ROCKSTAR FITNESS

Seven Excuses That Stop People Getting In To Running

And how to get over them! By Dominic Watson

“I can’t run, my brain wobbles when I run” she said. Now she runs half-marathons!

Running sounds like such a simple, individual activity. And at its most basic level, it is.  However for those brave enough to get started or re-started later in life and prepared to persist long enough to lock it in as a habit, the rewards on offer are truly spectacular.

Whether or not you believe that you are “running material”, and irrespective of your current level of fitness, running genuinely has the capacity to be a positive force in all of the key aspects of your life: physical, mental and social.

Surely everyone wants to be healthier, happier and have more friends don’t they?
So what is stopping you?

In this in-depth article we follow a couple of later-life running journeys and examine the key factors that ensure that if you are a new runner your efforts becomes a happy life-long habit, rather than just a short-term fad.

If running is something you previously tried, but you ended up being the guy or girl with “all the gear and no idea”; or if you are a lapsed runner contemplating a comeback, this resource outlines strategies that will help you maximise your chances of a successful, rewarding, long-term return to running.

Aside from walking, running has to be the most accessible aerobic activity.

In spite of what you might tell yourself, unless you have a major underlying health issue, there are almost no barriers to entry to prevent you from getting started or restarted:

  1. Age: many people start running in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s or beyond
  2. Past experience – you don’t have to have any pre-existing skills or experience
  3. Current fitness level/natural ability – there are no minimum standards, you don’t have to be naturally sporty or be born with athletic pedigree to enjoy running
  4. Cost/personal budget – running does not require expensive kit or membership subscriptions. It is one of the cheapest activities to get into.
  5. Perceived lack of enjoyment because you did not enjoy sports day, or cross country running at school – the things we like, change as we mature. Chances are that you probably did not enjoy spicy food or the smell of beer or wine when you were a child?  I suspect that this may well have changed by now!?  Often when we revisit things later in life our experiences are markedly different. This could well be the case for running, but you are never going to know until you try it again!
  6. Lack of time – if you are truly, truly honest with yourself, you can make the time to exercise and run. More often than not, it is a case of prioritisation and being more organised and self-disciplined.
  7. Children – for single parents, or parents where one partner works away during the week, child-minding issues can be a genuine challenge. However where there is a will, there is a way.
    • For people with very young children [0-5] there are now specially designed running buggies and pushchairs. Nowadays, there are even online resources highlighting buggy friendly off road running trails and races specifically for buggy pushing runners!
    • For those with older children, it is possible to utilise the time when they are doing supervised activities (cubs/scouts/brownies/guides/swimming lessons/dance/music lessons etc.) I regularly run 5k whilst my son is at his 30 minute drum lesson. I used to be just like the other parents and would sit in my cars and look at Facebook on my phone until I twigged!] Look carefully and there will be opportunities to fit training in all over the place.
    • An even better solution is to run with your children. Junior parkrun [4-14] and for older children [4+] senior/mainstream parkrun events are completely free and offer the chance to make some amazing memories – as long as you don’t mind being beaten by your little ones!
    • Joining a running club [more about this later] offers the opportunity to make friends and to share babysitting duties to allow you to run more.

The reality is that for most people, running has no barriers to entry what so ever.  The only obstacles are the excuses that reside in our minds to stop us taking those first tentative strides.

Health Warning!

Always check with your doctor before participating in any new activity involving physical exertion.   The chances are that they will actively encourage you to become more active, but it is important to get yourself checked out first.  In most instances this will prove to be a useful step to help put any excuses you have at the back of your mind, firmly in the trash bin!

HEALTH CONTEXT!

I have a running friend with a pace maker whose doctor actively encourages him to run.  Elsewhere, at 5k events, I frequently run alongside visually impaired/registered blind runner who requires a dedicated ‘guide’ to help him navigate the course.  I also work with some incredibly busy and successful people, who still manage to find the time.

If these people with their health or time challenges can get out there and enjoy running, subject to getting the blessing of your doctor, why can’t you?

The Transformational Effect of Running

They say a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  Unfortunately, the reality of my own fitness journey began with a lot less Eastern mysticism and a lot more middle aged reality:

“Daddy, you’ve got boobies!”

