‘I ran 3 times a week for 2 weeks, here’s what happened to my mind and body'

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
‘I ran 3 times a week for 2 weeks'Hearst Owned

I should start by saying: I don’t consider myself to be a natural ‘runner’. I know, I know. If you can put one foot in front of the other at a faster pace than walking, you’re technically ‘running’ — and it’s true. But by that, I mean I’m not the type of person who runs for the thrill of it. Or someone who signs up to parkrun on Saturday mornings, just because.

Honestly? I wish I was. I’ve seen secondhand the endorphin-induced euphoria running can bring by cheering on friends and famous faces, and witnessed the pure grit and determination it takes to train and finish a marathon (while raising thousands of pounds for good causes while doing so).

But as of yet, I’ve never caught that running bug joy for longer than a summer. When I run (which is no more than once a week, mainly disguised in some sort of sport and more often than not, during the warmer months) I do it because deep down in my core, I know that it’s good for my overall health and wellbeing. Just like how drinking enough H2O is, or getting lots of good quality sleep.

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
First Sunday runHearst Owned

But with 93m #running posts on Insta and up to 100,000 Google searches on the topic each month, could I be missing a trick? To find out, I decided to run for 20 minutes every day for two weeks. Keep scrolling to see how it went.

My running challenge

Ok, so as it turns out, running every day for two weeks straight might not necessarily be the best idea. ‘As a runner myself, even I don’t run every day,’ marathon runner, coach, sports scientist and Wattbike ambassador, Emma Kirk-Odunubi, relays to me. ‘Running is a fantastic way to keep fit and do wonders for both the mind and body,’ she says. ‘But everyday running isn’t essential and can increase your likelihood of injury — especially if your mileage is pretty minimal to start with.’

Was my running challenge over before it started? Absolutely not. Instead, Kirk-Odunubi very kindly devised a two-week running plan to help me nail a 20-minute run three times a week. The running champ also suggested continuing to strength train and implement rest days. So here’s what my personal two-week running plan looked like:

  • Monday: rest day

  • Tuesday: easy 10-15 minute run

  • Wednesday: interval running. Complete 3 sets of: 5-minute run at an 8/10 rate of perceived exertion (RPE) + 1-minute walk

  • Thursday: core/back strength training. I completed this upper body and core sculpt workout from the on-demand functional fitness platform, Pvolve

  • Friday: rest day/restorative yoga. This 35-minute yoga flow from certified yoga instructor Jessica Richburg did the trick. In the second week, I completed Peloton’s 30-minute yoga for runners

  • Saturday: lower-body strength training. Including a mix of squats, deadlifts, lunges and split squats. In week two, I tried this 20-minute Pilates for runners

  • Sunday: 20-30 minute run at a 4/10 RPE

Just to flag: if you intend to complete a running challenge, consider talking to an expert who can help you devise a plan to suit your own goals, like Kirk-Odunubi did for me

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
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What is running?

Now I’m sure we all know what running is. But in literal terms, according to Kirk-Odunubi: ‘Running is the movement by which we simply move faster by foot than walking.’ There is no ‘one speed’ when it comes to running, as all bodies are different. Therefore, your ‘fast’ may be my ‘slow’ and vice versa.

Are there different types of running?

Yes, and there're quite a few. For the sake of my running challenge, the three I’ll be completing include:

  • Interval runs. ‘These are shorter runs where intensity is 7/8/9 RPE and rest can be walking after,’ Kirk-Odunubi says. ‘These are repetitive usually and help not only to train a runner physically to be faster but also the mental strength of pushing through repeats.’

  • Then there are endurance/long runs which are completed at a comfortable 3/4RPE. ‘Conversations can take place whilst doing them,’ Kirk-Odunubi says. ‘Effort is low and this helps to build our body's aerobic ability,’ the trainer explains.

  • Another type is tempo runs which are typically efforts at a high intensity of around 7/8 RPE. ‘These are sometimes performed instead of interval runs and are sustained usually for 20-60 minutes depending on what you’re training for, ’Kirk-Odunubi adds.

How to run properly

Wouldn’t we all like to know! Well, according to four-time triathlon world champion and manager of the supertri Eagles team, Tim Don, as long as you’re not doing yourself a mischief, there is no ‘right or wrong way to run’, because everybody’s biomechanics are slightly different.

