Happy 10th birthday to Get Running

Mary Jennings: I’m thrilled to say thousands of you started running with this programme over the last decade and it is still going strong

Ten years ago I spent a few winter weeks recording the very first Irish Times Get Running course. It was bitterly cold and I remember sitting in the car with the heat on full blast reading my notes as the camera crew set up outside. It was my first time to be on camera, use autocue and indeed spread my love of running to those beyond my beach classes on Sandymount strand.

Would anyone watch?

As I filmed each lesson at a different spot around the city I remember wondering if anyone would sign-up. I didn’t know the words ‘impostor syndrome’ back then, but I certainly experienced it. I wasn’t a fast or famous runner, just someone who had found the love of running as an adult and wanted to share all I had learned. Thankfully, 10 years later I’m thrilled to say thousands of you started running with this Get Running programme over the last decade and it is still going strong.

Why it was different

Back in 2014 there were couch-to 5k apps and generic training plans online but they relied a lot on self-motivation and willpower. What Get Running offered was something more personal. It was Irish, local and very accessible. It wasn’t daunting and was geared at people who would love to run, but didn’t think they could.

The programme was geared to building confidence as much as running performance. I believed, and still do, that it is more important to build self-belief first in these new runners than to build fitness if you want them to keep up the habit.

Why did it work?

Get Running starts simply by introducing slow jogging minutes into a walk. Each week, there is less walking and more running. The runners are encouraged by weekly video lessons from me and articles in the newspaper. By the time the participants got to week eight, they had surprised themselves and built up to running for 30 minutes non-stop.

They had become a runner.

All they had to do was go out the door, follow the tips and the rest just happened.

Building a routine

The biggest barrier for many new runners, or lapsed runners, is finding a routine that works for their lifestyle. When you are not accountable to anyone it is easy to make excuses and drop out. The motivation tips peppered throughout the videos encouraged people to stick with it and even bring others on the journey with them.

Ten years ago, there were very few parkruns in Ireland and people didn’t have as many friends who were runners. To have a programme that hand-held them but could also be followed by their buddies, wherever they lived, was the perfect combination for many runners starting out.

What has changed since

In the decade that has passed, I’ve hardly ever looked back over those original videos. But the most striking change when I now see the old footage, apart from the few extra wrinkles, is the size of my running watch. Technology for runners has moved on so much both in clothing as well as gadgets.

I might be wearing slightly different gear now, but there is very little that has changed otherwise. The message at the heart of Get Running remains the same.

Build the foundations

I still stand behind the concept of gradual progress and to this day use all the techniques I’ve learnt from Chi Running and other movement practices over the years to help runners feel better when running. I still encourage people to make running fun and find others to help keep them on track. Runners need to build the foundations first, as well as build the belief and from there running can take you anywhere.

We all need to take the first step sometimes without knowing where it might lead and what opportunities it might bring.

Where it might lead you

I cannot take credit for the vision for Get Running. I am incredibly grateful to those at The Irish Times who saw the potential way back before online courses were a thing. It was John Collins, Health & Family Editor at the time, who took a chance on me to design the programme. The wonderful Joyce Hickey then encouraged me to write just one article for the paper.

I never had envisaged I would end up writing about running at all. Without those first mentors and supporters I would certainly not have written 10 years of newspaper articles and more recently a book.

The stepping stones

The support we get in the early stages of any hobby, be it running, writing or anything else helps build our sense of self-belief. That’s what gives us the drive to keep going. But beyond the first nudges and the early successes we also need accountability if we are going to keep it moving into the future.

So as we head into this new year, ask yourself, what path you might like to follow and who will keep you on track? Who else can you bring along the journey with you to make sure you both keep each other accountable?

Make a decision

Without a deadline, we can put things on the long finger. I most certainly would not have written this article if I wasn’t accountable to my enthusiastic editor for the newspaper deadline. That keeps me on my toes. What will keep you on your toes? If starting running is something you have always put on the long finger, or indeed if you believe you couldn’t possibly run, set yourself a challenge. You can still join Get Running. You do it at your own pace, repeating any lessons if you want to progress slower.

What have you got to lose! It’s free, it is accessible and I’m thrilled to say, 10 years on, it has worked for so many of you in Ireland and beyond.

Thank you to everyone who has joined me so far.

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