When I was 16 years of age I was doing everything within my power to become a professional footballer, whilst my life long best friend Mark was doing the same for rugby. Looking back, we were going about things the right way, eating well, not drinking or smoking, lifting weights, training with our teams in the week and then playing on the weekend. One thing that was missing was a running schedule. Some people might argue that we didn’t need to run, that training and playing was enough for what we were working towards. More recently though I have become aware of the power of running, not just for the physical benefits that see improvements in cardiorespiratory capacity (breathing and heart function), improved joint integrity, bone mineral density and improved muscle endurance, but also for the psychosocial benefit.
Perhaps one of the factors contributing to my inability to make it at the top level could have been my narrow vision. It was very easy to become so immersed in the journey to becoming a professional sportsman that I would forget the importance of stepping back and reflecting, doing things with friends and letting myself have an emotional break. Do you have to stop exercising to do this, no, in hindsight I don’t think so. Both Mark and I played team sports which meant we were constantly around other people during the process. I am convinced that running is a great way to escape from the hustle and bustle of team sports competition, to work on your goal autonomously and at your own pace. With team sports you seldom get this opportunity to escape and train on your own, and for me this was definitely something I missed.
The therapy of running
Now that I am older (29 no less) I am able to see running for what else it offers aside from the physical benefit. Having started road or fell running as a means of improving overall conditioning around 11 years ago, it quickly taught me not to overthink situations. This was a lesson I would apply to my life in multiple ways! For example, I would sit and ponder going for a run right up to the age of 18 (the time when any potential for a professional contract at Ipswich Town had passed), but never really saw the benefit and (if I’m honest) would often talk myself out of it because I didn’t like the idea of pounding concrete for 3, 4 or 5 miles! I later paired up with my best bud and began running together, I found this to work for me as we would not talk, not actively socialise, and instead motivated one another to get the miles done as quickly as we possibly could.
I later realised that running wasn’t something I wanted to ‘get out of the way’ so to speak. Running quickly became a method of consolidating my thoughts, realigning my priorities and recalibrating my mind-set. Not only this, I quickly gleaned a lot of pleasure from getting out for a trot with my buddy, the benefits from which go far far beyond the physical.
How I changed my mindset?
An average person’s stride length is 2.5 feet, if I went into every 10 miler (and there were a few) with the mentality that I have to complete 20,000 steps before I can have a shower and put my feet up, I may be tempted not to bother.
Some situations require you to leave your rational head at home on the couch! Yes 20,000 steps is a lot, but don’t forget the solace and tranquillity that lies within the revered ‘runners zone’. What’s 20,000 steps when peace of mind, health and wellbeing is the end result (and don’t forget the physical fitness to be had too).