 I won’t deny that it hurt at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight [and weight loss] I can now genuinely appreciate that my [then] seven year old son did me a huge favour.  His harsh, but true comment was the catalyst that started an amazing journey towards a fitter, healthier and happier lifestyle.  And so my running ‘career’ began at the tender age of 40.

Yet, whilst I did play a cameo role, this is not my story.  This later-life fitness story belongs instead to Alan and Vicki Wilcox [pictured above] whose running journey is far more deserving of being shared as a genuinely aspirational and inspirational fitness tale.  One in which their combined efforts has not only made themselves significantly happier and healthier, but has also impacted on hundreds of people [me included] in their local community…… and beyond.

Let me take you back to 2012, just a few months after my son’s “moobs” comment had finally embarrassed me into addressing my weight and fitness issues and joining a local running club.  It was here that I met Alan.  We were both overweight and both novice runners.  The running club was about as far removed as you can get from a serious athletics club. This profile was instrumental in both of us being brave enough to show up for the first time.   There were no seasoned pros, no track sessions or coaches and no pressure to achieve or compete. It was more of a social club where the members also happened to run whilst chatting (jogging might be a more accurate description in the early days.)

I hit it off with Alan straight away; at that moment in time, we were of a similarly modest running abilities and we were both ‘self-employed’, working long hours to develop growing businesses.

When you run your own business, there are no hiding places.  You can’t just pay yourself for turning up and putting in the hours. Your family home is often quite literally on the line; if you don’t perform you risk losing everything.  As you expand and take on staff, even if you are working 80 hours per week, the golden rule is that your staff always get paid before you do.  It can quite literally be the best of times and the worst of times and if you don’t manage it carefully, owning a business can become all-consuming and something you never really switch off from.

In those early days we were still totally immersed in our rather insular business ‘bubbles.’ We jogged around talking mostly about business strategy and marketing, with the odd brief conversation about our family lives, or about how much weight we had lost.  For the other runners we probably sounded – for the most part – as boring as hell.

Shared activities like running are a brilliant way to get to know people; they are also wonderful therapy for people with stressful jobs [or lives.]  Running with people from all walks of life can be an amazing way to “decompress” from work-mode, to open up new broader horizons – and to get much need perspective [nothing is ever as important as you think it is.]  Over a period of few months of shared running, Allan and I became really good friends.  The weight continued to drop off very visibly, but there was also another significant change – a mental one – as the focus of our dialogue and priorities began to shift.  Our conversations became more and more running related and much less work or business oriented.

Increasingly, we talked about the physical and mental health benefits that running was bringing, the friendships we had made through shared exercise and the times we would like to achieve for the increasing distances we were beginning to be able to contemplate.  5K, 10k, 10 miles and beyond.  I had always thought that running was a simple thing.  Put some shorts and a t-shirt on, lace up some trainers, open the door and put one foot in front of the other.  Instead we found ourselves talking a whole new language as we compared notes on articles we had read in running magazines on a whole range of topics, diet, pre-race nutrition, running shoes, events, GPS watches, strava and parkrun.

After about 6 months we were starting to get into such a positive feedback loop of improved performance, healthier eating and enhanced energy levels and vigour that we become almost evangelical.  Not I might add, in a sanctimonious way, it was simply that we wanted to share the joy that running had brought to us and in hindsight, perhaps to create more new friends to run with, to keep the conversations interesting!  As our capabilities improved, we began to enter more events [half-marathons and eventually a full blown marathon.]As we began to travel further afield to running events, Alan’s wife Vicki often gave us lifts and came to cheer us on.  However despite our enthusiasm, she was impervious to our suggestions that she think about taking up our new found passion for running too.

Her initial mental block was significant:

“I am not a runner….I couldn’t run at school, so why on earth would I want to start now?

My brain wobbles when I run!

“Me run? No way!”

This situation continued for another year and a half.  During this time, Alan became a better and better runner and continued to talk less and less about his business.  As he turned 50, his life increasingly began to revolve around his love of running and encouraging other people to reap the benefits and happier life he was now living as a result.

He became noticeably more laid back, happy and healthy and began to proactively attract more and more new runners to our club using the social media and network marketing skills he had developed for his business.  Many of the new starters were absolute beginners and even more unusually for a running club, there were many people who had never enjoyed any form of physical activity at school, but who for health reasons had decided to become more active.

