A beginner’s guide to running
Running is a great way to get fit, lose weight and improve your health. However, even though running is a relatively uncomplicated activity, if you have never really run much before, it’s all too easy to make mistakes and turn what should be a simple and enjoyable activity into an unnecessarily difficult one. In this easy to use guide, you’ll find lots of tips designed to take you from running zero to pavement pounding hero in no time at all!
Although running is not meant to be a fashion show, what you wear can have either a positive or negative effect on your performance. You don’t have to spend your life savings on running clothing and equipment but a few choice purchases can make your transition from non-runner to regular runner much more comfortable…
Choose a pair of running shoes that match your running style. Some shoes are designed to provide extra cushioning and are ideal for heavier runners, while others are designed to provide stability and control to correct inward or outward rolling of your foot.
Go to a specialist running shoe store and get advice on what type of shoe will best suit your feet and your budget. Be prepared to shop around to find the ideal shoes for your purposes. There is no need to buy the most expensive shoes on the shelf but this is also not an item to skimp on as the wrong shoes can make running a miserable experience.
Remember to change your shoes every 500-miles or so as even the best shoe will start to lose its cushioning and supportive properties after a while.
The most important thing to consider when buying running clothing is comfort; so long as YOU are comfortable it doesn’t matter that much what you look like.
In warm weather, choose clothing that is “wicking” which means it transports sweat away from your skin for easy evaporation; in cold season wear layers so you can regulate your temperature easily. A peaked hat (or face cap) during the summer or dry, hot, season and a hat that covers your ears in the winter or cold season will also make running a more comfortable experience.
In general, steer away from cotton as it tends to soak up sweat and stick to you. Choose good quality socks to compliment your carefully selected running shoes so you cut down on the risk of developing blisters. If you intend to run in all weathers, breathable rain suit is also a good idea and if you are going to run at night, make sure your clothing is brightly colored and fitted with refractive strips.
What you wear under your running clothing is arguably more important than the running clothing itself. Make sure your underwear is seamless and supportive as well as breathable and comfortable. An ill-fitting, unsupportive bra can not only result in a lot of discomfort but could even result in damage to the tissues that support your breasts so make sure you invest in a good quality, well-fitting sports bra.
An MP3 or any audio player can help make your runs more enjoyable as music has been shown to enhance mood and help with motivation. You can also listen to podcasts or audio books to help pass the time as you run.
A utility belt is a good additional purchase as it will allow you to carry energy gels, a mobile phone, your MP3 player and even a water bottle while you are out running. However, be aware that loud music can prevent you from hearing oncoming hazards such as traffic so if you do use an MP3 player, do so with a degree of caution.
You can also use a pedometer to track your runs and heart rate monitors are useful for measuring how hard you are running. Place all of these gadgets in the “nice to have” category rather than the “must have” category – they are useful but not essential.
Running is a very natural activity but if you have not run very much or very often, you may end up running in a way that causes you to get tired sooner than you should. Pay attention to how you run to maximize your running performance.
Run tall – don’t hunch over when you run but, instead, imagine you are being held upright by a balloon attached to the top of your head. This will keep your chest open for easier breathing and also promote good posture.
Stay relaxed – monitor your shoulders, arms, hands, neck and face for tension. Clenching your fists and scowling may make you feel like you are working harder but are, in fact, just a waste of energy. Periodically scan your body and make an effort to relax. Try silently chanting the mantra “stay loose” as you run.
Quick feet – don’t stride out excessively. While long, powerful strides are essential for sprinting, for distance running they are uneconomical. Instead, take short, fast steps to maximize your speed while minimizing fatigue.
Keep the noise down – many runners make a lot of noise when they run and noise is essentially wasted energy. Whether it’s heavy footfalls or loud breathing, noise suggests that your running is not as economical as it should be. Stay light on your feet, don’t grunt or groan and avoid panting like an overheated dog!
Rhythmic breathing – to avoid the dreaded stitch, try to breathe deeply and rhythmically throughout your run. Time your breathing to your footfalls to help develop an even breathing pattern.
Look ahead – it’s all too easy to let your head drop when you are out running and become overly fixated with the ground ten-feet in front of you. Not only will this make breathing harder, it also makes it more difficult to react to changes in terrain or other hazards. Instead, keep your head up and your neck long to maximize airflow into your lungs and ensure you have a good view of your running route.
Enthusiasm and motivation are important for successful running but if you let these things run away with you (pun intended) you can end up doing too much too soon and that is no good to anyone.
Start off slow – running too fast is a quick way to end up feeling tired and disillusioned about this great form of exercise. Instead, start off at a very comfortable pace that almost feels too easy. Running at a comfortable pace will help build confidence, provides you with the ideal opportunity to practice running with good technique and ensures your workouts match your current fitness level. There will be plenty of time to run faster in the future.
It’s okay to walk – if you find running for any length of time difficult, don’t worry. Instead, just alternate running with periods of walking. Run-walk-run workouts are an ideal way to ease you into running and will ensure that your workouts are a positive, enjoyable experience rather than a tiring and unpleasant one. Gradually increase the amount of running you do while simultaneously cutting down on the walking and you’ll soon be able to run without interruption.
Keep some energy in reserve – don’t finish your runs feeling exhausted. Instead, finish each run feeling as though you could have gone further or faster. Not only will this build your confidence, it will also help ensure you recover quickly between workouts. Running yourself to exhaustion is not a good way to make running progress.
Use the 10-percent rule – as you get fitter and start to run further and faster, make sure you adhere to the 10-percent rule. This means that you should increase the length of your runs and your weekly running total by no more than 10-percent at a time. For example, if you can run three kilometers, your next longest run should be around 3.3 km. If you run 10 kilometers in any given week, your next week of running should be no more than 11 km. This rule will help minimize overuse injuries that are often caused by doing too much too soon.
