Since the start of the pandemic, the number of people running has increased exponentially. I myself am part of this trend and so are many of my friends and family.
I'd like to start off by mentioning that running has really made my life better in a huge variety of ways, and, it has helped me get through the different stages of these lockdowns.
Access to squash courts and other indoor facilities are uncertain all over the world and having your favourite sport taken away from you can be really disheartening. We all know the importance of physical exercise, but, we're also all aware of the difficult barriers put in place by lockdowns.
There are a multitude of reasons why running has become so popular during lockdown and I think the main one is accessibility. It's nice and simple, you just put on a pair of running shoes, go out the door, and start running.
Since I've discovered my deep interest in running, I thought it'd be nice to talk about it in a blog post. I'm going to cover my own running journey, the benefits of running to your everyday life, how to improve your running, and I'm also going to look into whether or not it benefits your squash.
My Running Journey...
I'll keep this section short and sweet!
As mentioned above, I started running at the start of the pandemic. Since I was playing a lot of squash right before my country (the UK) went into lockdown, I didn't think my fitness levels were too bad.
I remember seeing a lot of people on social media doing 5k running challenges (there seemed to be a large variety of running challenges, most of which involved running 5k). As I knew nothing about running, I thought this sounded like a good starting point, in my head it sounded pretty easy.
So I went out and ran 5k, and it was a heck of a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. The last 2 kilometres were just painful! In hindsight, I certainly underestimated the difficulty of running. Something I did notice after that first run, I felt absolutely incredible whilst in pain at the same time. My first 'runner's high'!
Fast forward about 4 weeks and I was able to run 5k in around 23 minutes. Obviously, the next step in my head was to to run further. I tried out a 10k with a friend of mine on a boiling hot day, I got to 9.7k and had to stop. I was in a lot of pain and I was gutted I didn't manage to finish after pushing so hard.
I needed to get the 10k done, so I kept running and a couple of weeks later I got the 10k. Fast forward a few months and I was running 10k regularly and even ran a half marathon. I began to find these long runs incredibly therapeutic and relaxing.
Fast forward to now, I recently ran 100K in 7 days as part of a challenge and I'm now aiming to run 100K in 5 days. All this running has given me a great perspective on the vast number of benefits...
How Running Improves Everyday Life...
From both a fitness and a non-fitness perspective, running has so many benefits:
Stress relief, mental health, and focus:
Before I start talking about this benefit, I need to point out that I'm not an expert on mental health. What I talk about in this section is based on research from around the web and my own personal experiences.
Being stuck in the house has taken its toll on so many people, and that's completely understandable. The feeling of being trapped can make it really difficult to get anything done.
We all have days where we really feel like we can't get our head together and can't muster up the motivation to be productive. Those days seemed to be becoming more and more frequent from the beginning pandemic.
Many of us are either working from home, or we're unable to work so we're just sitting at home twiddling our thumbs. This is where running comes in. I've found that even a short 15 minute run at lunch time can change my entre mindset and outlook for the rest of the day.
The hardest part by far is mustering up the strength to do it, but, by the time you're back, you feel completely different. Running releases endorphins in the brain that can make you happier, more energetic, less stressed, and more awake, meaning that when you're back home, it can be a lot easier to crack on with whatever you've got to do!
...And, this is just in the short term, in the longer term, running is also incredible for growing your mental discipline and the sense of improvement makes you feel great.
If you're running regularly and sticking to a plan, this improved discipline will spill over into other areas of your life and help you achieve other goals! I've found that running on those days when you feel your worst is actually the most beneficial time to run.
It's an endless cycle of good feelings!
Making Measurable Improvements
I mentioned, in the first section about my running journey, that I went from hugely struggling to finish a 5k run to comfortably running 10k in a matter of months. I didn't realise it at the time, but this progression and improvement were crystal clear.
Another reason running is so great is because you can measure your performance incredibly accurately, meaning that you also notice even the smallest of improvements each time you run.
There are a load of different apps you can use to keep track of your performance, Strava is a pretty popular one, however, Nike and Apple also have really good apps for exercise stats. You can use these to measure your time (if you want to run faster), your distance (if you want to run further), and everything else from heart rate, to cadence, to elevation.
I also mentioned at the start of this blog post that there were a ton of 5k challenges that are available to try. If you're just looking to get started in running, the couch to 5k challenge seems to take a very measured approach to improvement, in hindsight I probably should have used this to get started myself!
Couch to 5k basically involves 3 runs a week, with a day of rest in between, and a different schedule for each of the 9 weeks. The learning curve of running seems to be a pretty steep one, and this is another reason why the sport has taken off so strongly during lockdown.
But... Does Running Benefit Your Squash?
This is something I've always pondered. Before the pandemic, I would never run as part of my squash-specific training. In my head, I always just thought that running isn't really very squash-specific.
Although it could be argued that there are physical and cardio-vascular endurance benefits of running that somewhat help your squash, running doesn't strongly relate to the core qualities of squash like explosive strength (unless you do sprint intervals), balance, flexibility etc.
From that perspective, running to help your squash doesn't really seem that worth it...
However, I've seen many stories of professional players on social media going for long runs. Daryl Selby, Declan James, and Nick Matthews all seem to be regular runners.
I'm not aware of any specific reasons behind these squash professionals doing regular running, however, I do think that the mental benefits of running can actually be a huge benefit to your squash.
Every time you put your shoes on to go for a run dedication and every time you go for a run, you're pushing your mental endurance a little further. Once you start going on long runs, the physical side of things actually becomes noticeably easier, keeping your mind engaged for a long run is the difficult part.
Let's say you're going to run 10k, that means you'll probably be running for the best part of an hour. After about 30 minutes, I usually find that mind starts to think of little reasons why I should stop. Same as when you're in a tough squash match or doing a hard training routine, your mind starts to tell you to look for cheap points and shortcuts.
Learning to ignore that little voice in your head, push through, and stay disciplined is a huge part of running, and I think that translates really well onto the squash court. Once things get back to normal, I'm excited to put my mindset to the test!