If ever there was a year to fall off the running wagon, it was 2020. So imagine how proud I was to get to the end of that very tumultuous year having achieved so much! First, there were all the runs and challenges I did during restrictive lockdowns in the country. Then getting two new Personal Bests, 28:24 for the 5K and 59:28 for the 10K. I ran more than I’d ever done in a year, almost 1,700km which was 345km more than the previous year. It was also the first time I reached a monthly mileage of 200km, achieving this in both September and December.
I entered 2021 with enthusiasm as I continued training for my first ultra-trail marathon. I was at the top of my game and ready to take on more challenges and reach greater heights. But quite early on, something didn’t feel right. More and more, I found I was running for the sake of running and not really enjoying myself. Initially, I blamed poor sleep, hydration and nutrition for my sluggish runs but looking back there was definitely more going on. My ultra-training was messy leaving me chafed, blistered, sun-burnt and exhausted on many days.
When the race was postponed, with the option to defer to 2022, I chose to defer. Within a week, I hopped on another challenge – to run a Sub-2:15 Half Marathon on the 1st May. But from the get-go my training was all over the place and two weeks out, I bailed. I wasn’t ready. I ran intermittently over the next six weeks, choosing to lie in most days and when I got to the end of May, I only had 30km to show for it. It was clear I had fallen off the wagon! It felt like a sudden fall… but as I write this (and I’m sure as you read this), it’s quite evident the signs had been there for some time. This is how I processed it and these are the actions I’m taking to get back!
Six Steps To Get You Running Again
1/ Be Kind To Yourself. When I told my sister I was struggling to get my runs done, she was quick to remind me of all the things on my table, which included a big project at work with new responsibilities, “As you grow into this new role, it is normal for other things in your life to take less priority”. She really helped put things in perspective. Sometimes it will become difficult to balance running when there’s been a significant change in your life, at work, or with kids and family. It’s important to give yourself that space to deal with that change, and for running to take a backseat. So if you’ve fallen off the wagon, be kind to yourself as you would a best friend.
2/ Assess What Went Wrong. After an incredible year of running in 2020, I entered 2021 with similar expectations but without realising just how much energy I had used to get through last year. I was mid ultra-training so couldn’t take a break but this may explain my poor runs and lack of motivation and consistency on that plan. When my ultra was postponed, I quickly jumped to another challenge, again without a break. I also started to miss all the things that made running fun for me – friends and races. So when my new role at work started, I was already on rocky ground with my running. But finally I had the perfect excuse to skip my runs without guilt. By mid-month though, I was using any excuse to opt out of a run. As I reflected, everything started to make sense. If you’re in a similar position, I encourage you to go through this process. Unfolding what went wrong and why, sometimes makes it easier to see a way forward.
3/ Find Your Why Again. I was burnt out and should have taken time to recharge my batteries. BUT when I don’t run, I feel unbalanced so it wasn’t as if I was enjoying my time off – my husband and kids will tell you, I was irritable and impatient. Throwing all caution to the wind, I treated myself regularly to marshmallows from the kids’ goodies cabinet. I don’t even like marshmallows. I stopped blogging, reading as well as all my house projects. So although the break was certainly needed, I don’t function well when I am NOT running. It was time to take my own advice and find my why again. Running gives me time to reflect and space to breathe. It helps me stay connected to myself and it keeps me resilient when times are tough. It gives me structure and sets the tone for my week, allowing me to work, be a mum, blog, etc. And when I take too long off, I feel lost and anxious. This clarity came to me on a run. This is why I run.
4/ Set A Fun And Exciting Goal. Setting goals helps to support my running. What I’ve been doing wrong is jumping too quickly to the next goal without taking a moment to recover. Going forward, I will have to be mindful of this. But I feel ready for a big hairy goal again. The first race in over a year has been announced in Botswana. The Kazungula Bridge Marathon is scheduled to take place on the 2nd October. This Bridge was opened in May and joins the north of Botswana to a town called Kazungula in Zambia, doing away with the cumbersome ferry system that has existed for decades and greatly enhancing trade between several countries. If it’s rescheduled because of the pandemic, I’ll still run the distance in Gaborone with one of my best friends who turns 42 on that day. I finally feel excited about a goal. Set a goal that is fun and gives you that focus and motivation to get out there on tough days.
5/ Make A Plan and Be Accountable To Someone. I’ve found a programme that suits me perfectly. It’s one of Hal Higdon’s 18-week beginner marathon plans with 4 – 5 running sessions a week. I love that there’s a gradual progression of mileage and with my Addo Training experience, it looks doable. To spice up my runs, I’ll continue a project I started a few weeks ago of running every street in my neighbourhood but I’ve also planned some “destination” runs for more variety. I’ll also resume running with friends to break the monotony of some of my longer runs. A goal without a plan doesn’t always work so make sure to have a plan in place. Also, send your plan to an accountability partner if you need that extra eye to keep you on track!
6/ Remember You’ve Been Successful Before. The fact I’ve been on this path before gives me a sense of power. This isn’t me in January 2017 when I had no clue what I was doing and whether I’d be successful. I know who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve navigated the toughest of terrains before and I will do it again. I know what went wrong and what I need to change. I’m a runner who needed a break and then lost my way a bit. But I’ve reconnected with my why, I have an exciting goal, an achievable plan and I’m ready to run this, run that, run the world! Join me!
If you’ve fallen off the running wagon, know that you have what it takes to get back again. Don’t beat yourself up. Even if it’s been months or years. Be kind to yourself. Then assess what happened – what were some of the reasons you fell off? Understanding this will often help you move forward with a better awareness of what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember your WHY – that is your anchor that brings you back when things go awry. Then set an exciting goal – make it fun, achievable but also challenging. Make your plan realistic, taking into consideration all that went wrong before. And remember, you already have what it takes to get back !