Why I changed my goal distances on Strava…. And then changed them back again.

I had two aims for 2020. Firstly, run a marathon. Secondly do 1000km in a year. Through various reasons, I’d never achieved this before.

I set my Strava targets to 1000 km for the year and 20km a week (For the 1000 km, I’d have to average 19.23km/week). I enjoy using Strava – I love seeing what others have been up to, I love segments, seeing progress and setting goals. Goals keep me motivated, they keep me on track but sometimes, they can get a bit much too.

As most of you know, I was in training for the Edinburgh marathon, which was meant to be my first ever marathon in late May this year. A week before lockdown, I’d reached my furthest long-run distance – 16 miles!

I was soaring through my training programme. As I’d recently moved to Belfast by myself, exercise was a great way to keep occupied and to meet new people. I was going to the gym 3-4 times a week, running with a group (Ormeau runners) on Wednesdays, going swimming once or twice a week, walking 40 mins to work and back again every day, and doing my long runs on Saturdays where I’d incorporate a different parkrun each week and an excellent post-run coffee!

When everywhere started shutting down and working from home, I hastily re-booked my flight, previously planned for a visit in late-march, to come home to Leeds that Saturday. I didn’t get much running done that week! I was hurriedly trying to wind down everything at work, and pack my single suitcase to take home for an unknown period of time (hilariously after just getting the last of my stuff shipped out there!).

The first few weeks at home were like a honeymoon – due to Flybe’s demise, I hadn’t seen my other half (who stayed in Leeds) since I moved out to Northern Ireland 7 weeks prior. I was elated to be home and my running reflected that. I was running regularly, and, presumably due to training and my emotional state, running a lot faster too!

I made a conscious decision to limit my allocated lockdown exercise as not to abuse the rules. Though some people have said “one hour is enough” or “you don’t need to run more than 10k,” I decided to do what I needed to – stick to my normal routine, but I did dial back the long runs. I didn’t want to push myself past what I knew what I was capable of, especially in the warm weather. So I haven’t gone further than 13.1 miles since, often doing between 10-12 miles for longer runs.

[Note: I know lockdown exercise distance/time is a topic of controversy for some people – if there were specific time/distance limits, I would have abided by them, and I think it is important to be kind, and not judge others.]

Week by week I was running a lot! Averaging around 35-40k a week. I realised I was on for not just 1000 km this year, but 1000 miles! A few weeks back I changed my Strava targets – 1610 km for the year, and 30 km a week to keep me on track.

March was the first time I’d ever done a 100-mile-month! Then I managed the same again in April.

Since then, I have remained on target – I was over 40km ‘ahead of pace’ for the yearly target. But I found my runs got harder mentally. Whether it’s the novelty of being home has passed, or that reality has set in, or just that I miss running with lovely people – I’ve had a couple of weeks where getting out the house is hard. When I do get out, I tend to be averaging a slower pace. I’ve also had a few runs where I ran because my Strava target is 30km/week – rather than because I wanted to! The numbers were really starting to weigh on me.

I’ve had a few run-ins with poor mental health in the past and I recognised that this behaviour wasn’t healthy. The pressure of the targets wasn’t positively spurring me on any more, it was making me feel pressured and having a negative impact.

So today I changed them back. I’ve never done 1000km in a year before and it’s still an achievement whether I was on track for bigger things or not. Running at the moment is my hour of peace – away from the four walls, away from screens, and out in the fresh air.

I know this lull will pass, and the running form and speed will come back around in the future. But that’s not what I need to focus on right now. I need to focus on running for me! For fun, for relaxation – not a box ticking exercise!

So that’s why I changed my Strava goals, and then changed them back again. As the fantastic Yogi Adrienne says, take what you need, let go of that which no longer serves you.

By Grace Roberts

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