Tessa Webb is a 15 year-old runner who can teach us all a thing or two about listening to your body. She’s from New Zealand and is wise beyond her years, destined for a great future both on and off the track with a smart head on her shoulders and supportive environment surrounding her.
Tessa submitted this amazing blog post sharing her experience through her running development. We are so grateful to have such a positive and valuable perspective up on Belle Lap and are thrilled to be able to learn from runners of all ages, experience levels, from all over the World.
Having corresponded with Tessa since launching Belle Lap, I was in awe of her mature mindset. Tessa is an exceptionally talented and experienced athlete, but her patient and light hearted approach to the sport should not be mistaken for mediocrity. Tessa wants the BIG goals in track and field and is currently making sustainable decisions in order to give herself the best chance in accomplishing them.
Follow Tessa on Instagram: @tessa.m.webb
For me, athletics is a waiting game. In a sport based around the concept of speed, travelling the longest distance in the shortest amount of time, taking it slow (for now) just happens to be my philosophy.
I first developed a love for running at Primary school. Cross country was my favourite sporting event of the year, and leading up to it I would go for a training run or two around the block with my Dad. Until I was about ten, being able to keep up with him was enough to ensure I won my school race, and even the inter-school events. But when I moved up to Intermediate, I had my first taste of running track. I realised that if I wanted to keep up with the “fast girls” I was going to have to train like them too.
As an 11 or 12 year old, this involved two or three runs a week, with one being a cross country or road race with my local Harriers club. But after my first year of High school, I decided to up the pace. My parents and I had a discussion with my coach, and I was given a training program involving six or seven runs a week.
I loved every minute of my training sessions, and still do. My day feels incomplete without lacing up and hitting the trails (or the track), and I spend most of my day thinking about when I can run next. But with stepping up my training, I was faced with a whole new set of challenges, on top of my school work and extra curricular activities. I began the great balancing act many athletes face, teetering between peak fitness and being totally worn out.
I also had to make decisions on how much of my life running was going to take up, and how far I was going to take it. My parents and I have since developed a set of priorities, putting my happiness and health ahead of results, especially as I am still only fifteen.
It has taken me a while to come to terms with the fact that I don’t need to win every race. That I should race smarter, not harder, and pick my battles and events.
It’s one thing to be national champion at aged 16, and another thing to be world champion at 23, but I know which one I would rather be.
By taking care of myself as a teenager, I know I am doing more for the longevity of my running career than going all out in every competition.
It can be hard when you feel like you have to hold yourself back. We are bombarded by images and messages telling us to reach our full potential, go hard or go home, and never “just take a rest day” or “if you’re hurting, have a break”(before Bellelap!) . Thanks to Google, everyone is a specialist on health and performance, along with nutrition. The truth is what is healthy or beneficial to one person is the opposite to someone else. It’s easy to get caught up in articles about super foods and child stars who run 100 miles a week. But you just have to remember that everyone has different goals and priorities. I think it’s awesome that some people my age push themselves to their limits and are rewarded for their efforts, but I have more long term goals in mind.
After unintentionally losing weight and having to take a break from regular training for a few months last year, I have realised that I want to run for the rest of my life. Nothing makes me more happy, and its more than just a sport. So I am making a special effort to make sure I can keep running as long as possible.
I eat 12,000+ Kj (3000 cal) a day, including on rest days. I stretch, do yoga and foam roll, and tell my parents as soon as I feel any pain so it can be sorted by a physio. (As my coach likes to say, you can’t get an injury from not running) . Perhaps most importantly, I take rest days… where I actually rest! I am even beginning to enjoy the freedom I have on these days, when I can hang out with friends and eat what I want. (without thinking about whether that tomato pasta I just ate is going to give me cramps during sprint reps!)
Also, I have learnt how to surround myself with people who care about my future and health more than instant results. I am so lucky to have a support network of teachers, friends and family members along with a great coach, nutritionist and doctor who understand my passion and give me valuable advice… and also put up with me on rest days!
When I struggle with relaxing and taking it easy, I just think about how good running makes me feel and how I want to do it for the rest of my life. The only way to do this is keeping myself strong and healthy and looking after the body I have. I have big dreams and goals for athletics in my future, but none of them can come true if I’m injured, tired or weak by the time I reach my twenties.
After all, I’m in it for the long run.
Follow Tessa on Instagram: @tessa.m.webb
Receiving submissions such as this one from Tessa Webb, fills up my heart beyond capacity and solidifies why I wanted to create an online space for female distance runners. Thank you for highlighting the healthy mindset and positivity in the future of our sport.
Many young athletes get scrutinized as a ‘burn out’ if the run ‘too well’ as a teen. When you’re very (sometimes exceptionally) naturally talented at something – such as a sport and you enjoy it – it’s really hard to hold your breaks. You don’t realize that you could be possibly damaging your body for future success. From my own experience, I remember doing something I loved every day and in a race situation, I would always give my ‘best effort’ that I put down to my competitive nature. My body felt like a natural runner and everything I was doing (whether it was too much or not) seemed like a natural process for me. I had to take a couple of years out of the sport due to mental burn out at 16/17 years old and decide if it was still something I enjoyed doing and wanted to pursue.
As someone who was personally a teenage’ phe-nom’, I have huge respect for Tessa being mature enough to acknowledge that holding the breaks a little now, listening to her body and speaking up to her supportive parents when she is exceptionally tired or hurting is key to her long term health and future goals.
For other young runners, it is really important that YOU dictate how YOUR body feels, not your parents or coach. In unfortunate circumstances the parents and/or coach can get swept away with the thrill of control or success, that’s when things run into trouble.
As teenagers we have lots of other interests and commitments and can’t be expected (by any outside sources) to be a robot, we must enjoy what we do. Obviously there are times to work hard and make small sacrifices to keep your body in good health (like getting good sleep) but those sacrifices should not stamp out all enjoyment of running/training/racing. It is key to enjoy the process!
Always be brave enough to speak up if you are mentally or physically struggling, you won’t be letting anyone down and your support system WILL want the best for your mental and physical wellbeing.
Parents and/or coaches of young athletes, please be the supporter, rather than the pusher, through rain or shine. Athletes are hard enough on themselves and they need you there to pick up their spirits when things don’t go as planned.
“Remember that you run, because you’re great.
You’re not great, because you run! “