Going off piste on professional and personal journeys

According to my training plan, I was supposed to be running the Birmingham Half Marathon this morning and topping that off with another run of similar length in the evening. The method in the madness is that when training for very long endurance events it may be helpful to break the long runs up and get used to running on “tired legs” and my plan includes plenty of opportunities for that in the lead-up to the Barcelona 24 hour track race I am training for. Except right now things aren’t exactly going according to the plan and I have been off running for almost three weeks and have no idea when I’ll be able to resume the training as I’m currently side-lined with a yet-to-be-properly-diagnosed injury. Instead of ticking off completed runs on the plan, I am ticking off various appointments with physios and people wanting to have a look at the inside of my joints through the wonders of MRI technology. In the grand scheme of things, well, it’s just running and it’s not something that I depend on in terms of livelihood. Things could be certainly worse and I am incredibly grateful to my employer for providing us with health insurance. But it’s a really disconcerting experience and makes me reflect on a couple of recent coaching conversations with people for whom things are not going according to the plan either. For instance, I was recently working with someone that needs to plan for a career change from a fairly physical role in healthcare and as part of that route is considering embarking on a research path (some identifying details have been changed!). As she put it herself, she didn’t plan on becoming disabled. Then there were other conversations with people hesitatingly taking their first steps to transition out of academia and watching the best laid plans to progress from a PhD into an academic post unravel in front of their eyes, leaving them a bit rootless and without an anchor, teetering on an edge but not really knowing what their next steps could or should be. And as I have written previously about my own period of job hunting when things weren’t exactly going to plan, limbo isn’t exactly the most comfortable place to be.

So much of what I do as part of my day job as project manager and as part of coaching is about making plans. After all, goal setting and planning are pretty much inseparable, if you want to get somewhere you will need to map out the steps that will take you there then meticulously work through these steps and follow the plan, a nice and controlled process. Except when things get out of control as I’ve discovered over the past couple of weeks when my “perfect” training plan became mostly redundant because of the injury. Even if I do get permission to run in the next couple of weeks, I won’t simply be jumping back into what was so neatly designed out a couple of months ago and instead will have to adjust the plan to allow for a very gradual return. I’m not going to pontificate about the potential blessings of having the opportunity to use the time off to rethink my approach to training as these kinds of suggestions make me see red; bit like suggesting that being made redundant or fired is a great opportunity. Something about a door closing but opening up elsewhere, feels more like a door closing and another one quickly following suit with a massive bang. But I am trying to take my own advice and focus on the things I can control. The coachee I mentioned earlier responded really positively to that notion; after all, there was no way she could control the fact she became disabled but we worked together to identify the things that were indeed within her control. Similarly, there will be many aspects of PhD transitions that are beyond an individual’s control but not everything will belong within the realm of pure uncontrollable chaos. And hopefully, things will get back on track at some point, maybe not exactly in a way as was originally envisioned but I haven’t lost hope about my race in December. I may end up walking rather than running round the track for 24 hours or opting to do that for the shorter 12 hour version, which may be pushing the definition of “low impact exercise” a bit but there’s nothing wrong with introducing a little bit of creativity into planning…

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