Why taking up running during lockdown was the best thing for our mental health

  • by IMAGE

Ahead of the Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon, which kicks off October 1, we asked three women what motivated them to start running during lockdown. 


Lasairfhíona Ní Rian, 49, yoga instructor from Dublin

"I never ran before the pandemic, I walked everywhere with my Cavachon Charlie. But when we were restricted to only travel 2km from our homes, I saw more and more people running in the area. I thought, 'I'm doing nothing else, I'll give it a try'.

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I downloaded a couch to 5k running app and initially started running for one minute and walking for five minutes. Then I gradually built up and after eight weeks, running up to three times a week, I was up to 5k.

I'm a mindful yoga instructor and I work mainly in hospital settings, so my job was impacted by Covid-19, which meant I was at home and not moving as much. I started running initially for something to do three times a week, for my mental health. It was important to get up and get out.

I've always maintained my fitness but when I couldn't practice yoga in a class environment I needed do try something else. I've had tuberculosis (TB) before so I wanted to make sure I was as healthy as I could be in case I caught Covid-19.

I run with Charlie, so he gets his exercise too. I completed the app by June so now I do my best to get a 5k run in three times a week. I'm now aiming to build up to 10k, so this year's Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon sounds ideal.

Sign up for this year's Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon here

I wouldn't consider myself a goal-oriented person. I exercise because I enjoy it.

My top tip for anyone starting out running is not to do what I did in my first week – forget to stretch! If you don't stretch properly afterwards you can end up very sore. It only takes five minutes. And I invested in a good pair of running runners. I haven't had pain since that first week and I have been using my yoga poses to really stretch out my hips after running.

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I absolutely love getting out for a run. It sets you up for the day and I feel much better in myself."

Emma Brennan, 25, nutritionist and personal trainer from Sligo

"I've been running on and off for about six years – but it has been very on and off. I tripped in and out of it through periods of stress, I tend to lean on running when I'm stressed or anxious.

I started running when I was doing the Leaving Cert, I'd do a 5k in between study sessions to burn off excess stress.

It's an escape from it all. The mental benefits I get from running outweigh the physical benefits and it helped me to switch off and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

In August 2019 I completed my first half-marathon. I set myself a goal, a few months prior to that I signed up for a half marathon and when I completed it I said I'd never do anything further than that! That was my goal.

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But then, like the rest of the country, I found myself in lockdown. My friends encouraged me to take up running, we all attempted a distance of 5k, 10k or 15k. I ran my own route around Sligo coastal areas.

Sign up for this year's Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon here

I've always been a solo runner and to be honest, I prefer that. I go at my own pace and if I'm with someone else they're either ahead or behind me and for my own headspace I much prefer solo running.

For a longer run I used to start off with a podcast for maybe an hour and then I'd switch to music towards the end of my training. But my earphones broke during lockdown and I got very used to running with nothing, which was interesting. It's amazing how much you can refocus when you don't have other distractions. I did my last 10k with no music.

I haven't ran recently but I will pick it up again because I know how much it benefits me in terms of headspace. It's the only exercise I've found – the longer endurance – where I can completely switch off. I'm looking at my next challenge now. Maybe a triathlon because I prefer the endurance. But the Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon sounds ideal to get me back into it.

I started off running at 30 seconds at a time and I built it up over a couple of weeks. I know it's a cliche to say the hardest part is actually getting out, but once you get out it's a huge benefit.

My tip is to find something that helps you to get out, whether that's leaving your runners at the door or making a playlist that motivates you or finding a route that you really like. Have some patience and don't put too much pressure on yourself, it should be enjoyable."

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Janice Hall, 41, operations manager from Dublin

"When Covid happened and we had to work from home, I knew I had to do something to alleviate a bit of stress. 

I knew sitting for eight hours a day at my kitchen table was going to be difficult and, having run in the past, I always wanted to get back into it. 

So I started getting up at 7am, going out and doing a 5k and then coming back and having my shower and my breakfast.

Obviously the streets weren't thronged at 7am but I definitely saw people out doing the same thing I was doing — other runners, people out walking their dogs, people out for a brisk walk. 

Sign up for this year's Vhi Virtual Women's Mini Marathon here

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I’d usually be the person who spends an hour on the M50 so I actually really enjoyed being able to get out of bed and going for a run to start my day. Normally I wouldn't have time to do that because I had to go out and battle the traffic. 

I was much more able to cope on the days that I got up at 7am and did the run. If I did it three times a week I was okay for the five days. If I did it once a week, I found by the third day I was getting a little antsy and I needed to get out and do my run. 

Running during lockdown gave me more energy. It releases some positive endorphins and you definitely feel it. You feel like having a little dance around your kitchen when you come home!

And I slept like a baby at night. I feel anyone who does any type of exercise during the day will always have a better sleep.

I live by myself so when lockdown happened I knew I’d have to spend eight hours by myself during the days and then more time by myself when work ended. That was a tough time for anybody in the same circumstances — social outlets were gone and you couldn't go out and do your yoga class or your gym.

So anyone who came through it, and found a way to take care of their mental health and get through their day, deserves a little pat on the back."


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The Vhi Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon takes place from October 1-10 this year. Sign up at www.vhiwomensminimarathon.ie. It takes just a few minutes and costs just €10.

Don't forget to share your progress on social media, be sure to tag the Vhi Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon's Instagram page: @vhiwmm.

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