The Reluctant Runners’ Guide

Want to maintain some swim endurance during lockdown but completely averse to running? Mike Porteous offers some tips

Wanting to keep fit in the hope that the Dart10k and Hurly Burly go ahead (to be decided in June)? Swimmers who want to get back to long steady swimming after lockdown need a way of maintaining aerobic fitness now. Coach Mike Porteous is having his non-running clients run – here he explains how.

With regular swims abruptly called to a halt and many big swim adventures either cancelled or held in a tentative, hopeful limbo (the Dart 10k and Hurly Burly are to be decided in June), how does a swimmer keep fit, sane and well?

If you’re going to be ready to get back quickly into long steady swimming when things open up, there’s a need to find some way of maintaining your aerobic fitness – that all-important ability to keep going and going.  Running is about the best way to do that – and it doesn’t have to be as awful as you think.


Right from the start I must emphasise this is coming from a place of being safe – you and those closest to you. Keep eating like an athlete and stay on top of healthy sleep patterns.  

Rein back on the full-on high intensity stuff for now as it risks leaving your immune system compromised, drained out in a sweaty puddle.

And when it comes to running think first about where you will be able to go outside whilst keeping a safe distance from others.  There is a nice long stretch of boardwalk by the sea where I live, empty for much of the time. When another runner or a dog walker comes along we have a momentary look to see who’s budging first and then one or other will scramble on the pebbles to keep our social distance before re-joining the path.


If there are biomechanical reasons that you don’t run – knee or hip problems – then this option won’t work for you. 

But often my clients don’t run as they perceive it as painful, sweaty and tedious. It can end up being fun, relaxing and energising. If you believe the words “fun” and “run” don’t belong together, chances are that when you tried it you fell into the biggest and most common mistake – of trying to do too much, too soon and too hard.

So let’s look for and nurture the enjoyment, relaxed form and connections that leave you feeling great – not thinking of it as a challenge to grit your teeth and push through, nor a chore.  This means judging each run not on how fast or far you went but on the following:

  • did I enjoy it?
  • did I feel an ease of movement and fluency?
  • did I feel a connection, either to the place, people or myself?
Bruno Nascimento


One thing you will need is some decent, well fitting trainers – not your twenty-year-old plimsolls nor the cheapest bargain you can find online.  Running in worn out or inappropriate trainers is a recipe for injury. In normal times I’d always recommend going to your local run/tri/sports shop to get expert advice, try lots on and see what works for you.  If you need new trainers I’d suggest getting trying to call local specialist shops by phone, talk through what might suit you best and, if they have something suitable, have them sent by post. Add them to your list of people to go back to and support when better times come. 

[For curvy women, a good high-impact sports bras – wearing two is not uncommon – is a game changer, transforming the comfort and experience of running- Ed].


To start having a benefit in terms of your endurance fitness you need to gradually get to the point of being able to run continuously at a relaxed pace for 20 minutes, maintaining a lightly raised heart rate for that time. 

Initially the 20 minutes might involve more walking than running but with consistent, regular runs – say every second day – you’ll find by the time you can run non-stop for 20 minutes, 30 minutes and more is also possible.

My golden rule is ‘Keep it easy’. If it’s hurting or you’re out of breath slow down, stop, walk. When you’re ready, start again at an easier pace.  Remember running is meant to be fun – not a trial.

The standard way to gauge whether you are keeping to a sustainable, relaxed pace is whether you can have a conversation with someone as you run. Now, unless you’re running with someone you live with, you’ll be running alone – so listen to your breathing: is it laboured?  If so, walk. Settle into a pace so that, if you passed someone, you could theoretically say a composed “good morning.”

Remember we want to stay safe and find those three qualities of enjoyment, relaxed form and connections that make you feel great.

I suggest scheduling in a fixed time on alternate days, initially around 45-50 minutes in total to allow for: 

  • getting ready
  • some mobility work (see below)
  • a five minute brisk walk warm up
  • the 20 minutes of walk/run, each time looking to extend just a little the time spent running without needing to walk
  • five minutes brisk walk at the end to cool down
  • light stretching at home
  • shower and celebratory cup of tea!

The brilliant NHS App Couch to 5k has pretty much anyone and everyone running for half an hour by week 9, based on identical principles of a gradual progression to more running (and has the bonus of a friendly voice telling you when to start, stop and an encouraging “you’re doing great!”).



There’s no problem in the first runs being more walk than run – but stick to Rule 2: 20 minutes of lightly raised heart rate. By the time you get to running continuously for 20 minutes you will almost certainly feel like you want to go further – and maybe faster.  I suggest curbing the enthusiasm for speed and instead focus on gradually increasing the time you are running, maybe a cautious 5 minutes at a time.

Once you’re running comfortably for around 40-45 minutes (yes, it’ll come) you could then start having more distinctive runs: a weekly 40-45 minutes as your standard; a longer, easier paced run of up to an hour; and a shorter recovery, take-it-as-it-comes run to celebrate your new found love… well at least begrudging acceptance of running.


A few words on relaxed form.  Just like in swimming, we don’t want to hold any tension or tightness in the body.  Everything should feel relaxed: head sitting high as if a helium balloon; relaxed shoulders to help open up the chest and breathe more freely; no tension or rigidly carrying the arms, instead letting them swing in balance and rhythm; hips stable (rather than rolling side to side) and feeling as if they’re slightly forward; all helping get a feel for pushing off the back leg with the lightest foot fall.

And what about the feel-good connections?  Again there are parallels with the swimming experience, though in some respects it’s easier with running.  There’s generally more to see and take in when you run than when you are face down in the water (though the sea life in the Bantham Swoosh and the Isles of Scilly has to be seen to be believed!).  

And I believe the enjoyment will come without looking for it.

Emma Simpson


Before each run it’s good to do some dynamic stretches, that is going through a range of movements to get the muscles warmed up and firing.  I’ll flex my ankles, leaning into a wall and dipping the knees down a little; swing one leg forward and back; everything light and loose – nothing forced or jerky.  

After each run spend a little time in static stretches, that is holding a stretch for around 30 seconds at a time.  The key muscle groups to include are the calves, hamstrings, glutes and quads. Again nothing strained or taken to the point of hurting.


I’d really encourage you to start without music or watches that beep according to pace, distance or heart rate. See if you can draw your energy from the environment you’re in. For the kind of running we’re after to maintain your basic fitness you’ll gain more by being attuned to how you feel.

Jenny Hill


Finally, I have a virtual box of runs – different focus points for different runs. My “The Three Views of a Moment Run” is great for connecting with your natural environment:

5 minutes easy warm up

Then as you run, focus on and take in something in the environment you are running in, allowing yourself to be absorbed by what you see, hear, experience.  For example:

  • the colours and light of your surroundings, the scenery all around, a point far off in the distance
  • the sounds around you
  • the feel of the wind or ground under your feet
  • Whatever strikes you in that moment.

Then say to yourself “What else?” to focus more deeply.  And again “what else?”

Over the course of your run, take in and dwell on three separate moments – and then share them afterwards with someone to spread the magic of your run moments.

It will be great to hear how you get on – drop me a line at or post up on the OSS FaceBook page.

  • Mike is a regular OSS contributor, a Swim and Triathlon Coach and Seasonaire.  He runs ZigZag Alive  an endurance sports coaching company.  He also set up and runs Confidence Centred Coaching, a resource and network for coaches from all sports, putting self-belief and confidence at the centre of great coaching practice.  And he is a Swim Teacher for children with disabilities through the charity Level Water.
Mike Porteous