It’s a honour to be fit and healthy enough to go for a run or a walk

Caroline Allen found a kindred spirit listening to running coach Mary Jennings

Caroline Allen: Think of the time we spend on social media and get out there now before the dark evenings provide yet another excuse.

Caroline Allen: Think of the time we spend on social media and get out there now before the dark evenings provide yet another excuse.

 

I didn’t expect to find a kindred spirit in The Irish Times’ running coach, Mary Jennings, when she presented a talk on getting off the couch and staying off it as part of the Portlaoise Healthy Towns initiative.

However, her revelation that she had assiduously avoided PE at school – like myself – made me feel somewhat less conspicuous in the company of runners.

Her road to Damascus experience was brought about by a runner ex-boyfriend and it was, it seems, a case of if you can’t beat them, join them. As Mary teased out the typical excuses for not running, walking or simply moving off the sofa – a favourite being “it’s raining” – I began to feel a little less guilty.

That was until my neighbour who has two young children, whispered her recent exploits – three triathlons including one swimming in the River Barrow. She also casually mentioned that she has signed up for a half marathon in November and an Olympic triathlon next year.

Back at the top of the room, Mary was taking a merciful approach. “I’m not saying running is for everyone. It’s about getting out the door, it’s all about being active.”

Her motivation mantra included writing down exercise plans, using apps or telling someone else about them and joining a local running group or enlisting a friend so that we make it happen. Set a goal; put a plan in place, keep a training diary and vary your routine, she advised.

An advocate of the Chi technique of running which focuses on effective running that doesn’t put pressure on the body, Mary recommends exercising three to four times a week and building up gradually. A day on, day off approach is ideal to allow your body to adapt, she said. The biggest mistake people make is being over enthusiastic initially. “They don’t do a warm-up, they start too fast, they’re out of breath and leave themselves open to potential injury.”

It should be about pleasure and not pain, she stressed. “You shouldn’t be out of breath on your first run. Bring someone with you – enjoy it. Go somewhere scenic. Start on a dry day,” she outlined. There’s no need for fancy gear, just a high impact sports bra for women, said Mary who recommended wearing a high visibility jacket and taking out one headphone for safety purposes.

Back to the excuses, which can range from tiredness due to long days at work to not enjoying exercise, Mary underlined the old adage “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ One woman, she recalled, enlisted her children as she did laps of the garden. Get a good night’s sleep before you start, cast aside the notion that people are looking or laughing at you and don’t compare yourself to others were among her top tips.

Running clears the head, energises us and improves our posture, Mary said. It quickly becomes addictive, she said as she put us through our paces. Going for a run first thing gets that box ticked for the day while an early evening run can be beneficial for easing workday worries, she said. “Log out, shut down, go run,” she urged.

Think of the time we spend on social media and get out there now before the dark evenings provide yet another excuse, she said. After all, it’s a honour to be fit and healthy enough to go for a run or a walk – we won’t always be able to do so, was the sobering reminder.