Yesterday should have felt like a big success for me. Having run a total of 42.2km I completed my longest running day and in doing so logged my first marathon distance… albeit, I split it into two runs!

And yet the day reminded me of the profound influence that stress can have both on my training and my overall mental state.

In the morning I went for an easy solo run with the dual purpose of clocking up a few miles (and reducing the load I’d need to complete in the evening) and getting some Vitamin D. However, despite the relatively slow pace I went off at, within minutes my heart rate was at 80% – it should have been down at 70% based on my pace. I then realised that I was actually short of breath and linked to it my mind was racing, thinking about work, thinking about everything I had to do that day, stressing I didn’t have enough time and… and… a million-and-one other things.

I should have taken the time to reset my breathing and my focus before I went off but I didn’t. Ultimately by training when I already felt stressed I ended up placing more strain on my body and didn’t get the mental / emotional benefit I usually achieve. I actually ended up finishing the run feeling worse than when I started.

The working day passed without drama and I found myself ready to go out for my evening run. Again, within minutes my heart rate was higher than I would have liked / expected but then I met up with a friend, fell into a rhythm and we chatted as we roamed the streets for two hours. What was the result? Well despite the darkness and lashing rain, by introducing a social element I enjoyed the evening run more, my average speed was quicker by over 10 seconds per km, and my heart rate slightly lower. Overall my mind felt less stressed even if my body didn’t.

Having just finished reading Out of Thin Air (by Michael Crawley), I’m reminded of his finding from living and training with Ethiopian athletes that they see running as an inherently social affair. In fact they view life as a social affair. Running alone is viewed with suspicion. They believe there are tremendous benefits in running together and supporting each other. Personally I see the merit in both, but during this prolonged period of lockdown and physical isolation, you shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of a chat with a good friend.