Of course, when you’re running, it’s a good idea to keep your head up, shoulders relaxed, core upright and lightly engaged and elbows bent at about 90 degrees as you alternate them forward with each leg stride. You should also aim to strike the ground lightly naturally, either with your heel or midfoot, then roll through your toes.

But as Don reminds me: ‘When you look at the best in the world, even they have different running styles, he says. ‘Instead,’ he says, ‘it is about maximising your efficiency.’

‘One of the best ways to achieve that efficiency is to add strength and conditioning routines to your weekly schedule,’ he says, reinforcing Kirk-Odunubi’s guidance. ‘By focussing on getting a strong and stable core and base to build from, your body will not only be able to run efficiently, but you will also be far less likely to get injured.’

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
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What are the benefits of running?

‘From your legs, core, upper body and arms, it's fair to say that running is a full body workout,’ Simon James, running coach and guide at Run the Wild tells me. But the list of benefits don’t stop there.

1. Running can improve heart health — and in minutes

The American Heart Association states that 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like running) per week is all it takes to reduce high blood pressure and lower cholesterol — and a 2020 study agrees. The authors of the study concluded that running regularly at moderate intensity and a restrained volume is recommended to lower raised blood pressure, especially in those with hypertension.

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
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2. Running can increase your lifespan

Now not to get all morbid, but as one 2019 study points out, on average, running reduces your risk of premature death from all causes by 27%. In fact, one research paper came to the pretty inspiring conclusion that pounding the pavements each week for 75 minutes can add an impressive 12 years on to your life.

3. Running can ease stress, while boosting brain function and mood

Scientists at the University of Tsukuba in Japan found that 10 minutes of running at a moderate intensity had the potential to ‘induce a positive mood and enhance executive function’. And when it comes to stress, one small study by Asics found that a 20-minute run led to an average 15.9% increase in calmness. Pretty great, huh?

4. It’s accessible

Health and wellbeing benefits aside, the real icing on top of the cake is that you don’t have to spend £££s on a fancy gym membership to become a runner. All you really need is a good pair of running trainers to help cushion your joints and the motivation to get going.

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9 things I’ve learned from my running challenge

Before we dive into my learnings, just remember: this is my personal running challenge. It’s important to keep in mind that what I might find hard, you might find easy, and likewise.

Either way, if you intend to complete a running challenge, do speak to qualified professionals first, like a running coach, to hear their expert advice based on your body and your current fitness levels. Safety lesson over — let’s get on to some nuggets of wisdom.

1. The thought of running is often worse than actually doing it

It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s rainy. No, I’m not telling you the weather forecast (although if you live in the UK, there’s a 99.9% chance it’s doing one of those things) — these are the excuses my mind thinks of before going on a run. But post a run? I’m sky high. And all those ‘can’t dos’ are replaced with ‘cans’.

I'll admit it's hard getting going, but as soon as I hit the five-minute mark, I ease into it. By ten minutes, my energy starts flowing, and by 15 minutes, I know I'm on the home stretch. By the end, I feel energised and accomplished, knowing I've done something my mind repeatedly told me I couldn't.

2. The earlier in the day you run, the less likely you are to struggle with consistency

The less time I had to spend ‘thinking’ about my run, the less time I had to let these excuses invade my brain. I found doing my runs in the mornings, just after breakfast and before I sat down to work for the day, meant I was less likely to struggle with motivation than if I left the runs until later in the day.

For this challenge, I left an hour between breakfast and going for my run, to avoid the dreaded "runner's stomach", or a stitch. As Jake Dearden, HYROX Master Trainer and Represent 247 Athlete, told me: 'To avoid getting a stitch, focus on your breathing, keeping it relaxed and steady. Making sure you are well hydrated is always key.

'You should also avoid eating too close to training, unless it is something small and high in carb. Eating 1-2 hours before running is normally enough to make sure everything is digested.'

3. Running = magic for the mind

As cliché as it sounds, you never regret moving your body. Whether it’s a 10-minute yoga flow, tennis hit or, as I ended up finding out from the get-go, going for a run.

