How to stay sane, positive and healthy amid this uncertainty

Have you lost the will to run? Get back out the door today and feel the mental benefits

It can be tempting to wish away the rest of this strange and challenging year. Many of us have our eyes on 2021 already, hoping and planning for better days ahead.

From a runner’s perspective, these autumnal days have always been a challenge for those who struggle with motivation. The beginning of the dark evenings and the chill in the air makes the thought of leaving the cosy couch a little less tempting. But please don’t pack away the running gear with the summer clothes.

More than ever we need running to help balance the books. This autumn and winter the fresh air can help us stay sane, positive, healthy and calm in the midst of the uncertainty around us.

A change of plan

As runners we love to plan, but we can’t right now. So, don’t waste your energy wondering when Parkrun will return or if those races you booked ages ago might still go ahead in the future. We have all had enough last-minute cancellation disappointments for one year.


Let’s try to minimise our deliberating about what will happen for Halloween and Christmas. All this ruminating is zapping our energy and enthusiasm. Speculation won’t make us feel any happier; in fact it is stealing too much of our time right now. Instead let’s put our energy into something that will help us feel better, something we have control over.

Fresh-air therapy

If you know that running (or indeed walking) makes you feel good then I really encourage you to do everything you can to keep the routine going this autumn. If you are out of the habit, get back out the door today, and ease back in slowly. More than even we need fresh air, time in nature and time for ourselves to untangle the thoughts and worries in our heads.

Regardless of all the amazing physical benefits we will gain from moving in this way, it is the mental benefits that will really stand to us. Having a sense of calm and clarity, as well as a sense of achievement at getting out the door, will change our perspective and boost our outlook. We will be able to handle setbacks a little easier as we build strength and resilience.

Fitting it all in

But I do know that there is a lot more to life than running, and there is a lot to juggle these days. We don’t always have the freedom and time we would like to get out there. But I encourage you to work especially hard these next few weeks to carve out that time for yourself. The pre-run build-up is often harder than the run itself. Decide when you will go and just go.

We need to work on getting over those first few minutes of pre-run procrastination in order to get the habit started and keep the routine going. It will definitely get easier. Don’t shift your running into your 2021 wish list. It will be much harder then, after another three months on the couch.

Making it easy

Running to feel good should take priority over any major speed or distance goal at this time. Try to avoid any running goal that is going to add more stress than pleasure to the coming weeks. We want running to be enjoyable. You have to want to go outside, not see it as a chore.

From coaching runners through the last six months of lockdown and beyond, I have found that the most popular and rewarding running sessions for runners have been those I call “mindful runs”. In simple terms this means getting outside, noticing what is around you, running at a pace where you feel comfortable and are generally appreciating what your body can do. In short, you choose to enjoy the run and you keep your eyes off the clock. There is no time pressure or competition. This type of running has reignited the love for running in many this summer.

A personal goal

But if you are the type of runner who needs a set goal and time target to keep you focused, use the Halloween, Christmas and New Year milestones to help you plan and create targets for yourself. You know best what you are capable of and what your stumbling blocks may be. Get your thoughts down on paper and some dates in the diary.

But if you are the type of runner who wants to run but often lets it shift down the priority list as stress, work and general life get in your way, then I really encourage you to focus for consistency first. Get a routine going now and make each of the runs a mindful run to start. Don’t let what has happened in previous winters happen again. Keep moving, even if you don’t feel like you are breaking any speed records.

Consistency first

Fresh air every day is essential to feeling great, but running every second day is plenty for most runners. Spend time outside each day, especially on those damp, dreary days when you think the couch would be the better option. Aim for three runs per week and go for a walk or even sit outside with your morning coffee on the days you don’t run.

Build these little routines now that will last through the winter. You don’t have to go out for a long time, or run fast. You can always slow down when you need to. Start with building the routine first, and as your fresh-air fix becomes a habit, you will notice how your fitness and motivation will increase. Don’t set the bar too high to start with. We all could find just five minutes a day to breathe fresh air somewhere in our day, I hope.

Staying on track

I cannot promise what the rest of this year will bring for any of us, but I can ensure you that if you try to make a little time for yourself, get outside and look for the good stuff, you will be able to handle what life brings a little easier. You know deep down there is a space you can fit a run or walk in; sometimes it is just easier to procrastinate. No more.

Decide today that you will finish this year feeling like you have taken control of this part of you. The stronger, calmer and fresher we feel in the coming months, the better we will be able to make the right decisions, stay rational, reasonable and indeed relatively positive in a time when we can feel like we have no say in anything at all.

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

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!