A Male Perspective

Although Following on from the success of the first “Fruits & Friends” guest post, today I’ve got another one for you all. This time, my friend Matt discusses running & the sport from a male perspective. He talks about getting into it, the pressure to increase training load, the importance of fuelling and a lot of other things. It’s got some good lessons so well worth a read! And to the guys out there – sorry it’s taken me so long to get a male writer… 

I’m Matthew and I am a second year Maths student at Edinburgh University. I’ve got to know Emma over the past couple of years and I’m pleased to be here on her blog and I’ll take this opportunity to chat a bit about running from a male perspective.

My running journey started by accident, on a Saturday morning in September 2017. I was bored, so my Mum said why not come along to Parkrun, with the promise of cake at the end. 21 minutes and one second later, I was hooked. After going along to a few of my local running clubs session’s, I signed up for my first race – a small 10k, close to home in the North East of Scotland. Prior to the race, I was immensely nervous, so much so that I couldn’t stomach my breakfast! I had no idea how to pace myself; I eased into the race and didn’t start too fast and it certainly worked and I completed my first 10k in just over 41 minutes.

Over the next few months, I continued to run, starting to go out on runs myself. Initially, I was embarrassed and too shy to go out running; I would try and get out to the countryside as quickly as possible and just run loops out there to avoid being seen by my friends and people from school. Fast forward to now, I’m proud to be a runner; anyone from home and school certainly knows this now! Anyway, I kept running and working hard, after a few weeks of my local club runs and a few runs by myself – I realised that I was actually pretty decent at this running malarky, which just spurred me on and motivated me to work harder and improve.

At this point in time, I was running around 20-40km a week and had no real structure to my training – I just did what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. This led to a few problems, the main one being running too much – aka overtraining. I downloaded an app, which I’m sure you’re all familiar with –  Strava – and I linked it up with my new GPS watch so I could track my training, as well as seeing what others were doing. As great as the digital age and apps like Strava are, it’s not necessarily the most healthy virtual training environment to be in. I started to deconstruct and scrutinise not only my own training, but others too. I began to compare myself to others; local runners, club runners and top runners from home, such as marathon runner, Robbie Simpson. This resulted in me trying to run way too fast, I bumped my mileage up and ran 60km within 3 a day period, which lead to two weeks away from running; my first running injury.

My main point here is that you are you, and you shouldn’t be comparing your training and training volume with anyone else. Everyone’s shape, size and body makeup is different and we must remember to work within our own limitations. Yes, we can explore what our limitations are and increase our training load over time, but it must be done in a sensible and gradual manner. Some people, even our age (20) have been running for at least 15 years, so of course they will be able to run more and handle more mileage than people like Emma and I; who are newer to this great sport.

I started a more structured training programme in January 2018. It was really good to have a plan and have key sessions to carry out during the week and my mileage was slightly higher than before, running 30-50km per week. I was really enjoying my running, racing a fair bit and improving my times and PBs.  In September 2018, I moved to university and I was very excited about moving onto the next stage in my life. I was particularly looking forward to exploring new running routes, races and hopefully more PBs! The university running club, the Hare and Hounds, which I’m sure you are familiar with from Emma’s blogs, is a really great club to be part of. There’s a wide range of abilities and various training groups, as well as having a great social aspect about it. Before leaving for uni, I had PBs of 18 minutes for 5k, 39 minutes for 10k and I was one of the fastest runners from my club at home. I was shocked when I was getting to know everyone at uni that I was one of the slowest people there, but I didn’t mind this, it just meant that I could have lots of people to chase in races; targets to aim for, meaning I turned a potential negative into a positive, which is key in life.

At first, I started going to the main club sessions. They were good but didn’t provide me with the guidance I needed as still a relatively new runner. I got involved with a coach from back home which was good at first; skype calls, messages back and forward and receiving my training programme via an app called TrainingPeaks. This meant I was carrying out the majority of my training by myself, but I felt this was the best way for me to improve at this time. I was doing some great sessions, and starting to feel like I was making some big improvements. I put this down to the increase in mileage. The first week of my programme was 73km, then week two was 93km… 99, 115, 113, 115km. You get the picture. My mileage skyrocketed in a very short space of time & I sat at this level for about eight weeks. I felt great, I was running well and I was tired but nothing was stopping me from getting out everyday to run, often twice a day. Lots of my caring uni friends questioned this mileage and asked what I was thinking – but I was just following my coaches’ orders and I told them I’d keep going until I was so tired that the quality of my sessions were affected – this didn’t ever happen.

