Life’s a balancing act – whatever you do. And finding the balance between giving your best effort to something you are passionate about, time to other commitments, and leaving a bit for happiness, can be a challenge.

As an athlete, these challenges are heightened further and it takes some mastering to combine training, racing, recovering, work, study and downtime (to name a few).

You are constantly looking to better yourself, work hard and sometimes push your limits further than ever before. Alongside that, you may have a job, be in education, care for loved ones or run a business. Sometimes life is a whirlwind, and that’s okay, but establishing a functional, sustainable and realistic balance is fundamental to continual progression, a life balance and overall happiness.

It is sometimes good to go ‘offtrack’

On the other hand, it is so important to remember that running is not everything. I will be the first to admit that I want to give everything I can to become the best I can be, but that doesn’t mean I put all my eggs in one basket. As athletes it is expected that you are disciplined, that you eat right, get enough rest, train hard and so on, but no one ever highlights the importance of letting your hair down and having some ‘me’ time.

For some, this comes naturally, but for others, allowing yourself to go ‘offtrack’ can be difficult. And by ‘offtrack’ I don’t necessarily mean a wild night out but just some time where you do something for yourself, away from running.

Mentally refreshing yourself is just as important as physically refreshing yourself. As athletes, you are constantly thinking about running. Whether that be the run you’re currently on, the session you have coming up, the next race you have planned, your recovery drink or what time you’re going to bed. One thing that I have learnt is that it is okay to not be thinking about running all the time. You do not have to feel guilty for enjoying a non-running related activity!

Putting all your eggs in one basket

If you are anything like me, I have a tendency to put all my eggs in one basket (running). However, this mentality can come back to bite you very quickly and it can be unhealthy to be all consumed with just one thing.

And while it is important to have a ‘main’ basket in life, and understand the commitment you need to dedicate to it, there is always the possibility of things happening, such as injury, illness and even boredom, where life will take you away from the miles for a time – so what do you do then? Sometimes it is not until the eggs in your basket are disturbed that you discover you have no other baskets to put them into.

Tips for finding a balance

  • Remind yourself that running is not the be all and end all of life. I believe that if you can establish that in your mind, finding and allowing yourself some balance will come a lot more easily.
  • Set aside half an hour or an hour a day for yourself. Take your trainers off and take time away from running, life stresses or work. Do something relaxing such as baking or reading a book.
  • Complete something purposeful that will stand you in good stead later on in life. For me, this is getting a degree, but the possibilities are endless. Do a job you enjoy, save some money, complete qualifications, build a house, volunteer, just to name a few.
  • Spend time with friends and family. A night in with a takeaway or a day out shopping. You have to take rest days, so do something with them, where you can then tackle the next running day head on!
  • Remember that it is important to work hard and dedicate yourself to training. You will not improve unless you run, regardless of how much talent you have. So be prepared to work hard, rest well and give yourself time to relax.

But why does balance matter?

To approach running, training and racing with a relaxed, balanced and happy mindset gives you more freedom. There are many times that you can not change something that has happened, and being able to walk away from a bad session or race, switch off and forget about it makes getting out the door for the next run a whole lot easier.

It wasn’t until I spent a considerable amount of time with a bunch of athletes that I discovered how much more enjoyable it is to get out and run when you aren’t thinking too hard about it beforehand, during and after lacing up. I felt refreshed instead of drained when going for a run, and most importantly, I was running better without the constant stresses of continually thinking about my performance.

Balance (just like measuring out that 5g of all-spice for the perfectly spiced Christmas cake) is necessary to benefit not only your running performance but your mental performance too. Don’t underestimate the value that downtime has on your training time. It’s the little things that add up to the bigger picture.

About the Author

Jenny Nesbitt is a distance runner, GB international, European Cross Country team gold medalist, European 10,000m Cup bronze medalist and the Welsh Half Marathon Champion.