Busted: Most Common Excuses

Excuses take seconds to make but can mean years of wasted training time. RW has turned the best get-out clauses into reasons to run today - so consider those excuses excused.

"It's too cold outside"

Warm up inside
In the winter, each big breath can feel like downing a pint of liquid nitrogen. Freezing air shocks the sensitive nerves in your airways, inflaming your lungs and leading to that burning sensation that can put you off heading out. The solution is simple: "Before you head out, perform a vigorous 10-minute warm-up," says Kenneth Rundell, health-science professor at Marywood University in Pennsylvania, US. Do star jumps for one minute and then have a one-minute rest. Repeat with one minute of jogging on the spot, one minute of sit-ups and alternate leg thrusts with a minute's rest after each rep. Then sprint on the spot for 10 seconds and jog for 10 seconds. "The effort will temporarily deplete your immune system chemicals that would otherwise react to the cold air and produce the inflammation that leads to pain," says Rundell.

"I haven't got my running watch"

You don't need it
True, a quality running computer can help you progress. But it's all too easy to become a 'time addict'. Freeing yourself from the shackles of blinking digits once in a while can benefit you. "With the increasingly common use of GPS   tracking, you can quickly become too target-driven," says running coach Liz Fulford (fitnesstrainingspecialists.co.uk). "If you haven't got  your watch then take the opportunity to do a recovery run - tailoring your pace and distance to how you feel, rather than what the readout tells you, will allow your body to recuperate for a fully charged assault to get you your PB the next time you    head out for a run." 

"If I stop improving, I stop trying"

Stop trying - do box jumps instead
When you first start running, your times topple like trees. Then suddenly, you're stuck in a boggy field on the road to nowhere. You've reached a plateau - a natural stalling of your ability to improve when you hit the ceiling of your body's V02 max and endurance. The Research Institute for Olympic Sport at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland found that 'explosive strength' training reduced athletes' 5K times by enhancing their neuromuscular transfer of power. In short, the right workout will get you off the plateau and running faster. But building explosive strength doesn't mean doing heavy weights. Box jumps will pack the major muscle groups of your lower body with the fast-twitch fibres and will strengthen your core for better balance.

How to box jump
1. Stand in front of a box, set at a height you can just about jump on to, feet shoulder-width apart and hands by your sides.
2. Crouch down, swinging your arms behind you then 'explode' up to jump up on to the box. Ensure your feet are fully on the box.
3. Jump back down, sinking straight into the next crouch. Repeat this eight to 12 times, then rest for 90 seconds. Do  four sets in total.

"I get bored easily"

Change your scenery
You can get far too  comfortable stamping along the same route over and over again. A study of 92 athletes carried out by researchers at Texas A&M University in the US found that changing the nature of their training on a weekly basis improved their strength, performance and even their lean muscle mass. So pick out a new route on MapMyRun.com - it could be a tweak to one of your normal runs or a completely fresh route. It only takes a matter of minutes, but it will make you run stronger for longer, and get you in better   physical shape while you're out there exploring.

"I'm the wrong shape"

Start slowly
You don't have to be as svelte as Paula Radcliffe to enjoy and excel - far from it, which is good news for most of us. But if you're not as rakish as some, then acknowledge that and plan for it. Some people, especially those who play other sports that call for different physiques, are fit enough to run further and faster than their bodies are used to, which could lead to injury. So sensibly train up to full speed little by little rather than bursting out of the blocks - your body will thank you for it. "Set yourself a realistic progressive schedule," says running coach Nick Anderson (runningwithus.com). "Limit yourself to 30-minute runs, three times a week for a month or so, aiming to be able to complete the distance and hold a conversation throughout the run by the end of this period. Start to increase one of those runs by five minutes every week, going back to the original half an hour every fourth week as recovery."

"Running alone is tedious. I prefer group sports"

Get some friends
If you don't like running on your own, then find a group of like-minded runners in your area, who run at your pace. Runningpartners.org.uk is an online forum designed to find you somebody of your standard to schedule sessions with if you don't want to join a running club. "Try 'Follow the leader'," suggests Freddie Dick, leader of JogScotland. "The runner at the front dictates the pace and the back marker has to work to get past everyone until they are the leader. They then dictate the pace until the next back marker passes them. This breaks up the boredom of long runs and is good speed training, too." 

"I'm too tired"

Down some milk
Lacking the energy to get up and go is sometimes to be expected, but if you're making this excuse more often than not then you're simply not getting enough shut-eye. Improve the quality of your sleep and your alertness the following   day with a glass of milk before turning in. Research in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a protein in the white stuff - alpha-lactabumin - tells the brain to go to sleep, allowing your energy system to recuperate without the side-effects of medicated remedies. Just remember to skip the biscuits,  won't you? The sugar will only get you buzzing at the exact moment you want to nod off.

