent world events which have injected a lot of stress and uncertainty into society and individuals alike, training smarter, not harder, is the way to go for now I do believe. I call it baking a cake. I want to bake a really good cake right now – my base. Then I’ll get ready to ice it later for race season when it eventually comes back around. 

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get to this headspace of tuning in with my body, and not being so rigid or structured with training. I would be lying if I said I didn’t use running as a form of coping mechanism when COVID-19 altered the way we live our lives. I was able to keep up the early mornings, harder sessions a few times a week – basically my normal training load and intensity I was doing during the collegiate season. However, onsetting fatigue and gradual discontent with a high focus on running at this time wasn’t making me happy. Instead, I decided to completely tune in to my body and use my times of higher energy to work harder, and lower energy to settle into long and slow mileage. 

 

I now run at the time of day I best feel like it, not necessarily first thing in the morning like I usually do during school or season. I don’t put pressure on how many sessions a week I do. I’m happy if it’s just 1, and what day it is, doesn’t particularly bother me. I do a few runs with team-mates and friends for the social aspect and pure joy of getting out on the trails. I am fit, not necessarily top end fit, but I don’t need to be right now – that’s not what it is about. I’ll get ready to ice my cake when the time comes. 

This is a lesson for life. Coping mechanisms are unsustainable and will result in fatigue, which then takes time to recover from. If you keep it up, it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle – like a Catch-22. I hope you get the opportunity to cash in on this advantage COVID-19 has given us to build solid values and foundations around what we do and love. All the hard work and base-building, and the personal introspection this time has ignited, will pay off later. I’m certain of it.

Smarter Running and training load: how do you manage your milage?

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Mileage is something that should be gradually built, based on your background and skill level in the sport, and your injury history (because an injury is a part of any sport you compete in, at a high-level). Working with a coach who monitors this, and adapts it to suit your goals and personal needs is the best path to success and reducing injury risk. The general rule of thumb is don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% a week, sometimes 15%. You should have down weeks too, particularly after harder training ‘blocks’. 

Training ‘blocks’ can be period of a few weeks (mine were generally 4-6 weeks), where there is a focus on something for a particular race or season. I know I can build the top-end speed fitness in 4 weeks that I need for faster track races, for example. My coach, team-mates and I work closely at this with race-specific workouts when the key races of the season are coming up. 

This is also known as ‘periodized training’. We can’t keep extremely high levels of intensity up all year round, as it is unsustainable. So we have times of base building, speed building, endurance building, strength…you get it. 

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I’ve never been a particularly high-mileage runner and personally have had success with this approach, and minimal injury particularly from increased running load-induced stress. My ultimate running training schedule involves 5-6 days of running, with 1-2 doubles (25-30 mins each), a swim session, and 2 running strength- specific sessions. I’d rarely go over 100km a week. Off this training, I’ve managed to qualify and compete in some pretty cool events, and run some nifty times. There’s no doubt I will creep my mileage up in the future at some point – try it, give it a go, test my limits. I don’t want to be left wondering. It’s a bit like Mario Andretti’s quote:

 

“If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough” – Mario Andretti

 

Sometimes it is good to take some risks. Just know when it is the right time to test the waters here. 

What is Smart Running?

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Smart running is all about tapping into your personal needs, training and race goals, goals, and desires in life external to running and sport, injury history, and the context in which you are living in. To have the smartest approach to running, your program should be individualized and flexible. You and your coach should have open, honest communication which allows for program adaptability. I’ve been lucky to have this for the duration of my running career. If you don’t feel like you can communicate with your coach, then you might need to re-evaluate your training set-up to better suit your needs. 

 

“It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation” – Herman Melville

 

No one ever truly succeeds if they spend the majority of their time copying or imitating others. Don’t get me wrong, there is a great deal to be learned from coaches, mentors, training partners, elite-athletes etc, but these lessons should just be parts to building your ‘whole’. We learn a lot just from our own experiences in the sport. Whether this is in sessions, races, mentally tough situations, long-run banter and discussions with our training partners, running training through a global pandemic…..

