Running is one of the most accessible ways to get fit, improve cardiovascular performance and boost metabolism. For one, I've always been a huge fan of running but as opposed to running for the sake of it, I always used to look at running as a way to enhance my performance. This all changed thanks to the pandemic/lockdown and doing a lot of home workouts.
Being a fitness writer has a lot of perks. I test the best running shoes, the best running watches and the best running headphones, pretty much all the time. It is a lot of fun, not going to lie, but this also means that I have to try and push these products to their limits to notice subtle differences in their performance. This process also pushed me as a person to get better at running and to run fast every time I go for a run.
Wearing all the fitness tech imaginable also provided me with a lot of data: I know my VO2 max, running heart-rate zones and lactate threshold by heart as well as what's the difference between heart rate monitors and fitness trackers when it comes to precision. Having all this data at hand can make you see your runs as a string of information as opposed to a physical activity; every run will be about beating your 5k/10k/half marathon PB, chasing Strava segment records etc.
A couple of years ago I ended up pushing myself too much, doing tempo/interval runs all the time, cycling to work (~30 miles a day), swimming twice a week and so on. My left knee started to hurt when I ran and even worse, I lost interest in running in general. I only ran when I had to, not when I felt like going for a jog. Around this time the global pandemic started to gather momentum and not long after, we were all locked in our homes for good.
I dislike the lockdown just as much as everyone else but it gave me ample amount of time to rest and also to rediscover the joy of resistance training. Another perk of being a fitness writer is that I also get to test the best dumbbells, best kettlebells and best home gym equipment. The lockdown gave me a lot of time to do home workouts without the FOMO as there was quite literally nothing going on anywhere.
Muscle building has always been a challenge for me as I'm naturally rather skinny and tall. It's also a lot of effort for me to gain weight naturally: I used to have mass gainers for breakfast and even now, I tend to consume over 3,000 calories a day but alas, my weight stays the same, which is not ideal when you're chasing gains. In order to build muscle, I needed a strict nutritional and workout plan and follow it to the T. This shifted my attention away from planning cardio sessions and chasing marginal gains out on the road.
Thanks to all the recent running shoes I needed to test, such as the excellent Saucony Kinvara 12 and the Adidas Ultraboost 21, I started running more often again. But since I was focusing on bettering my resistance training performance, I ended up running for fun again and rediscovering the joy of running. I found myself wanting to go for a run, as opposed to dreading the next tempo session. Having a structured home workout plan allowed me to treat running as a recreational activity and to really enjoy my time spent outside.
I realised that it is absolutely fine to not run fast all the time. Strava is great but just like any other social media platform, it forces you to always put your best face forward, by which I mean beating PBs and improving segment times. Looking at other people's achievements, you will end up chasing your best times every single time you go for a run. This puts a lot of stress on your body and as opposed to getting better at running, you will end up injuring yourself.
The takeaway? Even if you want to get better at running, don't try to obsessively over-analyse your performance. Wear your running watch and make sure you log those workouts on Strava but don't chase marginal gains at every single run. If you feel like you don't enjoy running – or any physical activity, for that matter – anymore, step away from it and do something else for a bit. Not doing something you used to love but now dread for a while will enable you to enjoy doing it once again.