Applying Intuitive Techniques to Running
The foundation of how I conduct nutrition consults is based upon intuitive eating principles. Eating intuitively means relearning how to listen and respond to your body’s innate hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues instead of relying on external factors like diet culture, media influences or a misconstrued belief of what you “should” be doing. As I’ve become more experienced with training and have entered my third decade of running, I’ve noticed that I’ve automatically adopted these same principles in my trail running training and I now strive to make them explicit.
This is nothing new of course. I have always been told to “listen to my body.” Unfortunately, this is much easier to say than to do when there are so many external influencers. Tim Tollefson is running 80,000 ft of vert a week! That’s what I need to be doing. Ding! It’s Strava with a friendly notification that I just lost my crown.
Running intuitively is a way of respecting my body by listening to it and setting it up for success. How tired am I? Where am I going to run today? How hungry am I? What’s the weather like and what should I wear? How stressed am I? How far and fast should I run today? The answers to these questions influence how I plan my run and what I actually end up doing in the moment.
Having a training plan set in stone or strict prescribed pacing can cause obsession or disordered thought patterns. It can make me feel great or terrible about a run when the reality could be the exact opposite. Running intuitively encourages me to run by feel while using a range of paces and distances each day to guide me. When I was in college, if I was supposed to be doing mile repeats at 5:40-5:50, I would always try to hit 5:40, regardless of how I felt. If I ran all of them at 5:49 it wasn’t a great workout. If I hit 5:38-5:42 on all of them, it was a great workout. Now, how I feel at the end of a workout determines whether it was a good workout or not. Running 5:48, or at the higher range, for all the repeats and still being fairly comfortable on the last one is a much better workout than killing myself to get in the last split. Not only did I achieve today’s goals, I’ve set myself up for success for the rest of the week by not going to the well today.
As an aside, how accurate do you really think your GPS watch is day to day? I equate a GPS watch to a scale. The number it produces at any point in time should not dictate how you feel about yourself until it gives you a new number.
Getting back to trusting your body can be hard, but so much better for your long-term mental and physical health. After all, we are not robots or machines... we are living breathing dynamic humans!
It is important to understand that we all don’t prioritize the same values. With an intuitive approach to nutrition or running, it is first important to understand and prioritize your values. Values are different than goals. Unless you have established your values, it is hard to make intuitive decisions. Before jumping into a training plan, it is central to establish your values because this provides the groundwork for planning and for day to day and minute to minute decisions.
You’re feeling great and may add on a couple miles today, but you’ll be late for your friend’s birthday get together. If you value friends above your running, then the stress you’ll feel isn’t worth it. If training for your first 50 miler this fall is more important, than you make the decision to be late. Of course, there are many more values and variables to consider and that’s what makes training so difficult and why it must be more intuitive to you.
What are the values that you rank above running?
Is it your partner, your family, your career, traveling, or all the above? That’s great! There is no wrong answer and no judgement.
If you value adventuring with friends over training for a race, you should not think twice if you decide to go on an impromptu adventure instead of getting in the day’s workout. That is aligned with your values and will result in a happier you.
Knowing this, work your planned adventures into your training schedule so that you can account for fatigue or shape your adventure into a run that will benefit your training as much as your mental health.
Do you have a demanding career or are you a parent trying to juggle 10 tasks at once? That should be factor that into your training. Running shouldn’t cause you stress or take away from your life, rather it should give you energy and fulfil you.
Many coaches are former college runners or current high-performance athletes. Running may be at the top of or very high on their list of personal values; running is their lifestyle. Without realizing it, they may be coaching you as if running is number one on your list. They give you a workload based on their perspective of what you are capable of and need to perform best in your next race. But running may be #4 on your list of values and should be leeway in your schedule to reflect this.
Using the intuitive eating principles that I practice with my clients as a Registered Dietitian, I’ve personally been more mindful to not only be focused on the competitive parts of my racing but to look at my running as a whole and the values I want to embrace. For example, in the month prior to my “A” race of the year, I ran two other long and hard races. I ran them not just to compete, but to challenge my anxiety and to run to the top of a really cool mountain in Switzerland, respectively. This may have affected the final result of my “A” race, but it has fulfilled me to a much greater degree than if I had solely focused on that one race alone.
I want to enjoy the process of being the best runner I can be, rather than focusing solely on times and places. Years from now I will have forgotten my time or where I finished at my “A” race, but I’ll never forget conquering the circumnavigation of Mt. St. Helen’s or running to the top of the Schilthorn. Feeling good physically, mentally and emotionally daily is a much more accurate depiction of what it means to be successful rather than one race or workout. How can I be a little bit better today? Better defined by me.
If this speaks to you or you have comments or additionally questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I am currently taking both running coaching and nutrition consulting clients. You can schedule a free 15-minute phone call with me to see if we are a good fit together by signing up directly via www.mariadalzotRD.com/schedule.