Guest blog by Joanna Murphy (New Balance Boston)

After taking a few years off, I returned to competitive distance running about a year and a half ago. These last eighteen months have marked the longest stretch of injury free training in my life and these last six months have been particularly successful for me, resulting in PR’s in every distance from 1500 to 5K. I knocked twenty-two seconds off my 5K (16:50), ten seconds off my 3K (9:51), seven seconds off my mile (4:52), six seconds off my 1500 (4:31), and two seconds off my steeplechase (10:33).  As my racing calendar comes to a close, I reflect back on the four key lessons this last year has taught me:

1.     Train like an Animal, recover like a Carnivorous Zen Yogi

I spent a large portion of my early running career injured. When I returned to competitive running I struggled to really push myself in hard workouts for fear of creating injury. Overcoming this obstacle required a change in perspective, but I’ve discovered that my body adapts to strenuous training, becoming stronger, faster and capable of more when I take care of it. For me, the keys to achieving optimal adaptation have been:

1) A carnivorously plant-based diet: My diet revolves around vegetables and fruit. Lean protein (for me it’s animal protein), whole grains and healthy fats are equally important, but are supplements to the copious amounts of fruits and vegetables that I aim for at every meal. Likewise, I aim to minimize sugars, alcohol, and refined flours. That’s not to say that I don’t celebrate a long run with a gigantic dessert or opt for a (craft) IPA post workout, or have some candy as a snack (because I do) but I make sure I get a quality, clean meal first. Furthermore, eating often and eating enough keeps me properly fueled so I feel like an animal for my workouts.

2) Getting enough sleep: aiming to not be tired upon waking means aiming for 9-10hrs per night. This doesn’t happen every night, but aiming for as much as possible as often as possible makes a big difference in my recovery.

3) Getting my Zen on: Restructuring my life so that stress outside training is minimized means keeping my non-working/running time chilled-out (cat nap anyone?) This, coupled with treating my recovery runs as a Yogi would treat their meditation has enabled my body to be ready to tear it up on hard days.

2.     Your Body Determines Your Racing Weight, Not Your Ego

I’m no waif, so it’s not easy to stand on the line next to girls who are half my size and not feel like I should somehow emulate their physique. Plus, with a substantial amount of research indicating that lighter equals faster, it’s hard not to feel like losing weight is the key to running the times I want to run. But this is precisely why in my first point I stressed the importance of a proper recovery - because the best thing for getting lighter is training harder, and the best thing for training harder is fueling and recovering properly. During college I thought I had to consistently weigh 120 lbs. in order to achieve my goals. For my body type this meant not eating nearly enough. When I came back to competitive running after many years of injuries I decided I wouldn’t worry about my weight and focus instead on the variables that would directly affect my training – eating enough (good food), sleeping enough, hydrating enough, training enough. I surprised myself by PR-ing in every distance from 1500-5K weighing almost 130 lbs. By taking care of my body properly I’ve continued to get leaner and stronger and have been able to do workouts I never thought possible. This year I learned that my ideal racing weight is not an arbitrary number – it is that at which I am strongest.

3.     Be a Baller, Run Fast.

It’s hard for me not to be consumed with how I am feeling during a race – if my legs are heavy, if breathing is hard, if I’m behind, if I’m on pace, etc. This last year has been a lesson in remembering how to race again, from which I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how you feel – in the end it’ll hurt regardless of whether you feel good or bad. I’ve discovered that racing well and running fast are two different things. Running fast means racing the clock, but being a great racer means being a “Baller”. This means putting yourself in position to race even if you’re way above your head and seeded last. It means jumping in something you don’t feel ready for because it’ll be a good opportunity. It means making a move because it’ll make your competitor hurt more, even if you’re not sure you can hold it. This year I learned that feeling in control and being collective while racing wastes an opportunity – it means I ran a time trial. Racing, as a way to test what I’m capable of, means being uncomfortable, putting myself in position and not being afraid to fail. This year I learned that I’ll never surprise myself unless I put myself out there – and that the best racing strategy is: Be a Baller.

4.     One Step at a Time

Like most runners, I have very high goals that I want to achieve before I’m done competing. Sometimes it can feel like I’ll never get there, and running for a high level team like NBB means that there’s always someone faster than me (so far… J ). This year I’ve learned that reaping the rewards of training is best seen after paying due diligence to consistency – that the day in/day out of consistent workouts and mileage over the course of a year (or more) pays off. I’ve learned that the big goals give you something to aim for, but celebrating the small victories of getting faster, even if it’s only by a second, or a fraction of a second, is equally important. Each victory is one step, however small, towards the bigger goal. While I sometimes lament I’m not faster, enjoying my current fitness level and being grateful that I’m healthy has been a big part of my progress as an athlete.  And who am I kidding ? As soon as I achieve “that goal” I will have already moved on to another, bigger, more elusive goal and “that goal” will soon be merely a small step along the way…ah the curse of a distance runner!

Follow Joanna on Twitter (@JoannaMurphy8) and be sure to check out her blog: Running On Full.

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