"I lose my motivation if I miss a session"

Mix it up
Running every day without fail is a really good way to get hurt. The repeated stress on the joints and muscles in your legs, hips and back will mean that if pounding the ground is the only way you can feel like you've done something, soon enough you'll be flat out on it doing nothing but rest, ice, compression and some occasional elevation. Exercise in other ways to keep you mentally on track. The Journal of Medicine in Sport found that interval cycling sessions actually improved running efficiency, while taking all the pressure off your knees and ankles. So take a weight off, and don't forget that the road will still be there tomorrow.

"I'm too stressed out"

Beat stress on the streets (and save your life)
Life is hard, isn't it? Work, money, relationships, kids - balancing it all is enough to really get you down. How on earth do you possibly think straight, let alone get out there and run your best, right? Wrong. In fact, so wrong it could kill you. According to work at the University of Missouri in Columbia, US, regular exercise of a relatively high intensity relieves stress, and is particularly effective at preventing the release of cortisol, the hormone responsible for high blood pressure and increased risk of heart disease. Why? Because all your 'fight or flight' has been used, leaving the pressure of the day behind you. Trust RW on this one - get up, go outside and run around. You'll feel better. And for crying out loud, calm down!

"I'm not competitive"

Race against yourself
Some of us are hardwired to compete. Some people wake up every morning determined to train, practise and visualise until John from accounts is eating their dust in the office 10K. Others would just like to be a better, fitter, stronger version of themselves. Either way, goal setting is the way to keep your training moving forward, whatever your level. The Nike+ website (nikerunning.com) includes a coaching tool to build you up in personally tailored weekly stages - from 5K to 10K, 10K to a half-marathon, then finally the full 26.2 miles - with the pedometer in your shoe and your iPod monitoring your progress to keep you on track to being better than the only person that matters: you. 

"I'm feeling a bit ill"

Eat your greens
You're not ill enough for a day on   the sofa with some tomato soup   and a box-set for company. Not   even enough to really complain about it in the office. But that tight feeling is enough to put you off running home, isn't it? Thanks to spinach, not any more. Researchers at the University of California, US, found that high levels of dietary magnesium - found in strong concentrations in leafy vegetables - has links to an increase in general lung function, leaving you less susceptible to respiratory complaints and infection, and with more air to run on all year round.

"I'm too old"

If you don't run, you will be
Old dogs and new tricks aside, you're never too old to exercise. In fact, regular running can markedly slow the effects of ageing, keeping you on two feet for longer. A 20-year study of 500 runners at Stanford University School of Medicine in California found that those who run three or more times a week were less susceptible to the onset of arthritis and other age-related physical decline than their  sedentary peers, with their age of initial disability a massive 16 years later than non-runners. Not feeling so old now, are you?

"I don't have the time"

Train smart, not long
Lack of time is one of the best-loved excuses for skipping a session - one that you get mentally acquainted with early in the day, before jumping into bed together come run o'clock. Well, consider your affair over. A mere half an hour (an episode of EastEnders, say) is long enough to train, as long as you do it right. McMaster University in Canada found that a simple interval split of eight to 12 one-minute bursts of top-speed running with 75 seconds of rest, three times a week, resulted in a surprising 10 per cent improvement in performance in a fortnight. So even when you're rushed off your feet, you can get quicker on the road. As for EastEnders, there is this little thing called iPlayer...

"My knees hurt"

Step to it
'Runner's knee' is a classic caveat. If genuine, it's quite serious. But a bit of knee pain is often not a problem and easy to sort out," says Anderson. "If it's just a twinge, swap a road session in your weekly schedule for some gym work and concentrate on lunges, a single-leg exercise that echoes the unilateral motion of running." Basic lunge too easy? Step it up with the 'skater lunge' (shown below) to further isolate the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes,  strengthen the big muscles that stabilise the knee and improve your balance for a more controlled, solid foot strike.

Step-by-step guide
1. Stand facing a staircase or box with your right foot placed on the step. Leaning forward slightly, lunge backwards with your left leg until it is bent to a 90-degree angle.
2. Staying low, bring your left foot up to the step and alongside the right. You should find yourself in a half-squat position.
3. Squat down another five centimetres or so until your hamstrings are a little further than parallel with the floor. Push back up to standing and repeat on the other leg. Perform 16-20 reps in total. Once you're confident, hold small weights to increase the difficulty. 

"My legs hurt"

Go for a run
That walking-dead feeling in your entire body two days after a long run or race is called DOMS - delayed onset muscle soreness. It's caused by lactic acid, which builds up in the muscle fibres after strenuous exercise. And it sucks. The answer is to take a small sip of the bad medicine. "Whatever distance has caused the soreness, you should run a fraction of that total at an easy pace," says strength and conditioning expert Jamie Sawyer (jamiesawyer.co.uk). "The perfect amount is 25 per cent, so if it was a 10K that caused it, do 2.5K on day two. That's enough to spark familiarity in your muscles but it won't be too taxing on your energy levels and joints. But crucially, it will force the lactic acid out of your muscles." Before you know it, you'll be able to walk down the stairs forwards again.