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Five-Time Olympian Jo Pavey Has Some Advice For New Runners


Social distancing restrictions have led to the closure of leisure centres, swimming pools, yoga studios and team sports venues, and it means many of us have had to adapt or completely overhaul our fitness regimes.

For millions of people, that meant running. Whether it’s the first time you’ve pulled on your trainers and jogged around the block, or you’ve simply upped your time pounding pavements in lieu of your normal gym routine or Hiit class, there simply appear to be far more runners on the streets than there ever was pre-pandemic.

Legendary distance runner Jo Pavey says it’s “really exciting” that so many people are taking up her sport for the first time. The 46-year-old mum-of-two had been training for Tokyo 2020 before it became Tokyo 2021 – what would be her sixth Olympic Games – and is still aiming to compete next year.

So, what’s her advice for those new to running?

Build up slowly

“It’s always advisable to build things up gradually, because of course, if you’ve never really run before and you suddenly run every day, you could risk getting injured.

Also, you don’t want to put too much stress on your immune system if you’re not used to running. It’s all about building it up gradually – and make sure you take rest days.”

Combine with walking

“Don’t feel like you need to run continuously to begin with, just combine running with walking. So you might go out to begin with and jog slowly for a minute or two, and then walk for a minute of two. Just get yourself into it.”

Find softer surfaces

“If there is anywhere you can go that’s not tarmac, then try to do some running on softer surfaces. But I’m very aware that people might not have any softer surfaces near their home. It’s all about being sensible, and if you feel a few niggles, take an extra rest day.”

Try different gradients and speeds

“If there’s a hill near you, a hill session is a good thing to do. [Like everyone] I’ve had to do everything from my front door and it’s very hilly around where I live – so that’s hard, because I’m not actually very strong at hills and my legs feel quite sore a lot of the time!

“Do some multi-paced running where you run hard to the next tree or lamp post, and then jog a bit. Find new routes around your home which you might not have really bothered to go on before, or make up some laps you can time yourself doing.”

Pavey competing in the IAAF Diamond League in 2016 (Martin Rickett/PA)

Enjoy it 

“It’s a time to find a way of still enjoying exercise and really soaking up the benefits of what running does for us. I love running, and that’s what’s kept me going all these years, really. I love being able to get out, and how good you feel when you get back – all ready to face a busy day.

“As a busy mum, keeping active as a family has been a big motivator for me. I love the fact we can get out together, my kids on their bikes and my husband and I running, or my son [who’s 10] will now run a bit with me.”

Set goals but don’t berate yourself for not making them 

“I love to set myself goals and mini goals along the way, and of course, sometimes you don’t get to the goal. But you can look back at how much you enjoyed the journey, learn from it and progress.”

Pavey became the oldest ever European champion when she won the 10,000m in Zurich, 2014 – just 10 months after giving birth (Adam Davy/PA)

Don’t worry about age

“It’s fun not to set limits and think of age as just a number. I think with age, at least you have experience.

“I’m still aiming to give [Tokyo 2021] a go. I’d be nearly 48 and I don’t want people thinking I’m delusional, because I’m totally aware it’s a big ask, but it’s fun to try!

“It doesn’t seem right to talk about competing with the situation that’s going on, and everyone working so hard in the NHS, and people suffering. You feel like exercise should be more about health and well-being, which is much more of a priority at this stage.”