Whether you’re a casual jogger or you’ve run multiple marathons, you’ll know the feeling. That post-run endorphin rush that makes you feel like you can conquer the world. If you don’t run regularly, though, it can be tricky to remember what that runner’s high feels like. Especially if you harbour self-doubt or negative thoughts about running.
The physical and mental health benefits of movement, running included, are undeniable. But globally, women exercise less often each week than men, according to the ASICS 2022 State of Mind Index, and experience a lower state of mind as a result.
With a news cycle that seems to add to our anxiety every day, the knowledge that movement can transform the mind – the principle on which ASICS was founded – and the potential for exercise as a tool for stress relief, is more valuable than ever before.
“Running makes you happy,” says Ania Gabb, a PT, running coach and aerobics instructor. “When we run or do any type of exercise, we release endorphins, which reduce stress, relieve pain and make us happy.”
After running her first half marathon and marathon in 2009, running became Ania’s passion. Since then she’s done hundreds of races, including 31 marathons, and competes in road races as a semi-elite and sometimes elite athlete.
For Ania, running is a way to relieve stress and help with grief. “Whenever I’m not coping or feel low I tell myself to get out for a run because I know it’ll help me relax and clear my mind, which allows me to think straight.” She gets a kick out of running coaching because she knows “how it feels to reach your goals and get that personal best you’ve worked so hard for”.
If you’re inspired to start reaping the mental rewards of running, here’s how to make it a regular part of your life.
Carve out time for your runs
We get it, you’re busy. But by putting time in your diary for running each week – and making it non-negotiable, as you would a work meeting – you’re arguably buying yourself more time for other things.
The benefits of exercise, such as improved focus and mood, will make you more productive and happier when showing up in other areas of your life.
Exercise increases our self-efficacy and thus expands our sense of what we can complete within a given timeframe. So running in the morning will make you feel ready for the day and time-rich rather than time-poor.
If you find external accountability useful, arrange running dates with friends or join a local running group.
Running gear that makes you feel good
When you look put-together, you’re more likely to feel inspired to get out into the world and run. In one survey of regular gym-goers, 85% said having cool-looking gym clothes gave them more confidence, while 88% said simply putting on their gym clothes gives them the biggest motivation boost.
Each piece of ASICS’ NAGINO™ Collection has been created to inspire body confidence and enable you to move freely and undistracted. Consign those ill-fitting trainers and baggy jogging bottoms to the back of your cupboard.
Fuel yourself for success
For women, fasted training tends to put unnecessary stress on the body so try not to run on an empty stomach if you can. Eating before a run is crucial to give the energy you need to fulfil your potential. Carbohydrates, protein and fat are all necessary to help you move as best you can. Prioritise carbs like oats, toast, cereal, white rice, pasta, banana or other fruits, depending on the time of day.
Hydration-wise, it’s recommended we drink between 1.5 and 2.5 litres (about six to eight cups) of fluid a day, which will need to be more throughout the day if you’re exercising. You’ll know if you’re drinking enough because you’ll no longer be thirsty.
“I always tell my clients to have a glass of water an hour before their run, or 200ml 15 minutes before. Throughout your run it’s best to drink around 150ml,” says Ania. If you’re running a long distance like a marathon, it’s best to drink little and often.
Eating well post-run is also key for recovery and training adaptation. Aim to eat a meal high in carbs (to replenish your glycogen stores) and protein (to help your muscles recover and rebuild), and healthy fats (to help you recover and feel satisfied). Good examples are protein porridge with nut butter, yoghurt and granola, or eggs on toast.
Stretch the right way
Warming up pre-run should be non-negotiable as it reduces injury risk, gets your heart rate up and prepares the body for movement. Aim for a five- to 10-minute routine that targets all your muscle groups, and prioritise dynamic stretches over static ones (save static stretching for your cool down).
Try front and back leg swings, side leg swings, side lunges, knee hugs, dynamic quad stretch and reverse lunges with rotation.
Harness the power of breathwork
When you're coming back to running after a break, it’s normal to find breathing difficult or feel like you're running out of air when you pick up speed. “The key to having a relaxed run is to slow down your breathing,” Ania says. “If you breathe too fast, this could tighten up your upper body and raise your heart rate too quickly.”
