Running: The sport that welcomes the dags and the overweight

Have you ever been passed on a run by a person who could be classified as obese? It's initially a little disconcerting. You think "how can that be physiologically possible?". It's as though the order of the universe has been meddled with.

If you don't let the experience destroy your confidence, then hopefully you can allow it to serve as a reminder that running simply makes these things possible.

My best advice? Get up earlier and go. Even if it's only for half an hour. You'll feel like a hero for the rest of the day.

And that's a good thing. Running is egalitarian. I can't think of another sport where you get such divergent body shapes achieving very similar outcomes.

For this reason I was interested to read the results of a survey of 1500 Australians in July by the Medibank health fund. The survey found that while nearly 75 per cent of respondents aspired to live in good health, only 20 per cent expected to do so. The barrier lay in a lack of motivation to exercise.

If the survey had been done somewhere other than Australia, like England or Congo, I could understand this. Crummy weather and ongoing war are definite downers for any aspiring exerciser.

But here in Australia? What excuses do we have?

What's your excuse?

Lack of motivation is often driven by a lack of inspiration or a sense that something is unattainable. But running has plenty of examples of inspiration. There's the aforementioned overtaking incident, or just the sight of anyone slogging it out around the neighbourhood. Let alone the stories of people who have overcome adversity to achieve a running goal, or others undertaking a major running journey to raise money and awareness for a cause.

Anyone vaguely thinking about giving running a go, but needing some inspiration to get them over the line (or should that be out the door), would be advised to first of all stand on the sidelines of a fun run, or better still volunteer at one. By the time they've watched an array of body types sprinting or shuffling past, they'll be saying to themselves: "I could do that. I want to do that. I'm going to do that race next year."

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To keep the inspiration flame burning, the next step should be to find people to train with. Sure, it's important to embrace solo running eventually (you can't always muster a running party), but when you're starting out the value of social training can't be overstated.

Free social running networks are ubiquitous, perhaps the most widespread example being, a weekly, timed 5km run held in parks across Australia and organised entirely by volunteers. A recent Parkrun newsletter included this description of a newly formed subset of regular participants who call themselves:

"Five30runners vary in size and shape and are made up of all ages. Five30runners are not members of a club (as that would cost money); rather they are members of a family. They look after each other from the most senior of runners (Guru) to the most junior (Newbies).

"Five30runners communicate about all things running, from injury management, to training techniques. They support each other with words of encouragement and praise, and are always happy to help one another.

"Five30runners appear in several varieties; a plodder, a jogger and a runner. Whatever their variety, they have been observed to receive the same amount of cheers and high fives as they engage in their favourite pastime …"

What's not motivating about that? Other sources of running groups are, plus local council and gym noticeboards. And, of course, for a fee there are plenty of groups which are also highly beneficial for the training and technical advice you'll receive in addition to the emotional and social support.

Remove the obstacles

As far as other obstacles to motivation are concerned, running can't be called a drain on the hip pocket or on time.

You can wear what you want; dags are welcome in this sport, although work socks with running shoes should be avoided. I'd like to say this is because work socks are too thin, whereas running socks absorb perspiration and reduce the risk of blisters. But mainly it just looks tragic.

If you blame lack of time on not being able to get out for a run, lower your expectations. Think small. One day at a time. And my best advice? Get up earlier and go. Even if it's only for half an hour. You'll feel like a hero for the rest of the day. And it will not make you more tired.

One other barrier to motivation might be that you feel you have to lose weight BEFORE you attempt to run. Certainly, it's a good idea to have a medical check before embarking on an exercise program if you've been idle for a long time. But exercise itself is the best motivator you'll find to lay off the burgers.

Built-in guilt

Running puts you in touch with your body and gives you plenty of time to ruminate on the counterproductive effects of eating and drinking too much of the wrong stuff. By the time you've done a checklist of all the food you shouldn't have eaten yesterday, there's a chance you'll have almost finished your run. Bonus! But don't let that convince you give up; use it to your advantage. When I'm struggling up a hill after a period of overindulgence, I tell myself to remember that discomfort next time I consider buying a muffin with my coffee.

As far as the weather is concerned, spring is the ideal motivator to exercise. Wouldn't it be nice to be a bit fit to enjoy the coming summer? And if you do make the leap into the 20 per cent of Australians who expect to live in good health, make the most of it. Join groups, enter events and when someone much heavier passes you, observe how cool it is to be out running with like-minded, motivated souls.

Where do you find the motivation to run?

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