With running, I found that once you get past that 'I can't do this' mindset, putting one foot in front of the other feels almost meditative. In that moment, whether you like it or not, your to-do list gets thrown out the window. All you have to focus on is driving forward. The main thing I noticed post-run was that my mood was instantly lifted and it felt like anything was possible. And this surge of endorphins lasted until well after lunch.

4. If you’re lacking inspo, running to a destination could help

On some of my runs, I actually ended up running to a coffee shop or garden centre to help inspire me to get moving. Did it work? Every single time! Knowing there was a destination at the end of the 20 minutes made it all the easier to lace up and go.

'i ran for 20 minutes every day for 2 weeks'
Last Sunday runHearst Owned

5. IMO, endurance running is easier than sprints

I know they’re probably not meant to, but sprint intervals don’t fill me with joy. I hate the feeling that you’re fighting for every stride; that you’re running faster than your legs or lungs can keep up with as you struggle to catch your breath. High-intensity interval training is not for me. But slow and steady endurance running? I’ll take that any day of the week.

6. Running for a set period of time is more enjoyable than running for distance

In the spirit of being open and honest, I'll admit that not making a decent enough 5k time used to influence my mood for the whole morning afterwards. For this challenge, taking distance out of the equation and focusing on running for a set period of time meant I enjoyed every single session, which helped me stay consistent.

7. Running isn’t linear — there will be ups and downs

Case in point: during the first week, I found running 10-15 minutes was OK, interval running was hard (but just about doable) and after my 20-30 minute run, I felt good.

By week two, I was fighting for my life during Wednesday’s speedwork session, while I had to walk 30 seconds into my ‘easy’ run, and on my last running sesh, I managed to hit a 20-minute running PB, running one 5-minute kilometre and covering 20 more metres inside the total time than I did a week before. Make it make sense! Running comes with ebbs and flows, and that's totally normal.

It can be hard to come to terms with this, but I've taught myself that any movement is good movement. And even if I classified my session as "bad" or "hard", it was still a run and 20 minutes more movement in the bank than if I hadn't gone at all. Plus, by the end of my challenge, I could run further in the same amount of time. So surely I was doing something right?

8. Strength training is important

My lower-body joints felt a little achy come week two. I wasn’t surprised; I’m not used to running three times a week. I found bodyweight exercises — and Pilates in particular — helped to add some much-needed low-impact balance to my training.

Explaining why, Liz Patient, certified Pilates instructor and founder of Pilates for Runners says: ‘Pilates helps to reduce both mental and physical stress on the body — a common cause of injury in runners - by lowering the cortisol in your body. The low-impact nature of Pilates, along with the wide variety of movement patterns in Pilates exercises, also help to counter all the high-impact and forward/backward repetitive motions of running.’ Pilates also works by strengthening the stabiliser muscles you use when running, which means your joints and tendons will have more cushioning from the impact that comes with running.

9. Rest days are important

I'm no stranger to rest days. Usually, I exercise around four or five mornings a week, with two or three rest days in between to give my muscles a chance to recover. But during this challenge, rest days for me didn't mean doing absolutely nothing. I felt that my body needed some assistance in easing my DOMS, so I went for short walks of 20-30 minutes, did some light stretching on my yoga mat, or used a foam roller on my tight hamstrings.

I felt that my mind and body benefitted from rest days more so with the increased frequency of running I was doing, than compared to my usual routine, and Kirk-Odunubi says this is because of the high intensity nature of running.

‘Rest days are super important to help your body recover from the intensity of work performed,’ she reiterates. ‘During rest our bodies repair the muscles so we can train again the next day stronger, less fatigued and with more intensity’.

Final thoughts

After two weeks, I can run 200m further on my Sunday 20-minute run than I could on day one. That might not sound much, but it feels pretty wild that I can run further than only two weeks ago.

Going forward, I’ll keep running for time rather than distance as this puts the ‘fun’ back into running. I’m also going to run with friends, as Mark White, founder of Run Grateful, recommend: 'Finding others to run with may build your confidence as you can go on the journey together and have some friendly accountability.'

Lastly, on the days when my mind is telling me ‘no’, I’m going to remember the wise words running coach Ramsier said at the start of this challenge: ‘Running is a real leveller. It doesn't matter whether you're able to run a sub 15-minute 5K or an hour 5K. Everybody covers the same distance and everybody realises how hard it is to do.’ Powerful stuff.

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