An insight into running and dealing with bereavement - Nikki Gibson
It’s been a while since I posted an interview but I’m hoping to get going again as I love talking to other runners and apart from the fact that my blog makes me feel a bit self-conscious, I also love writing. I’ve interviewed Nikki twice before so if you’re new to the blog then it’s definitely worth going back for a read of the previous entries. Nikki is a super-smart sports physiologist and I love getting her opinion on everything from shoes to nutrition to training. She’s had a really tough time of late, as you’ll read below. Her partner, Emma, is cycling to raise money for a bowel cancer charity after Nikki’s brother-in-law passed away earlier this year. Please give generously to this amazing cause : https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/emma-mcnaughton3).
The last time I interviewed you for the blog you’d run a sub 3 marathon during the coronavirus pandemic which seems like a lifetime ago for lots of reasons. What’s been going on with you?
That kind of shape does feel like a long time ago! After that sub-3 marathon I was selected to represent Scotland in the 2021 Anglo-Celtic Plate. Running for Scotland was an unbelievable achievement for me and never something I thought I would ever be able to achieve. It was such a special experience for me. 100km training was a new challenge and I was lucky enough to be guided by lots of amazing people, particularly Adrian Stott and Debbie Martin-Consani who were always available to answer questions and reassure me.
After the 100k, I struggled with a bit of a hamstring tendon injury which impacted my ability to do speed work for quite a long time. The fatigue from 100k and my prolonged injury meant I felt I lost a fair bit of fitness. I‘ve also really struggled with my identity as a runner since the 100k race. I tried to do some shorter races and felt I didn’t finish as high up as I felt I should have. I didn’t know if I should just go and be an ultra runner but I wanted to have it all - performing well at 5/10k/cross country and doing ultras… which unless you’re exceptionally talented (which I’m not) is very hard to do. I had some challenges with my own health. I lost sight of other things which were important in my life and became a bit (even more) obsessed with running - purely driven by my own ego about what I thought an international runner should do. I had to take a step back.
Around this time, I joined Pyllon and started being coached by James Stewart. I felt like being self-coached wasn’t working for me anymore and I needed more guidance. I found it really difficult to be coached initially and I think James and I would both say during this stage it wasn’t really working. Primarily due to my ego and stubbornness!
Then during the last 9 months my brother-in-law got ill very quickly and running moved far further down my priority list.
How has your running been alongside all the things going on in your life?
Supporting my family with my time and energy is my sole priority and this hasn’t often left much time or energy to run. I’ve done what I can when I can, but my head has not been in it for months.
I don’t know if I ever would have anticipated the physical symptoms of grief, and these don’t go hand in hand with running.
I took a break from being formally coached as I just felt I couldn’t commit to anything. James continued to support me as a friend, just for a chat as and when I needed it.
I recently lost my beloved dog, Goose and sometimes running has helped and sometimes has felt awful. Has it been similar for you?
Sometimes it helped from a clearing my head perspective and I have found some comfort by being in nature. But more often than not it felt pretty awful and I’m not sure elevating my heart rate was too useful. I’ve had a few mild panic attacks when I’ve been out running and in hindsight I shouldn’t have even tried to go out those days. I should have just spent that hour having a coffee with a friend and connecting with someone instead of going out and being on my own.
What does life look like outside of running?
I’m still in the same job, all still the same there. (Nikki is a Performance Physiologist with Sport Scotland). Life looks slightly different as we are spending as much time as possible with family really. We are definitely finding solace in some nice long dog walks (which Scout, my beagle, is usually on board with for the first half!).
What does your weekly running schedule look like at the moment?
I re-started coaching with James and I would say this time round I have loved it and got loads out of it (and hopefully I’m a bit easier to coach!). A huge part of this is just not being ego-driven and accepting where I am fitness wise (which has been pretty close to rock bottom). James had pitched my sessions absolutely perfectly in terms of doing some intensity, but nothing felt overwhelming for the first few weeks - so I knew I would be able to do it. Now I’m back up at 70-80 miles per week with 2 or even 3 hard sessions a week.
How has your running developed over time?
When I was rebuilding after a significant period of time of not much I was incorporating a lot of swimming, cycling and strength training. I felt like my mind and body just needed something different and I enjoyed that.
I’m still trying to do bits of this but it’s harder time-wise as my miles go up a bit. Two years ago if I had a spare hour I’d do some more training whereas now I’ll pop up and see my niece, so my priorities are just different.
What is your current shoe rotation?
Easy run shoe is Mizuno Wave Skyrise 4.
Speed/race shoe is Vaporfly 2 (but don’t love this so looking for a new super show)
Trail shoes are Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G
I like having two pairs of easy run shoes - one nice and soft and plush for recovery runs/second runs and one a bit firmer for long runs/other easy runs. I have started doing my sessions in older super shoes because I need all the help I can get and with 3 sessions a week I want to recover as quickly as possible.
Have you any race plans for 2023-2024?
I actually don’t. I really want to break 20mins for 5k and 40mins for 10km again, so will hopefully factor that into my year at some point! I’m loving training again, but I’m not sure I’m mentally ready to get back into racing. Having said that, I’d love to do a good cross country season… especially as I will be a V35!! I do sometimes struggle with the fact I’m not training at what I view as 100% and would expect from myself in ‘normal’ circumstances. I get really frustrated with myself and always feel like I should be doing more and am just a bit useless. Over the past 6 months I have seriously contemplated just giving it up. I’m really working on re-framing my mindset, that I’m doing the best I can, and whatever I can give is enough. I read something from Sorrell Walsh that really resonated with my about her wanting to be a good runner, and a good daughter, and a good employee, and a good partner, and a good friend, and it just being a bit impossible. And really for now I am just trying to find the balance and accepting being a reasonable level of good at all the above, instead of just a “good” runner. James really helps with this too.