I like to information gather when making decisions about the training approach. I’ll consult my coach, tap into how I feel, map out a rough training timeline calendar to key races. This ensures my preparation is optimal and doesn’t induce injury in the build-up. Further, it must be manageable with the rest of life’s commitments and hobbies. If you’re anything like me, you might enjoy a few things outside of running. In fact, I’ve found keeping up my hobbies like music and singing, surfing, skiing, doing outdoor activities with friends, website management and blog post writing, etc make me a better runner – as I’m my happiest self. So I stress to my teammates and friends who ask if you enjoy lots of things, find a way to achieve balance. Running more is not always better. It can help – but there is a time and place to increase and reduce load. 

How does stress impact running training and performance?

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My coach at Boise State has a good analogy for how stress can impact running training and performance. It also most often ends up trickling through other aspects of our life. We want a sustainable approach that is optimal for long-term success and caters to changing needs, goals, and shifting life situations. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when more things are out of our control. We need to focus on what we can control. 

My coach calls it the ‘cups’ approach. Bear with me. Imagine your life is balanced between different cups, that are each half-filled with water. Considering this analogy, most of us have cups for:

  • Work
  • School/College 
  • Social life
  • Family 
  • Sports/Exercise/Training
  • Recovery/downtime/me-time
  • Hobbies 

 

All these cups need to be balanced with certain amounts of water, not overflowing. This is optimal to reduce stress and anxiety in our life. Before you think, “that’s impossible” – hear me out. 

If 1 cup is overflowing with water, for example – a heavy load at work, something else has to give.  Some of that water needs to go somewhere else to balance the extra work stress out. 

If multiple cups begin to overflow, we start to spread ourselves thin. Don’t panic if this is you, especially at this time in the world at present. We just have to reevaluate priorities and potentially make a few shifts or changes to better suit our needs. 

So, next time you want to push your limits or step outside your comfort zone in training, for example, make sure your cups allow for this. Same for any other endeavor. You’ll recover better, perform better, and develop smart habits for the future. It’s establishing foundations for long-term success in running or whatever it is you want to do. 

 

How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

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How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

Running is a very physically tough, and psychologically demanding sport. Mental skills training for mental toughness is an essential ingredient in any pursuit that you desire to reach your full potential in and explore your boundaries. This goes for sport and life in general. We have to find that balance of physical and mental training and recovery. Interestingly, mental skills training fatigues the brain, as does a hard session fatigue the body – so we must train, recover, and adapt. 

Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy. It’s important to establish some tools to utilize when out training, racing or facing your next physical challenge. To run at our very best, it’s important to recognize what your own strengths and weaknesses are. In doing so, you can take advantage of your strengths, and become more aware of areas you struggle a little more with. Think of it as optimizing your own mental toolkit. 

If you want to find out what your top character strengths are, take this quiz run through The University of Pennsylvania (yes, it has quite a few questions, but it should take way too long and it is reliable!). You’ll have to enter a username and email, don’t worry, you won’t get spammed. Take the Top 7 as your top character strengths. I did this, and my results showed my top strength was curiosity and interest in the world, the second was fairness, equity and justice, and third, creativity, ingenuity, and originality. I keep these in mind when I approach running training, teamwork, and racing. This way I can truly frame my running mindset to assist me in performing at my best. 

What is mental toughness?

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Mental toughness is the ability to perform at a high range of your potential consistently, under the ever-changing and often unpredictable conditions of competition and high-demand situations. A mentally tough individual will be able to execute their task with a desirable level of focus, determination, resilience, and calmness under stress and pressure.  

Mental toughness is often a key determiner whether you finish at the front or at the back of a pack. One study conducted on Australian footballers determined that the group that exerted the highest levels of mental toughness favored “both mastery- and performance-approach goals and self-determined as well as extrinsic motivational tendencies”. In the paragraphs below, I’ll go into more detail about these specific mental skills which can be adopted to develop mental toughness. 

The great thing about mental toughness is that it can be developed and trained, and studies have shown that it is innate to humans as it was a crucial characteristic that impacted survival ability in prehistoric times. We train mental toughness by building an ‘artillery’ of mental skills. These are characteristics such as focus, determination, dedication, resilience, performing in high-pressure settings, selective emotional ability under high-stress situations, confidence, perseverance, self-belief, the ability to work with a team, positivity in difficult situations and motivation (I’m sure there are many more you can think of!). Some of these character strengths you will find come more naturally to you, whilst others will require practice and work. Ultimately, it is about honing in and capitalizing on your strengths and improving weaknesses that could be beneficial to your sport or endeavor. 

