When fear of falling stops you running

Grit Doctor: Small steps will be necessary, if the problem is really a confidence issue

Q: I am trying to convince a good friend about the benefits of running. She has weight issues and confidence issues and is generally pretty unhealthy and I just know that running would do wonders for her. But her excuse is, and she is convinced of this, that she can't run because of her co-ordination issues and that she doesn't trust herself not to trip over. Surely this is nonsense?

A: There may actually be some truth in this. There is a serious medical condition – Ataxia – which occurs when communication between the brain and the rest of the body has been disrupted, causing jerky, unsteady movements which would have a profound effect on your friend's day-to-day activities.

Which is why I suspect if your friend had this condition, you would know about it. More common, and perhaps more likely in your friend’s case, is that she is suffering from dyspraxia, which can also have a big impact on both gross and fine motor skills while interfering with her perception and balance.

If she is dyspraxic, the prospect of taking up running would be – at the very least – a great deal more challenging than for someone without the condition.


Most likely though (perhaps in combination with dyspraxia), your friend is suffering from a lack of confidence.

Was she told as a young girl by a mean PE teacher that she had no co-ordination, I wonder?

It’s amazing how these negative labels become the narratives of our lives. If it is this, or some other limiting belief that has resulted in a loss of confidence, then running may be the very activity that could help her rebuild it.

Just walking

Unlike other sports, particularly those involving bats and balls, where a certain level of co-ordination is necessary, and a lot of practise required before you become proficient, running is simple. It’s just walking with a bit more punch.

Why not invite her on a walk with you? (Even someone with mild Ataxia or dyspraxia can manage this).

On this walk you can talk about all this and find out what is at its root. Tell her how amazing it would be to be able to run together one day. Invite her to do this again and this time, encourage her to jog incredibly slowly just for a tiny bit of the way.

When she manages not to fall flat on her face, congratulate her. Arrange to go again and again, stretching her a bit further each time. Inspire her with confidence.

Small steps will be necessary, because if it’s her confidence that’s been knocked, and she really believes she might trip over, the only way to convince her otherwise is to show her; lead the way, walk her through it, and let her learn that the story she has been telling herself is, indeed, nonsense.

Hold her hand if and when necessary. Ask her, ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’

The Grit Doctor says: "You fall over and get covered in . . ."

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).

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!