More of us are running than ever, thanks to the lockdown.
Depending on where you live, running can be a pretty lonely, solo activity. In town, the canals may be packed with marathon trainers trying to get in their long runs but out in the ‘burbs, it’s just you and the odd dog walker or Parkrunner on the road.
Since the gyms shut and we were told to stay indoors bar one outing for physical exercise, however, the running community seems to have exploded everywhere. Every local park, woodland and side road now boasts runners of all speeds, ages and experience.
I asked Twitter whether there were any new runners out there who were planning on keeping the habit up once this crisis has passed.
At a time of real social isolation, this is an incredible thing. It’s heartening to see so many people clearing their minds by moving their bodies. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have seen mates who always swore they’d never run or thought you were mad for running, start clocking up the miles themselves. How the tide has turned!
Running is unique in that it’s accessible to many. It’s free – all you need is a pair of trainers (and even then, some barefoot advocates would quibble you don’t need shoes at all). It requires no journeying to get started – just step over your front door and start. You can do it whether you’re 7 or 77. Even some disabilities aren’t a barrier (if you have the right support in place). And unlike many other types of fitness, it really is just about the taking part. The only race is with yourself.
The amazing thing about being part of the running community is that even if you aren’t part of a physical club, you know that you’re part of a massive movement of people anyway. You just have to look at Strava to see the number of people who are also moving their bodies, putting one step in front of the other for a variety of reasons. On Instagram, runners post their routes, personal highlights, personal lowlights, advice on training and sweaty selfies. Random users cheer you on and congratulate you for making it out.
And that’s before you factor in turning up to your first Parkrun, 10K or longer race. Some of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet or befriend will be through running. There’s something magical about the process of laying it all out on the road that helps with getting rid of all inhibitions – leaving you vulnerable to making new, lifelong friends. Once social distancing is over, you might want to start running with a mate – just be wary of the fact that you’ll get closer than you ever thought possible and possibly sign up to do something ridiculous like a 100km ultramarathon.
We can push ourselves during lockdown by trying to get faster but ultimately, this period is about keeping things ticking over, being sensible with how far we run and how long we’re out of the house for. If you’ve never run before, there’s never been a better time to work up to a 5 or 10K.
But once this is over, wouldn’t you like to see what you’re really capable of? They say that if you can cope with being on your feet for an hour, you can stand it for four (or at least I say that and I’m sure it’s true)…so why not carry on running and sign up for a challenge in the autumn or in 2021?
Of course, marathons aren’t for everyone and there’s absolutely no need to run them just because you’re a runner. If you do want to see exactly what you’re made of, they are great for bolstering your own self-confidence and proving that your mind is capable of getting your body through incredible feats.
James Thomas, AKA Fudgie Runs, is a running blogger who initally started running as a means of losing weight.
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Over 10 years difference in these photos. One difference RUNNING ! . Always played football (poorly) and golf but couldn’t even run a mile back then. People ask why did I get into running. Well it was for a bet and not for losing weight or fitness reason at that time. My mate in work said he would beat me in the @cardiffhalf back in 2012. . So I signed up, trained and ran the race. I beat my friend and got addicted to running at the same time. I have a love/hate reason with running on times, but would be lost without it especially in these current times 😊 . How did you get into running ? 🏃♂️🏃♀️ . . . #TransformationTuesday #Transformation #WeightLoss #FatToFit #StrongNotSkinny #LondonMarathon #MarathonTraining #InstaRunners #IGRunners #UKRunChat #LoveRunning #FuelledByScience #GarminUK #TeamRunderwear #SDRunning #SDRunCrew #FudgieRuns
He tells Metro.co.uk that mental and physical health aside, the explosion of running during the crisis ‘will bring the running community even closer together.
‘Running isn’t just all about running fast – it’s great to see so many shapes and sizes out running. It’s really good to see so many people picking it up. I’ve seen so many people out running who I’ve never seen jogging before.’
Don’t forget, of course, that the joy of being outside when you run at the moment is something that doesn’t go away in times when we can go out as much as we like. The pursuit of vitamin N (nature) really shouldn’t end when the lockdown does. Part of the reason we’re in an environmental mess is not enough of us care or recognise the importance of nature and we don’t protect the green spaces around us.
Running is inexorably linked with an appreciation for the outdoors. Unless you love running on main roads, the more you run, the more you’ll discover patches of greenery, towpaths, canals, woodland paths, recreation grounds. In London, you can run from Stratford (east) to Regent’s Park (northwest) entirely on canal walkways – how amazing is that? Just go onto Strava and start planning out your routes.
Sarah Carson is another new runner who has tried to run in the past but couldn’t make herself… until now.
‘Brockwell Park is on my doorstep and I’ve needed to get back into exercising for so long, so I have started doing Couch to 5K,’ she says. ‘I’ve been cynical about that for years but it’s actually so great and manageable – I finally understand the benefits of building up fitness and strength rather than just being pissed off I can’t run a half marathon straight up.
‘Now I’m thinking, “God, I’m living for these half-hour pockets of time in the day when I run through the park at sunset and the city looks gorgeous… how can I make sure I still have them when this is over?”‘
Sarah says that she hopes being forced to discover outdoor running and its benefits will be more motivating and long-lasting than being told about how awesome running it is. It really is something everyone has to discover for themselves.
She tells Metro.co.uk that she’s aiming to run three times a week and maintain a devent level of fitness. But it’s not just about the physical benefits.
‘For my brain, it feels so important. I think your emotions are heightened when you’re inside all day (I don’t have a garden) and without any outside variables, you can monitor them much more closely and figure out what makes you feel better worse.
‘My sister and I are far from our family – a number of members of which have been ill or vulnerable. We’ve just been going mad with worry cooped up inside and the very small amount of running we’ve been doing has truly been the only release we have found to physically do something with the stress of it all.’
So how do you turn your coronavirus cruise into a long term habit?
James says: ‘The big one that helped me to keep going when I started was attending my local Parkrun.’
Once they start again, head down to your nearest meet and give it ago.
‘Then build up to entering a 10K race and think about joining a local running club,’ James continues.
‘Meeting like-minded people and making friends you can carry on running with really helps because it makes training into a social event.
‘Oh, and buying some shiny new trainers always motivates me!’
You may find that regular gym work helps with your mental health but running in nature is another great way of calming the mind and flooding the body with endorphins. You don’t have to choose one or the other – the great thing about running is that you’ll get better the more you cross-train.
Once studios and fitness centres reopen, go back to boxing, HIIT, dancing, swimming, yoga-ing. Enjoy moving your body in all of the ways. But please don’t forget the spring affair you had with running. Running is always there, whether it’s sunny or raining, Monday or Sunday, pandemic or not.
Keep it up now and you’ll be moving for years to come.
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