Inspired by the London Marathon, or just fancy a jog around the park? Running’s more popular than ever, but it can be daunting for a beginner. Here are some expert tips.
“The cardinal rule of a new runner is ‘Be Patient’,” says Lee Matthews, head of fitness at Fitness First.
“Your body needs time to adapt and it may be uncomfortable at first, but you will see results fairly quickly.
“Newcomers should follow these three rules: run more slowly than you think you should, don’t run as far as you think you should, and run more often than you think you should.
“If you start too far and too fast, you’ll wind up burned out at best, injured at worst.”
Simon Cabot, a senior physiotherapist at Nuffield Health, echoes Lee’s advice. “It’s always important to take training slowly, 90% of the injuries I see are related to over-training and doing too much too soon,” he states.
Lee suggest using the “talk test”. “You should be able to talk comfortably while running; slow it down if you’re running out of breath and don’t hesitate to alternate running and walking or take a breather. It’s not a sign of weakness, just common sense,” he says.
Nobody teaches us how to tear around the playground when we are little, but that does not mean we are all able to run “properly” as adults.
The team at Fitness First advises not to run “heels first”: avoid striking the pavement with your heels, as this can contribute to back and knee pain. Landing on your forefoot instead will allow your muscles to catch your weight and reduce impact on joints.
Watch your stance, too. “Leaping forward and striding too far is inefficient and will drain energy fast,” says Lee.
“Make sure you stand tall and lean slightly forward, so when you feel like you’re going to fall, step forward just enough to catch yourself. This should be the length of your stride. Less motion also means less wear and tear on the joints.”
If you are hoping to make running an ongoing fitness regime, or if you have set yourself a goal to conquer like a charity run or marathon, follow a training plan.
“Find an online programme to build up to something like a 10K, as this provides sensible boundaries to use as guides,” says Lee.
There are lots of books and websites with training plans. Alternatively, Lee adds, you can always speak to one of the personal trainers at the gym, who will help devise a tailored plan – and don’t ignore the rest days!
“Rest days are very important!” says Lee. “Any programme should include rest days.”
Runner’s knee, shin splints, hamstring strains... there is a lengthy list of “common” running injuries. Hopefully, training sensibly will avoid them, but everybody’s body is different and problems can arise – dealing with them as soon as possible is crucial.
“The worst injuries I see from over-training are stress fractures,” says Simon, who notes that a key part of avoiding injuries is listening to your body. “If you’re tired, take a break – you’re most likely to injure yourself when you’re tired.
“Be aware of any ongoing discomfort that lasts more than a couple of days or any sharp pain, pins and needles or numbness. It’s normal to feel aches and stiffness, but this should only last
“As a general rule, you shouldn’t have any swelling or sharp pain at any stage and should stop whatever you’re doing straight away. If the injury’s worsening or you have trouble putting weight on the affected joint, see a physiotherapist. Don’t leave an injury to worsen at risk of ‘wasting time’; you’re never burdening the professional.”
Diet is also a key consideration.
“You’re about to burn more energy than you’re used to. Getting your eating habits right will help massively,” says Mark Mansfield, Tutor at Premier Training International.
“Balance your diet to include good quality protein to help repair and rebuild your working muscles, seasonal fruits and vegetables to boost your immune system and help deal with the stresses your body goes through, and good fats like olive oil and coconut oil.
“At lower intensity, we’ll utilise these as a fuel.”
Endurance athletes often talk about carb loading, but for moderate runs, it is unlikely you will deplete your glycogen stores, Mark adds. “Starchy carbs may leave us with energy peaks and resulting troughs,” he says.
Go easy on the caffeine too and try to avoid falling into the trap of relying on it for a kick, as it can wreak havoc with hormone systems and sleep.
Last but by no means least, ensure you keep well hydrated.
“You’ll lose a lot of water when you run; your water intake has to increase in line with this. Whatever your current intake, drink at least one or two litres more,” says Mark.