One of the upsides of the lockdown was the fact that more and more people got out of the house to engage in some form of exercise. And while for the majority of us this meant heading out for at least one walk a day, almost 250,000 people also took up running.
According to Athletics Ireland and Irish Life Health, there are now over 650,000 runners in Ireland and in order to keep them motivated and encourage others to follow suit, a week-long challenge to discover which county is the most active will take place from today, August 17.
Timed to coincide with the 35th anniversary of when four of Ireland's top milers ran a 4x1 mile relay world record, the event hopes to entice runners of all ages and abilities to sign up to run a mile of their own. Eamonn Coghlan, the three-time Olympian and former world and European champion, is no stranger to running and while at 67 he takes things a little easier than he did in his heyday, he will of course be doing his bit for the challenge. He says running a mile is something everyone can achieve as long as they don't try to 'run before they can walk'.
"The biggest mistake most people make when running is that they are always trying to achieve their best time," says the father-of-four. "No matter what distance they are doing, most will try to do it as quickly as possible when really they should be doing the opposite. I would advise people to start off by running for as long as they can as slowly as possible and build on this over time.
"It's really important to get the basics right - so get out for the longest time you can, keep it really slow and work your way up. A mile is a very doable thing for people - it's the perfect distance really. So depending on your health, as long as you can put one foot in front of the other, you can run."
The famous track and field athlete, who keeps active by walking, jogging, cycling, and playing golf, says keeping fit is essential for both the body and mind and while some people may be reluctant at first, they should persevere as it will be worth it.
"There is no question about it - the body loves the physical stress from exercise, whether it's swimming, running or cycling, whatever people choose, they have to work on it for the sake of their mental and physical health and strength," he advises. "I have a little issue with my hip so can't take things as quickly as I did but I still try to get out every day. I know that sometimes people can be bored with exercise, but it's important to find the motivation to get started and to take things slowly at first. They should also mix it up with different lengths and speeds and keep a note of how long they did each day (whether walking or running) and then add it up at the end of the week.
"They will be surprised at how much this spurs them on and brings about the feelgood factor. And I think it's safe to say that no one who exercises regularly has ever said it is awful for their mental health. So for those who don't already do it, the mile is the perfect place to start."
David Matthews, Regional Development Officer for Athletics Ireland, agrees and having competed in both the European and World Championships, and the Olympic Games, says preparation is the key to success.
"I think about my training in advance, setting out target paces and try my best to keep to it," says the middle-distance runner. "A one to two kilometre warm-up at a very slow pace is key - so if you can't keep up a conversation then you are probably running too fast. I would advise people to cut their cloth to measure as progress can be very rapid for some people but slower for others, so it's all about patience.
"Another tip would be to break up the week into hard and light runs or black and white runs as I call them. The biggest mistake runners make, whether they are novices or Olympic athletes, is they run too hard on their easy runs and too easy on their hard runs - so each week should follow a flow of black and white, rather than running a grey zone.
"It's also important to be consistent - so get out little and often rather than binge running. Set out a weekly programme and also consider joining a running group in your local athletics club as they may also have qualified running coaches who can help."
The expert runner says the Mile Challenge is a great way of getting people off the sofa and out into the fresh air as it is something everyone can aspire to.
"I love the idea of a mile challenge as there's something nostalgic about it because it's a classic distance steeped in history," he says. "It is also something which is very achievable for runners, both those who are new to the sport and the more experienced. Some of the longer distances pose a great challenge, especially for those new to running - but this is within everyone's capabilities with just a limited amount of training."
Eamonn Coghlan says with the right planning, training and mindset, the Mile Challenge could be the start of a new passion for running.
"This is an easy challenge as a marathon will kill you (if you are a novice runner) and even a 10k can hurt for a while afterwards - but if you can do a mile, you can (eventually) do a marathon," he says. "So set yourself a goal and take things slowly from the start. Make sure to be aware of your body and take care to avoid injury by having cold baths after exercise to soothe out the lactic acid and also do a bit of stretching before and after your run.
"Keep a note of what you are doing so if you do 10 minutes today, write it down, then at the end of the week, add it all up and you will be very motivated by what you have achieved.
"I think this is a great challenge for someone who has always said they would like to run but were either too shy or too worried that they wouldn't be able for it - because we all know that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."
Runners of all abilities and families can sign up free of charge for the challenge and all they have to do is run their mile and submit their race online with proof of time and distance. For more information visitathleticsIreland.ie
David Matthews offers four ways to shake up your running sessions
⬤ Introduce five or six 50 to 60 metre strides into your weekly training as this will get the legs turning over a little quicker.
⬤ Dump the watch or Garmin once very fortnight as this will allow you to run without feeling like a hostage to technology.
⬤ Don't be afraid to rest and listen to your body. You will actually make progress on the rest days rather than just the hard days.
⬤Run with a friend or join an athletic club. Running is a very sociable pastime and experienced runners are always willing to help and offer advice.