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Barriers to running revealed

Photograph of Ali Abdi and Liba Sheeran

In an age when the nation’s health is under constant scrutiny, running is becoming a popular way of getting fit and healthy. During last year’s IAAF/Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships researchers and clinical experts from the School of Healthcare Sciences investigated what motivated people to run and what the barriers to exercise are.

A group of novice runners was invited to take part in two surveys, one before the race and one six months later.

Novice runner Ali Abdi participated in the World Half Marathon and has since helped to set up a running group in Grangetown, Cardiff, as part of a University engagement project. He spoke to Dr Liba Sheeran who led the research, to find out more about the project and how the findings are being used.

AA: Tell me about how you got involved with research involving novice runners at the Cardiff University World Half Marathon Championships?

LS: Our School had a long standing involvement with the Cardiff Half Marathon through providing soft tissue therapy and massage to the runners, using our physiotherapy students supervised by the lecturers and physiotherapy clinicians. Cardiff University sponsored the World Half Marathon and we were approached by the Communications and Marketing team about potential research opportunities. This was a great chance to look at some more pertinent questions into physical activity and how people get into exercise.

As physiotherapists we find that people are motivated to be physically active, but they are often hindered by injuries. We wanted to look at how different ways of helping them to prevent their injuries would impact on their longer term physical activity participation levels.

Why did you choose to do this particular piece of research? What excited you about it?

I am a runner. This is because running is accessible, relatively inexpensive and very easy to fit into people’s lives. It is a great way to get physically fit and mentally strong. As physiotherapists, we experience firsthand that starting to run exposes people to niggles which could potentially put them at risk of injury and deterring them from running. We wanted to find out whether this is just something we see as clinicians or whether injury is a real barrier to getting and staying physically active when training for and eventually running a half marathon.

I was actually one of the novice runners. What sort of questions did you ask and what else did you do with them?

We asked them about their previous running experience and what their levels of participation were before they signed up to run the Cardiff University World Half Marathon. We also asked them about concerns they had about training, potential barriers that they encountered, and what would enable them to continue to exercise and take part in the training.

We also asked them about the things that could help them in training, like apps, and what advice they would find useful. We developed injury-prevention workshops to allow people to find ways in which they could prevent injuries, such as warm-up strategies, stretches, mobility and strength-for-running exercises This was also supplemented by free online videos that people were able to access and use.

What were the main findings of your research and did anything surprise you?

The main finding was that these big events get people active and from the six-month follow-up survey results they keep them active. The vast majority of runners found that using running monitoring apps or keeping a training diary were helpful strategies to continue to run.

We also found that people’s busy lives often are perceived as a barrier to exercise. Other things that put people off were safety on roads and running alone.

Dr Liba Sheeran Reader: Physiotherapy

For us as physiotherapists, the injury data was really important. We found that injury is a major concern for those starting to take part in regular exercise. For seven out of ten people this did hinder their training pattern. The injury-prevention workshops also significantly reduced the self-reported injury rates after the six months. Those who used those workshops did learn something which enabled them to remain physically active without injury hindering their progress.

I’ve helped set up an informal running group in Grangetown following my involvement in the Half Marathon, as a legacy to those novice runners. What advice can you give the runners?

I think for the runners it is all about progressing gradually - accepting that sometimes pain from training and little niggles that come on and off are logical and an expected part of running. If something keeps consistently coming up, however, like a calf strain for example, it may need attention. This does not necessarily have to be a costly physiotherapy intervention but a light-touch advice on recovery and pacing to allow the overloaded structures to recover and supplement this with appropriate stretching and mobility exercises to optimise movement and load sharing.

Often small things such as spacing the training runs out a little can make all the difference to recovery and being able to train and stay active.

Thank you, that’s really helpful. What do you hope will happen now? Do you think organisers of mass races will use the findings of your research to attract a broader range of runners?

We’ve already had discussions with Welsh Athletics and Run Wales leaders who took a great interest in our research. These organisations are already participating in various initiatives and schemes in line with our research findings. They are helping people to get physically active in less competitive environments. Run Wales, for example, set up social running group programmes in hard-to-reach areas in South Wales.

On the back of our research findings, we teamed up with Welsh Athletics and submitted an application to Knowledge and Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS2) scheme funded by the Welsh Government and EU for a PhD studentship on a project titled Running in the Valleys: It's all downhill from here! Looking to embed our injury prevention workshops into the social running groups in South Wales and evaluate the impact on physical activity participation rates and long-term health outcomes.

Read the full interview

This is a shortened version of the full interview that  features in the Winter 2016 issue of Challenge Cardiff, our research magazine.

Challenge Cardiff Summer 2017

The sixth issue of our research magazine, providing insight into the impact of our research.

The researcher

Dr Liba Sheeran

Dr Liba Sheeran

Reader: Physiotherapy

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