My running volume has reduced over the past 3 weeks, primarily due to the fact I badly stubbed my big toe on my right foot. I don’t think that it broke, but it was pretty bad and dark purple! I took almost a whole week with no running, then started back again, just running gently and short distances to test the injury.
I notice a few things change when I stop running or reduce running volume. From a physiological point, for sure, my metrics go the wrong way. Vo2 max drops quite quickly, which I guess is a fair reflection on fitness loss during inactivity, and my weight piles back on and I start eating poorly (or is it the other way around?!). Apart from the physical changes and metrics, my general mental state changes too, I find that I am more snappy and irritable a lot more, generally much less tolerant and less engaged with normal life.
When I start running again, I notice that, although the initial runs feel harder, after a few outings, I can run a little faster, I guess this is due to reduced running stress on my body. My Vo2 max starts to pick back up, albeit very slowly. Weight and eating habits, of course, change even slower, it is amazing how much a small injury can affect my overall wellbeing.
After a running break, while I am running, even a short distance like a 5k, I can feel the positive effects on my mental state, I can process some stuff and, throw it away or come to a conclusion. I can relax and start to enter almost a meditative state, helped by the rhythm of my steps and breathing. Some runners call this ‘flow’ and I can understand why, when I’m there, I don’t have to think about what I’m doing, I can focus outwardly and enjoy the countryside, I don’t feel stressed or in any pain, I can feel my body working and the effort it takes, but I don’t mind. This is the state when I feel like I could run all day and night. More importantly, when my run finishes, after being in this ‘flow’, I am relaxed, calm and ready for whatever is next.
I know a lot of people talk about the mental health benefits of running, but I think this is what it really brings for me, much more than the physical benefits, sure, they are there, but the mental benefits are much more important to me, especially with my busy work where sometimes I am up at 04:30 to start work and other times still working at 22:00.
Getting to ‘flow’ while on a run, is something I can’t achieve every time, I haven’t quite figured that out yet, I don’t think there is an instruction booklet for it(!), but it is something I often consciously try to achieve and other times, it almost takes me by surprise when I’m there. If you have experienced it, you will know what I mean, if not, then maybe you are reading this thinking I am talking crap, I used to think that too, when every run is an internal battle of voices shouting stop/keep going it is difficult to even conceive that you can run almost without effort, letting the body do its thing while the mind relaxes and enjoys the ride! But it is there and when you experience it, it’s like gold!
Short and sweet this time, for my next article, I plan to review some of my running gear, I also plan to get this done soon!