We can build mental skills in a sports psychology setting or make time to deliberately practice them. We are kidding ourselves as dedicated sports people if we think that mental toughness is something that will come magically to us – it takes dedication and deliberate commitment to improve at anything and perform at a high level. I personally utilize sports psychology through the collegiate system. A general session involves assessing strengths and weaknesses, reflecting on the experience, and how I could go about the scenario next time. A sports psychologist or mental skills trainer will assist in building key areas to perform well at the particular discipline and to meet the personal needs of the athlete. 

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You’ve already taken the first steps to build your mental toughness by simply educating yourself on what it is. I found it super helpful for my own pursuits to learn that our body can actually go beyond our physical perception of pain and tiredness when we hit this stage in a race or hard training session. The voice in your head telling you to “slow down”, “stop”, “give up”, “this is too hard” is better known as the pre-historic brain/ monkey brain or mind/survival instinct mind. It is simply your brain trying to stop you from hurting yourself. It doesn’t know the difference between a race and a real situation of life-or-death. Just like your legs don’t know you are running a 10km race, rather than a hard 10km training session with your teammates. It’s all in your mind. Mental wandering and negative self-talk are the key inhibitors to us performing at our absolute physical best. This is why it is essential to train will-power, self-control and decision making under pressure. We need to find a way to automate decisions and execute a plan of some sort, to prevent the mind wandering. 

How does the mind work in a hard training or race scenario?

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When we race or train hard, the pain and discomfort we experience are from the emotional part of our brain, as I mentioned before. It is intended to protect us. We simply need to make a decision – the brain will process this decision based on a number of factors, including personal expectations coming into the event, past experiences in similar situations, level of desire to achieve (resilience, motivation, goals, perseverance), and stimulus feedback to the brain, including fatigue, fuel, environmental setting etc.

There are a couple of things we can do to calm the monkey mind, take the extra stress and anxiety out of the race day or hard session equation. Firstly, we can train our willpower. Will power is the ability to control your attitude, thoughts, feelings, impulse, and execute a task with clear, beneficial, goal-oriented decision making. You probably already exercise it in some sense – like setting an early morning alarm for training and not questioning whether you go or not. You just do, it’s not really a decision up for debate. Same with attending a hard training session you might be dreading. Unless injured or sick, show up and see how it goes – you may just surprise yourself. However, as humans, we only have so much will-power each day. Take into account that our will-power is highest earlier in the day, along with our ability to exert self-control. This is where the common notion of doing your hardest tasks earlier in the day, or first thing comes into play. 

The harder and more stressful the decisions,  the number of decisions, and the complexity of decisions all dip into our will-power stores. The goal is to make a lot of these decisions more automated (subconscious) and focus on the ‘when’ of the decision (timing is everything), rather than the how, which can cause extra stress if over-thinking occurs.

We want to capitalize on the time of day when we will make the best choices, and practice our strategy of will-power and decision making at this time of day to suit our needs. 

Just like physical activity requires recovery, so do mental reserves including will-power (recovery is just as important, it is where we get stronger, after being ‘broken down’ in some sense in training). If our willpower is low, our ability to make clear and beneficial decisions and exercise self-control is hindered. Physical fatigue will also contribute to lower will-power which in turn, impacts decision making + self-control. Sleep, adequate recovery, and nutrition can aid us in these areas. Athletes or high-achievers in any discipline should aim for at least 8hrs of sleep a night on most nights to perform at their best. It has even been stressed to me many times that 9-10hours is ideal – however many of us would struggle to do this in today’s busy world. Healthy, energy-dense meals are also key. Carbohydrates (in particular – glucose), fuel our brainpower. If you experience ‘mental fog’ or ‘blur’, this could be a reason why. 

 

What are some mental running strategies?

