Three common barriers to running – and how to overcome them

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Lonely Goat, Clint Lovell, looks at three things that can sometimes get in the way of us running, and what we can do to resolve them.

We all know that running is great for our mental and physical health. So why isn’t everyone we know slipping on their trainers and racking up the miles?

Quite simply, it’s the obstacles that life throws at us. These can come in many forms, both real and imagined. Whether it’s feeling too old, too unfit, or just too busy, we can all relate to encountering what may seem like insurmountable roadblocks to our good intentions.

But where some see barriers, others see hurdles they can leap over.

While researching and writing my book, Run Through Barriers, I have encountered many inspiring stories of everyday runners who overcame their own obstacles to running.

The stories demonstrate that no matter what challenges we face, there are always ways to overcome them if we apply the right mindset. The following examples explore three of the most common barriers and how people have beaten them.

The unfitness barrier

Many people have preconceived ideas of what a ‘real runner’ looks like. This alone can prevent those who don’t see themselves as fitting that mould from giving it a go. Whether it’s a fear of being judged, or a lack of confidence in our abilities, starting to exercise again from a point of unfitness can be very intimidating. But if you’re looking for inspiration, then Roger Wright’s story has it by the bucket load.

Back in the late noughties, Roger was so overweight that he didn’t even recognise himself in a photo from his niece’s wedding and asked his wife, “Who is that guy beside you?”

This marked a turning point for Roger. He was determined to lose some of his 318lb weight. His doctor advised a gastric bypass, but Roger felt that there must be a better way. So, at the age of 47 and much to the amazement of his wife and friends, Roger announced that he was going to run the Boston Marathon.

His motivation was not only his own health but also the idea of raising money for Cystic Fibrosis, a condition that affects his niece. This inspired his mantra of, “If I fail, I have failed her. If I let her down, I have let us down,” and he got started with his long training programme.

In just ten months, Roger had lost 125lbs and ran every step of the 26.2 miles in Boston – having never even run 1 mile in his entire life before beginning his training. Eleven years later, he has completed 66 marathons and is already planning his next.

His advice to others who feel that they are too unfit to start running is, “if you truly desire to accomplish an ‘impossible’ goal, it can be done if you give up excuses, believe in yourself and take the steps necessary to achieve that goal.”

The age barrier

Think you’re too old to run? Eileen Noble, one of Britain’s oldest female marathoners, would encourage you to think again. She is 87 and still actively training for and taking part in marathons. And before you imagine that Eileen has always been a runner, she didn’t even take up the sport until her mid-50s, and now she is on marathon number 19.

Inspired by watching other road runners, she decided to give it a go herself. She is a keen member of Bexley AC and says that the social side of running is what helps motivate her to keep training into her later years. That and the fact that “At my age, I cannot even take a break and go back to it later.”

Her advice for those that think they are too old to run is, “You are never too old. If you can walk, then you can run. It’s just the same, but a bit quicker.”

I love the simplicity of this statement. Nowadays, it’s tempting to think that we need the latest fitness trackers and running gear – but really, it’s about getting out there and giving it a go. Eileen also encourages older runners to start with parkrun, “Where you will be with lots of other runners of all abilities.”

The illness barrier

There doesn’t come a more significant or more serious barrier than illness. And all of us, at some point in our lives, will get sick. If you run regularly, this can mean a frustrating break from your training, and for those looking to get fit following an illness, it can be hard to know where to begin.

Ais North, an ultramarathoner in her 70s, has had to manage more than her fair share of illness. Not only did she not start running until she was in her 50s, but she has also had to deal with breast cancer, heart attacks and severe back problems. But still she defies the doctor’s orders to keep on competing.

In 2017, she had just run the Highland Fling Race (a 53 mile ultramarathon in Scotland) and felt very positive about her running when out of the blue, she was struck by a heart attack. This was when the doctors told her, “You have to face it, Ais, you may never run again,” to which her response was, “Yeah right!”

It’s this determination that has seen her bounce back from multiple illnesses to regain her fitness. As she puts it, “The medical profession offers the standard advice through their lens. Don’t ignore it, but search for other solutions if the one they give you causes you grief. I look like a rule breaker, but I’m not really; I just believe that nobody fully knows how the human body and brain work together, so I’m prepared to take a chance and look at something out of the ordinary.”

Last year, Ais turned 70 and ran an 80km virtual race to celebrate.

Get the mindset right, and the feet will follow

All these accounts show us that great achievements can often come off the back of great challenges. And no matter what the starting point is, anybody can overcome their personal obstacles and become a runner.

We just have to apply the right mindset, focus on our goals, and take the first step.


Clint Lovell is a keen amateur runner and member of Lonely Goat Running Club. He is a qualified Level 2 Fitness Instructor and his book, Run Through Barriers, is available now on Amazon.


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