February… the graveyard of all of my New Year’s Running Resolutions. It’s tough running through the depths of winter. Whether running is a new hobby or an ingrained habit, motivation can be an elusive little sod; it tends to be the fair-weathered friend that dragged you out for a ‘New Year, New You’ 5 miler on 1 January and abandoned you by the fire with the last of the Christmas chocolates by the 31st.
And it doesn’t just abandon you in the cold, dark winter months. In the middle of last year, I ran my fastest half marathon. On the day I was euphoric but in the summer months that followed, I found it harder and harder to find the motivation to train for the next one. Setting goals can inspire you to train harder but ironically, setting the bar higher and striving to reach it can also be demotivating. Knowing that hitting the next PB is going to take more effort, commitment and courage can become the stick we beat ourselves with rather than the carrot we race towards.
Somewhere, amongst all the competing, I realised that I had lost sight of some of the most important reasons I run… the feeling of joy, freedom and the palpable boost to my mental health that I experience during and for a long time after a run. Barring the odd scraped knee or run in with a stroppy golfer, I have literally never finished a run unhappy. It was just starting them that was becoming a problem.
By the end of the summer I had decided that if challenging myself to run further and faster was the thing which was preventing me from starting a run, what I needed to do was take all elements of competition out of my running and somehow turn it into something I genuinely looked forward to.
Enter Run NB, a small and very friendly community running group which has helped me remember why I started running in the first place. We don’t time our runs at Run NB, in fact we only vaguely measure the distance we run. We chat about everything from what we had for tea to what to see at the cinema, from which sports bra to buy to which trail race we’re entering next. We are different shapes, sizes, ages and genders. Some of us jog along and stop for the odd walking break, some of us scamper ahead, more fleet of foot and keen for a challenge. We are all runners.
It is a rare runner who joins the group without apologizing profusely for their lack of pace, explaining their fear of trailing behind and letting others down. No one lets anyone down in our running group but, let’s be honest, that first run with any group or club can be intimidating. Fear of being the slowest is the reason I have never joined a ‘proper’ running club and I am now cross with myself for all those lost years of social running I could have been enjoying and friends I could have made.
After plucking up the courage to turn up on that first night though, the flipside of first timer anxiety is the wonderful experience of finishing with the rosy cheeked glow of the runner’s high. You don’t need to run fast to feel the endorphin effect from running, it’s just as accessible and as potent whether you’re on a Couch to 5K programme, training for an ultra or running aimlessly. What I said above about never returning from a run unhappy I think must apply to anyone who runs; has anyone ever finished a run more miserable than when they started?!
Whether you run with a group or not, putting your shoes on and heading out of the door is the hardest bit. And not just for the first run. After nearly three decades of running, I still sometimes loathe the first ten minutes and wonder why I do it. You need to hang in there and keep telling yourself that the discomfort will ease and you will start to enjoy it. This is where a running group comes into its own.
Making a commitment to be there to other group members, so you can’t back out at the last minute when it looks dark and chilly outside is a good idea. Then, give yourself over to the camaraderie and distraction of other people running alongside you in the early minutes of a run and you will not look back. Gradually you will not feel pulled along, you will feel spurred on by that that elusive little sod, motivation, who has finally caught up with you and decided to hang around for a while.
Run NB is a JogScotland running group that meets at the Community Centre in North Berwick at 7.30pm every Monday, come rain or shine and new runners are always welcome. Find your local group on jogscotland.org.uk. In England, look for a running group through the recreational arm of England Athletics, runtogether.co.uk
Jo's favourite running books:
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Your Pace Or Mine by Lisa Jackson
Born To Run by Christopher McDougall