Portishead athlete shares running tips to help beginners in lockdown

Ben Smith, 401 Challenge, prepares for his latest challenge, Bristol
Pictures Paul Box

For Ben Smith, taking up running was crucial, not only for his physical health, but also his mental wellbeing. - Credit: Paul Box

Portishead resident and ultra-endurance athlete, Ben Smith, is well-known for running 401 marathons in 401 days and raising more than £300,000 for mental health and anti-bullying charities.

His feat awarded him the Sports Personality of the Year along with both the 2016 Regional and National Pride of Britain Fundraiser of the Year Awards.

For many of us, the start of a new year and another lockdown means our January fitness drive will see us taking to the streets to run rather than going to the gym.

For Ben, taking up running was crucial, not only for his physical health, but also his mental wellbeing.

The athlete says running is intrinsically linked to his mental health and he uses exercise as filing time for his brain when he feels overwhelmed.

Running enabled Ben to rationalise and organise his thoughts, ready to face another day.

For anyone thinking of taking up the sport this January, Ben has shared his top tips to help you hit the ground running.

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Start off slowly

Often, beginners starting out running think that they should be able to run great distances straight off the bat. It is important to start slowly and set your own pace, as biting off more than you can chew can leave you demoralised and halt your journey before you have started.

Don’t compare yourself to others

It is very easy to see other people posting about their running successes on social media and compare your own progress to them. Don’t forget, everyone has their own reasons for taking up running and your motivations are only your own. Just remember, if you are moving your feet faster than walking you are a runner.

Join a group

Often, working out with a friend can be a great motivation to push you forward. Unfortunately, during lockdown this might not be possible for everyone. However, there are loads of brilliant groups online that give a real sense of community and encouragement for when you are starting on your running journey.

Set yourself a goal

Having a goal to aim towards can help to give you the drive and motivation to keep going each day. It does not have to be big or ambitious but find something to aim for that is right for you.

Continue if it is fun

The most important thing with any exercise is to find something you enjoy. If running is not floating your boat, find something different that works for you. This January we set up the #Findyour401 challenge, where you set yourself any challenge that includes the number 401. That could be 401 minutes of dancing or 401 minutes of running, but whatever it is. make it something that you enjoy as that will give you the motivation to keep at it!

Ben’s next challenge will see him run and cycle 14,000 miles across all 50 American states in just 80 days, with a goal of raising £500,000 to support mental health projects in the UK and the US.

When the pandemic meant those plans needed to be rescheduled to 2022, he launched the Virtual USA Challenge. Using the My Virtual Mission platform, challengers count their steps, convert them into miles and make their way around the official USA Challenge route.

More than 400 virtual challengers have so far joined Ben on the virtual route, using the platform to support their own physical and mental wellbeing.

While travelling from Maine to Hawaii may appear to be an unimaginable feat, the virtual challenge allows participants to decide whether they try to complete the full mission or one of five stages along the route.

To make it even more accessible, the challenge allows you to convert over 100 activities - from changing the bed and washing the car, through to yoga and running - into miles to allow participants of all abilities the chance to achieve their goal.

For more information on the challenge, log on to www.theusachallenge.co.uk/virtual-missions

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