Even virtual trophies are a nice reward

Our communities editor finds that even with the right apps, you have to put in the hard work to ‘Get Running’

Irish Times communities editor David Cochrane, pounding the streets as part of the Get Running programme. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

I was never a particularly athletic or sporty person – even in my school days badminton was as close to a contact sport that I would get involved in. The one exception was the annual school sports day.

Participation was obligatory so I would choose the three events that would be over in the quickest amount of time, with the least amount of effort. I’m not sure what I did to deserve it, but one year the school’s PE teacher (Mr McGovern) picked me for the 400m relay and I found myself on a team with three of the faster athletes in the school. The bronze medal we won still adorns the mantelpiece of my parents’ front room.

So it’s not as if I’ve not thought about running in the past. Audio programmes were reviewed, apps were downloaded, and I even purchased a pair of runners with a chip in the foot which could connect to my iPhone. But I never got into it. The main reason, I suspect, is the self-reliance – in effect I’d be doing it on my own, and would be depending on myself to push myself. If I’m not doing it by myself, and if it’s structured, I’m good to go.

And so Get Running was the perfect opportunity to get into things. While I don’t think I’ll be running any marathons (or competing in the Olympics), I decided that it would be something good to do. As Mary says in the training videos, the hardest part is getting started, but I decided I was going to follow the programme fully, and scheduled my three runs for the week – Monday, Wednesday and then at the weekend.


Day 1

My first thought on embarking on the programme was the weather. I was not going to do my first run in the rain. Given the weather was good on Monday I decided before leaving the newsroom for home that there’d be no excuse, and that it would be tonight. I hadn’t given much thought to how I would manage myself on the programme and so thoughts turned to how to keep time. The first run called for a minute of slow running and then a minute of walking, alternating between each for 20 minutes. How on earth was I going to keep track of that?

An app of course. A quick search in Apple’s App store and I found a range of free interval app. I’m not sure what setting I pressed on the app, but during the run it started to make sounds as if it was a boxing match – with the bell ringing three times to denote the start of the running round (and the sound of a man telling me it was time to fight). This was a little distracting on the first run but actually became rather motivating for the subsequent runs.

I sought recommendations from others on what running apps were good. Lots of suggestions poured in and I ended up choosing Run Keeper. While I assume it unnecessary for the programme itself, I found the opportunity to track my progress (and keep time) to be very enjoyable. It was also incredibly interesting to track the data from each run. I found a myriad of running-related playlists on Spotify, so had no issue with trying to decide on the best music.

My first run was also an opportunity to go exploring parts of the area I’d never run before. But I made a rookie error and didn’t properly plan my run. The result was that at the end of the run I was two miles away from my house. I won’t make that error again. I decided for the next run I’d plan the route properly, to ensure by the half-way mark, I’d know it was time to head back. Despite the long walk back I was impressed with my first run – 1.59 miles travelled. I didn’t feel like I pushed myself at all and thought maybe I could have run a little faster. But the one thing I promised myself was that I’d follow the programme. And that I’ll do. Using the phone to keep time and to play music while I ran meant that the phone itself became a distraction. Email alerts, text messages and two phone calls interrupted me in the first few minutes of the run. I found the phones “do not disturb” feature to be incredibly useful. No distractions. Just the music, the running app giving me five-minutely updates, and the boxing referee telling me it was time to fight.

Day 2

All of the thinking and preparation for Monday’s run meant I didn’t have to think at all about the next run, other than program the intervals (two minutes running, two minutes walking). I’d planned a somewhat circuitous route and knew that once the app told me 10 minutes had passed I’d know it was time to start heading back home. I started the run by going a little on the fast side and knew I was going to wear myself out, so decided to pull back a little bit and keep it gentle. I found the two-minute walk a little on the long side, I know I’ll be begging for that time back towards the end of the programme though. All in all a much better run than Monday, I travelled a little further in the 20 minutes this time. Aside from the clear health benefits, what I found quite refreshing about this run was how clear it made my mind. I was far more relaxed after the run and I think this is what will keep me running.

Day 3

My two previous runs had been after work in the evenings, and as a result were in the dark. I decided that my weekend run would be during the day, which I figured would be another opportunity to explore a part of the neighbourhood I wasn’t too familiar with. The one downside to my route was the amount of traffic. Human and vehicular. Too many traffic lights meant I had to stop running to wait for the little green man, and too many people around meant that footpaths were at times completely blocked. Again, it’s a lesson well learned. Next week my routes will be selected not just on being able to get back to my house, but also based on how busy a place will be. The two-minute walk, one-minute run was a tiny bit tiring, again I suspect I was going a little on the fast side and had to pull back a little.

After my third run the running app went out of its way to highlight my achievements for that first week. A little longer distance ran each time, and a few more calories burnt each time. The running app even awarded me a little gold trophy. I was incredibly pleased with my progress in the first week, and the trophy, albeit virtual, was a nice touch. I hope my mother has space for it beside the bronze medal.

I’ve already scheduled next week’s runs into my calendar, and weather permitting or not, I’m looking forward to the next few runs.