6 a.m. and it’s already 19oC outside (that’s hot for the north of England at any time of year!) and no one could be more surprised than I am to find that I am actually looking forward to a run. I’ve always hated exercise that required breaking into anything more than a fast walk—even my PE teacher at school told me that if I didn’t exercise, I would fall to pieces by the time I was 22.
Well, I didn’t fall to pieces, but I didn’t exactly exercise either. I toyed with running in my late twenties but managed to injure my back and that was it really—no exercise more strenuous than walking.
Until this Easter, when my other half and I walked the Ridgeway, an 87-mile-long footpath from Hertfordshire to Wiltshire. I had a lot of time to think and decided that I was going to give running another go. After all, running boasts an impressive array of benefits—from helping you live longer to keeping you mentally sharp!
Here’s what I’ve learned so far.
How to Become a Runner—A Beginner’s Guide
1. Always get the right kit.
This time I was determined not to injure myself and bought proper running shoes. They were worth every penny. They weren’t particularly expensive and they give my feet (and therefore my knees and back) the right support.
2. Build up your workout gradually.
I’d read an article about the Couch to 5k app and thought it was worth a try. Couch to 5K is designed to get you from running zero to running hero in nine weeks. You need about half an hour for each session until the last two weeks, where the sessions are 40 mins including warm-up walk and cool-down walk. The time you spend running gradually builds up from alternately 1-minute running and 90 seconds walking in the first week to 30 minutes non-stop running in week 9. That 30 mins non-stop running is the magic 5K for most people.
3. Don’t listen to the voice in your head that says you can’t do it.
So how did that first run go for me? I’ll be honest: I thought I was going to pass out and muscles I never knew I had ached. But I rested for a day and did it again on the third day, and before I knew it, I’d done the first week. As the weeks went past, I found the running was starting to get a little easier and my recovery time was definitely getting quicker. Then came week 5. It started innocuously enough—three lots of 5 minutes of running with walking breaks in between. No problem. Get to the end of the week and suddenly it’s a non-stop 20-minute run! That was clearly never going to happen for me in a million years. Except I went for it, and it did. To my complete shock, I managed to run for fully twenty minutes without succumbing to exhaustion, stitch or injury. And I discovered something else along the way. That little voice that likes to tell me I can’t do something isn’t always right and realizing that gave me an enormous confidence boost. By week 9, I felt able to achieve the 5k and I did. Three times!
4. Strength exercises are important.
Turns out running isn’t all about running. To do it well and to avoid injury, you need to work on strengthening your legs and your core. This will help you to run more efficiently and faster and help to avoid overuse injuries. There are plenty of strength training videos and articles out there—you just need to find one you like. Like the running, don’t be over-enthusiastic and over-do it, because that’s the quick route to injury central!
5. Enjoy the outdoors and use your senses to really notice what is around you.
I look forward to my run and what I might become aware of on the way. After rain, the ground smells of petrichor. In the early summer, the scent of elderflower and dog roses is so strong it’s almost overpowering. One morning, I heard my favorite bird, the stonechat. They make a noise just like two small stones being tapped together—isn’t nature amazing? They must always have been there, I’d just never noticed them before. Running is great for mindful awareness.
6. Running is great for getting you out of your head.
As an introvert—and an intuitive one at that—I know I benefit from getting out of my head and experiencing the real world, but I’ve not always found it easy to do. Running has had such a positive impact on that though—nothing anchors you to reality like the physical movement of the body—and when you’re really pushing it, the exertion of your lungs. I feel like I have a clearer head and have noticed that my general mood has improved since I started running. I’m not the only one who has experienced these benefits—research illustrates that running may boost happiness and help treat depression.
7. Even gradual progress towards your goal is progress, so don’t give up.
Now I don’t want to give the impression that it was easy, and I just sailed through those nine weeks. There were mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed and days when I felt my running was more than a bit pathetic. So some days did require more willpower than others, but I persevered and got there in the end. I know having a goal to work towards keeps me motivated and so after week 9, I knew I’d have to have something new to aim at. As it happens, I have two running goals (both of which are also SMART): to run a sub 25 minute 5K and to do a 10K road race by Christmas.
For the moment though, I am focussing on keeping my general fitness up and consolidating my progress because I still love my walking. I am doing a 100k walk for Mind, the mental health charity, at the end of August with the aim of completing it in less than 24 hours. Previous experience has taught me not to overdo it!
Are you a beginner runner? What was your experience getting started?
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Photo: Skeeze via Pixabay (runner), Damianum via Pixabay (stonechat)