* A runner competes in the collegiate section of races during the Penn Relays on Thursday
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
"It's OKAY to adapt to your needs.You are not weak or working less. You're working smart."
Jessica Stratton - Old Saybrook (CT) High School, Class of 2019
University of Delaware, junior
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The best advice I've ever gotten through mentorship is to loosen the grip. If you can relate to being hard on yourself and setting the expectations high, this article is for you.
After I loosened the grip on the sport, the quality of my training drastically improved. I became truly intentional about my actions and my relationship with running became much healthier. 'Loosening the grip' has actually become a mantra that I frequently remind myself to live by.
What I used to think was that if I 'loosened the grip,' it meant that I cared less and it would limit me from reaching my goals. But what I realized is that while it's important to work extremely hard and set high expectations, at a certain point these characteristics can actually cross the line and start inhibiting our success. I didn't understand this until I started to lose my joy for running and I felt WORSE!
What I know now is that loosening the grip is very separate from caring deeply about the sport. It does not mean you care less or work less; it means you're working smarter and reducing stress. The most important thing I have come to realize is that there is NOT a rulebook for running. There is not a set of rules that every single person must follow. No. I realize it might feel this way.
The reason this is not the case, though, is because everyone has different things that they need in order to achieve their own success, to be physically and mentally fit. We're nowhere near physically or mentally fit when we aren't happy, when we're tired or when we're stressed. Running is about consistency over time, not perfection. Worrying about every little thing being perfect and being relentlessly hard on yourself is exhausting and unnecessary. When I find myself in this place, I feel so much extra fatigue in my training and it also affects my mindset.
My 'perceived effort' increases. Perceived effort is the effort you feel like you are putting in versus the amount of effort you actually put in. When you're stressed or fatigued, your perceived effort increases and makes you feel like you need so much more effort than you usually do. So overall, loosening the grip and reducing the unnecessary stress on yourself when things aren't perfect will actually put you in a much better position to succeed.
The second thing I have learned is that you can still maintain consistency while adapting. When your grip loosens, you realize that this is your journey, and it can be written according to your daily needs. I'll be the first one to tell you that it is OKAY to take a day off if you're mentally off. It is OKAY to take a day to cross train if you're extra sore and not recovering. These are the types of small things that have zero impact on the long run, but actually provide you with more joy for the sport and less stress.
Running is about consistency over time, not perfection. Worrying about every little thing being perfect and being relentlessly hard on yourself is exhausting and unnecessary. When I find myself in this place, I feel so much extra fatigue in my training and it also affects my mindset.
In my experience, those who stress too much over a day off either end up injured or lose joy for the sport. But those who have a looser grip and aren't so hard on themselves can trust themselves when they need something that strays from the 'normal' regiment.
It's OKAY to adapt to your needs.You are not weak or working less. You're working smart. Sometimes when I'm stuck in a predicament about what's right and what I should do when in the middle of training -- when I'm having these internal debates and wasting my energy -- I ask myself who told me it had to be a certain way.
Again, there is no rulebook. When I work hard and stay focused -- but also find a balance of staying joyful and prioritizing other things in my life -- I am a much happier version of myself. Consequently, I also show up in a much better physical and mental place to train, and, it becomes so much more fun!
To be quite frank, I'm still learning how to implement all of these things. So for those who can relate to these feelings and want to make changes, don't expect everything to be perfect and change all at once. Making progress is a great place to be.
Loosen the grip, and have fun!
Jessica is a 2019 graduate of Old Saybrook (CT) High School and a junior at the University of Delaware. She was a multiple-time CIAC State Open and CIAC Class Class S Championship qualifier and placer, and held PRs of 2:22.78 in the 800m and 5:07.42 in the 1,600m. This is a monthly series where Jessica writes about important and wide-ranging subjects involving young and developing runners.
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