Posted on 26 March 2018
The benefits of running are so great, running is like a drug that’s readily available to everyone. And that's the beauty of this form of exercise – anyone can do it, and everyone can change their life simply by putting on a pair of the right shoes and putting one foot in front of the other.
How to Start Running
But if you've never run before, how do you get started? The answer is “surprisingly easily”, or at least “easier than you’d think!”. Even if the extent of your running career is running a bath, with a structured plan and the right gear you can enjoy incredible benefits, including cutting the risk of getting type 2 diabetes and some cancers, heart attacks and strokes.
However, if you're over 40, have a sedentary lifestyle or are overweight, do see a doctor before starting your fitness programme. A couple of gentle walk/run sessions a week will start to pay dividends quickly.
Invest in Your Kit
Before you start to run, it's essential that you invest in a decent pair of proper running shoes and some decent kit that will wick away moisture from the skin and leave you feeling cool and comfortable whatever the weather. A good pair of running leggings will be robustly constructed with flatlock seams that allow the normal flow of movement and are snug without being constricting.
When it comes to shoes, try and get to a local running shop for a proper fitting. An assessment of your style will help you to understand where you need cushioning and structure in your running shoes. If you underpronate and the foot rolls outwards, you need more cushioning to guard against shock-related injuries. Overpronate and roll the foot inwards and you'll need more structure to support flatter feet.
Once you know what you need, you can shop around – buying last year's model can save you a fortune when you're just getting started.
Plan Your Workouts
Following a proper plan, such as a couch to 5k programme, has paved the way to fitness for hundreds of runners. Structuring your sessions has the benefit of giving you goals to aim for, so schedule your sessions in your planner and phone. Don't worry if you find it hard going – even Sir Mo Farah has bad days and they soon pass. Remember that the first handful of runs you do will be the toughest you'll ever face, but once your body gets over the steep learning curve and the muscle soreness starts to ease, you'll find you look forward to your next session.
It's also important not to ignore other types of exercise. Yoga, in particular, can be excellent for core strengthening so that you don't slump but keep your form over longer distances. Try planks, half planks, cobra and bridge poses to strengthen abdominals and glutes, and wear workout gear that allows your muscles to move freely as you strengthen those core muscle groups.
Fuel Your Body
Simple carbohydrates are easier to digest than full-on protein, so try a wholewheat bagel with peanut butter (yaas!) before you hit the pavements. And unless you're in training for a marathon rather than your local park run, a good meal with some lean protein, yogurt or eggs is a great way to replenish your body afterwards.
Taking a run first thing in the morning before you eat anything is also a great way to train your body to use its supplies of fat.
Try to run fasted because it's a good way to train the body to utilise the fuel available, thus preventing the dreaded hunger pangs that can make you feel as if you're swimming through treacle. If you want to avoid hitting the wall, try a few fasting runs before breakfast, but be prepared for the hunger to get you if you’re running long distance and make sure you carry gels or the runner's favourite, jelly beans, with you.
Be a Route Master
Before you can join in a park run or sign up for your first race, you'll need to put in the training miles. Your aim is not to run too far or too fast but to start with a ratio of 2:1 walking to running. Training is a great activity to do with a partner, and if you can sustain a conversation while exercising then you're moving at the right pace.
Plan a route that feels comfortable for you – that might mean twice round the local park, a session at the local track or even pounding the treadmill. The important thing is that you feel safe and confident wherever you choose to run.
Now make yourself a great playlist, plan a warm shower – or Epsom salt bath – have your running leggings waiting by the bed so that when you wake up you can pull them on and go. Get into the routine of a run around your chosen route and then a reward like a delicious smoothie, and your brain will start to associate exercise with reward, making it easier to get out of the door in the morning.
Relax and Stride Out
You don't have to be too worried about your form when you think about how to start going for a run, but there are some things you can do to make your running feel smoother and more comfortable:
- Keep your stride short
- Flex your elbows at 90 degrees
- Imagine holding a piece of paper loosely between your thumb and forefinger
- Stand tall and look at the horizon, never at your feet.
Remember that the biggest risk to your knees is not pounding the pavement, but being overweight. In fact, going for a run regularly will help to protect your knees from osteoarthritis. Most of all, relax and enjoy yourself, taking breaks when you need to. The more you enjoy going for a run, the more you'll experience the runner's high and want to come back for more!
How to Be a Better Runner
If you want to improve your times and technique, you need to start incorporating the occasional interval (also known as fartlek) training into your session. This involves interspersing short, sharp bursts of speed with a recovery interval. The easiest way to do it is by timing yourself: warm up well before upping the pace and going hard for three minutes, then jogging or walking for a minute, and repeating six times before cooling down and stretching.
You can also gradually increase the length of one of your weekend runs by a couple of kilometres/one mile. Of course, if you're happy jogging around the same circuit that's fine too, but by gradually stretching your endurance and ability to run at high intensity you'll start getting more out of each session.
Heat Up, Cool Down
A proper warm-up will dilate the blood vessels and get oxygen to the muscles. Never start by stretching cold muscles; instead, walk briskly or jog slowly for the first 5–10 minutes of the session to warm up properly. Repeat at the end of the session for a proper cool-down.
The time to stretch is after your run, not before. And you'll need to stretch hamstrings, IT band, calves, quads and upper body after each session.
- Hold each stretch for 15–30 seconds, but never bounce
- If you feel pain when you're stretching, stop. There's a difference between pushing the stretch a little further and causing an injury
- Take deep, relaxed breaths as you stretch
- Make sure you stretch both sides of the body equally and for the same length of time
Running is a fantastic way to start the day or clear your head after a stressful day in the office. So what are you waiting for? On your marks, get set, run!
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