You’re considering putting on your running shoes for the first time in ages (if ever!) and perhaps following one of the million or so “Couch 2 5k” apps. Good idea! Running offers many physical and emotional benefits. But of course, you want to make sure you get off to the best start, so that you don’t get injured or burn yourself out in the first couple of weeks. Not to worry. In the post I want to share some of the tips that have helped many of the new runners I have coached, to get into their stride and find a new activity they fall in love with. Ready?
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of running is its ability to drastically improve your fitness levels, even if you’re already exercising in other ways. After I lost a lot of weight through dieting with weight watchers, I felt I was able to add running to my exercise routine to supplement the swimming and cycling I was already doing It certainly improved my my heart and lungs, and made a noticeable difference to my cardiovascular endurance.
But over the last few years it’s done amazing things for my mental health as well. Many people talk about the endorphin rush from exercise, but I never experienced that until I started running. But once you discover that, then running becomes completely addictive and you could say “transformative”. Now I know that even if I really don’t feel like running on a particular day at the outset, ten minutes after I get going it will be a whole different story! That’s a large part of the motivation that keeps me putting my running shoes on!
Some people run on their own, others prefer the social aspect. I do both! (Obviously not at the same time). What I have found is that what I get out of running changes over time or even just different days. You don’t have to make a choice you can have it all… The social aspect of running with friends (and it’s a great way to make new friends) and then coffee afterwards can be just the job. Other days the solitude of running on your own and “having a think” is the antidote to a crazy busy life. It doesn’t have to be one or the other!
Now that I am more competitive and enjoy racing in triathlon, running is of course a pretty important part of my exercise plan. But regardless, if you already train in the gym with weights or are a swimmer / cyclist, then running is going to be a great compliment to your existing activities. It will develop a different set of muscles and test your cardiovascular fitness in a different way. Adding running to your programme will certainly help achieve total body fitness.
Inside or Outside?
When I first started, I did nearly the entire Couch 2 5k programme on a treadmill tucked away in the corner of a gym. I really didn’t see myself as a runner, and had huge worries around body image and looking stupid. That will probably not apply to you, but there are other pro’s and con’s when considering where to start running.
Running outside certainly has its unique benefits, but if you’re just getting started, you might have some advantages running on a treadmill. The most obvious being that you’re in a controlled environment where weather, traffic and personal safety worries are all taken care of. Plus, it can be gentler on your body as the track on a treadmill is more consistent and designed to be run on in a way that pavements never were! If you are worried about impact on joints (particularly if you have some weight to lose), or you might be concerned about facing a hill or running in a headwind, getting started in doors might be a good starting point.
On the downside, running on a treadmill might be too dull and mentally boring for some people, and that will kill their enthusiasm before the first week is done! Also it is nearly impossible to run socially on a treadmill! There are many virtual aids, like Zwift, to help motivate you but just starting out you are unlikely to engage in such things. Having said that for some people, like me when I started, just putting on my headphones and being a wall flower is infinitely preferable to being seen outside by the neighbours. We all have different priorities, so make a choice and get started. It’s not a for ever choice, you can change your mind each day!
How to Start Running Safely
Whether you’re already in good physical shape or just starting an exercise program, progressing slowly is just so important, if you are to avoid getting injured. Start with walk & run intervals and take them easy. Don’t go as hard, as fast or as far as you can when you first begin. You should end the session feeling like you could have done more. That’s absolutely fine! (I know it’s tough to hold back sometimes, especially when you discover you are capable of doing something you thought you would never do, but trust me it’ll pay off in the long run, I promise.)
I don’t teach running using the Couch 2 5k any more. Why? Because it creates a false limit, stops people achieving what they are actually capable of and has and end date. But I do agree with the principle of starting with walk run and then gradually progressing. Sure 5k can be a goal, but it might just be a first milestone to running a half marathon. But let’s start at the start; you’ll want to keep going with walk run until you’re able to jog the majority of the walk intervals, being able to jog continuously for 20 to 30 mins is a good place to aim for. That might mean you cover 3k or 6k, it really doesn’t matter and THAT is the issue with Couch 2 5k. Then once you can do a continuous 20 or 30 minutes, increase your time and intensity by about 10 percent every four to six weeks. But if you feel any sharp pains stop and go back to a reduced intensity for a few weeks.
Sometimes people are surprised that they might need to “learn how to run”, surely everyone knows how to run right? Well actually NO! most people DON’T know how to run… Running requires fitness & technique (known as form). If you need some help and pointers with your running form then drop me a quick email and I will happily send you my beginners guide. Also don’t forget to strength train. To support the ballistic nature of running, it’s important that you put some focus on building muscle strength. Strength training with a specificity for running is the number one way to accelerate your performance and prevented injury. It’s worth the effort.
Like anything new or difficult, running can create as many mental struggles as physical ones. You might find pessimistic thoughts like “I can’t run” or “I’m not a runner” popping up in your brain. I certainly used to!
I found challenging any negative thoughts with ‘I wonder what my resistance to doing this is actually about?’ or “if I try and I still don’t like it then at least I will know why I don’t like it”. Sometimes getting started is the most difficult part, I use the principle of five.
If you’re still intimidated by running, that’s OK. Just get started at whatever level you feel comfortable with. Explore your hesitation or reluctance to run as a form of personal development, both mentally and physically.
And remember that your body is capable of so much more than you think it is. The one thing I have learned from my “journey” in fitness is it’s a matter of keep showing up, trying the best you can and trusting that if you keep going over the months you will discover you can do things you never thought possible!