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  1. Set yourself some goals and intentions! You’re going to hate me when I say, ‘write them down’. Really – do it. Get it on paper, or record it via voice memo if you must. Whatever. It is just crucial that these goals become a physical manifestation in some sense. I like to stick mine on the wall. Goals work best if they are categorized: 

 

  • Process goals: this is the ‘journey’ as I like to put it. Where you’ll direct your focus and deliberate intention
  • Performance goals (short term and long term): aka. Some short term goals may be new PB in this 5km race or run comfortably for 10km. These goals help focus our execution and are the technical and strategic notch in our belt. A long term goal could be to qualify for a team, eventually run a marathon (make sure you do some very solid, consistent, long-term training to build up to this!)
  • The more detail, the better. List your hows, whys and ways of getting there. There are many paths to achieving a particular goal. 
  • Be flexible. Things change, life chucks curve balls. The more practice you have at adapting and adopting, the better off you’ll be long term. 

 

  1. Self- talk. You have to practice this. A great website I came across explains self-talk as: 

“Self-efficacy is the unshakeable belief of an athlete that they can meet the challenge they are facing. It is arguably the cornerstone for any great performance.” 

We must question our own inner dialogue. Are our thoughts mostly negative? positive? What emotion is behind most of our thoughts? Recognize your own patterns! Often our mental talk/self-talk is habitual. So if any bad habits have formed which are not of benefit to your performance, or hold you back in any way, it’s time to put in some work to change them. 

My in-race or session self-talk is very simple, involving just a few ‘cue-words’ that are easy to digest for the brain in a high-pressure, fatiguing situation, and don’t have any emotional association words involved in the phrase (things like good, bad, can’t, can etc.). My coach in Australia taught me to adopt ‘breathe, relax, momentum’. I have thought these 3 keywords for an entire 5km race. It worked a charm. If I felt my mind start to wander, I drew it back to these simple thoughts. I had already thought through my race execution plan, so this is all I had left to think about. Remember, on the track, course, court, field, meeting room- wherever you are trying to execute at your full potential and at a high-level – you are your own best friend or worst enemy. 

 

  1. Exercise your ability to be in control yet flexible to challenge and change. Often a scenario will change in a race very quickly. This is what makes them so exciting. You should be ready to adapt your plan and decisions based on perceptions and feedback. This is best practiced through hard training sessions and racing. Throw yourself in the deep end, and learn from mistakes, then try again. 

 

  1. Make decision making more automatic. The more decisions we can make subconscious, often the better. This is because less energy is used to make this particular type of decision. Again, racing and training is the place to practice and learn how to execute this mental skill. Personally, by the end of track season, I have cultivated a very personal plan as to how I best execute my distance (1500-10km). I take into account a sit-and-kick race situation, or a slow burn scenario, and go from there. I practice both conditions in training, so I can put my best foot forward if I need to sprint from home or maintain a high-pace for a longer period of time. I also learn to prioritize my decisions – don’t sweat the small stuff, particularly things you can’t control, such as the weather.

 

  1. Glucose levels! Not really a mental skill, but worth a mention. New research shows that a hit of glucose (in the form of glucose-rich food) can temporarily restore our mental strength including will-power and ability to make good in-race decisions. This is because to perform at our best psychologically/mentally requires adequate blood glucose levels in the brain. You hear about nutrition strategies in the marathon which is for physical and psychological benefit. However, the question being posed now is? Even in shorter races less than an hour in which our glucose levels will not be depleted too significantly, could a shot of it benefit our mental capacity? Food for thought. Literally. 

 

  1. Sleep. It is commonly known that 6hrs or less of sleep, particularly bad sleeping patterns over a long period of time will impact our mood, emotional capacity, ability to make good decisions, mental clarity, self-control, and will-power. 

 

  1. Learning to relax in a high-pressure scenario, such as a race. If we stress too early, we are draining energy, which is detrimental to our race. A way to practice this is to work on persevering when pain, fatigue, and tiredness hit us in training and less-important races, so we are ready for the big day/important side of the season. 

