Get Running: How to plan in a year of uncertainty

Mary Jennings on things we can do to carry us through the remainder of this winter

 Running Coach and Irish Times Writer Mary Jennings. Photograph: Alan Betson

Running Coach and Irish Times Writer Mary Jennings. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Two weeks into 2021 and I wonder if you are still full of enthusiasm and great new year intentions. Hopefully you are running happily and not in any need of words of support today.

January is Health Month in The Irish Times. Throughout the month, in print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2021. See irishtimes.com/health

But just in case your enthusiasm is already waning or you feel at a loss without any certainty in the future running calendar, let’s chat about what we can do to carry us through the remainder of this winter.

The empty calendar
This time last year we had no idea what was coming our way and we planned our running calendars meticulously with excitement and gusto. We registered for races and set goals not knowing that these big days we envisaged would never materialise. Indeed, many of us are now too afraid to plan or commit this year for fear of another disappointment. This is totally understandable but the uncertainly doesn’t have to stop us dreaming of what we might like to do in the future. A healthy wish list is good for us all. It keeps us motivated and inspired, but when there is no date set on your dreams, it’s very easy to put working towards them on the long finger.

Taking a small step
Most of us need something in the near future to keep us on track. Short-term planning is what we have all learnt to do over the last year in many aspects of our lives. Our fitness is no different. So instead of looking far into the future, let’s try to use this uncertain time to set ourselves up for success when our wings are finally unclipped. To be the runner you would like to be when restrictions finally ease means doing the ground work now to be ready to fly.

Time for a plan
The next eight weeks brings us to mid-March, that very time last year where everything changed. Ask yourself, one year on from that 12th March date, how do you want to feel in yourself? I certainly cannot promise you there will be any sense of normality by then, but I can assure you that most of us will be looking back at the year and wondering how it changed us. We still have time for it to change us for the better. We have now eight weeks to get focused, decide how we want to feel, what habits we want to create and what differences we want in our body and our mindset for when we do hit this Covid “anniversary”.

Make it personal to you
I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping my fitness has not regressed from where I was this time last year. In fact, I would like to think I have learnt some lessons and also developed strength, stamina and resilience over that time. But everyone is different. Each of us have experienced this Covid world differently and some of you will just be delighted to have made it through the year. If focusing on running is not right for you at the moment, change the question you ask yourself. How do you actually want to feel in your body in eight weeks’ time?

How do you want to feel?
If you are in a position to have time and a little freedom to look after yourself this January, it is a worthwhile 15 minute exercise to sit down and plan what is possible for you to do over the next few months. How much time can you make for yourself? Do you want to feel stronger, run longer, get back running, recover from injury, change your morning routine or maybe even take a break from running and try something else? The answer is different for everyone. Remember your goal doesn’t have to be a certain distance, a personal best or indeed a complex training plan. It might just be to have fresh air as part of your day or have more energy and less stress in your life.

Think differently
It is quite possible that you really don’t have any running aspirations at all. That is just fine, but I imagine there might be some habits and routines you might like to establish heading into spring. As you know by now, the combination of fresh air and movement is a wonderful match that makes us feel better and stronger, mentally and physically. If fitness went off your priority list last year, setting great intentions of making more time for yourself to help you manage what life throws at you might be a good idea.

From intentions to reality
Turning our great intentions into reality does however involve planning and commitment. It can be overwhelming to know where to start. The best piece of advice is to start small and make it easy on yourself. Dedicate some time in your diary for yourself. Success can be simply making that time for you. There is plenty of support out there to help you.

A helping hand
Remember our free Get Running programmes are available for you if you need a training plan to gain structure from. There are also lots of virtual supports and local community initiatives to encourage people to mind themselves and get active this winter. Why not enlist an accountability buddy with whom you share texts and encouragement, even when you cannot meet, in order to help you both keep on going?

Celebrating in style
In March, when you will look back over the last 12 months, you will recognise that some events were out of your control. But you will also see little habits you did create for yourself, in the midst of the madness. If you feel the habits you have already created might not be the best ones to maintain going forward you still have a chance now to reset that. Decide now to plan ahead and get organised so when you do look back at the year of lockdown in eight weeks’ time you can be proud of yourself for finishing in style.

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

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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