The headline itself sounds like I’m an elite athlete. Just to make it clear- I’m not an elite athlete or even a competitive athlete.
Don’t get me wrong I have always enjoyed maintaining a fit and healthy active lifestyle. I’m a physiotherapist and come from a family of competitive athletes. However, my one and only trophy award from my athletic career throughout school was the spirit of sport award. Which basically means I came last in almost every event, (but gave every event a good crack!)
So, as a non-competitive non-athletic sprinter with the dreams of Olympic gold I thought I would share the wisdom I have gained in my sprint training sessions over the last six months. But let’s start at the beginning of my running career for some perspective……
After the death of our son I suffered many months of depressed mood and struggled to navigate grief. It was one of my friend’s that suggested I should start up at running. I’d always been active and relatively fit, enjoying a regular gym routine. However, that had slipped out the window toward the end of my pregnancy and I had been in bed for the months afterward trying to cope. So, running? How hard could it be?
My husband and I promptly entered into a competitive 10 km fun run with the hope to raise money for charity and get ourselves out there in the running community. The thought of training for this 10km event did cross my mind, but somehow life got in the way. Besides- I had been doing 15 mins on the bike at the gym a few times a week, it wasn’t like I’d been doing nothing.
How hard could it be?
Well our first 10 km fun run was less than fun.
The morning of the event, a breakdown of a local tram service meant we were forced to run 3 km to simply get the start of our race in time. In the hectic bedlam that followed, trying to find our friends as well as our race numbers, we were herded like cattle through to the start line. As I was wedged in amongst the anxious crowd, tying up my shoelaces and trying to get ready, I looked around me and noticed TV news crew and a few familiar faces that surrounded me. Familiar faces like Steve Moneghetti – one of Australia’s top elite marathon runners. It then came to my attention that I was standing less than 5 m from the start line and somehow, we had ended up in the front pack. I nudged my husband, is that Steve Moneghetti standing next to you?
Do you think we might be in the wrong place?
Without any opportunity to exit the front pack and resume our rightful place at the back of the pack with the rest of the charity runners, the race started.
If you can picture the sheer look of terror of those crazy individuals running from the bulls at Pamplona- well, that was us. I found myself swinging between fear and laughing hysterically, all between panicked breaths. My only aim was to ensure I didn’t fall over or die in our frantic pace to avoid being completely bulldozed by the front elite runners. I think at one point I my feet simply left the ground and was just running on air with the tight crowd around me pushing me forward at a ridiculous pace.
Within 2 km the pack had thinned out and we somehow managed to calm down and resume an easier running pace. I looked out at the crowd as we ran the 10 km circuit, the fear had subsided, I could breathe, the cheers, the music, the encouragement of the crowd and the atmosphere were all amazing. Somehow despite our crazy beginning, and despite running 3 km simply to get to our 10 km race, we finished in good time and felt euphoric. The first euphoric high I had felt for years.
This marked the beginning of my running routine that has slowly helped me navigate part of my health whilst navigating grief.
My husband and I joined the local park run then it became a regular weekly event for us which brought us great pleasure (and sometimes a lot of a lot of pain).
Over the year my running gradually increased and I was encouraged to join a weekend sprint training session.
How hard could it be?
Sprinting is very different from any long-distance run. Sprinting is a singular short effort, and surely each time feels the same and you just slowly get better at it- right?
What has surprised me about sprint training is that no matter how many times I run the same 50 m, each time can feel different.
Sometimes you feel heavy like your legs are like lead, that you’re not getting anywhere and if it weren’t for the encouragement of others you would surely just lie down on the grass and forget it for the day. Sometimes there’s no reason for that. It just feels like you want to give up and you’re not even sure why you’re doing it anymore. When it feels like this, I have found only thing you can do is keep going and know that next time will feel different.
Sometimes you wake up with a spark of enthusiasm. You will conquer that same 50m! You will apply great effort and determination to improve your time! You can do it! Olympic glory is within reach! Yet despite the effort, things feel rigid, clunky. With that desperation to improve and the forced effort, nothing seems to work. With this forced effort and focused determination, something feels compressed. I recall hearing my trainers voice when I feel like this relax, breathe. With this simple cue something lets go and I feel myself become more fluid. In moments of great determination, great focus, you still need ease, you still need to breathe.
Sometimes you’re not attached to the outcome in that 50 m sprint. You’ll just coast along and enjoy the ride. Something fills with ease and that same 50 m feels fluid. But without the effort somehow the spark of enthusiasm is lost. In moments of ease, we will still need some effort.
What have I learnt from sprint training?
Sprint training has taught me the ever changing and unique balance of effort and ease.
It has taught me that even though it should feel like the same race each time, it isn’t. My mood changes, my body changes, the weather changes and the only thing I can control is how much effort and how much ease I need to apply at that moment.
You need effort to start and get out of bed. You need effort to keep going. You need effort to cross the finish line. You need effort to make your heavy lead like legs move.
But sometimes all effort creates rigidity.
So, you also need ease.
You need to learn to let go sometimes, relax, breathe. Ease creates room for joy. Ease creates the feeling of fluidity. Ease creates space for the breath and means your open to a moment of flow.
Effort and ease. A concept brought to me many years ago by my yoga teachers, but a concept I had never fully embodied until sprint training. Balancing the fine line of effort and ease in all areas of your life can be like walking the tightrope.
The three areas of a woman’s health are important to build resilience and navigate life’s challenges. Our body health, our mind health and our heart health are the three pillars that need attention. In each of these three areas:
- Where do you need more effort?
- Where do you need more ease?
I had started my running journey as a way to navigate grief, to boost my body health and also my mood and heart health.
Sometimes I need effort to get out of bed and simply put my shoes on.
But learning to walk the tightrope of effort and ease has been my greatest lesson in sprint training. Thank you Noles.
You can find Niky flailing around at Peregian Park on Sundays trying to sprint. Always an amusement for her trainer Noles, yet olympic glory each week is within reach.
Niky is passionate about helping women navigate life challenges and build resilience.
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