Friday 5th February 2016 - 77 days to go until The Marathon.
I'm already late rushing off the wards to get my handover for the weekend. Friday afternoons are always manic on the acute assessment unit. I've not had lunch. I normally stay to chat but I need to hurry off. I'm on-call Sunday night, so tonight is the only time I can fit my long run in. I'm only half way through my 10 day week but I motivate myself to get my trainers on for the second run of the day. I run an uninspired 16 miles along the A40. My bag is heavy and my legs are tired from my track session last night. I can't break 8 min/mile. I manage 30 minutes of conditioning in the gym before running to the tube to go home. I’ve run 21 miles today. I eat my dinner and go to bed, hoping the weekend won't be too busy.
Weeks like this weren’t unusual leading up to my first marathon.
Running was taking up more and more of my time since I decided to increase my mileage to step up to the longer distances. Less than two years ago, I would finish somewhere in the middle for cross country races and my fastest park run was outside 20 minutes. 18 months of dedicating my life to running, I found myself running 2:45 on my debut marathon.
In the final 4 months leading up to London I was running 70-100 miles a week. Working full time as a Respiratory Physiotherapist at a busy London teaching hospital, I was constantly running out of hours in the day. My life revolved around work and training. I had little free time for socialising and would use any opportunity to squeeze in every extra mile possible.
Did I have the balance right?
Paula Radcliffe uses a great analogy of life balances being like juggling different balls. Some you can take more risks with, but others are fragile and you need to treat them with caution, not taking your eye off them.
The main issue is time and the sacrifices you have to be willing to make to run 80 miles a week.
"ah, I can't I've got to run" was a regular excuse for not going out and socialising and without a training group, I would often run alone. The peak of my training was quite a lonely and isolating time for me.
Sleep, one of the vital ingredients for recovery is also neglected. Waking up earlier and earlier to get more miles in or going to bed later to go to the gym after a track session. Add in life admin, trying to get 8 hours sleep is near impossible.
Admittedly, being too focused on running I had lost sight on the other key aspects of my life, including my health. Something I won't ever let slip again.
Now I'm not saying that being a full time athlete is easy. It comes with constant pressures to perform to hold onto sponsorship deals and funding. The lack of job and financial security is something I don't envy and I am very thankful for my guaranteed pay slip at the end of the month.
My circumstances have changed in recent months. I have a new job and training group under the guidance of my coach, Rob Mckim. I'm more relaxed and I have a better work/life balance. I can now concentrate better on looking after myself to be the best athlete I can be. I still have very limited time during the week, but now was a consistent 9-5 - Monday - Friday routine, its easier. But it’s also recognising that its okay to drop a run to go out and socialise with your friends. It’s okay to miss a gym session because you had to stay at work late. You have to be organised and you have to maximise every minute of the day but you also have to be flexible with your commitments. That’s what gives you balance.
The recent announcement of the British Athletics 2016-17 World Class Performance Programme selections has seen many distance athletes go without funding, even Rio Olympians. Going into the year of the London World Athletics Championships will we see more of our GB team having to request annual leave to attend? Does having to juggle working and training put a glass ceiling on athletes progress? Are there barriers around adequate recovery, difficulty in increasing training volume and lack of flexibility with taking time off for overseas training and competition?
This is something I want to explore further and I would love the opinion from other athletes.
Please fill in my survey for my next blog - I am very keen to get more information balancing life as a working athlete and the potential barriers to success.
It was about five balls: life is about juggling five balls in the air. They are health, family, friends, integrity and career/achievement. These balls are not the same; the important thing to remember is that the career ball is made of rubber but the others are more fragile.