Before my 20s, running was something I had only done a handful of times at school, when we were forced to run around a football pitch or a track. Despite having a rather unusual running style, I did find it was something I enjoyed. However, my embarrassment over how I looked as a runner was enough to make me never explore it as a hobby.
In 2015, I found myself a few stone heavier than I would have liked and pretty unfit. Exam stress was getting me down and I’d always turn to junk food to distract myself. Someone had told me that running outside was the best way to lose weight, so despite my fears of what passers-by would think, I took to the pavements… at night…so nobody could see me. I still remember my first run around Aberdeen in the dark, I ran until I could run no more – which lasted all of 9mins!!
A year later I had gradually plucked up the courage to run during daylight (can you even imagine!). I entered my first 10K race, aiming to beat the 1 hour mark and as soon as I crossed the finish line, I was hooked. Over the next few years I entered more and more races. Running was something I had started for aesthetics but now my goals were changing to more performance based ones. I got so much out of entering races, I loved the rollercoaster of emotions, the PBs, travelling to places I had never been before and meeting lots of wonderful people along the way.
Mental health wise, running had completely changed my life. I used to be such a worrier and stress head, especially with exams. And as a perpetual student, constant exams are a guarantee. But I now had a secret weapon to fight the anxiety and clear my head. I kept surprising myself with how I was performing in races. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a few shockers along the way but most of the time, I was breaking through the limits I had set myself. It made me think, if I could perform better in running than I had ever realised, what else could I do that I had set a self-imposed limit on? With that thought in mind, I quit my job and successfully applied for a place on the Aberdeen Postgraduate Dentistry course, which had always been my dream career. There is no doubt about it that without running, I would have never have found the confidence.
Fast forward a few years and I am now half way through my Dental Degree. It’s a busy, stressful course and I don’t think I could have coped without Parkrun’s, weekend races and evening runs to clear my mind. During Covid-19, I had a lot more time to run and to think about what direction I want my running to go in. I felt I had the determination to up my training but lacked the knowledge to know how to do it. I had heard of Sophie through a few different channels. As an Orcadian, I knew that Sophie had successfully coached some of the local athletes. I also, very randomly, met her daughters Emma and Oonagh through a friend and they told me about how their Mum coached them. I remember thinking I wish I had someone who could tell me what to do and I would just do it! I found her instagram page a few months later and this summer I decided to stop messing around with my own made-up running plan and get help from someone who knew what they were talking about!
I am four months into following Sophie’s training plan and I have absolutely zero regrets about reaching out to her. I already can look back to what I was doing a few months ago and cringe at my own lack of knowledge. In July, I almost lost my love of running due to verging on overtraining. Despite running higher weekly mileages now, the type of training is completely different and I feel so much better (as well as stronger) than before. The biggest change for me has been the consistency in my sessions. I used to head out the door without a plan in mind, I’d run whatever session I felt like running on that day. This often meant pushing myself when my body needed a recovery run or chickening out of the dreaded interval sessions when I didn’t feel like doing them (which was nearly all of the time). Now I have a planned session for every day, even if the session is a rest day. I’m sure Sophie wouldn’t actually reprimand me if I didn’t do her planned session on the planned day but I’m being held accountable now, which gives me the kick up the bum I need.
There are no downsides to having a coach. I have to rely a lot more on discipline now, whereas before, I let motivation carry me through, whenever it chose to show up. But that’s only increased my resilience and psychological strength. Sophie and her training plan showed up at the perfect time for me, Dental School life has changed from busy clinics and full days of teaching in the university, to mostly online learning. Without her training plan, my days would lack structure and focus. To be honest, it’s really kept me going this last month and I’ll always be thankful for that. What amazes me is that she has multiple jobs, a busy family life, is a fantastic runner herself, yet she always has time to reply to what may be the silliest of questions. She explains everything so clearly and is always there to support her athletes.
Nobody really knows what the future of racing in 2021 looks like, but to be honest I get a lot of comfort just knowing I am moving in the right direction, regardless of the end goal. It’s all about the process and thanks to Sophie, it’s a process I can now trust.