My Road Back To Running – Building Endurance in Body and Mind

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There is a saying ‘You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone‘, and I’m inclined to agree. It’s true for many aspects of life – a person, your health, a hobby, you name it, we are all often guilty of not appreciating the simple but beautiful things we are blessed to have. This year, after a knee niggle I tried to ignore turn into a knee injury, I couldn’t run. For about 4 months. Now, I’ll be honest, I’m no marathon runner. My maximum distance I’ve gone before is 10km as part of charity runs like the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon, or the Movember Run, or the Pink Run for Breast Cancer. My best 10km time was 41 minutes in the 2017 Mini Marathon, which was amazing, but also gave me a soft tissue injury to my foot – but hey, it was an amazing day and time – silver linings, you know I like to find them!

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Why do I run? Good question. I think the idea of ‘running’ or ‘going for a run’ is a bit like Marmite for many people – we either love it, or hate it. Personally, I love it, but I love strength training just as much. I also love yoga, and the simple bliss of a walk. I’ve never really wanted to try a marathon – a half marathon maybe someday, but it’s not a bucket list essential for me really. But being physically ABLE to run? That’s key. And if you’re reading this thinking ‘Nope, never been a runner, never want to be’ – that is 100% FINE, and in fact, it’s awesome, because it means you’re working with what exercise and activity YOU enjoy. Remember, that’s the one you stick to. But I’m writing this for runners and non-runners out there, to share with you my journey from a setback I struggled with to a comeback I’m excited to be making.

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I run because – well, it’s hard to put into words. I used to call it ‘headspace‘, and I guess that’s as accurate as I can be. Some days, I’ll track my run for distance and time, and others, I’ll just pop my earbuds on, turn on my playlist, shut the door and go. It’s a release – a feeling that connects my mind with my body, forcing me (in a good way!) to tune in to my thoughts, ideas and reflections. I really don’t think there are many stressful problems or issues that a good run (no matter what time or distance you go for) can’t solve, or at least make seem that bit smaller and less significant.

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I also love running as a way to explore your area, both at home and abroad – a tradition I have in any new city is to do one (or more) runs while there. I’ve done it in various American cities, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, London – and I’m very grateful for the experiences. It’s such a cool way to see the city – early in the morning is my favourite time to do it, because much of the world is asleep, and you find so many exciting little bits of city character along the way. In Dublin I love to plan my route (depending on length) to finish or hit a halfway point at one of my favourite local coffee spots – it’s a great motivator!

So if we rewind to February this year, when I had to give it up for a while…not something I coped well with initially, being honest. I missed it. A lot. More than that, I missed the part of my identity that running is, however small. I probably only ran once (maximum twice) a week before then, but it was the ‘I can’t, I shouldn’t’ feeling that I hated.

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Chin up princess, or the crown slips!’ is one of my absolute favourite mantras, because it makes me cop on (a lovely Irish phrase for ‘get over yourself girl!’) and switch into a positive productive mindset whenever I’m in a funk about something. So after initial moping, I focused on what I could do, as I’ve spoken about in my injury blog post, and started going for Podcast walks or yoga classes during my time previously given to running or strength training. Happily, with that mindset shift, I found that while I did still miss running, I focused on recovery and rehab, enjoying what I COULD do, and looking forward to the time when I would be able to start running again. Yoga and walking DID give me that mind-body-movement connection I had had with running, and finding that out was probably what motivated me most to be strict with recovery.

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And so here I am, back running, and literally FULL of gratitude for it. At the time of writing, I’ve just signed up for the Irish Breast Cancer Annual Pink Run in October, which can be a 5km or 10km distance. I’m aiming for the 10km. It’s a wonderful cause, and I try to do the run every year. So it’s PROGRESS and GOALS time gang. I’ve been back running since May, very slowly building up the time for which I run, as opposed to tracking distance. I started with slow 3-5 minutes on the treadmill as a strength training session warm-up a couple of times per week, and then after 2-3 weeks of building that up to 10-13 minutes, I took it to the streets. I tried 15 minutes of a road run, then 20 the next week, 25 after that, and now? This week I hit a personal best post-injury, and I ran for 40 minutes, covering 4.7 miles (if my Fitbit is accurate!). To say I was over the moon with that is an understatement! That ‘runner’s high’ of feel-good endorphins they talk about? Flowing.


So what’s the plan now to get to 10km? Keep doing what I’m doingEducate myself with the help of others. LEARN from past mistakes! I think it’s so so important that I now have more of an awareness of the preparation I need to do for my body to progress my running distance (and thank you Adam Willis for highlighting this to me!). Yes, I’m running, I’m a yogi, I lift weights – but there are other equally essential things to consider, such as running form, the right shoes, training volume, and specific strengthening exercises to prevent the common runner niggles. So all wise words welcome from you runners out there! My aim is progressing week on week, SLOWLY, ideally increasing time by 3-5 minutes each time. If my knee says ‘nope, too much Ciara‘ then I’ll scale it back, with a longer run and a shorter run, both spread out during the week. I’m continuing to strength train and 100% keeping up regular yoga, because both are things I love and that have been shown in many studies to improve performance in endurance activities. My main training goal until October will shift to this distance, and I’ve taken the pressure off myself to see major gains in my heavy lifts (e.g. squat, deadlift). And like I say – it’s all a learning curve, and I intend to listen to my body every step of the way.

You guys have asked some questions about the injury and my recovery, and I hope the previous reflective articles I wrote, as well as this one, help. We are all unique, and our individual recovery from injury is no different. But a setback can be really hard to take, so I want these articles to show you that yes, your mindset takes a bang, but you CAN find and focus on that silver lining, and use it to your advantage. To finish, I’ll quote a final favourite phrase of mine – ‘Your setback is the platform for your comeback.’

As always guys, you know where to find me – @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook! Any questions, comments, vibes or thoughts you have, send them my way! I’ll be sharing my running progress to October with you all too.

Ciara 🙂 x

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