Mary Jennings: What lockdown has taught me about running

Now is a nice time to decide what elements of our lockdown running we want to carry forward

It happens around this time every year. Someone casually mentions that the evenings will start to get shorter from next week.

My stomach sinks and I wonder how can it be mid-June already. Why didn’t I get up for more sunrise runs, organise more picnics and climb more mountains? My usual reaction is to go into panic mode and start planning frantically for the rest of the summer. But not this year.

The start of summer

This year I’m choosing to mark ‘the longest day’ as the start of my summer, rather than the beginning of the end of daylight. I’ve decided not to feel guilty about all the things I could have done with that ‘extra’ time in lockdown that magically disappeared. I’ll admit I am no further on with all those big jobs I was certain I’d finally have the time to tackle. I never did get up for those early morning runs or do all the online yoga classes. But I did still run, move, walk and learned a lot about the power of fresh air and exercise in difficult times.

Running in lockdown

From talking to other runners, many have found running a lifeline over the last three months, while others haven’t had a moment to prioritise it. For those who have been able to get out, running has offered a little escape from the desk and some valuable ‘me-time’ for those multi-tasking with work and homeschooling. Runners have discovered new local paths, left the roads for the trails and learned to run without company. Some of you even took the headphones out and noticed spring turn into summer around you.


The lessons learned

Before we embark on the summer, let’s look back on what lockdown offered you most from a running perspective. Moving from coach to runner has been the biggest change for me. For sure I miss the social side of running/coaching but I have loved running solo and sometimes technology free. These runs are the only time in my day when I don’t seem have a person, computer or a phone to interact with. It’s like my brain takes this time to organise all that’s spinning around within. Solo running is something I definitely want to continue going forward. But what has actually made you feel good, given you energy and helped you enjoy running more this spring?

Less is more

The last 10 weeks have taught us many things about slowing down all that we do. Scheduling less and looking after ourselves seem to be popular choices for how people want to change their routines going forward. With our running, now is a nice time to decide what elements of our running during lockdown we wish to carry forward and which old habits we wish to leave behind. Very gradually we will return to meeting running buddies, extending our miles and running destinations. Before we know it there will be races and parkruns back on the agenda. Quickly we will forget what we gained most from our limited running opportunities this spring unless we take stock now.

Runner’s guilt

As we approach the longest day of the year it is not a time to feel sorry about the passing of time, but a chance to remember there are still at least three months of bright mornings, warmer days and long evenings ahead. If other elements of your life took priority in the last few months and you have lost your running mojo, I would certainly recommend you attempt rekindling your love affair with it in summer, rather than wait for dark winter evenings. This time last year I made the commitment to early morning running. It worked great for a while and then I lapsed into later evenings and lazier mornings. As wonderful the feeling is of an early morning run, the real discipline is going to bed earlier so the morning is much less of a battle. This is something I’m going to try and revisit these summer days.

Widening our boundaries

We are heading into a summer now where our boundaries and freedom are being gradually extended. We all thrived in the move from 2km to 5km but this latest widening means we can go much further, but should we? As more photos of running adventures, meet-ups and challenges start to fill our social media feeds, there might be the temptation to sign up for it all. Just because you can now run anywhere in your county doesn’t actually mean you have to do it. Match your enthusiasm with a dose of what you have learned about your running in the last while. Over committing to make up for lost time won’t make you any stronger for the future. Rest is still so important as we all adapt to new ways of working, living and exercising.

You decide

The last few months have shown us all that we can’t control everything in our future, but there are some choices we make everyday that we can take responsibility for. If we want to make these next few summer months memorable in our own special way then let’s do the things that make us feel better - both with our running and in life in general. Stick a small post-it somewhere you see everyday that reminds you of where your running priorities lie. Mine is already written. It simply says “Schedule less. Bed early. Run free”.

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

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