Running for beginners
For an onlooker, running can seem like a secret club. Its members are typically energetic, super fit and set a cracking pace at the gym or park. It turns out, they’re onto something.
“With the exception of cross-country skiing, running burns the most calories compared to any other physical activity,” says exercise physiologist and running coach Veronika Larisova. “It also improves your cardiovascular health, boosts your immune system and helps maintain bone density.”
Then there are the psychological benefits: running triggers a surge of endorphins – feel-good hormones – and increases circulation to the brain, boosting focus and alertness. The best bit? Access to the seemingly exclusive ‘runners’ club’ is as simple as using a good walk-to-run programme and building up gradually to a 5k run, like the Couch to 5k challenge. No-one's expecting you to run a marathon! Keen to give it a go? Let’s do it!
How to get started
Before you start running, it’s important to have a fitness foundation. If you’re not already active, start incorporating regular walks into your routine. Once you’re ready for a challenge, it’s all about building up gradually, using a 30-minute session broken into five-minute blocks.
“Alternate intervals of running and walking in each five minute block, starting with 1 minute of running for every 4 minutes of walking. As you start to feel fitter, increase the running time and reduce the walking time,” suggests exercise physiologist Neil Russell. If you’re training three to five times a week, you should be able to increase the running component every week or two, depending on how you’re feeling, until you’re running for 30 minutes non-stop.
As for what to expect, you may feel puffed, slow and sore initially, but stick at it for four to six weeks and you’ll start to feel much better. “Within about a month you’ll notice the physical adaptations in your body, sensations of wellbeing, and you’ll feel faster and stronger,” assures Russell. The only disclaimer is if an injury flares up, in which case seek out medical advice as soon as possible.
1. Perfect your running technique
Good technique can mean the difference between giving up and falling in love with running. “When you have good form, you’re more springy and spend less time on the ground, so you get less fatigued and reduce the risk of injury,” says Russell. Getting a few tips from your local running group coach is a smart way to ensure you get it right from the get-go. Follow these tips, too.
2. Perfect your posture
Stand up tall, with your hips forward, shoulders relaxed and chest out. “Your upper body should be relaxed but upright, with your arms swinging back and forth, close to your body,” advises Larisova.
3. Lean forward slightly
“Try standing with your feet together and hips forward, lean forward slightly until you feel like you’re going to fall, then start taking short, quick strides,” suggests Russell.
4. Shorten your stride
“Aim to land underneath your body rather than out in front, so you avoid heel striking, which creates a force that jolts back up through your body,” advises Russell. Let your heel slightly touch the ground before landing in your mid-foot, then pop off the ground again.
5. Pace yourself
“If your cadence, or pace, is slower than 180 beats (steps) per minute, it means you’re spending lots of time on the ground with more impact to your joints,” says Larisova. Search for ‘180 BPM’ music on YouTube or Spotify and then run in sync with it. Get started with Coldplay’s ‘Hurts Like Heaven’ or Sia’s ‘Burn the Pages’, or download the Power Music 180 BPM Running Workout Mix from iTunes.
6. Stay motivated
No matter the type of exercise, sticking with it for the long term always requires mountains of motivation and individual drive. The same is true with running. Fortunately there are plenty of strategies to ensure you stay the course.
7. Set a goal
Signing up for a fun run is an excellent way to stay motivated. Start with an achievable distance – a 5km flat course is ideal. “Have completion as your goal, knowing that it doesn’t matter if you have to walk some of it,” says Russell. Major running festivals typically offer shortened versions of the main races. Keep an eye out for local fun runs.
8. Seek support
It’s easier to get out of bed on a chilly morning if you’ve got exercise buddies waiting for you, and that’s where clubs come in. “The social aspect helps you stick to your programme, plus there’s often the chance to get guidance on your technique,” adds Larisova.
9. Make it fun!
If your run isn’t fun, you won’t want to get out there and hit the pavement. Try downloading an app that helps you stick with it, these apps help create a positive habit loop to ensure that running becomes part of your routine. RockMyRun is great – it changes the tempo of your music based on the speed of your jog, or you can set the tempo so you need to keep up with the music. If music doesn’t get you going, try subscribing to a podcast or download an audiobook that keeps you interested.