Don’t forget to stop along your run and smell the roses

Take your foot off the gas and unplug the headphones for one run a week. Here are four training sessions to challenge you in a different way

With an empty race calendar for the summer ahead it’s understandable that running motivation might be waning. Many runners thrive on races, medals and training plans to keep them focused. But in this current running limbo it can be hard to maintain enthusiasm, routine and fitness. I understand how frustrating it is, and I would love nothing more than a nice colour-coded training plan to guide me through the summer of running.

If you are a little disillusioned with your running or struggling to enjoy it at the moment, I challenge you to think a little differently about your training this month. Many runners are conditioned to believe that for a run to be successful we need to be pushing our body to our physical limits. But speed is not the only measure of success.

Too often we ignore the “easy” stuff, and focus on the tough breathless challenges like hills, speed and competition. These elements have their place in every training programme, but there is also a time for stepping back, noticing our environment and challenging our body to move in different ways. Without any pressure to be on top form for any upcoming race, we do have an opportunity to focus on often-forgotten elements of running.

I challenge you this May to take your foot off the gas and unplug the headphones for at least one run per week. Below are four training sessions which will challenge you in a different way. Each of these training sessions are flexible in length but perfectly doable within your familiar local routes. Adapt the distance to your fitness level and the current Government guidelines on exercise.


If these runs seem like a waste of time for you then you might be the type of runner who needs them most. Sometimes what appears to be the simplest of runs is often the most challenging.

1. Run Free

Let’s start with the run that is the basis of all running freedom. It’s time to run solo. This means technology-free, headphone-free and, ideally, family-free! You are not even allowed bring your running watch. In fact, I don’t want you to measure speed or distance at all. If you wish to carry your phone for safety put in your back pocket and forget about it. See how it feels to run without external feedback or distraction. You will just have to listen to your own breath and your own thoughts. That should keep you entertained.

2. Close your mouth

Try closing your mouth as you read this, and breathe lightly through your nose. Get used to it in your day to day life, and walking before you try this running session. Start slowly on your run, and aim to keep your mouth closed as much as you can. When you feel the need to breathe through your mouth, run slower or, indeed, walk. As time goes on you will be able to run more with your mouth closed but it will only work if you listen to your body and slow down when it asks you to reduce effort. The ego will take a big hit on this training session. But what a lesson to learn. Nose-breathing is one of this year’s “big things” in running performance, so why not practice now while you have the time and it will be second nature when you do get back training for races.

3. Run with your arms

Now is the perfect time to address any niggles and injuries, but even if you are pain-free as a runner there is always room for improvement on running technique. Let’s take the attention off our overworked legs and in this training session use our arms as our engine. Imagine you are hitting something behind you with each elbow as it drives back behind you. Relax your shoulders and your fists. Only focus on that backward movement. The arm will naturally return to its resting starting place. As you run along count 100 arms, take a little break and then start counting again when you are ready to refocus. The less attention we put on our feet the more we can utilise the rest of our body to carry the load.

4. Stop along the way

If stopping mid-run goes against everything you have ever learned about running, then this training session is especially for you. Head out on your run but look out for somewhere nice to have a pitstop. When you find a suitable spot about half way, sit down or lie out for a few minutes, stretch, move, do a few exercises or just look around and notice nature. What can you see and hear? When you feel ready get back up slowly and continue on with your run. You will have renewed energy for the second half of your run and the glorious benefit of a few minutes of valuable solitude.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you find these training sessions challenging. Focusing on technique, breath or the present moment can be a lot harder than pushing your body physically, especially if you have always measured your run by pace or distance. Accept that you will get distracted along the way. Some days your mind will wander, but other days you will feel like you are floating along. Like with any practice, it is consistency that will make the difference. Keep on trying.

Everyone has had to face new challenges, stresses and uncertainly in the past few months, and who knows what the next month may bring for us all. Our time outdoors is precious these days. Let’s look up from the watches and the phones, let’s switch off the headphones and listen to what our body is telling us.

Let’s build our immune systems, find the quiet path, follow all the guidelines for running safely and respect others along the way. And don’t be shy about taking a few minutes along the way to stop and smell the roses.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Mary's book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.

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Best of luck!