Neil Featherby: The importance of balancing goals and lifestyle for runners

Mark Armstrong Norfolk XC 2022

The balance between goals and your lifestyle can be difficult as Mark Armstrong is finding out. - Credit: Total Race Timing

I think it’s fair to say that between mine and Mark Armstrong’s columns last Friday, several people reacted and connected, especially to what he had written. 

We all need goals in life, particularly for us runners and as said previously that could mean anyone who is just trying to complete their first 5K to someone with Olympic aspirations. 

Yet for us to achieve goals on a consistent basis, apart from commitment, we do also need to be realistic by way of current fitness levels and of course the very careful balance of making sure that our running fits in with our lifestyle. 

For instance, Mark has this huge drive towards being the very best runner he can be.  

However, at the same time he also has a lot going on in his life what with his work and family commitments, which can sometimes lead to frustration when he can’t always fit as much running into his day as he would like to do.  

As for patience, I am smiling while writing this. 

Whilst he does like to play down his ability when talking about himself, the truth is he is capable of getting his 10K time down to 37 minutes or even quicker and he knows that if he could just remain injury free with a good consistent run of training, then this really is a long-term, achievable, goal. 

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As yet of course he is still to break 40 minutes although the likelihood is that he did do just that at Snetterton last year in what was regarded as a race a tad over distance. 

Nevertheless, over distance or not, he pushed himself beyond hard in both training and the race which then led to an injury causing further mental anguish. 

Having built his running back up again upon recovery along with a couple of decent race performances and I hasten to add without my help, it was still quite clear that he was not only chasing here there and everywhere, but he was also trying to chase and make up for lost time. 

Then leading up to the recent Norfolk County Cross Country Championships, he asked me how I thought he should run it what with not having raced cross country since school days. 

“Why not just have some fun by starting at the back and then like a boxer in a championship bout, feel your way around the first couple of rounds or in this case miles and then start working your way through to finish strong,” I said. 

I even pointed out that it could make for a good column the following week. 

Of course, I knew he would not do that as I doubt too many other highly fired up people would and by the time he came up the hill on the second lap I could see he was not as comfortable as he would have liked to have been. He did also finish with another muscular niggle (calf strain), which of course led to further disappointment and another long conversation between us both last week. 

Going forward, this really is the time for Mark to carefully and patiently plan ahead with not only some very defined goals in place but some short-term ones as well so he can tick them off, one by one, whilst gradually seeing his progression unfold.  

At the same time he also must be realistic about where he is at and how he can get the best out of himself when it comes to fitting his running into his hectic lifestyle. 

Needless to say, this is applicable to everyone, be it Mark or indeed a potential budding sub 2:20 marathon runner where training blocks of 90 to 120 miles per week might be the order of the day.  

If your lifestyle does not dictate such a heavy training load, then you really do have to re-evaluate your goals. Or better still look for another way which might just get you there without going overboard and crashing out. 

For instance, whilst it was known back in the day that I would run well over 100 miles each week, another very good friend of mine at the time, Gregor Booth, knew that if he started running the same amount of mileage as myself it would backfire on him for which he functioned far more effectively off 60 to 70 miles a week. He did indeed also run a sub 2:20 marathon, proving the point. 

Whilst hard work should always equal success, it still comes down to making sure the hard work you put in, is productive.