Anna Boniface reflects on her progress this year after making a welcome return to racing at the Hampshire Cross Country League.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had clear indications that the hard work over the last 12 months is working. With a few months of consistent training, I’ve been feeling like a tiger in a cage with excitement to get back racing.

After a year out of competition, I was ready. Health and performance finally being in equilibrium.

Training transitions

Training has gradually been progressing with volume and incorporating sessions over the last few months. With the guidance of Nick Anderson, I’m now doing three key sessions a week including grass intervals, threshold paced work, progression runs and hill training.

With one double day and a 90 minute Sunday long run, all the key elements of winter training are falling into place.

Finding balance – working life

I am as passionate about my job as I am about running personal bests, however as from January, I was working multiple part-time jobs and training was erratic from the lack of routine.

In August, I started a full time physiotherapy job at a Police Rehabilitation Centre. Not only do I love the work, but its a perfect fit for combing both my passions.

With beautiful runs, great facilitates and like minded team members, I can confidently say my work is enhancing my training with a good work-life balance.

Stronger bones

The changes this year have been aimed at improving my bone density. Restoring energy balance has been paramount with nutritional changes.

Increasing caloric intake, particularly upping carbohydrates has seen improvements in hormonal health. I attribute this to a great deal of patience from my good friend and dietician, Alex Cook.

For bone health, there’s a great deal of literature showing the benefits of strength training and plyometrics for stimulating bone turnover. Distance runners have a reputation of being fearful of lifting weights, myself included.

I got out of my comfort zone and into the squat rack to load my bones (particularly lumbar spine) with decent weight. Combined with multi-directional plyometrics, it’s also massively improved my running mechanics and each push off when I run feels more powerful.

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The signs were there with the reappearance of my periods, but I was still very nervous going for a repeat bone density scan. All the changes are working.

My bone density has improved more than I could have hoped for in only the space of a year. It’s given me huge confidence and reinforces that what I’m doing is making a difference.

The mark in the sand

Cross country has always been really important to me. The Hampshire Cross Country League is where it all began, therefore it made a fitting return to action. I was like a kid on Christmas day on the morning of the race.

Of course I was nervous, but I set myself no expectations apart from to run hard and enjoy myself. It was a shock to the system (I crawled along the finishing funnel), but it was brilliant to be back. I was ecstatic to finish fourth.

Followed by some recent lab testing, it gives me the confidence to know that all the positive changes I have made have had a dramatic impact on my performance too. Despite only doing half the training volume, my fitness is very similar to when I was running big mileage.

Endurance athletes are renowned for doing too much training to get the desired outcome, but surely we should aspire to do as little as we can to get the results we want. Quality vs. quantity.

These last few weeks reinforces the continued need to focus on nutrition, sleep, recovery and strength work. Not just for performance, but more importantly, health.

With the improvements in bone density, I now feel like I’m moving out of the woods ready to hit the mud for a solid cross country season.

As for beyond that, the focus is to remain healthy, consistent and to enjoy being back doing the sport I love so much.

Anna Boniface features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share her running journey. You can read Anna’s previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.

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