But one Tuesday in January 2019, on a 8km easy run my foot began to really hurt, so much so I couldn’t even put weight on it, so I hobbled the rest of the way home and didn’t really know what to do next. Long story short, I had a stress reaction on my second metatarsal, my body had handled the mileage okay in the short term, but the substantial increase eventually caught me out and put me on the sidelines for five or so weeks. The lesson to be learned here is that your coach isn’t always right and the plan that is set for you is not set in stone and it doesn’t always have to be followed. Looking back, I would have questioned why I had been set all this mileage and been more involved in the discussion around my training and the volume of training I was carrying out.

Additionally, I was quite lucky that my injury wasn’t too severe and I was back running in a relatively short period of time. I cross trained my little heart out and didn’t lose much fitness and made my return to running, slowly building my running volume up again, but to a lesser extent than before. I made a big jump in progress in April 2019 at the Isle of Man Running Festival. On the Friday, I ran 35 minutes in the 10k, taking nearly four minutes off my pb, and then followed this up with a 90 second pb in the 5k on the Sunday. Brilliant, I was finally making progress…

It was a great weekend, and I would recommend it to every runner, but it wiped me out and I was ill for the whole week after. I stupidly tried to run through this cold, but finally it did lift. But over the next few months I continued to get hit with lots of small illnesses and I just felt flat and lethargic all the time. I tried to train as normal, and race too, in one instance dropping out of the Scottish 5k champs after 3km. Although I continued to train, I just felt myself getting into a deeper and deeper hole of tiredness and fatigue. I had my second semester university exams, so I assumed I was just stressed and a bit tired, so I powered on through and presumed it would all get better once I got home for summer.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case and things just got worse and worse. One day at the track, my planned session was 8 minutes tempo then 18 x 400m. I struggled through the tempo then called it a day after three x 400’s, as I was quite frankly done. I knew I was more than just tired, so I booked a doctors appointment, got blood tests and later found out my ferritin levels were extremely low – which thankfully explained everything! I was prescribed supplement tablets and after two or so months things began to get a bit better and by the time September came, I felt like myself again.

Another lesson learnt here and again I would’ve done things a bit differently looking back, such as going to the doctors straight away and taking my foot off the pedal in terms of training volume and intensity sooner. I can now for sure say that the general tiredness of hard training is certainly different to the symptoms of iron deficiency, with the main one being it took me literally an hour to wake up and get out my bed in the morning, even after a long sleep and then immediately after running I would fall asleep as soon as I sat down to relax afterwards. Since then, I’ve moved to an over the counter iron supplement to continually top up my ferritin levels, as well as taking a Vitamin C tablet each day.

In terms of fuelling and being healthy runner and a healthy person, it is very important, especially as boys, that we are aware of the importance of this. In females and girls’ running it is a very significant and much discussed topic; periods, REDs, eating disorders. I feel this is swept under the carpet on the boys side due to the fact that it is less common. Yes, it might be less common, but by no means is it less important. I’m no expert, so won’t preach about the specific issues, their symptoms and how to solve them, but again I emphasise that training load should not be excessive and if you want to increase it should be tried gradually. We must always remember to fuel properly, before and after a run, with a healthy, balanced diet. And most importantly, if we do have any problems or questions surrounding the subjects, we can speak to an expert, such as Dr Nicky Keay, a REDs expert. And I must add that Emma has extensive knowledge and has always been great if I’ve ever had any questions surrounding fuelling!

One final point I’d like to make ties up all of the points made above. I’m sure you are well aware of the overused cliche: consistency is key. I really do believe that this is the case. It is much better for you to run six weeks of 50km as opposed to running three 70km weeks and have three weeks of 20km. By having this slighly more conservative approach to training volume, you can keep below the threshold of crossing the red-line and putting yourself at a higher risk of injury, illness, deficiencies and disorders. By doing this, you’ll get to run more overall, spend more time socialising with your friends whilst training, and overall you will be a happier, healthier and better runner!

I want to thank Matt again for taking the time to write this & I hope you found it as interesting as I did.

Emma ♥♥