Why I gave up my Olympic running dream, twice.

Between the ages of 8 and 16, I ran competitively for my Primary (elementary) school and then my high school, while also running for a local club. I competed mainly on track and cross country.

South of France running
Returning from a run with my mum at our family house in the South of France

During that time, I earned many titles including 5th place in the European trials, 10th place in the English cross country Nationals and 1st place in numerous county and regional track and cross country championships. I also had the 3rd fastest 5 km time in England at under 15 years old. I trained 6 days a week with a mixture of workouts and recovery runs. I also supplemented some of my workouts with weight sessions in the gym.

During that time, I aimed to earn a Great Britain vest and the chance to run in the Olympics. You may wonder, then, with all of that success and ambition: why would I quit my running career?

On my way to being the youngest person to win the ”City parks series”

I developed a knee injury. At first, we thought it wasn’t anything serious. I continued to run. After a while, however, the pain became too much. I booked in to see a physiotherapist and later for an MRI scan. The scan came back clear. After tests and assessments, though, it was decided that the issue was caused by my Iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin. It attaches to the knee and helps stabilise it. The ligament was too tight and was pulling my knee out of place when I ran. I was given exercises to do to help but due to the pain, I was out of training for many months.

During that time, I began partaking in the many activities that were normal for people of my age. I went to sleepovers without having to leave early for practice. I got home from school and watched TV without having to get ready to go run around a field in the rain. This little bit of normality felt amazing, although I did miss running.

Once my knee recovered, it was time for me to return to running. Unfortunately, I discovered that I’d lost a lot of the speed and endurance during my time off. Practice was difficult. I felt behind compared to where I was before and struggled to motivate myself. After many weeks of this, I realised I wasn’t enjoying it. Nonetheless, I didn’t want to let my parents down. My mum and stepdad had invested a lot of time and effort in keeping my running dream alive for me, and I felt that I owed it to them to continue. Soon I despised going to practice.

One Saturday, my mum woke me up at 8 am to have my breakfast and to get ready to leave. It was too much. I started crying. I went and ran that day but with only half the effort. I wanted to take a substantial break. I no longer had that dream of gaining the Olympic place and running for my country.

I took that time off and it was nice, but I found myself gaining weight, losing confidence and having far too much energy. This caused me to be naughty at both home and school. After some time, I decided I wanted to start working out again and the only way I knew how was to run.

I tentatively started running again. I was making huge progress and my love and obsession with running returned. Soon, I became very preoccupied with increasing my speed and cutting my times. I stupidly believed to do this I needed to be lighter and thinner. This led to some very unhealthy eating and working out habits. Luckily for me, a holiday to South Africa and starting University helped to relieve this pattern somewhat.

I started attending the University Of Birmingham and naturally, I joined the athletics (track and cross country) team. After a few weeks, the head coach planned a meeting with me and gave me a new training plan. I was so excited about this, it looked like it would help me make a lot of progress. I was sticking to this new routine well, but a few weeks passed and on a run, I suddenly got a sharp pain in my knee causing me to fall to the ground. I limped back to my apartment feeling awful.

British Universities Cross Country championships
The University of Birmingham athletics and cross country team at the British Universities Cross country Championships 2015

I had to have more physiotherapist sessions. I was given exercises, stretches, I went to yoga classes and I had my knee strapped. None of this really improved the situation and in total, I was out of running again for roughly 5 months.

After a whole summer out, I began my second year of University. After overcoming my knee injury, I was looking forward to finally doing consistent training. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. I suddenly became ill every other week and lacked the energy to complete the training sessions. I felt low. After several doctors appointments and blood tests, I was diagnosed with anaemia and Celiac disease. For the rest of this year, I was plagued with niggles causing many breaks in my training.

Cross country
Competing for the University of Birmingham

On September 17th, 2016 I moved to America for a year to study at California Polytechnic State University. Before arriving, I had made it my mission to make a lot of progress with my running. I wanted to obtain my previous success levels upon returning from California. However, within the first quarter, I was already experiencing small injuries. I had to miss practice and was confined to easy gym workouts. Despite this, I loved running there, the scenery was beautiful and I had made good friendships with people on my team.

My team at California Polytechnic State University after our first cross country meet

For a brief time, I became increasingly dedicated to running as I had the goal of achieving a Sports Scholarship to return to America for my masters. My boyfriend and I were also working out together at the gym, doing Acro yoga, yoga regularly and hikes (ever wondered why yoga is the perfect travel companion? find out here). It was fun and I started to think: ”Am I only using the sports scholarship as a way to be able to study my masters here?” I began to see physical improvements from these other types of workouts and I was enjoying doing them much more than I was enjoying running.

Doing Acro Yoga together at Laguna Beach, California

My next decision was a difficult one. I decided that I wouldn’t competitively run in my final year at university. That decision was difficult because it was almost certainly the end of my running career. Running had always been an important part of my life so it was tough to realise that it was no longer something I was passionate about.

I look forward to integrating running into my new workout regime. However, I know that if I continue to run competitively I could develop undesirable mental health, get more injuries and feel disappointed. For the first time in a long time, I am not comparing my progress to anyone else. There are no more races and no more wondering why I’m not faster than the girls I beat last year. It is important to realise that change isn’t always a bad thing. Although I may never represent my country, or be famous like Mo Farah, I am still working to be the fittest and healthiest I can be.

So for now, it is time to wave goodbye to competitive running.

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