Running and Football

By Steve Skinner. Posted: June 08, 2018

Ahead of one of the world's most watched sporting events, we asked Iffley Road ambassador, Steve Skinner, a keen amateur footballer how he fell in love with running.
If you have a second sport - football, tennis or another - running can be incredibly beneficial. However, as Steve explains, to excel in a particular sport, training needs to be specific.
The benefits of running for a second sport
I started running in 2011 to keep my uncle company in training for our local running race - a beautiful half marathon in Devon -  the Ruby Run. At the time I was a keen footballer and found running regularly incredibly beneficial for my overall health and football performance.  
Running builds stamina
Having played football from a young age my introduction to running was relatively smooth. I had a good base level of fitness so increasing the mileage gradually up to completing the Ruby Run was manageable. Neither of us owned a running watch so my uncle would drive around planned running routes to measure them and see how undulating they were. Living in Devon, they were often very hilly! 
(Upping the mileage)
A footballer covers around 10km in a 90 minute match
As our long runs crept over 10 miles I really started to notice how much fitter I was becoming. On average a footballer covers around 10km in a 90 minute match, so being able to cover 10 miles in that time albeit at a constant pace made matches easier. Thanks to tough hilly long runs I felt much fresher in the latter stages of games and could run into space to create chances and score more goals.
Hill training built strength
Realising the benefit running could have on my football performances kept me running regularly. I started to train harder and planned my routes to take in tough routes, one of which included a “half pipe of hills” in the middle of a ten miler. I scheduled my longer runs in the week so I had time to recover from football training and recover in time for matches on Saturday mornings.  
As previously mentioned most of the routes I trained on were hilly. This meant I got stronger and was able to change speed more easily. In football matches change of pace and direction is incredibly important to get away from the opposition. 
(Steve hits the hills)
To excel at a sport, training needs to be specific
Once I began to run further I started to feel like I could almost play two football matches back to back but my change of speed was diminishing. I became more aware of how specific training needs to be for the sport you are taking part in. I was starting to race more regularly so I decided to train more seriously for running as opposed to football. If I were to carry on playing football or other team sports I would have definitely experimented with fartlek, interval, hill and short tempo sessions.  
Running helped me improve my mindset...
Running helped me improve not just physically but mentally. Going into matches I was more confident and I found it easier to deal with things not going well. More often than not there will always be parts of a run that are tough, whether that’s due to poor weather, a really steep hill or other unexpected factors. I learnt to persevere and not worry about things out of my control. Being an incredibly competitive person I would get frustrated about losing matches and not being in control of everything but running taught me to focus on what I could affect.
...and understand the importance of rest and recovery 
Running also helped me get into a good training routine and prioritise rest and recovery. Taking part in any sport you have to be self aware and learn when to push yourself and when it is best to take it easy. In the early days of running and playing football I often made the mistake of running too much on a Friday and feeling tired in matches but over time I made slight adjustments until I found the right balance. 
After many years of playing football I decided to give it up to take running more seriously. However I am still a massive football fan and am incredibly excited for the upcoming football. Fingers crossed the three lions have a great tournament!
(Image credits - Top: Christian Widell, Below: Glen Carrie)

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