Take frequent rest days – your body needs adequate rest to recover from your workouts. Initially, you should run three or four days a week at the most and this may increase to five or six days a week as you get fitter. However, it is important you have days where you either do not run at all or where your runs are very short and easy to promote recovery. While taking days off from exercise may seem counterintuitive, it is only when you rest that your body gets fitter and stronger.
Workout variety – if you want to run further and faster and also avoid boredom, consider doing more than just “heading out for a run.” Try to inject variety into your workouts by changing your running speed, the distances and places where you run, running on different terrains and performing a variety of workouts including interval training, hill training, fartlek and tempo runs. Although beyond the scope of this article, things like fartlek and tempo runs are useful training methods for improving your running speed and fitness.
In case you are unfamiliar with terms like fartlek and interval training, here’s a quick primer on these and other running training methods:
Long slow distance (LSD) training: LSD is all about running a relatively long way at a slow to moderate pace. For many runners, this is the foundation of their workouts. LSD training builds stamina and general cardiovascular fitness. However, if you want to train to run faster and not just further, at least some of your weekly runs should include one or more of the training methods below.
Fartlek training: Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning speed play. In a fartlek workout, you inject random bursts of speed and then slow down to recover. Fartlek can include walking, jogging, running and even sprinting – just mix your speeds randomly. In many ways, fartlek training replicates the demands of a race.
Interval training: Interval training involves alternating periods of faster running with periods of recovery during which you walk or jog or even just stand still. The length of time you exercise versus the length of time you rest depends on several factors including your current fitness level and what you are training for. For example, you might run fast for 30 seconds and then jog for 90 seconds to increase your running speed or jog for two minutes and then walk for two minutes if you are new to running and are not quite ready to run continuously.
Tempo training: Where LSD is all about running relatively slowly, tempo training involves running at your highest sustainable pace. This type of training is also called threshold training as you will be working at very close to your anaerobic threshold – any faster and you’ll have to slow down. Tempo training is performed at your highest sustainable aerobic pace; any faster and you’ll have to slow down or stop. Tempo training improves your top-end fitness and usually involves relatively short workouts.
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Food is fuel for running and like a car runs best on good quality gas, your body will do best on good quality food. The type and timing of food is important for successful running…
Eating before running – while you can run on an empty stomach, it’s not the best way to ensure you have a good workout. Instead, try to eat a light, carb-based meal one to two hours before your run to ensure you have plenty of fuel in the tank for your workout. Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, oatmeal and cereals are all ideal pre-run foods.
Eating after running – eating after running will kick start the recovery process. As you have predominately been using carbs during your run, you should endeavor to replace these lost carbs as soon as possible and certainly within two-hours of finishing your workout. Fast acting carbs are ideal at this time and good examples include bananas, rice cakes and yogurt with soft fruit.
RECIPE: Coconut Granola Bar
Hydration – you can lose a lot of water when you run through sweat and simply breathing hard. A non-active person needs around two liters of water a day to stay healthy and hydrated and runners should consume more than this to offset the fluids lost during exercise. Add an additional 500 milliliters for every 30-minutes of running and consume even more if it is very hot or you perspire a lot. Ideally, and with exception of your first urination of the day, your urine should be virtually clear and odorless. If your urine is dark and/or smelly, you need to drink more water.
Sports drinks – carb-based sports drinks can be useful for before and after exercise and even during exercise if you are planning to exercise for a long time but sports drinks are not always as healthy as many of us are lead to believe.
Sports drinks are generally high in sugar and may contain as much as 10 grams per 100 ml. While running does indeed burn calories, many people sabotage their weight loss efforts by overestimating how many calories they burn during a workout and then underestimating how many calories they end up consuming from their sports drinks.
For most recreational exercisers, water is all you need during most workouts. Consuming sports drinks may mean your body doesn’t burn much fat and you may inadvertently take in more calories than you burnt during your run. Save sports drinks for the days when you really need them – when running for an hour or more or if you have a race.
Vitamins and minerals – you need more than just calories and water to keep your body working properly; you also need vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are like tiny sparkplugs that ensure all of the reactions that occur in your body happen in a timely and efficient fashion. In fact, you will never reach your running potential without adequate vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are best obtained by eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein foods such as meat, eggs, fish or dairy foods. Of course, you can enjoy the occasional treat and eat foods not considered healthy such as candy or sweets but the majority of your food should be rich in essential nutrients.
Supplements – There are several supplements that, while not essential, may be beneficial to your running. Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin B complex, Iron, Zinc, carb-based sports drinks, electrolyte powder, fish oil, glucosamine and chondroitin may all be of benefit but only if added to an already well-balanced diet. However, supplements are by no means compulsory and you should be able to get most if not all the nutrients you need from a well-balanced diet based around whole foods.
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Beginning running can be a daunting prospect but once you are “in to it,” it can be very rewarding and even become addictive. To ensure you get hooked, just remember to start slowly and conservatively and don’t worry if you think you are taking it too easy.
Let your workouts grow as your fitness increases rather than try and do too much too soon. If you run for just one minute today and simply add one extra minute to your runs per week means that by this time next year, you could be running for close to an hour at a time. Remember, it isn’t one giant step that gets you there but the culmination of lots of little steps!
Are you a runner? What tips did you find most helpful when you first started running? Share in the comments and inspire other newbies.
Radiant is a bi-annual print and digital health magazine dedicated to the discerning African woman and her journey to wellness through health, beauty and culture. Available at Barnes & Noble stores and other retailers (see stockists) and online. Ships worldwide. Subscribe to our newsletter and get a free digital copy of issue No.06.
Alexandra Fiman Maul, MPH