There are plenty of reasons why women avoid running, but there are solutions out there to combat them. Here are five of the most common.
The hardest thing about running is getting going. If you’re not already in the habit of lacing up on a Saturday morning, the thought of doing so can feel overwhelmingly out of touch. Running is arguably the most accessible sport of all (especially if you take a leaf out of the Rarámuri tribe’s book, who run ultra marathons pretty much barefoot) so in theory, there shouldn’t be any barriers to taking part.
But that’s just not the case. According to new research from Runners Need, one in five runners want to get back into running but don’t know how to get back into it. 18% say that they feel too self-conscious to try. So, what’s putting most of us off racking up the miles and how can we get over those hurdles?
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Lack of confidence
Only half of the female runners polled said they felt confident when on a run, and anecdotally, feeling self-conscious is the number one reason that women tell me they don’t want to run. We’re afraid of not being good enough at running or worry that we don’t look the way a ‘real’ runner should.
The key thing to remember is that even if someone genuinely is staring disapprovingly your way, you’re out there putting in the effort while they’re either sitting in their car or lounging on a park bench. You’re doing the thing. But acknowledging that kind of thing doesn’t necessarily make it easier to block out other people.
“My best advice would be to face your fears head on as the more you run, the more confident you will feel,” says Steve Paterson, people development and product trainer at Runners Need. Indeed, 40% of the people surveyed in the research said that their running confidence has grown over time, while over a quarter said running with someone else improved their self-belief.
Finding someone to run with can give you the accountability and confidence you need just to break into a slow jog. If you don’t have any mates who want to get into running, there are running clubs up and down the country that cater for absolute beginners, while parkrun is a community that continues to flourish at 9am on a Saturday in almost every area in the UK.
It’s a fact that women have to deal with unsolicited attention on a regular basis while moving through public spaces. Female runners can come in for their fair share of aggro on the roads, and understandably, the risk of being whistled or yelled at can be terrifying. A quarter of us have been catcalled at some point or other.
While this shouldn’t be an us problem, there are things you can do to take the fear and sting out of catcalling. Again, running in a group can be super useful and there are plenty of clubs which put on women-only runs (like Adidas Runners).
I’ve been curb crawled, yelled at, had men try to trip me up – all sorts – and I go back out again and again as an act of defiance. I tend to run in well-lit areas, wearing bright clothing (in short shorts!) and with a banging playlist that drowns out any uncalled for remarks. It’s not a perfect solution by any means but as long as you stay safe, wear and listen to anything that makes you feel powerful.
Poor kit choices
I often see women grimacing as they run and it’s soon obvious why that is: their boobs are swinging wildly. Wearing the wrong size bra, too-tight leggings, raincoats that turn you into a human boil-in-a-bag… so many of us wear gym kits that simply don’t suit running.
It’s no surprise then that according to that Runners Need survey, over half of runners feel more confident when wearing well-fitted running shoes and one in 10 feel better when kitted out in the latest stash. While no one’s saying that you have to rush out and buy the latest Lululmon leggings, just wearing something that makes you feel good can have a huge impact. See if running in a specific tech kit (shorts, shirt, bra, socks and trainers) makes any difference and actually go in person to a store for help.
You can get your sports bra fitted at Sports Direct using their bra picking tool, while the experts at places like Runners Need can analyse your gait to fit you with the right shoes. At Lululemon, the assistants can help you choose the right impact kit and sizes. Remember: no one and everyone looks like a runner and you have every right to occupy those spaces.
Perhaps the hardest barrier to overcome is simply finding the will and energy to drag your body off the sofa and onto the road. Holding down a job, looking after a family (or just yourself), maintaining some kind of social life… simply staying alive is draining sometimes.
Step one of gathering the energy to run is to plan. On a Sunday night, plot in your diary when you have the space to run. Can you carve out 30 minutes on two mid-week mornings? Is there one evening that you could dedicate some me-time too? Is it realistic to commit to running on a Saturday? Diaries change on a daily basis but if you can, try to pick a day or two that are your running days week in, week out. Say to yourself: I run on Tuesday evenings (for example). On that day, you don’t allow other people to derail your plans. No, you’re not free on Tuesday between 6-7pm because that’s when you go running.
Once you’ve worked out when you want to run, you can start to tweak your habits around that time. If you want to get up to run before work on a Monday, you might want to make Sunday evenings a super-relaxing early night, complete with a hot bath and magazines in bed. If a mid-week evening works better, think about what you eat on that day: do you need to eat a more energising lunch? Would an oaty mid-afternoon snack work better than a bag of sweets? How would a 3pm espresso feel?
Finally, injuries put us off moving as much as anything. It’s understandable; if you’ve sprained your ankle in recent months or live with chronic back pain, you’ll do anything to avoid being immobilised again.
The thing is, however, that often, movement is the best remedy. Once the injury has healed, mobilising those joints and muscles can often be better than staying still. World-renowned coach Ben Patrick (@kneesovertoesguy) previously told Stylist: “Rest is an important part of the process but prolonged rest to handle pain often makes things worse because the muscles and tendons responsible get even weaker. So you rest for the pain… and return for major injury and surgery.”
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Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.