The more often you run, the easier breathing will become. In the meantime, try some techniques to help you breathe more efficiently while you're running. “Before you set off, do a few breathing exercises to relax your body and mind,” Ania recommends.
“Inhale through your nose for three slow counts, hold your breath for three counts, exhale slowly through your nose for three counts, and hold for three counts.” Spend three to five minutes doing this.
“When you start running, try to keep your breathing slow and relaxed – in through the nose and out through the nose,” she adds.
Have a post-run wind-down routine
Make rehydrating one of the first things you do post-run. And like your warm up, it’s important not to skip a cool down routine. This gets your body back to its rest state by slowing down your breathing and heart rate, aiding muscle relaxation, and helping your body remove lactic acid and waste products from your muscles by increasing blood flow to those areas.
Spend five to 10 minutes (or longer if you can) stretching key muscles including your quads, glutes and hamstrings. Foam rolling your muscles can also prevent soreness in the days after a run. Do future you a favour and don’t skip your cool down.
Make sleep a priority, too. Sleep is when our muscles recover and rebuild, and being well-slept gives us the energy we need to have a good run or workout. Aim for a regular bedtime and wake-up time each day and practise good sleep hygiene by minimising screen time in the evening and limiting your caffeine intake.
Mix up your training
Strength training is beneficial for the vast majority of us, whether you’re a runner or not. For runners, lifting weights is arguably essential because it strengthens your muscles, bones and connective tissues, which can improve your running performance (including your speed, efficiency and endurance) and reduce your injury risk.
One to two sessions each week is enough for you to see improvements in your running. Train your full body and focus on the foundational movement patterns, including the squat, hinge (e.g. the deadlift), lunge, push (e.g. press-ups and bench press), pull (e.g. rows and pull-ups) and the carry (e.g. the farmer’s walk).
Single leg work is also great to help you build a strong running base, says Ania. “My favourite exercises are single leg squats, single leg deadlifts, step-downs, and reverse lunges with knee drive.”
Make sure your sessions are positioned sensibly within your week so they don’t detract from your running or vice versa. For a workout plan tailored to your needs, it’s worth investing in a personal trainer.
Don’t neglect flexibility, balance and mobility work either, as these can also improve your running performance and cut your risk of injury. Try yoga, Pilates and other mobility classes, or run through a sequence aimed at runners on YouTube.
Make the most of rest days
Rest days are as important as training itself when it comes to fitness. It’s when the body adapts and gets stronger and improves ahead of your next session. Rather than feeling guilty for taking the time to rest, revel in it and plan fun activities that’ll give you the same mood boost as exercise.
Run a hot bath, do some baking, watch your favourite shows, do some restorative yoga, go on a walk with a friend or cook your favourite meal.
Listen to your body
“Anyone can overdo it, sometimes without realising it,” says Ania. “Running and training can become addictive. We feel guilty if we don’t complete sessions but our bodies may show us warning signs that we need to take it easy and rest.” Look out for niggles, aches and pains, which can sometimes lead to injuries.
Self-compassion has been shown to be positively correlated with health-promoting behaviours such as exercise. This means that if you treat yourself with kindness, you’re more likely to be able to maintain a positive, sustainable exercise routine.
Don’t beat yourself up for skipping a run if you’re ill, injured or if it’s not what your body needs right now. Know your limits and give your body what it wants. Think: What will my future self thank me for? If you know, deep down, that a run will make you feel better, do it.
Take precautions and ensure you exercise sensibly. If it won’t make you feel better, do something else. That might be a slow yoga flow, a brisk walk or a few hours spent on the sofa instead.
Some runs will feel harder than normal. “It may feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel and that nothing is getting easier but I promise you it does,” Ania insists. “A lot of it is psychological and about finding mental strength and positivity to keep you going. As you build volume, endurance and speed, you’ll build fitness. One day you’ll run and everything will just click into place.”
In keeping with ASICS’ Sound Mind, Sound Body principle, remember that movement is a tool to transform your mind for the better.