Running is free, you can do it anywhere, and it’s one of the most effective ways to get fit. So how does a novice get started?
Think you can’t run? Think again! Whatever your age, weight, or fitness level, you can give this fantastic full-body workout a go, whether the last time ran was doing cross-country at school or chasing after a bus today.
‘Running is a sport for all, and once you’ve laced up your trainers, it doesn’t matter whether you run, jog, walk fast, use a treadmill or pound the pavements, as long as you put one foot in front of the other,’ says Nicki Petitt, an online fitness coach, running fanatic and marathon pacer (@nickipetitt). ‘Naturally, the younger we are the easier we may move, but there really is no age cap to running – just look at the London Marathon’s oldest runner at 87-years-old! And that’s nothing to say of the endless benefits you’ll enjoy when you run: it’s absolute magic for the mind and body.’
The benefits of running
Running is one of the most effective ways to lose excess body fat, lower blood pressure, raise good cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of diabetes – the four main causes of heart disease: a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that running even five to 10 minutes a day at slow speeds can drastically reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
As a weight-bearing form of exercise, running also strengthens your bones, tendons and cartilage far more than walking and, contrary to popular belief, can prevent joint problems rather than increase them, with a Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study showing that runners were half as likely to suffer from knee osteoarthritis compared with walkers.
In terms of the mental benefits, strenuous running enhances blood flow and oxygen levels to your brain, improving your mental ability, memory, and decision-making process. ‘And the endorphin rush post-run is like nothing else,’ adds Nicki. ‘You can use headphones to zone out and escape from the intensity of day to day responsibilities or run meditatively while enjoying the peace and calm of great outdoors. Whether you’re doing a slow 5k jog or five miles of speed work, running really keeps you alive, energised, healthy and happy.’
What should I wear?
Wearing the correct kit is crucial to your comfort and success and, if you get it right from the beginning, you’ll also help avoid potential injury.
‘Finding the right pair of running trainers for you is so important, but it can be quite a daunting task with so many brands and models on the shelves’ says Nicki. ‘Having gait analysis in store is a good way to assess your foot strike and see if you require extra cushioning and stability in certain areas of your feet.’ Your feet expand when you run, so go shopping in the afternoon when your feet are more swollen, and take the socks you’ll wear for running with you: it’s often advised that you go up a size in running shoes.
Wearing a high-impact sports bra is essential for women, whatever their cup size. But regardless of whether you’re male or female, Nicki advises that you should ‘consider investing in some seamless, sweat-wicking underwear and clothing to avoid chaffing and feeling damp and uncomfortable.’ We recommend the Sundried Pure Women’s Seamless Leggings made of a super-soft, sustainable fabric that’s kind to the skin and planet, and won’t rub or bunch up.
How do I start training?
If you have bad memories of struggling for breath or feeling sore for days after previous running attempts, it’s likely you didn’t use the right training programme or approach. Being full of enthusiasm is great, but if you go off too fast, or do too much in your first few days, you can end up feeling like a failure – and in pain!
If your goal is to simply move more and take on the miles for enjoyment, you don’t necessarily need a plan, but a walk/run approach is advised to ease you in gently.
‘However, if your goal is to test your speed and aim for a virtual race (or a real-life mass participation running event when the time comes), then a training plan for the longer distances can certainly help to guide you through the necessary styles of training, be it tempo, intervals or recovery runs,’ says Nicki. ‘There are so many apps and websites with content ready for runners of all levels; just be sure to take advice from qualified run coaches and PT’s.’
If you’re a total beginner, visit the NHS’s ‘Couch to 5k’ page here, with links to its app and podcast series for a simple, achievable nine-week training programme designed to gradually build up your fitness and stamina.
How do I maintain my motivation?
First off, set a goal that’s S.M.A.R.T, i.e. specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Hoping you’ll get fitter and slimmer at some point in the future is fine, but it won’t help you stay on track in the long term. Whereas saying: ‘I will lose 6lbs by training to take part in a virtual 5k race 10 weeks from now’, is specific and achievable.
‘Use a diary to schedule in your training, log your runs, record your mood and how your body felt so you can measure your progress,’ says Nicki. ‘And don’t forget to celebrate the small wins along the way.’
Being held accountable and sticking to your training programme is very important, too, ‘Rope in a friend to train with you so you can encourage each other when one of you is lacking energy or the weather is bad,’ suggests Nicki. ‘Chatting and laughing through the miles really makes the time fly and you’ll be finished before you know it, full of those endorphins.’
Listening to your favourite playlist of ‘power songs’ can get you in the right mindset to run by boosting your levels of excitement and happiness, reducing feelings of stress and tension, and helping you drown out any distractions.
Alternatively, try one of the many apps or online fitness platforms now available to enjoy the benefits of a PT in your pocket. ‘The trainer will provide personal coaching, motivation, speed cues and more through your headphones to push you on while your run,’ explains Nicki. ‘Technology really is taking the audio workout experience to the next level. One service I’d recommend is Openfit for their live running and walking classes.’
So, now you’ve read our beginner’s tips on how to get started, it’s time to lace up and enjoy every step of the journey ahead. And remember, slow and steady always wins the race!