 

  1. Framing and perspective. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. Even expectations of others. You are only human, and I know most athletes don’t go through rigorous training to not put their best effort in on race day. We are not here to waste time and opportunity. If you don’t achieve what you desired, give yourself a certain time to be upset, and then move on and reflect, focusing on the next thing. The great thing about sport is there is always another race/event/challenge. Give yourself a pat on the back every now and then too. Running isn’t life or death, it is something we do, love, enjoy and at the end of the day, it should be fun!

 

Returning briefly to the mental framework – make sure you don’t do any mentally challenging activities too close to a race or difficult training session. This is because our ability to perform is hindered when we are mentally fatigued. Again, this involves will-power, which impacts decision making, emotional state, and self-control. The more we race and put ourselves under these high-pressure conditions, the more we train our will-power to work in a positive symbiosis with pain and onset fatigue. 

Does Visualization or Imagery help with training mental toughness for running?

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Visualization is the process of establishing mental imagery of how you might like to execute the race. This technique is a mental skill that should be a part of our mental skills ‘toolbox’, as I like to put it. It is how in ‘theory’ you can experience race day and run the race before you have actually run it. You can visualize pre and post-race processes, and the race itself. For example, this could involve the morning of the race, how you’ll feel warming up, and/or the race itself. In terms of race visualization, I personally like to mentally run through sections of the course and have a best-case scenario and plan B strategy ready to go. If you can see the racecourse beforehand, or have a map as a second-case scenario, base your visualizations off this. As this was my first cross-country season in the NCAA competition, I had to plan my visualization off maps, and then the day before the race after running on the course, I could base my imagery off the course itself. I actually enjoyed this process, as moving from map to the physical reality of the course allowed me to make mental connections which were much more memorable. Think of it as an ‘ah huh!’ moment, like when I realized that the hill we were jogging up on course inspection was the big long one I planned to overtake others on based off the course map we were given a few days before. For some athletes, it is possible to visualize their plan/s of execution from the start to finish. If this resonates with you and your scenario, go with this. 

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You do have to find the time to practice visualization. I like to practice before I go to sleep at night. This way, it is the last thing I contemplate for the day. I channel how I want to feel emotionally, how I envision my body moving across the course, how I will take certain corners, undulations, hills, and the finishing sections. Yes, it is detailed, but it is worth the effort. You’ll feel less nervous on race day, coming into it with a flexible plan of execution that is thought through. Consider making it a habit, and a part of your race day routine and strategy. 

How do you stay motivated to keep running and training?

You are in control of how you feel and choose to feel, and as soon as you can recognize this, you can start practicing your ability to exercise this and enhance it as mental strength. A good word for it is attitude.  I’m not saying emotionally regulate, we all feel tired and lack motivation sometimes, and in turn, heading out for a run or doing that tedious task you had on your list for the day is the last thing on your agenda. Acknowledge it, and then take action as to how you will approach the task ahead. Often, you’ll feel better having done it. Luckily in running, you get that lovely endorphin high, which is a natural mood booster. 

When I say ‘take action’, what I mean is to make the decision on your attitude. This can involve the decision to pump yourself up and carry out some mood-boosting actions or ease into the run with a sense of calm and mindfulness. As an athlete, you’ll need to figure out what these techniques are for you. I will go into some personal examples below. 

Motivation also correlates with expectations – you can set them for yourself or choose to let the run unfold more naturally. When I’m tired, I take it one step at a time like putting on my shoes, stepping out the door, and zoning out to a podcast. The best athletes in the world know what amplifies and intensifies their feelings (boosts their desire to train, in a sense). For me, it’s playing some high energy music, doing my hair in braids or in a potential race hairstyle I want to try, and putting on what I consider my ‘fast’ activewear. If I want to calm myself down after a stressful day, I will focus on my breath, or rope a friend or teammate into training with me if it is a solo session (it helps distract from the ‘tiredness’ or stress, which often we carry in our body). 

It is impossible to be in a high-energy, motivated state all the time, but we can develop the mental skills to get us out the door regardless of our emotional state. Who knows how you will feel on race day? Think of it as practice for that. Often goal-setting helps us stay on track and find that bit of motivation we need to push forward. I like to make it an unquestionable decision. Unless I’m sick or injured (and all the other situations I don’t need to list), I go. It is a part of my routine and I’m a better Lara to everyone if I do, no point in denying that!