How to fall back in love with running….

Have you lost your running mojo and fitness this winter? If so, you are not alone. The combination of another pandemic lockdown and wintery weather has moved running down the priority list for many. But could I tempt you this Valentine’s week to rekindle your love affair with your running shoes? You know you love it, once you get started.

Remember runners’ high?
Take yourself back to the good old days when you enjoyed running. Picture yourself running effortlessly along your favourite local route on a spring day. Remember those magical runs where you felt you were being carried along. Indeed there may have been days where you it felt less energised, but you always returned home feeling alive. Think back to how running impacted your life outside of running too – your mood, your energy and your general attitude to life. It’s all there for the taking again.

Is it the right time?
But before you rush out the door, consider what else you have going on at the moment. Have you got the time to run three times per week right now? You will need a little motivation too. Have you been thinking about returning to running for a while? If you notice runners everywhere or have pangs of jealousy when runners pass you, then you are indeed ready to get running. But if you have a lot on your plate, don’t go back running just because you feel you “should” be running. Wait until you feel the time is right if you don’t have the energy or time for it right now and you will enjoy it all the more when you do return.

Be patient
When we have been out of running for a while the first few outings might feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. Our minds tend to focus on everything that isn’t working, rather than all that is as our confidence as well as our fitness may have taken a dip. But then something magical happens, we have a day when we are out running and we forget we are running. We float along effortlessly. But to get to these glory days you do need to be patient over the first few weeks. Set yourself up for success by making your first few runs enjoyable, positive and well within your fitness limits.

Measure success differently
Give yourself permission to run slow, to walk and indeed to stop along the way. Rather than focus on pace and mileage, count the number of runs you do in the first few weeks. Success is going for the run. What you do on that run doesn’t matter initially. Build routine first and the performance will improve over time. Consider leaving your watch at home so you don’t get tempted to run at your “normal” pace. Aim to return home feeling energized rather than wrecked. You will be more likely to go again. Consistency is everything.

Make it easy
Consider breaking your run into sections. I would highly recommend a walk/run approach for anyone getting back into running (or indeed anyone who is finding their running more effort than they would like). Rather than viewing your run as one endurance exercise, only think as far ahead as the next walk break. Mentally this makes it easier to stay positive and focussed. Physically you will get to loosen out the body and shake out any tension between each run interval and restart fresh for the next instalment. No one wants to get injured on a running comeback by doing too much too soon.

You are not alone
You might think you are the only one struggling to feel comfortable running again. But you are not alone. This is the time of year a lot of hibernating runners dust off their running shoes. Take comfort in the fact that many of the runners you pass are also feeling the same emotions as you, even if they look more relaxed. So much of running is in our head. I highly recommend you put on a smile (real or fake) when you run. It will help your body relax, you will enjoy these first few runs more and you might just convince yourself you are able for more than you think. It works for most of us.

Stay on track
Consider what you can do to help you stick to your routine. If times were different I would encourage you to meet others, but while we are in lockdown we need to be creative with our social support. A WhatsApp running buddy, a virtual running group or an enthusiastic child who fills in a training log for you might help you stay on track. You might even like to join a virtual running challenge to inspire you to keep moving. To help with motivation I recommend going early in the day if you can when willpower and energy are at their highest. Maybe the promise of a post run coffee will get you out the door. If so then map your route to finish near your local café. You probably already know what motivates you and what has worked in the past. Do what you can stay inspired.

A Valentine’s date
Let’s look to the future for a moment. If you started back now, can you imagine where you might be by Easter. Two months from today, picture yourself running in the spring air, wearing lighter layers and with a smile on your face. To get there, you have to get started and be sensible and patient but all will be worth it. Sure what else have you on your calendar this valentine’s weekend? There may be no restaurant, theatre or cinema trips. But you can make a date with your running shoes and rekindle your relationship.

Spend some time together, slow down, smile, enjoy the moment and I guarantee you will come home feeling amazing and keen for a second date!

This article was published 8th Feb 2021 in The Irish Times.