If your last running experience involved PE pants and a faltering jog around your home town doing what was optimistically named ‘cross-country’, it’s not surprising that the mere thought of donning some running shoes and getting ‘out there’ fills your heart with dread.
Yet you’re aware of the benefits of running; no hefty gym fee and you can do it anytime, any place. But it can seem like there’s so much to learn! There’s gear for starters – thankfully no PE pants but what kit do you need? Then there’s the length of the run – how will you know how to build on this without risking injury or pure exhaustion? And what in heaven’s name is fartlek?
Get your nerves in check
Gareth Thomas, lead instructor at Liberte Finess (libertefitness.com), believes that getting your mind in the right place is one of the most challenging aspects of beginning to run. “When working with clients I find the only way to combat their initial nerves is to set them very small, achievable goals,” he says. “So, depending on their fitness level, it may be that they have a goal to run for five minutes at a time and then rest or walk. Then they’ll do another five-minute run and so on. This allows them a feeling of success and confidence right from the outset.”
All good experts advise beginners to go steady; over-exertion can leave you drained and injured. Gareth adds: “To start with I’d recommend a max of three runs a week. Rest days are imperative to allow the body to recover and adapt.”
Kit yourself out
Kit doesn’t have to cost the earth, but decent gear can have a huge impact, as personal trainer Aimee Rogers (revitalizefitness.co.uk) explains: “Whilst, strictly speaking, you don’t need any special equipment, finding what you are comfortable running in can make a huge difference both to your enjoyment levels and performance. Try out different fabrics and styles – you may like vests with support for instance, and you’ll probably find that technical fabrics designed specifically for high impact activity keep you cooler for longer. Make sure you get a well-fitted sports bra too.”
When it comes to finding running shoes, many specialist running shops offer gait analysis. “This means you’ll be measured and assessed and your running shoes will be selected accordingly,” says Aimee.
Make time to run
Today we all seem to have ‘rush, rush, rush’ as our default setting. At times it can seem like we hardly have a minute to grab a sandwich at lunch, never mind squeeze in a run before breakfast. But, for people who’ve been committed to their exercise regime for years, hearing the excuse, ‘I’ve just not got the time’ just doesn’t wash. You have to make the time; put it in your diary, think of it as the most important appointment in there – not an inconvenience.
Fitness expert Ronnie Burgess, (happyexercising.co.uk) has another tip. “Finding yourself a friend to start out with can really help if you’re feeling a little commitmentshy about your training. Arranging a time and a place with someone else will mean it’s a bigger deal to cancel and chances are you won’t!”
So what is fartlek?
‘Fartlek’ may sound odd but it’s simply the Swedish term for ‘speed play’ and is basically interval training. It can be extremely effective in improving fitness and overall running times. Gareth suggests the following: “Start with a 1:3 ratio; 30 seconds of effort (faster running pace) followed by 90 seconds rest (walk or gentle jog). As you improve, this ratio can be reduced to 1:2 then 1:1.”
PT Aimee sees huge advantages of using this technique. “Building in some fartlek training to your programme will improve your running and cardio fitness,” she says. “Begin by using lamp posts to control your intervals. Sprint to one lamp post then jog/walk for the next two, then sprint to the next. Keep this up throughout your run or just for a short section of it.”
Beginner runner’s wish-list
Sports-bra specifically designed for high impact exercise
- Running shoes, properly fitted at a specialist shop
- Sport socks – they are designed to not rub and to cope with sweat
- Tights, shorts and a top made from technical fabrics – cotton can stick to you
Jennifer Harvey from Marathoning for Real Women advises us on entering that first race…
“Entering a race for the first time can be a frightening prospect. Not only is there the fear that you’ll come last (you won’t!), but there’s a myriad of other things to fret about, such as how early to arrive, the ‘correct’ way to pin on your race number, what to carry with you, what to wear, what to eat beforehand – the list is endless.
“But, after completing numerous races, from 5K to marathon, the one thing I am sure of is that you’ll never regret it. Once the starting gun goes, all previous worries cease to exist and the feeling of crossing the finish line – even on a 5k – is far superior to any feeling you’ll ever get when turning the key in your own front door.
“However long you’ve been running, it’s never too early to sign up for a race. In fact, it’s one of the very best things you can do to motivate yourself and develop a real passion for running. I put my application in for the Great Manchester Run in 2007 – my very first event – when I was incapable of even jogging a mile. I then steadily built up the distance using a walk/run training programme and, between January and May that year, I went from being able to run for only five minutes at a time to being able to run a full 10k in just over an hour.
“The most important thing when training for a race is to follow a training plan suited to your abilities. Pushing yourself too hard at the beginning will only lead to injury, frustration and missing out on a finisher’s medal. Instead, it’s vital to build up slowly over a period of time, on three or four runs a week with rest days in between. Don’t worry too much about running the full distance before race day, as if you can run five miles in training you can definitely do a 10k on the day due to the excitement, the adrenaline and the crowds around you.”