In our quest to stay active and healthy during lockdown, many of us have turned to running.
We have one government-sanctioned outdoor exercise per day, and running seems the most efficient way to get a hit of cardio and enjoy the warmer spring weather. But there’s one problem – running sucks.
Obviously, not for everyone. But for many, running is hard, painful and relentlessly exhausting. There’s a reason so many of us prefer gym classes and short, sharp hiit sessions. Running doesn’t have the distractions of a gym class, or the pressure to win that comes with sport.
It’s just you and the pavement. And the burning pain in your lungs.
But so much of our discomfort with running is mental, rather than physical. It’s often less about a lack of physical fitness, and more about being OK with the new sensation of running, and how uncomfortable it feels.
For now, unless the lockdown rules become more stringent, running is a fantastic way to get outside and get active in a socially responsible way. But if you’re finding every run harder than the last, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
We asked Jessica Frey, CEO of Virgin Sport and running enthusiast, to share her tips for first time runners – and how to make running more enjoyable.
Her first piece of advice is what to do when you hit that mental ‘wall’ – when your legs are burning, your lungs are on fire and you want to stop – how do you summon the mental strength to get through it?
‘There are a couple of strategies for getting through a run when you “hit the wall”,’ Jessica said.
‘I rely on some mental tricks to keep myself motivated: I fantasize about what I’m going to eat when I’m finished (usually my favourite chocolate bar). And rehearse what I’ll tell my friends and family when I accomplish my goal.
‘You have to find ways to distract and entertain yourself. I also like to pick topics that I want to think deeply about on my run. Distracting yourself from the physical or mental block is key.’
Another tip for first timers is to tell yourself you only have to run for 10 minutes.
‘Start small,’ says Jessica. ‘Setting a big, scary goal isn’t motivating. Sometimes it’s saying – I’m going to run for a mile, three times this week. And by the time you put your clothes on and you’re out there for a mile, you’re probably going to run more than a mile.‘
When it comes to those all-important distractions, Jessica swears by podcasts – the more addictive, the better.
‘Another big incentive strategy for me is podcasts,’ she says. ‘I know if I’m running, it’s the only time I have in the day to listen to a really good book or crime drama series. That really incentivises me, when I really want to get to the next chapter in a suspenseful novel.’
Tips for first-time runners
Start short, says Jessica. ‘Start with a really short distance, one kilometre or even one lap around the block. If you tell yourself that’s all you have to do to tick the box it doesn’t seem as daunting.’
She says you find some ‘accountabilibuddies’ – friends who can keep you on track, even if you’re not running with them in person.
‘Find a mate to hold you accountable and check in on them,’ says Jessica. ‘Post your runs on Strava, Runkeeper or Nike Training club if the idea of social kudos
will help get you out the door.’
Create incentives are really important for Jessica. It’s not a bribe, just something to give you that extra push.
‘Buy yourself something new to wear,’ Jessica suggests. ‘Or create a new playlist you can only listen to while you run, or save your favourite podcast for the run.
‘Splurge on good socks to avoid blisters. No cotton!’
How to stay active during lockdown
Use the time that you would have used commuting to get in some exercise.
Research suggests that moderate physical activity can boost your immune system and positively affect your mood. Keep moving, even if it’s for less time than you’d like.
Small gains add up to big achievements.
Make sure you don’t become a slave to your laptop while you work from home. It is important to have regular breaks away from the screen and moving your body.
A 20-minute lunch time run or walk can help re-set for the afternoon.
Work on your weaknesses – “prehab”. Take the time to focus on strength work and those exercises from your Physio that you never do.
There are a multitude of free classes online right now. I like the NIKE Training Club app and Peloton has a 90-day free trial of their app with HIIT classes, strength and yoga (no bike or treadmill required).
Jessica Frey, CEO of Virgin Sport
This one might be tough for some, but Jessica encourages people to try not to get hung up on how they look.
‘No one is watching,’ she says. ‘It is all in your head – trust me.’
A lot of succesful running is in the technique as well. If you’re efficient with your movements, that will help you keep going for longer, and help you enjoy it.
‘Pump your arms and keep your shoulders relaxed,’ says Jessica. ‘Arms are always underestimated in running but they are important to keep rhythm and momentum.
‘Equally, rest is important, listen to your body and take a day off when you feel you need it. Your body needs time to recover in order to improve your performance. Patience is key.’
Runners tell us how they learned to love running
Matilda: A banging playlist or podcast always gets me through the miles. And I first fell in love with running when I noticed I was getting good at it (which came from putting in those miles!)
Cari: Don’t aim for anything, just run at a comfortable pace for however long is comfortable. And don’t expect progress to be linear, it will vary day to day how far and how fast feels good.
Jason: I find running A to B helps, so not going around in a loop. That way, I know my run is over once I arrive, so I’m not constantly checking a tracker or thinking about the end. I just run until I get there. Still waiting for “runners high”.
Jonno: Breathing is everything… force yourself to breathe to rhythm even before you get out of breath, it controls you heartbeat and gives you a steadier pace and calmer mind.
Katie: Don’t focus on timing/splits, don’t worry if you have to stop. You’re still lapping everyone who didn’t put their trainers on and try it. Just get some good music on and enjoy being outside.
Genelle: I watched videos on running technique as my shins used to hurt and it was the way I was running. I played around with different kinds of warm-ups. The first mile or so is always the least enjoyable until you find a rhythm/pace.
Tamsin: I hated it until I used the NHS Choices Couch 2 5K programme, which pushes you but never has you feeling completely defeated. So you get a real sense of achievement. And I always, always run to a playlist of banging, cheerful tunes. Complete addict now.
Clare: It’ll be tough for the first month at least and you’ll feel like you’re not getting better then something will click and your lungs and legs will strengthen and you’ll fall in love with it.