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“Boredom does strange things to you,” says Imthiaz Rehman, a 30-year-old who’s recently taken up running. “It’s not something I thought I’d do, but I got so sick of being stuck inside.”
Like thousands of Brits across the UK, Imthiaz has discovered a love of running during the coronavirus pandemic. He felt self-conscious and struggled at first, but set himself small goals to improve little by little.
After two months of running three or four times a week, he can now run 10k. He hopes to run a half marathon for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust when lockdown is over.
“If you run for long enough, it becomes a kind of mindfulness and a chance to clear any thoughts in your head,” says Imthiaz, who’s based in Lewisham, London. “It’s been great for my mental health and I’ve never felt better.”
Time outdoors has become a precious commodity in recent months, and it seems more people have been inspired to start running,
Around 207,000 people shared their running stats on social media through exercise apps in March, according to one study – that’s more than January and February combined. Some of these runners will be completely new to the habit, others may have rediscovered their love of it after many years.
Running makes me feel powerful and strong. Laura Hitchcock
Laura Hitchcock, 45, from Dorset, started running four years ago, initially to lose weight, but slowly lost the motivation to keep it up. Faced with long stints in indoors with her husband and three teenage children, she decided to dust off her trainers during lockdown.
Daily walks “woke up her brain” to the benefits of exercise, she says, and soon, walking turned into jogging. The gleeful photo below shows the first time she ran for five minutes without stopping.
“It sounds a bit woo woo, but running makes me feel powerful and strong,” she says. “Even so early on in my running journey, I can feel the improvements, and love the strength and daily increases in my own ability. Also, the uninterrupted headspace is a welcome retreat during lockdown.”
Reva Nandakumara, 38, from London, has started running with her eight-year-old son. She says she’s never been able to run for more than one minute before.
“I feel like, at the age of about 10, I was patted on the head and labelled as a ‘brainy one’ not a ‘sporty one’ and so I disconnected myself from even trying to engage with sport,” she says.
But since the pair started using the Couch to 5K app to get active before homeschooling, she now runs for 30 minutes, four days a week.
“It’s had such a big effect on both of us,” says Reva. “It shows me if you try, you can achieve more than you thought you were capable of. It has made me love my body in a different way, and I thoroughly enjoy running with my son. I hope we keep it up.”
For Tim Grice, 38, from Leeds, running has become a way to add structure to his day while working from home. He used to go to the gym three to four times a week, but did very little cardio and has “never been a runner”. However, seeing the progress he made in one week spurred him on to keep going.
“Since mid-April I’ve covered 250k and honestly, I don’t know how I’d start the day without it moving forward,” he says. “It clears my head and sets me up for the day, I’ve been more positive and productive.”
Tim is so converted, he doesn’t think he’ll return to the gym after it reopens.
It’s been revolutionary for my mental health. Charlotte Ellis
Charlotte Ellis, 24, based in the Lincolnshire Wolds, also has a new-found enthusiasm for running – the quieter roads and slower pace of life encouraged her to start.
“I always struggled with it before because I broke my leg badly a few years ago, so was always nervous incase it hurt or did me any damage,” she says.
“During lockdown I felt confident to try it and go at my own pace. I started with little baby stop and start runs, and now, two months later, I can (slowly) run an 8K!”
Getting into a regular running habit has been “revolutionary” for her mental health. “I’d heard people saying how much it eased their anxiety and always thought it to be an old wives’ tale, or coming from people who had less acute anxiety than I have,” she says.
“But I’m a convert! It clears my head, makes me feel like I’ve achieved something, and stops me from beating myself up about having a Kit Kat with my coffee.”
Others on Twitter also shared their personal experiences of discovering running during lockdown.
Be warned: you may be inspired to download Couch to 5K immediately.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.