Mark Armstrong: Adjusting to running life after lockdown

Mark Armstrong run in the sun

Mark Armstrong on a training run in the sun - Credit: Mark Armstrong

It’s been great to see on social media so many people out running in the sun during the early part of the week. 

It feels strange, but in an affirming way, to see more than two people running together as is permitted by the government guidelines according to the roadmap out of lockdown. 

Many running clubs have met this week and it feels like that wonderful word, normality, is tantalisingly close. 

I know for so many people running is so much more than a sport – it's a chance to socialise and meet up with friends. Barriers come down during runs with friends and you find yourself talking about things you wouldn’t necessarily talk about if you were just sat around someone’s house having a coffee. 

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The other side of it of course is that you push yourself that much harder when you’re in a group situation. If you’re almost on your knees with a three-minute interval still to run then you’re more likely to get that last rep done if you see your club mate ready to go again. 

This week may have also been a reality check for some. Clubs provide some quality structured training which has understandably fallen by the wayside for some due to the pressures of the latest lockdown.  

I know the thought at the start of the year of putting much effort into my running was too much of a stretch. I just used running as a stress reliever as I didn’t need the pressure, which I put on myself, of hitting certain splits. 

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That changed when I could see races potentially coming back and the switch has been flicked back on over the past month to get some quality sessions in... the change in the weather has certainly helped as well! 

But there were an initial few weeks where I wondered what I had let myself in for and I mourned the lost fitness I had gained during the latter part of 2020. 

You feel like you are starting all over again, but it’s a trick, you’re not. Your body just needs to remember the demands that you’ve placed on it before. It requires some patience, which of course runners aren’t renowned for, but give your body enough time to adapt and it will. 

You can’t expect to jump back into running right where you were before if you haven’t run or maintained a certain level of intensity... ‘you are where you are’, as Neil always tells me when I’m about to start a training block with him. 

I’ve started to feel like I’m making progress towards a sub-40-minute 10K attempt after a key session earlier this week. Whenever I know I’ve got a difficult run coming up where I have to hit certain paces, I always head for one particular route. It’s purely psychological but I regard it as something of a ‘lucky’ course. I’ve not had a bad session there and it’s now about building confidence that I can hold that 6.26 minute mile pace when the Snetterton 10K takes place later this month. 

I certainly felt inspired watching the Olympic Marathon Trials last week when 39-year-old Chris Thompson won and secured his spot for Tokyo. To run a personal best at his age is inspiring, especially when he’s also only recently become a father. 

I’ve often wondered how long I can use the pursuit of personal bests as a motivation to run but Chris offered a timely reminder that age is just a number and it’s about the quality of the training you’re able to put in. 

Here’s hoping there’s life in our legs yet after what we’ve all had to cope with for more than a year.