New to running? Got no idea on the gear? Finding it hard to motivate yourself for a run? Up For A Challenge writer, 4 time marathon finisher and former couch potato, Helen Tamblyn shares her advice on how to get started and more importantly, stick with it.
Running is a tough sport, especially in the beginning when you’re trying to establish a routine and healthy habits. It can be really useful to focus on a reason for running when you start and use that as motivation when you don’t want to pound the pavements. I started running in May 2010 when I decided I wanted to run a marathon. In July, I decided to run it in memory of a dear friend’s mother. This was a great motivator in getting me outside. Whether it’s completing a personal challenge, fundraising, losing weight or getting fit, focus on that reason and lace up those shoes.
Tempting as it might be when you take up running, you don’t need a fancy GPS watch, the most expensive trainers and latest clothing. Shops like Sports Direct are on almost every high street and offer a huge selection of cheap clothing suitable for running. Make sure that you opt for dry-fit materials to wick the sweat away and keep you comfortable. Cotton t-shirts are a no go as they become heavy and uncomfortable with sweat and can cause chafing. Dry-fit tights and shorts are also a good choice for the same reason. In terms of trainers, it’s a good idea to visit a specialist running shop and ask for a gait analysis. Everyone runs with a slightly different style and they will watch you run and advise you on the best style. Beginner runners are the most prone to injury and it’s important to run in shoes that are right for you. Just because your friend swears by a particular shoe doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Shops like Sweatshop and Runners Need are only too happy to help and offer advice to beginner runners and a gait analysis is free of charge and doesn’t usually need to be booked. Don’t be intimidated – they are there to help.
For female runners, please make sure you buy a suitable sports bra. Many women opt to buy whatever is cheapest, or even worse, wear two of their everyday bras. Running is a high impact sport and it’s really important to make sure that your breasts are properly supported to prevent discomfort, back pain and even irreversible damage. If you are generously endowed on top, there are plenty of options out there for you. Online retailers like Boobydoo offer a huge selection of sports bras suitable for all sports in a wide range of styles and cater for all sizes. I especially recommend Enell and the Shock Absorber Run Bra. Remember, the sizes are a guide and it’s a good idea to try them on and jump around. Sometimes you will find yourself sizing up or down as necessary. Sports bras can seem expensive, but you can often find cheaper deals on old season colours. Runners generally don’t like to skimp on their shoes – don’t skimp on a sports bra either.
We’re a nation of gadget freaks, myself included. You might be desperate to buy the latest GPS watch with an inbuilt heart monitor that makes you a cup of tea and does your shopping, but at this stage, it’s really unnecessary. You can download apps such as Runkeeper to track how far you’ve run, or use a stopwatch and map it out on MapMyRun.
Don’t run before you can walk
It may sound obvious, but if you can’t comfortably walk for a mile, you aren’t going to be able to run one. If you don’t already walk a lot, spend a couple of weeks enjoying evening walks of a couple of miles or so and get used to being on your feet. Once you feel conditioned to being on your feet, you can start thinking about running.
It’s really tempting to start out by running as fast as you can for as long as you can, but this is a really bad idea. As I found out, it feels like the best thing in the world for about a minute and then you burn out, feel horrible and don’t want to run again, not to mention the fact that you are setting yourself up for injury. Instead, pace yourself and take it slowly. Plans like the NHS Couch to 5k Plan are designed to build you up to running a 5k distance, starting with a walk/run approach, before eventually building you up to a non stop 5k distance.
And if you need a walk break, or need to stop early? That’s fine. Listen to your body.
Don’t forget to stretch
When I started running, I suffered shin splints often and it was because I never warmed up properly and my stretching habits after a run were terrible. Tempting as it may be to collapse in a heap after a run, make an effort to stay on your feet. Gently walk around to recover and keep the blood moving and then indulge in some gentle stretching. Have a look at the NHS website for some examples of stretches you can do after a run, as well as their advice for a warm up.
Find a support network
Running is tough and sometimes you’ll have days where for whatever reason, you just can’t complete the workout. Or you drag yourself through, but you hate every minute. It’s ok, it’s normal. You have to have a bad run to appreciate the good ones and it’s the bad runs that ultimately make you stronger. But having a support network is really valuable and they will always pick you up on a bad day and cheer with you through the good ones. Take part in the #ukrunchat hour on Twitter for some great advice and support, or join one of the numerous Facebook running groups.
Don’t give up
I love the feeling after a run. Sometimes I have a bad race and hate it at the time, but I always feel amazing afterwards. Exercise makes people feel happy and there is no doubt that the “runners high” definitely exists. Enjoy the good runs, persevere through the tough ones and track your progress. You’ll be amazed at the improvements you’ll make in your times and distances and how good you feel. Don’t give up. Remember, tomorrow is another day and you can always begin again.