Running can be rewarding, and addictive…. and the with the highs that it brings, it can also bring devastating lows. There are many reasons that we run, but we must never lose sight of the enjoyment of running. If we start to see that fade, we need to ask ourselves why. Am I doing too much? Am I pushing too hard?, am I doing this for the love of it? What do I need to change? Sometimes our body can make that change for us and take us on a journey of self discovery, just like it did for runner Kellie Gibson. Be inspired by her story, listen to her insight and be encouraged by her journey.
Personal victories are the best victories, its not about winning or losing, it’s the intrinsic motivation and rewards that make achieving a goal all that more satisfying #goals #winyourownrace #lovetorun #gratitude
That was my Instagram status update as I left Mudgee on Sunday along with the quote “it’s going to be hard but hard is not impossible”. This nicely sums up where I am at in my journey right now.
Almost 4 years ago my running came undone in a big way, to cut a long story short, overtraining cost me my health, vitality and my love of running. I feel that there are a lot of myths surrounding overtraining which Hanny Allston articulates beautifully in this article here.
If you could take one message away from Hanny’s article, let it be this: OVERTRAINING = Physical Activity + Daily Stressors > Rest and Recovery.
When recovery time is inadequate compared to running and other daily stressors, the body starts to become off kilter, this can have a huge impact not only on our performance but also on our health and wellbeing. Each individual’s limit when it comes to training can be very different and can vary significantly from one person to the next depending on a range of factors but it’s really important to know your limit beyond the limit! I think this issue is much more common than is spoken about. I have been quite open about my journey and so many people have contacted me with similar stories of their own.
If someone had have told me back then that I was overtraining, I would have laughed. I was following a fairly standard load of training for my running goals, heck so many people around me were doing so much more than I was and thriving… how could I possibly be overtraining?! In hindsight it was a massive ask of myself to attempt to run my first 10km, my first half marathon, my first marathon and my first ultra marathon all within my first year of running! When I first started running I caught the bug hard… as we runners tend to do… with each and every goal ticked off I wanted to make the next one bigger and better!! Not the smartest way to approach it, instead of reaching my big goal I burnt myself out.
I loved to run, I felt most alive while running, made so many friends at events and felt a real sense of personal achievement after each run. At this time I was experiencing a huge amount of stress in the workplace and I was way overcommitted in every aspect of my life, I was always rushing everywhere without any real downtime. I can remember saying to people that it felt like my life was one big race always trying to fit it all in, I used to laugh it off and make a joke of it, I can remember thriving off the feeling of adrenaline running through my body it was addictive! But the problem was that these stress hormones are not actually meant to be churned out continually and my body never caught a break and I got sick. All of the stress and lack of recovery and downtime caught up with me, my hormones became severely unbalanced, my thyroid was off balance and I suffered from adrenal fatigue and gut issues. Being in a situation where I was being bullied in the workplace at the time stripped away every ounce of my self esteem and I now realise that I was using running to numb that pain, I felt like it was the one area of my life that I was doing well in that made me feel better about myself which is why it was so hard when I felt it was taken away from me. After a lot of inner work I have realised that I don’t need running to feel good about myself, while running makes me feel good there is certainly a lot more to it then that.
At the time I felt like it had slapped me in the face out of nowhere and it took me a long time to figure out what was going on. Running became really hard, my performance declined rapidly and the heavy feeling in my legs made it feel like I was running through thick mud… this really took the enjoyment out of it. I kept battling on and searching for that feeling that running used to give me but it just wasn’t there, it made me feel incredibly sad and I was completely and utterly exhausted! At that point I had cut back on my running quite significantly and I kept going for almost 2 years in search of finding myself and my running again before I got to the point where I knew I needed a break. In the end I was in tears after every single run and I just couldn’t do that to myself anymore. Something that used to be such a positive thing in my life had become so negative.
In hindsight the warning signs were there, I just failed to actually listen to my body. Back then I had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, I started to gain weight with no change in diet or exercise, I relied on coffee to get me through the day even though the crashes hit hard when it wore off, my head was foggy and I struggled to think straight and I ended up feeling very depressed. Its easy for me to look back and say that now after spending the last couple of years researching and learning as much as I can about it… but at the time I had no idea how I had got there, how bad it was and just how long it would take me to recover.
