What makes us run?

Five hundred newbie joggers join Cardiff’s World Half-Marathon for free in a study to discover why people run.

IAAF is running the research project with Cardiff University.

Professional long-distance runners make it look easy. They are fast, ignore the wind and only stop after crossing the finishing line. Doctors may say training outdoors builds a healthy heart, but for many people the idea of leaving the house for a jog is scary. Complaints of breathlessness, damp clothes, sore knees and runny noses make running a horror saga.

Athletics for a Better World (ABW) want to change the story. The programme launched by International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) gave out 500 free spots for Cardiff’s World Half Marathon in March to discover why some people love to run.

“Our focus is motivation,” explains physiotherapy lecturer Tim Sharp who is one of the minds behind the project. “What makes people go outside when it is cold and raining? We want to catch the exact ‘Why am I doing this?’ moment and the reasons that keep people going when they’re hurt, wet and tired. The objective is to inspire others to start running.”

Finding people to occupy the 500 spotswas easy. ABW’s challenge will be keeping them interested in running.

Winner’s jitters

Participants share their experiences. Click on the image to read.

The first thing ticket-winner Jeff Beever’s thought of after learning he’d won a ticket was: “What have I let myself in for?”

Despite his fear, Jeff is excited for the half-marathon. He entered the ABW draw because he recently re-discovered running and wants to get back on track. So far, he has only conquered shorter 5 km (3 miles) races, but he is positive he will finish the March race.

Joanne Johnstone was also surprised to win an ABW ticket.

“I experienced sheer horror after discovering that I’d won the prize.Honestly, in the early stages I thought I wouldn’t take up the opportunity,” admits Joanne. “I am fit. I can walk long distances, but running is another story. I really dislike the idea of it.”

To get the newbie runners excited for the half-marathon, ABW is organizing meet-and-greet events around Wales for the group to get to know each other and talk with professional runners.

Meeting Olympic legends in Cardiff

Retired Olympic medalist Colin Jackson was the star at Cardiff’s ABW event. The former Welsh sprint champion joined the runners for a training session and revealed that professional athletes also struggle.

“We can’t give up. Results don’t happen overnight, not even for professional athletes. It took me five years to get from number two in the world, to number one,” says Jackson to the crowd, remembering his Olympic Gold did not come right after grabbing a silver medal in 1988.

For Jackson, it is essential to find a good group to run with. “The hardest thing can be training alone. It is less motivating. I forced myself because I knew that if I did not get up, my competitors would and they would improve and I would fall behind. It is hard, but we have to make the effort.”

However, ABW members are not alone as they have each other for motivation. The group keeps in contact through an online support network where people share their training stories and receive tips.

“Our Facebook group is brilliant support,” says ABW runner Joanne. “It’s good to see people’s posts, because we encourage each other and learn about people’s motives for this crazy journey.”

Emily Trenwith, another member of ABW group, admits she did everything to avoid running when she was younger before being forced to give it a go as an adult to improve her mental and physical health.

“Through running, I’ve become a happier, healthier person, and achieved more than I ever thought I could,” says Emily.

Now, her mission is to show others that running really helps.

“I’m not a natural athlete, so with ABW 500 I am hoping to raise awareness about the benefits of running and show that it is for everyone, not just super fit, sporty people! I’m also using the half-marathon to raise funds for Mind who do excellent work with those struggling with mental problems,” says Emily.


ABW runners are inspiring each other.
Emily (far right) believes running helps her mind and body. Now, she wants to share the message. (© Emily Trenwith)

While ABW’s project is already affecting the runners’ lives, its core research will only start once the ticket winners cross the finish line.

“We want to see if our training days for the marathon transform the group of beginners into real runners,” says Tim Sharp. “It is unique! We have a massive sample and research from 500 people is worth a lot.”

Will people keep running? Will they get faster? Will they be there for next year’s half-marathon? Will they inspire the future runners waiting at the fence to take up the challenge? We will have to wait for the research to come up with all the answers.

Interested In running the Cardiff World half-marathon? Learn how to prepare:

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There are still some spaces left. Register on the official website.