Don’t give up running just yet. We asked a running pro how to keep up the momentum.
We don’t have official stats for how many people took up running during lockdown, but the recent stats suggest that 858,000 people downloaded the NHS Couch to 5k app between March to June, and a scroll through social media would lead us to believe that, in fact, everyone we know is now a runner.
Three months later, all of the 5k run challenges are over and there’s only a small percentage left of people still sharing their Strava runs online. And that’s probably because the novelty of our new found hobby has worn off.
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At the beginning of lockdown, it was exciting to get out on your thrice-weekly run. It was a form of sweaty exercise to rely on when the gyms were shut. It was time outside of the house when we were limited to just one excursion a day. But now the rules have relaxed, we can breathe fresh air in by sitting in the park and, three months into lockdown, exercise feels boring and our knees are sore.
Let’s not forget how good it used to make us feel, encourages Kerry Dixon, co-founder of The Athlete Method. “What this has really shown us how important fitness for your mental and physical wellbeing, regardless of your level of ability in the activity,” she says. “You don’t have to be an athlete to go out and run. It’s about finding what you enjoy that gets you a heart rate up and helps your health.”
Kerry knows a bit about finding reasons to run. She was a professional athlete for 16 years, running the 400m hurdles in national competitions. After retiring last year, she had to dig deep to find new reasons to train.
“I stopped competing because my heart wasn’t in it. It has been a little bit difficult to be motivated to exercise since, because training to compete is the only thing I’ve ever known. But athletics has taught me that being fit makes me feel better, so I still run for my energy levels, for my health.”
Who better to listen to to spark some life back into your dwindling running habit? Here are her top running motivation tips:
1. Be adaptable
Don’t force yourself to run in conditions you hate, says Kerry. “The weather’s good right now, which might feel motivating,” she says. But, she points out how much our bodies actually hate running in extreme conditions, meaning that excitement for sun will disapper two minutes into your half an hour workout. “Either run first thing in the morning before it gets too hot or run later in the evening when it’s a bit cooler. It will be more enjoyable,” Kerry says. She also recommends changing up your route – perhaps moving from the road to grassier or woody areas, now that the ground is drier and less slippery, so you can explore and be surrounded by different scenery.
2. Have a partner
“Keeping each other accountable is motivating and day brightening,” says Kerry. She explains that she texts her friend, athlete and co-founder of The Athlete Method, Ashleigh Nelson, first thing every morning to say “good morning, have a great training session”. Right now, that’s more important than ever, as they can’t train together and Ashleigh’s Olympic plans have been moved due to the pandemic. “Even as athletes at the top of our performance, there are still so many days and you don’t feel motivated. So when someone drops a little text or says, come on, we’re running together, it’s so encouraging,” says Kerry.
4. Do something different
Running doesn’t have to be half an hour of steady state work. If the thought of heading out for a solid 30 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other is uninspiring, Kerry suggests finding a hill and test yourself on hill sprints, or trying intervals by running really run fast for three minutes and then take it slower for two minutes and then repeat over and over. “Changing up your training will also help work on speed and power, by adapting how you use your energy systems. That will improve your time for the more endurance based runs, so you might then find them more enjoyable too,” she adds.
5. Look after yourself
Running is such a big demand and your body, but so many of us don’t do the work to support our muscles and joints and then wonder why we burn out. “A lot of people don’t have the base conditioning of strong glutes and a strong core,” explains Kerry. “Doing activation work on these muscles will help you run taller and open up your running cadence, or your stride, meaning you won’t strike the ground as impactfully and your joints also a little bit more supported.”
That means less sore knees, shin splints and tight muscles. Kerry recommends adding in bodyweight strength training twice a week, and always, always, always stretching post run.
6. Buy new kit
“Looking good doesn’t just make you feel good, but having the correct kit is actually so important to staying injury free,” says Kerry. So, if you were looking for an excuse to get some new running gear, this is it. “People might be very flat footed or have a high arch, so you need to find a trainer that’s tailored to support you. There’s so many nerve endings in your foot, so stabilising will help with pain, performance and recovery.”
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).