I ended up having a 10 month break from running where I focused on more gentle exercise like Body Balance classes and walking my dog. It was the start of Bathurst parkrun just over 12 months ago now that got me back on my feet, I started by just running/walking with my kids and I let them dictate the pace. Then in September I started a small amount of training using the MAF training method which involves working to your aerobic threshold and monitoring your heart rate so that when it goes over that threshold and moves into your anaerobic zone, you stop and walk until it goes back down, once it settles you can resume running until it goes over the threshold then you walk again and so on.
I first heard about the MAF method while reading ‘Healing The Grumpy Athlete’ by Katee Pedicini. I was lucky enough to be able to have a good chat with Katee who had been on a very similar journey to mine and had come out the other side. I will never forget what she said to me… “Kellie, this kind of training can be the hardest thing in the world to do, particularly for us ‘Type A’ athletes, as you will have to train much slower than you know you are capable of… but it’s really important to push ego aside and focus on doing it right… I promise you will see results”.
So I started running using the MAF method twice per week in addition to running/walking with my kids at parkrun each week. In my first ever MAF run I averaged well over 9.30mins/km pace in 4km because I could barely run 20 metres before my watch beeped to tell me my heart rate was too high and that I had to walk. In the last 12 months I have managed to get it down to 7 mins/km pace over 4km because I still have to stop and take walk breaks but it’s a big improvement.
In February I started to do one parkrun each month on my own where I allow myself to push. I started out running just under 27 minutes (a long way off my 5km PB of 21.05) but I was surprised to be able to even run that fast despite only being able to train at such a low average pace. I’ve now got my parkrun time down to 24.33 just last month which I am stoked about!
In March I added another training session into my week, I started running with my friend Nicole (also a Running Mum!) once a week, we do a mix of running and walking, we started this in preparation for the Bathurst 10km which was on in May. All I wanted for that 10km was to be able to finish in under an hour as I had not ran over 5km in almost 2 years… I surprised myself with a 53.14!!
Last week in Mudgee I ran the 10km and took another 4 and a half minutes off my time from Bathurst for a 48.51. It was such a personal victory… I finished with tears in my eyes (happy tears)… I felt like I had won the race… my own race. It completely blows my mind that I can run 10km under 5min/km pace when I only train at around 7min/km pace and I am training under 30km per week in total of which only about 30% is running and the rest walking, it’s a lot different to how I was used to training in the past. Katee was right, I have definitely seen results, my running confidence has grown again and it has been so worth it! While I am still a long way off my best 10km time of 43.10 I am over the moon! I am slowly chipping away at it and training in an intuitive manner by listening to my body and letting it guide me on what feels right or wrong for me and that’s basically my only plan. I honesty don’t know if I will ever run at my best again and I am ok with that because I have found my health and my joy in running again. If I have to risk my health and vitality for the sake of results and PB’s then it’s not worth it! While a PB is a great feeling, its also depends at what cost it comes… having experienced both good health and ill health I believe there is no greater feeling than having your health in order, health is the greatest gift of all, it effects every single aspect of your life. When I was at my lowest I struggled to run at 6.30min/km pace even at full effort and I see these latest results as a sign that my body is starting to work efficiently again, my hormones are becoming balanced and I feel so much better than I have in years. It’s taken a long time, a lot of patience, commitment and learning to get to this point but it has been so worth it coming out the other side.
I left the Mudgee Running Festival on Sunday with the biggest smile on my face! It was a great day out and seeing my husband claim an unexpected win in the half and my training buddy Nicole take a whopping 5 minutes off her 10km PB also made it such a memorable day. I said to my husband on the way home “This feels just like the old days” and it really did, it took me back to that place where I ran happy and that’s what its all about.
There you have it, I have already reached my major goal and that has always been just to run happy and healthy again… my next goal from here is to ensure that continues by training smarter not harder.
I’ve got my sights set on a 9km trail run in September and I can’t wait to be back on the trails as trail running is my true passion! If all goes to plan I will be standing on the start line of the UTA22 in 2018 focussing on nothing more than having a fun day out in the mountains.
Kellie Gibson is a Graphic designer, mum of two and resides in the central west of NSW.