Running and Mental Health


Running is about as old as any activity you could think of. Early human ancestors were running as they hunted (or more importantly, from being hunted). It can be competitive, or a recreational pastime. Some of its earliest recordings as a sport date back over 3,500 years ago in Ireland’s Tailteann Games. We are all familiar with running and, for some of us, love to stomp the roads. For myself, I took up running at the start of 2023. To date, I have completed my first (Belfast), and second (Dublin) marathons, as well as an adventure trail run up and down a mountain (“The Warriors Run” in County Sligo), along with countless kilometres of training along the way. Now, I am by no means any sort of record-breaking marathon runner like Eliud Kipchoge, or a fanatic experienced endurance athlete like David Goggins. I am simply your average person who wanted to better themselves, mentally and physically, by taking up a new hobby, having fun with it, and seeing where it goes from there. My road to this point has been a whole lot of fun, but it too had its trials and tribulations. This led to a lot of great learning and development along the way. So, I thought I would just highlight some of the most important things about running which I wish someone had told me when I was first starting out!

Start Small

It may seem cliché, put you have to walk before you can run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to have all the ambition to do the 5km/10km, Half/full marathon, but like anything you will do in life, starting small and gradually working your way up through practice and training will be the most important way to not only start your running journey, but also to continue on it.

Self Investment

The success of everything you do (whether it is starting a new hobby, job, or relationships, etc.) is totally dependent on how much you are willing to put into it. Now of course the efforts that you put into your runs, as well as your rest and recovery, are crucial for success. With running, often people just think “ah I’ll stick on a pair of shoes and just go”. That is of course doable. It doesn’t cost anything to go outside and move after all. However, there are many things worth considering if you want to boost your performance. This can include:
- knowing the shoes that best suit the type of run you’re doing
- the type of runner you are in terms of stride
- what type of foot you have and how you land
- the type of gear you need
- what you should be eating/drinking.

I found that once I started paying attention to such things, my enjoyment and investment went to the next level. At the end of the day, you are and should be doing it for you. It is only right that you invest fully in yourself to succeed.

Get with the Program

One of the best things you can do when starting up running, is to set a goal and get yourself a training programme. Whether its 5km, or a full marathon, having a structured, weekly outlined routine was one of the best reference points I had when assessing my progress. This definitely does not mean that you have to go and get a personal trainer/coach to give you a programme. There are so many free options out there for a wide range of capabilities. Personally I came across some really great options for beginners. The first: simply look up “training programme” online, printing out the one I thought suited, and following it, crossing out day by day. The second: a free app by Nike called Nike Run Club. Personally, I really enjoyed this app for a few reasons. There are a wide range of full training programmes, from 5km all the way to a Marathon, as well as other single sessions. These are all recorded in the app, tracking all your progress. As well as that, the runs are guided by some of Nikes leading coaches and athletes and also offers a partner app called Nike Training Club, giving you a range of other guided sessions from stretching and yoga, to strength and conditioning. All of which is completely free, meaning no in-app purchases, which is sometimes very hard to find these days.

It's OK to miss a day

Structured training programmes are a fantastic way for you to obtain your goals and keep consistent. However, it is not always simple to stick to the programme. Life will always find a way of bringing up the unexpected. Whether it is an injury, something at work, or a personal situation involving family, friends. The most important thing about taking up a hobby is having fun. If you beat yourself up about not doing a run here, or even missing a week of training there, you are only beating the fun out of it. It is ok to miss training days. You should always prioritise what is best for you and in that way I promise you will keep the fun in your run.

The 3 R's

Rest, recovery, and refuel (properly). These three R’s often seem overstated. However, they are so for a reason. For anyone looking to start off running, particularly when aiming for long distances, it is crucial while traning to properly recharge your body and mind. It is very common for people to over train e.g., picking up an extra run, going too fast on an easy session, or even not eating as much as they should in a bid to lose those few extra pounds. All these can be determinantal not only your own physical health but also your mental capacity to enjoy what you are doing. The 3 R’s, in the case of running, are the main reasons why people improve and from my own experience it was when I started to take them more seriously, that I really started to see the benefits which I was trying to achieve by ignoring them!

You Do You

In today’s world, people get easily distracted by what others are doing. Additionally, even becoming discouraged or frustrated when we see others doing something we are doing, but “better” than us. We can too often compare ourselves to someone else who may be able to run faster, or further or just “better” than us. Trust me, there is no such thing as “better” than you. The only person you should be concerned about on your journey is you. Once you block out all the noise of what other people might be doing, and focus on your own goals and accomplishments, you will quickly start to enjoy your own individual journey far more than comparing it to others. 

Final Thoughts

Starting anything new can be daunting. When I had set myself the goal to complete my first marathon, of course I was anxious. Will I be able to do all the training? Can I get the time I want? Do I know what I should be eating, drinking, how I should be recovering? How long even is a marathon and am I sure I can even run that far!?! Its natural to be cautious in the face of a new journey, however from my own experiences, starting your road to running can be a deeply personal development, not only physically, but also mentally. Every time you lace up your shoes, every run you complete is another unique personal achievement, comparable only to you, and how far you have come. So embrace the road ahead, remember to celebrate along the way and discover the incredible potential you have. Happy Running!

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Send tips or suggestions to Author: Robert Joseph Kelly, postgraduate student of business management at Maynooth University.

Disclaimer: Always consult a qualified professional such as a doctor when planning a health and fitness plan.