As his wife Vicki witnessed the astonishing transformational effects that running had on these ‘non-athletes’, her curiosity began to come to the fore and her previous objections and mental barriers became less and less relevant. If these ‘non-runners’ could go from 0 miles to 5k after only 6 weeks then surely so could she!

Vicki smashing out a new PB whilst enjoying a bit of parkrun tourism at Thetford

The first clue that she was truly beginning to warm to the idea was when Alan noticed her reading editions of his Runners World magazine in bed at night.  At first she claimed to be reading the healthy eating section, but a few days later she admitted that she was tempted to give running a go.  This resulted in their first serious conversation about how she might start.  They began to discuss Alan coaching her on a ‘couch to 5k’ programme.  A few weeks’ later, and almost 2 years to the day from Alan’s first tentative run, Vicki finally laced up a pair of trainers.

A few years ago, as I began to devise the concept for my first book, Alan – now with the full support and backing of Vicki – had also decided to create something.  A new, more structured running club, with a culture focused specifically on helping non-runners to acquire a love of running (or jogging.)    As a result, I now share my time between 2 running clubs.  My original club for which I will always owe a debt of gratitude to for getting me into running [and shedding my man boobs] and where I still have many friends and Alan’s dynamic, new club which is full of energy and new ideas, where I have made numerous new friends.

With such dedication and passion, it has come as no surprise that Alan’s club [Northwich Running Club] has grown rapidly now boasting over 300 active members.  Alan has also gone on to create local regular fun runs to encourage adults and children alike (including his own) to get out and get active.  His achievements were recently recognised when he won the England Athletics, North West Volunteer of the Year award in reflection of the positive effect he has had on so many people in such a short space of time.

I have no doubt that these achievements are just the start of the journey for Alan and that over the coming decades, he will have a positive impact on many thousands of people.  Relatively late in life he has found his true vocation. I believe that he would make a great consultant for local government in how to get people active and it seems inevitable to me that he will eventually spend 100% of his time working on his transformational mission.

Vicki has slowly and steadily become a very competent runner.  Someone who took huge persuasion to run her first few steps and who now can boast [although she never would] both a half-marathon and a hard-core fell race on her list of achievements.

In his non-work time, Alan now pretty much lives and breathes his running club and Vicki has been a crucial part in his success.  With her backing, understanding and support – and the empathy she had with other people who in their own minds were non-runners – Alan’s

As a final footnote to this story, I am sad to report that Alan’s passion and drive has not been a universal success.  Despite his best endeavours, whilst I still love running with friends, I still remain a distinctly average runner!  As for Vicki, she recently completed a hard core 10.7 mile hilly trail run – not bad for a circa 50 year old lady who used to complain that her brain wobbled when she tried to run!

Getting Your Running Journey Started

Like most new things, getting properly started is absolutely the hardest part.

Most people instinctively begin by quietly going for a run [or a run-walk session] by themselves – frequently under the cover of darkness to avoid embarrassment and feelings of self-consciousness.  For the most part, this is a lonely path to take and one that unless you possess Zen-like qualities of self-discipline is unlikely to prove be a successful long-term approach.

So how can you maximise your chances of truly catching the running bug and reaping the rewards on offer?

Having seen hundreds of people take their first tentative strides [and as my, Alan and Vicki’s running journeys are a testament to] I have observed that there are a 2 common recurring factors which maximise the chances of getting the running habit to stick:

  1. Finding the right group, club or ‘tribe’ to train with. You need to run with people of a similar ability and similar goals and expectation, ideally within a loose framework that offers support, nurturing and encouragement.
  2. Training with this group of other like-minded runners at least once or twice a week on regular nights that get built into your weekly timetable/routine.

If you take the time to research opportunities and organisation within your local community and you will find a surprising number of running clubs of different ‘shapes’ and ‘sizes’, together with free community based running events such as parkrun.

These days there are numerous couch to 5K programmes – often free – designed specifically to help non-runners or lapsed runners get into or back into running.  Sharing your running journey with others, as I did with Alan is a fantastic experience and one in which you are likely to forge some amazing memories and life-long friendships.  Before you know it, you will become the seasoned runner, sharing your journey and taking the next group of newbie runners under your wing to set the on their own transformational journey.  Remember the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.  Make sure you take that first step today, to give running a chance – you won’t regret – and sometime in the near future, we would love to hear about your running journey.

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