This weekend, while I was searching for an audiobook to get me through my long Sunday run, I stumbled upon the Runners Connect – Run to the Top podcast. Curious, I downloaded a couple of episodes while I had my pre-run cup of tea. Tea consumed, I pulled on an extra running top, laced up and headed out into a very chilly day, pressing play as I began my 12 miler.
The first episode was entitled Why it’s important to welcome bad runs. Like all runners, I’m all too familiar with bad running days; days when my legs won’t cooperate and when, despite feeling like I’m putting in my usual effort, my splits remain embarrassingly snail-like. In fact, I had had one such day that Saturday, and I was hoping above hope that my Sunday run would progress with the pleasant ease of that the previous week, rather than the huffing mess of the previous day.
As it was, I found myself so utterly distracted by the podcast that I didn’t notice the first few miles go past. While the audio quality wasn’t the greatest and the production was by no means as sleek as an episode of This American Life or Serial (my usual long-run podcasts of choice), the content was rich, interesting and engaging, and the presenter, the British elite runner Tina Muir, was endearing and instantly likable. After a slightly long and nervous introduction, the interview really got going. She was interviewing the CNN journalist, runner and author of My year of running dangerously Tom Foreman, who was one of the most inspiring speakers about running that I’ve heard, and I think may be one of my new running gurus!
Back in 2010, while in his 50s, he got back into running in a big way, agreeing to join his 18-year-old daughter to train for, and run, a marathon. From marathon success, he continued his running journey, racing in multiple half-marathons, marathons and eventually ultramarathons.
Throughout the course of the interview he reflected on various aspect of running, from injury, to combining being a good runner with being a good family member, work colleague and friend. I don’t want to give away everything he said – rather I would compel you to please go and listen to the interview for yourself – but there were some particular titbits that have stayed with me which I wanted to include here.
Having covered so many miles, what was surprising was how little injury Foreman had incurred. However he said that he ‘took very seriously the idea of incremental increases’, only gradually upping his distance to let his body adapt. His mantra was ‘the run that counts is tomorrow’s run’, meaning that you should never run so hard one day that you are either unable or unwilling to run the next, (race days are of course an exception to this rule!). He urged listeners to take every hint of a problem seriously; to be aware of twinges, to look after your joints and muscles, to be attentive to the possibility of getting injured and to reflect on the difference between discomfort – fatigue or a build-up of lactic acid – and injury.
He vaunted the importance of listening to your body; even when you think you should push through, the most sensible and valiant thing to do is to pull up slightly, keeping in mind that the aim is to get from a to b, and if that means going slightly sideways for a little while that is better than being forced to stop completely due to injury. And if you feel a twinge or a problem weeks before a race, you have to seriously ask yourself ‘how valuable this race to me?’ Because it may be that pushing on for that race will write you off for the next six months, so it is important to be realistic and think, is it worth it?
On bad runs:
In the interview, Foreman recalls a conversation he had with the Bugs Bunny animator Chuck Jones, who, on his first day at art school was told by his art instructor ‘each of you has 10,000 bad drawings in you, so let’s start drawings and get them out now’. Foreman observed that similarly, we all have an awful lot of bad running days in us and while some days you may feel exceptional and running feels like the best thing in the world, other days you may feel truly awful. On those awful days, however, it’s important to remember that as a rule of probability the next run you do is likely to be better, and rather than worrying about feeling heavy or tired, what you need to think is ‘thank goodness I’ve got that out of the way’.
It’s important to remember that the best athletes out there still have painful, awful days, but what makes them the best is that they accept that such days do not define their ability, they are just painful, awful days which they put behind them and move on to the next run to see if it’s any better.
On running a marathon:
Wisely, Foreman observed that a marathon is too long a race to do for anyone but yourself. You have to really want to do it, and to commit to it for more than just the time, or the medals. While those things are important to some extent, the essence of your drive should be the thought that ‘I’m out here to deliver the best I can, to engage the physics of this race as a human animal and deliver the best I can…the real goal is to reach that state that I’ve just run a beautiful race and expressed my human athleticism in the best way I could.’ And remember, in a big city marathon, like New York or London, there are over 50,000 people running and only one person gets to win, the rest of us have to run for something else.
On getting outside:
A man after my own heart, Foreman stressed that time outdoors matters. He observed that it is easy to look back on you days and realise you were never effectively outside. Running, however, gets you outside of the house and outside of your comfort zone. There is something very invigorating and freeing about being in a situation where it’s not the perfect temperature all of the time, or when that cup of tea or biscuit isn’t arm length away. Rather, running, in a range of weather conditions, allows you to engage with the bigger human experience.
On skipping training runs:
This little nugget was one which really resonated with me: on skipping runs, Foreman used the following rule of thumb: ‘If you are really busy or you have a family commitment and you really want to run but there just isn’t time, then it’s ok to skip that run. The run you can’t skip is the one you just don’t want to do, that’s when you have to go. You can’t give into that part of you. You are always better off for going for a run. Sometimes it takes a mile, sometimes it takes five miles before you feel better, but invariably, by the end, you will feel better.’
On balancing your running with the rest of your life:
Foreman advises, don’t worry about what people think of your running ability, if you are going to worry about anything worry about how your running impacts on you as a friend, colleague or family member. Foreman insists that ‘you have to make sure work as hard at your life as you do at your running’, and that’s not always easy. As his daughter observed in the book, ‘the challenge is not running a marathon, the challenge is running a marathon and not letting your life fall apart’. You need to strive for balance and make sure your workplace sees your running as something that makes you a better employee and that your family sees it as something that makes you a better family member.
This advice really struck a chord with me, as I know sometimes, when I’m deep into my marathon training programme, I can get slightly cagey about weekend activities, or protective of my evenings, and I just have to remember to try and make up for this when I’m training for shorter races and not to be too uptight if I have to tweak my schedule to fit a shorter run before work or over lunch.
While I’ve written more here than I had intended, as you can see, I was particularly inspired by this episode and will now be buying Tom Foreman’s book, My Year of Running Dangerously! Since I heard this episode of the Runners Connect podcast on Sunday, I have listened to 5 or 6 further episodes and would particularly recommend the episode with motivational speaker and marathon runner Dick Beardsley as well as the one with sleep expert Dr James Maas. Do check out the podcast as there is lots of really great content there and lots to keep you inspired on all of your runs.
Tina Muir also writes a blog about her running which can be found here.
Enjoy these and happy listening, reading and running!