‘Dry January’ can be a step too far on road to fitness

Convincing yourself to get out and run during winter is difficult enough as it is

Q: I'm determined to get fit and slim this year and have started with 'Dry January', as I know that will help kick start the weight loss, right? But I'm only just over a week in and already feel like giving up. I was hoping it would motivate me to exercise but it hasn't. Some pearls of grit please.


A: It doesn't get much more gritty than week two of January, which, if the Grit Doctor were giving out awards, would win Worst Week of the Year hands down. At least week one has a fantastic New Year's Eve party and a raft of alcohol-addled optimistic resolutions going for it. Even the most hopeless among us can manage a week of sticking to something . . . surely?

However, we wake up in week two of January and realise that another year has flown past in which we’ve added nothing to our lives except another inch to that ever-expanding waistline. By week two, mental and physical inertia have set in and the enthusiasm for those resolutions has dried up.


The thing with exercise and motivation is that they occur in reverse – that is, the exercise comes first, and only then will you be motivated to do more of it. However, the beauty is that, once it becomes a habit, this regular exercise will not only bring motivation for more of itself, but motivation for everything else in your life. Everything that’s good.

But right now Elsie you are in a familiar catch-22 that we can all recognise and the only way out is with a self-induced injection of pure grit. This begs the question – how to administer said cure? The answer is that you simply have to choose it. You have to choose – in the face of all your excuse-making – to get up from the sofa, put on some warm loose clothing and haul your body outside for a walk or a jog or a bit of both. You have to choose to keep yourself outside and moving as fast as you reasonably can for a sustained period of time, let’s say an hour if you are walking and half an hour if you are jogging. And then you have to choose to do it again the next day.

Your pace needs to be slow enough that you don’t collapse and are still able to hold a conversation but challenging enough that you couldn’t sing a carol. You should be warm and a bit sweaty afterwards and that’s it – job done. It will feel challenging the first time, but really the only difficult bit is moving off the sofa into your trainers and out the front door. The hardest part is always getting started. Once you’ve been moving outdoors for an hour, you’ll find going again – the next day ideally – easier. And each repetition will always be easier than the last. Hold on to that precious thought as you grit it out in the cold.

Perilous spread

I applaud you for giving up alcohol in January, something which I’ve no doubt will help you achieve, if not a shrinkage in that spare tyre, then at least a slowing down of the perilous spread. It is an impressive and brave thing to do, but I won’t be joining you. I consider both January and February to be essential drinking months. I’ll take a dry month or two later on in the year when it’s sunny and life seems easy again, not when I’m stuck indoors all day entertaining fractious children and panicking about not having done my tax return.

The simplest way to a clearer head and to getting that tax return done, and to fulfilling any New Year’s resolution with the minimum amount of fuss and pain and the maximum amount of endorphin-induced efficiency, is to run. And to run regularly. I will be aiming for five-six runs a week in January and February simply because these two bleak months need more runs to be tolerable. Most of us find this time of year hard and, when life is hard, regular runs help me more than anything else.

So does a glass of red wine come to mention it, especially on a cold winter’s night. So this January I’m combining the two – for maximum impact. No, I’m not going to bring a glass of red wine with me on my runs, but I am going to enjoy a glass in the evening on those days that I have run. In that way, the two will work in tandem.

I’m almost looking forward to it now.

Will let you know how I get on.


The Grit Doctor says . . . No run, no wine.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!) and Get Healthy for 2018. 
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!