Make every mile count

How to boost your fitness when you're short of time

runner woods beach

by Paul Larkins |

While a few of us took the time to learn French, improve our cookery skills or create a Chelsea-standard back garden (not to mention binge-watched docudramas) while generally lounging about doing nothing, lockdown for June Whitehead was all about fitness and making the most of the cards she was dealt.

“There have been so many positives from the situation we’re in,” enthuses June as we chat about the launch of her personalised coaching programme, Champion Fitness. June, long a friend of the magazine and an occasional volunteer for photoshoots over the years, has always had a passion for trail running, but when she married fell runner John a few years back, that passion for everything off-road really gained momentum.

The pair invested in a campervan to maximise the time they could spend on the hills. And at first that involved turning her international-standard track speed into weekend adventures in the Lakes, running the toughest trails she could find.

She says: “Earlier in my career, I reached the final of the World Student Games 800m in 2006. Anyway, I used to be a bit of a speed-demon who liked to run around in circles on the track, but my own personal best came in the unlikeliest of places – the 2017 fell relays when I spent the best part of two hours chasing up and down mountains! I’ve no idea what time we did but from a personal point of view it was my best and longest run in the mountains!”

Off and running, June quickly bought into the off-road scene her husband so loved. Then, when she gave birth to her daughter, that dedication took a slightly different turn and she set up a local group of new mothers looking to cope with post-natal fitness and all that entails. “The Borders League, Buckley, in 2019 was my first race back after having Olivia Rose. I was around three months post-partum, sleep-deprived and at the start line was wondering what on earth I was doing. But the sense of achievement at the finish line was unreal, especially when my little baby girl was waiting for me!”

It’s that ability to recognise what really inspires runners that has helped June and her husband develop their personalised fitness app. And it’s that personal touch that really caught our eye. We’ve long known June as a fast runner, but here was someone clearly in love with the trails turning that expertise into something very interesting indeed. Something we can all learn from.

“There are so many generic plans out there,” she says, explaining how she has created something that is for you and you alone. “Every week you get a tailored workout and each week is flexible, adjusting to your own specific time needs, goals and personal circumstances.”

And thank lockdown for its creation. The two had been playing with the idea for a while, but with more time on their hands than ever before they seized the opportunity and got the ball rolling, developing and launching the app.

“It’s been really, really exciting,” she says, that enthusiasm bubbling over again. “As a runner you always assume that thr sport is accessible to everyone, but the key is to recognise it can be daunting for some. There’s nothing more that I love than to hear about successes from people who ‘can’t run’ achieving all sorts of things they thought impossible.”

But she’s not just about getting newbies involved. That’s why she’s long been associated with the magazine. She recognises that as runners we can all be a bit, well, a bit lazy when it comes to those other bits that make days in the hills or on the trails so much more enjoyable. “I have runners now who have a great running background but haven’t done any strength work. I’ve changed that for them,” she laughs.

She uses her track background as a starting point: “Always do a ‘proper’ warm-up, at least 10 minutes,” she insists before getting on with the serious business of goals, a positive mindset and the actual training. “Oh, and always have a post-run brew! They are the best,” she adds.

The best way to maximise 60 minutes, by June Whitehead

1 Forget the watch, leave it at home and just run how your body wants to. If you stop and walk, so what? Dropping the use of a watch for a couple of years was the best thing I did when I lost my mojo. This method is simple and effective.

2 Learn SMR (self-myofascial release) and always take a few minutes before each workout to use it. Basically, it’s a self-massage technique using a foam roller, to massage the muscles and the fascia around them that have been affected by pain and tightness.

3 Take a few minutes to get in the zone. Listen to motivational music or a podcast. Get away from your day before starting training. It’ll be time well spent!

4 Try 20 minutes of one minute of burpees, one minute high knees, then one minute mountain climbers. Repeat these sets with no rest.

5 Finish a couple of runs each week with 6 x 30sec bursts to turn your legs over. It works!

6 A surprisingly effective run is to cruise out to point B from point A as slow as you like for 30 minutes, then turn around and run back as quickly as possible! Greats like 5000m world record holder Dave Moorcroft were using this session 30 years ago.

7 How about trying a pyramid session? Run 1min, 2min, 3min, 4min, 5min, 4min, 3min, 2min, 1min hard with about 1min between each effort. A few years ago now I did a one-mile run on the 1st of the month, up to 15 and then back down again. Now that was fun!

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