Half the battle is getting outside the door

Tue, Apr 27, 2010, 01:00

GET YOUR KIT ON: RUNNING: In the first of a fortnightly series aimed at helping people to take up a new sport or activity, EMMET MALONEprofiles the increasingly popular pursuit of running

FINE WEATHER and the recent turnout of 10,000 people for the Spar Great Irish Run in the Phoenix Park have marked the start of the annual summer running season in Ireland. Thousands of people up and down the country are out now in earnest trying to improve their fitness in the open air.

Many others will worry and prevaricate about taking up running. For some, “half the battle is just getting outside the door,” says Dr Giles Warrington of Dublin City University, a physiologist, a runner himself and specialist in the area of exercise.

“If you manage to adhere to a simple routine for four to five weeks, then you’re far more likely to stick with it over the longer term.

“Create a contract,” he suggests, “make a pact with friends that creates a bit of peer pressure and set out some realistic goals”.

“Park the car a little bit short of work and run the rest of the way if they have showers there, get out with friends during lunchtime and work towards something.

“Sometimes it’s hard to make the time for training. If you have a race coming up then it helps to provide your motivation, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a marathon or a short fun run.”

Emily Dowling, a former international athlete who helps coach many first timers each week at the Sportsworld running club based in Dublin’s Bushy Park, cautions against aiming too high – or too far.

“For a lot of women coming out around now, the mini-marathon is the aim and I think that’s perfect, it’s 10kms which is very manageable for most people.

“We get new people nearly every night at the moment and my own view is that if you’re just starting out, then a marathon is too much the first year. You need to let your body get used to the training, but almost everyone should be able to manage 10kms after a while and the half-marathon is a great target slightly further down the road for a lot of people.”

For some, the target will be a qualifying time that provides a stepping stone for one of the very biggest international races. For most, the target is simply getting around. The reward: a happier, healthier you.

WHAT THEY SAY

‘I never cease to be amazed by the ways that running benefits people,” says Emily Dowling, winner of the 1981 Dublin City marathon and coach to people of virtually all abilities.

“Aside from just improving their fitness, they arrive along suffering from depression and all sort of other problems but make friends, form groups within groups and end up helping each other in all sort of ways. I’ve seen people finish with medication and change their lives.”

Dowling herself battled a form of cancer – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – back in 2005 and firmly believes that her fitness played a key part in helping her through.

“I went through a lot of treatment,” she recalls, “but I could still jog and I was never physically sick as a result of the treatments. I’ve no doubt that that was down to my fitness, it helped an awful lot.”

WHAT IT DOES

‘I think it’s great for people,” says Dr Giles Warrington. “Running is one of the most efficient ways of expending energy – broadly speaking, you’ll burn about a hundred calories for every mile you do – and that’s great for weight regulation.

“There are significant cardiovascular benefits but all sorts of other things too. It helps improve bone density and so can help prevent osteoporosis. There are lots of physical benefits, in fact, but it can improve mental health, too, and most runners will certainly benefit from the endorphin release they experience during the exercise.