On Sunday last week, just hours before Radio 1 DJ Greg James was due to host his first ever Breakfast show, his BBC colleague Adele Roberts was feeling incredibly nervous. Responsible for the live handover at 6.30am, the 39-year-old presenter was feeling worried that something might go wrong on air – despite having hosted her own early morning slot for more than three years.
“I was worried. I really didn’t want to mess it up for him,” she explains. So that day, Roberts went out for a long run in a bid to calm her nerves and quieten down her self-doubt. “I visualised the fact it would go well. And then on Monday it did,” she says, adding quickly: “Well, no one complained.”
If you’d met Adele 18 months ago and told her the way she would learn to cope with the pressures of life and work would be going on long distance runs, she would have laughed. “I was not a runner whatsoever, the odd time I’d been to the gym I’d do five minutes on the treadmill before going to the cross trainer.”
All that changed when mental health charity ‘Heads Together’ asked her to take part in the London marathon for them in April last year. “I knew they were doing good work and so I said yes. And then was like oh hang on, now I need to run a marathon, but I’d not run since I was about fifteen.”
Determined not to let them down, the former Big Brother contestant started training straight away. But with only 16 weeks to go from complete non-runner to marathon finisher, and a working schedule that would make most people give up on exercise altogether – she has to wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning for her 4am show – she needed to find a running strategy, and quickly.
She sought out a beginner’s training schedule online, downloaded a PDF, and followed it religiously. “I’m an all or nothing person, so I just threw myself into it,” she says, knowing she would have made excuses otherwise. “Once I’d made that decision I was like - Adele you’re doing it.”
She might have been committed physically, but she confesses that throughout most of the training she was still mentally struggling to get to grips with running. “Up until about two weeks out from the marathon I still hated running, I thought I was really unfit and I was gonna be rubbish,” she confesses.
It was only when someone suggested listening to podcasts while she ran that things started to fall into place. “I used to run with music but that made me go too fast cause I’d get excited. When someone suggested podcasts, I thought - why would I want to listen to people talk? But I tried Desert Island Discs and it was great: you get inspirational people but a bit of music in there too.”
It was the answer she had been looking for. “I started to find was my body would just go into almost autopilot in this really gorgeous mode where it can keep itself moving. My mind would be exercised too and I was learning things.”
Now, she can’t imagine running without her podcasts, and credits them with keeping her running four times a week post-marathon (in which she secured a remarkable finishing time of 3 hours and 36 minutes) and enjoying the process.
“Now I think to myself, I’m gonna take Sue Perkins out today. I get a snapshot of people’s lives for 30 minutes, which is about as long as it takes for a 5k run. And I’d then look forward to taking a podcast out on the road, rather than just sitting on the sofa at home and watching crappy television.”
Apart from Desert Island Discs, which is a firm favourite, she likes to search for people she finds interesting on the podcast app and listen to interviews.
Adele is also a regular listener of Ru Paul’s ‘What’s The Tee?’ podcast, and says she’s considered delving into the murder mystery genre, but is “scared” as she often runs in the dark. “I feel like I would be running for my life,” she laughs.
The former Capital FM DJ says that running has been transformative for her whole life, not just physically. “I now use it as a strategy to cope with the everyday stresses of life,” she says, revelling in the fact that now running is for pleasure over training for an entire marathon.
“Before I found running I didn’t know how to get rid of stress or how to deal with being anxious or nervous or fearful. Running helps to get rid of all my frustration and stress and recharge mentally. It’s like dynamite for my soul. Even though your body gets tired, your soul gets charged. Afterwards I just feel so balanced.”
She says during her runs she goes into autopilot, aided by the sound of podcasts playing, and muses on everything from her mum to what she is having for dinner and her next career move. “Normally by the end of the run I’ve found the answer or at least moved in a certain direction,” she says.
Describing London as the most “interactive course” for running, she lets herself explore neighbourhoods she’s never visited before and just follows her body rather than setting out a route beforehand. “Yesterday I went through Kentish Town and just discovered things - I came across [Parliament Hill] Lido and Hampstead Heath,” she says, caveating: “I know I can always get back on the tube if I get lost.”
And when she can’t find the motivation from podcasts, there’s always the promise of cake at . “Sometimes I’ll leave something in the shop that I want to buy and then go and get it. So you might have a big fat cake waiting for you at the end, but at least you’ve run to it.”
She advises others who are still trying to find their love for running to just keep going. “I’ve been there where you are, and just keep going. It was a long process for me to learn to love running but once your fitness has improved you’ll start to find your own mobile meditation.”
Adele Roberts is an ambassador for the BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero award which celebrates the most inspiring, dynamic and dedicated volunteers driving participation in grassroots sports and fitness activities. To nominate your Unsung Hero by video, audio, online webform or via email.