How to start running

Running can be a cheap and easy way to get fit; you don’t need to join a gym, the only necessary expenses include running shoes and clothing, and you can run pretty much anywhere you like. However there are some things to consider before you start. I have come up with some tips that should make your introduction to running more enjoyable and risk-free.

1. Mind your health.  For most people, running will lead to health benefits and an enhanced quality of life. Nevertheless, if you have any pre-existing health conditions, seek advice from a health professional first. Running raises your heart rate and exerts impact on your joints, therefore there may be contraindications where certain medical conditions are concerned.

2. Buy some quality running shoes. You may not be keen on spending out on a pair of running shoes when you are just beginning, but it’s best to buy some if you can. Having worked in two running shops, I have spoken to many beginners and experts alike who were experiencing impact-related injuries due to ancient or inadequate shoes. I ended up with a stress fracture after running lots of miles on the road in lightweight racing flats a few years ago. While lightweights are great for speed sessions or grass, they don’t offer any protection from impact on the road. A good cushioned running shoe could save you a lot of hassle and pain! Some running shops will give you a gait analysis, which involves checking the way your foot lands, which can be useful in guiding you towards the right shoe.

3. Hydrate. The best way to maintain hydration levels throughout the day is to drink small glasses of water regularly. Consume 1-2 glasses of water in the hour or so before you begin your run, and a glass afterwards, particularly if it is hot. However, do not try to drink as much water as possible: too much can be as harmful as too little.

4. Fuel. It is also important to fuel your body properly before your run, preferably with complex carbohydrates. It is possible to run without having consumed carbs first of course, however you will feel relatively lethargic, as it takes longer for your body to break down fat and protein for energy. Essentially, anything that requires a lot of effort requires carbs. Brisk walking or gentle jogging does not rely so much on carbs, but as a beginner runner, you will want to make things as easy as possible for yourself by entering into your first run energised. You will find that it takes practice to run efficiently on an empty stomach or little carbs, so leave this until a later date.

Eat some form of slow-release carbohydrate 2 hours before running (e.g. beans on wholegrain toast, a salad based on pulses or wholegrains, or a low-sugar muesli). After running, consume a snack consisting of carbohydrate and protein, such as yogurt with berries or chocolate milk. This will help your muscles to recover and replenish your glycogen stores.

5. Start slowly. Begin with a jog – think tortoise, not hare! You can reduce your risk of pulling muscles by warming up with a brisk walk or light jog. It feels easy to run quickly at first simply because you are fresh, but start too fast and you will end up stopping shortly afterwards, feeling disheartened and out of breath. Starting off slowly will allow you to discover how long you can run for and at what pace.

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6. Try walk-running. If you find that you cannot run for more than a minute or so, that is fine. Many people can’t run for long when they first start and this does not matter – it is the effort that counts! So if you find yourself in this position, simply run and walk in turn. Run for a minute, and then walk for a minute. Repeat this for 10-15 minutes and see how you feel. If it is too easy, you can increase the overall duration, or run for longer periods than you walk. Again, focus on the effort. Once your body is used to running like this, you will find it easier to run non-stop for longer.

7. Increase your mileage slooooowly! And this means both the frequency and length of your runs. As running gets easier, people often get the bug and start running further and further more often. But doing this too quickly is likely to cause you injury; your body needs time to recover and adapt. If you are a complete beginner, start off with an absolute maximum of three runs per week, giving yourself a couple of days’ rest in between each run. Three bouts of moderate-high intensity cardiovascular exercise per week is all you need to make fitness gains! Once you have been running for a few months you can always increase this number. In terms of time, start off with 20-minute runs and if this is easy, move it up to 30. Before increasing to 35, have an easy week where you run less. This will just give your body time to rest and adapt. Even competitive athletes generally have a block of hard training followed by an easy week or two where mileage and intensity are reduced.

8. Find a running partner. If you prefer to run alone, then run alone; but a running partner can make your runs more enjoyable and get you out of the door when you don’t feel like it. There are also plenty of running clubs around who have specific beginners’ groups, so check out what’s available in your local area and give it a go.
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9. Make some goals. An extra way of motivating yourself is to decide why you are running and set yourself some goals. Your goal may be to lose weight, get fit, enjoy the fresh air more or challenge yourself. If you can keep in mind your reasons for running, you are more likely to stick with it and enjoy it. Enter a 5k race or set some distance goals, anything that is measurable and achievable!

I hope you have found this helpful… I will be writing posts in the future about training plans for specific distances, so look out for those.

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