Mara Yamauchi blog: Let's see more women running!


One of my favourite films for finding inspiration and motivation is ‘Secretariat’. It tells the true story of how an American housewife, Penny Chenery, turned a thoroughbred horse, Secretariat, into a world-beating legend. The chestnut colt’s performances were impressive, but what I like most about this film is the incredibly inspiring portrayal of Penny – on top of raising a family and being a Mother, as the owner of Secretariat, she is tough, astute, and brave. She makes you believe that women can do absolutely anything if they turn their minds to it.

Which brings me on to my favourite subject – running! I love running because it gives me so much – self-confidence, a sense of accomplishment, peace of mind, great friendships…I could go on and on. And this is why I would love to see more women taking up running, because it really can change your life for the better.

But how?

We know from surveys that many women are put off running and exercise for a variety of reasons, and Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign addresses some of these. But it doesn’t have to be so. A few simple pointers can help to make running more enjoyable for women.

  1. Make women feel good about themselves. Many women spend a lot of time caring for others – children of course but also elderly parents, friends etc. But the caring needs to go both ways, and that means women need to feel good about themselves. Running is a great way of doing this, for example by making a session challenging but doable, and goal-oriented. 
  2. Make it social and cooperative. Talking and working together are two things many women are good at and enjoy. Running sessions can appeal to these attributes by, for example, using relays run in teams, incorporating exercises done in pairs into running sessions, or using running games with a competitive aspect, for example shuttle runs between two points run in teams of four…and throw in a few exercises such as push-ups or squat jumps to make it even harder!
  3. Make it fun! Most women lead busy lives, juggling work, raising children, organising the household, and more…which can be stressful! Time away from this daily routine to spend running will be precious, so make it as fun as possible. Including plenty of variety, coaching in a light-hearted, warm and friendly way, and offering plenty of positive encouragement will help to make running great fun.
  4. Ask women what they want. Women are practical, intuitive, and have a can-do attitude. So if they have ideas and suggestions about how to improve a running session, welcome their feedback and use it. Actively asking them if they’ve enjoyed a session or would prefer something different, will help to maintain their enthusiasm and commitment to a running group even if things get tough.
  5. Always start at a manageable level. It’s clear that fear of failure and being judged or criticised puts many women off sport. They may lack confidence that they’ll be able to run whatever distance you’re planning, or even run at all. So start off easy, with walking before running if necessary, and gradually build up. If that is too easy or not challenging enough for some female runners, then great – push on with tougher sessions and challenge them! But just remember that building confidence is important and takes time.
  6. Ensure a safe environment. It goes without saying that women will enjoy themselves much more if they can run in a safe place. That means physically safe i.e. from traffic, or in a well-lit place if it’s dark. But offering a safe environment in terms of the atmosphere and vibe in the group is also important.

Women pushing the boat out and taking on challenges or achieving great things has a multiplier effect on their children and others around them. They can be terrific role models and leaders in so many ways. So let’s see more women running, enjoying themselves, and inspiring others!

 Mara Yamauchi is a retired British marathon runner with a personal best of 2:23:12 set in the 2009 London Marathon, a time which ranks her as the 2nd fastest British female marathon runner ever. Mara is also a qualified Run England group leader and Athletics Coach.

Photo by marimo images 

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