People run for all sorts of different reasons – some with a specific goal in mind, mine was losing weight – but the benefits of running also extend far beyond just the physical well being you’ll feel from getting out on the road. It’s also a fantastic way to beat stress and to clear the mind, as it is an activity that really encourages you to step out of your daily life and to just focus on the world around you. Particularly if you run off road, that time you spend running is an opportunity to get back in touch with the natural world and to start to feel physically and mentally alive again – in a way that is just impossible in the gym.
But of course, we all know it’s not easy either. For those of you who are complete beginners at the running game, getting started can seem a daunting prospect. Even just the basics – like choosing the right shoes – can seem like a complex minefield, and – those first few runs you do will probably feel pretty unpleasant. Running, to begin with, can feel tough and unrewarding – so my first piece of advice is just to stick at it. I promise you that if you do, you’ll be running along one day and will lift your head up and look around you, and feel great.
So, how do you get to that point?
You try and do too much, much too soon
If you can’t run, then walk. It’s a simple piece of advice. Many of the popular ‘couch to 5k’ programmes take this approach – for example running or jogging for a minute, and then walking for five. It might seem like a laborious way of building up your endurance, but it works, and it is far more effective than just trying to run through the pain, for too far and too long.
Setting your goals too high is a common mistake for new runners – you’re full of enthusiasm for your new hobby and you want to push yourself. But I’ve found that it is generally a counter productive approach to take. You’re more likely to injure yourself by pushing your body too far. You’re also more likely to abandon your running if you start to feel that you’re not achieving the ambitious goals you’ve set yourself. And thirdly, won’t enjoy the experience – by pushing yourself too hard, too soon, you’re taking all of the fun out of what should be an essentially fun activity. My advice? Walk when you need to, and increase your distance by no more than 10 per cent each week.
You don’t have the right shoes
Runners – particularly new ones – are often obsessed with all of the specialist kit that is available. And, why not – buying the right gear for your new hobby is all a part of the fun.
But before you spend your hard-earned money on a heart monitor, breathable vest and GPS watch, your number one priority has to be getting the right shoes. There is no other part of the body (with the possible exception of the knees) that takes as much direct punishment as your feet will do while you’re running, so it is absolutely essential you get the right protection.
My advice is to avoid buying shoes blind on the internet – unless you’ve really done your research it’s more than likely that you’ll be making your purchase based on looks and on the manufacturer’s blurb. Running shoes need to be tried before you buy, so I would recommend you find your local running shop and talk to the experts there. They’ll not only know the best shoes for the kind of local terrain you want to run on, but many of them will also be able to analyse your running style and assess what kind of shoe you need – the amount of cushioning or support you need is all dependent on your gait. And again, getting this right is absolutely crucial – running without enough cushioning can lead to knee or heel pain, and the wrong kind of support can effect your running technique and efficiency. Don’t try to save money on your shoes – buy the best you can afford.
One final piece of advice: learn the value of rest. Once the running bug bites, you’re going to find it hard to stop, especially if you’ve got a target like a big race in mind. But look carefully at any training plan and you’ll see there are lots of rest days built in – so use them.
They’re your chance to let your body recover, but they’re also a fundamentally important part of building your fitness. The kilometres you don’t run are as important as the ones you do.