Hitting the Road
So, you have weighed up the pros and cons of running and have decided that running is your thing. So where next? This article will cover a few do’s and don’t for planning future runs. What to prepare for and preparing for the unexpected. It will look at tips to keep you motivated as well as post-run considerations and touch on nutritional considerations.
STOP!! Where do you think you are going?! Pre-Run Considerations…
Assessing your own fitness level
If you’ve not been inactive for a long period of time. You may want to build your fitness levels gently with brisk walking before you move on to actual running. There is no greater de-motivator than struggling on those first few runs and then giving up. A bit of patience and perseverance is needed here since developing gradually as a runner can be slow progress. This means building up your cardiovascular level over time so you can actually begin to enjoy pushing yourself during runs!
Also, it should be a given, but I will mention it again because it is so important. If you are really feeling out of shape, recovering from an injury or worried about an existing condition. Please ensure you see your GP before you start running. Especially If you’re over 40, have a BMI of 35 or higher, or family history of heart disease! Start this slowly, progression will come with time!!
Choosing running shoes
Running requires minimal equipment. However, the right pair of running shoes for your foot type will be invaluable in improving comfort and preventing injury. Avoid the default training shoe sold in your local sports direct. They probably are not designed for running solely (pun not intended). Any good Physiotherapist or Podiatrist will tell you the importance of getting the correct fit and biomechanical support.
It’s a good idea to visit a specialist running retailer for advice. They will be able to assess your foot and find the right shoe for you. This service usually costs nothing and is definitely worth it. My own feet tend to overpronate (The foot rolls a bit inward with each step). This can (and has!) lead to numerous running-related injuries such as shin splints. Thankfully the running shoes I have to compensate for the overpronation and I have few problems nowadays.
A running shoe’s structure weakens over time, especially with regular use. Running experts advise replacing running shoes every 300 miles (482km) I tend to go way over this. Additionally, it also a good idea to invest in fabric socks designed to avoid getting blisters and remove odour!
Running gear is generally not expensive and it is always worthwhile investing in breathable socks, shirts and shorts. Much modern clothing is made from ‘breathable’ fabrics. These can be lifesavers in comparison to the irritating materials used in some older sporting clothing.
Good fabrics for runners include Nylon (sweat-wicking, breathable, stretchy); Polyester (durable, lightweight, breathable, repels UV rays, good for wet weather); Polypropylene (water resistant, breathable). Bad fabrics for runners: Cotton: traps moisture, keeping you damp with sweat and/or rain. For miserable runners only!
Generally speaking, aim for clothing that’s lightweight, soft and non-chafing clothing that avoids rashes and blisters. Women should also consider a sports bra which is sturdier than a regular bra and provides additional support.
Plan ahead, know what conditions and environment you will be running in advance and you can prepare for it. Weather sites these days have an astonishingly accurate hour by hour predictor of the weather. Phone apps are likewise very useful oracles for forecasting weather at various hours throughout the day.
Plan in advance, you don’t like running when it is wet, then try to run earlier before the rain starts. If that is not an option then prepare yourself for the rain! Wrap up, and get the waterproofs and underlying fabrics on to keep you dry and warm.
Whilst you are running you are warm anyway and so don’t have to worry. Just keep running. Its after you stop that the problem starts as you begin to cool down in the cold rain. Think ahead, and plan the run so you finish not far from home (or your car).
Running in heat
Running in heat is as you guessed the complete opposite. It is much more challenging on a cardiovascular level and you will be sweating buckets. Ensure you bring adequate hydration (water, not sugary drinks!) running gels and maybe a jelly baby or two! Additionally, make sure you rest if you are feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Light breathable clothing is definitely required here (See above), your skin will need to breathe!
Other factors to take into account are the terrain, is it a road run or woods or beach? Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for eventualities. Make a mental note of heavy pedestrian times on the streets so you can avoid if possible. If undertaking a run on a route or trail, consider mapping a route with landmarks so you don’t get lost!
Schedule your runs
Work out when and where (the exact route and time) you’re going to run and put it in your diary. That way you have a solid plan to work from. If it’s down on your to-do list you are far more likely to go out and get it done. Planning runs give you structure, you have a schedule for the week.
Do I need anything else?
Heart-rate monitors, GPS watches, accelerometers that tell you how fast you’re going are not really necessary for a beginner. You might want a watch with a stopwatch function to help you keep track of your walking and running intervals. Many people these days have iwatches and other pedometer measurement gadgets which are useful but not essential.
Ultimately, it’s not necessary to bankrupt yourself. The gadgets are just window dressing, a distraction. Its the effort you actually put into the run that is going to get the results. Music? Sure, if it helps distract you and get into a certain zone for training then go for it! Just be careful on busy streets with pedestrians and traffic. Shutting out your sense of hearing in a busy environment can be dangerous!!!
Warming up pre-run
To avoid injury it’s essential to ease yourself into running slowly. This means increasing your pace and distance gradually, as you progress over time and after several runs.
Always begin each run with an easy warmup for five minutes or so. Progress to light walking, gradually increase the pace, then a light jog for a few minutes. If you need to, undertake a few dynamic (not static stretches!) stretches. Light jumps, mobility drills and heart raisers to warm the muscles up and get the blood pumping.
The First Run
Depending on your level, use the first run as a watermark to find out where you are at. Keep it light, don’t overexert, keep an eye on the distance, your time and how you are feeling. If you feeling ok, great, continue! Once you have completed the run, sit down and evaluate what went well and room for improvement.
If new to running or not very fit, alternate between running and walking during your session if you have to. Your body needs a few sessions to adapt! After a few sessions when your fitness improves you can aim to make the running intervals longer. Continue this gradual progress until you no longer feel the need to break up the run with walks. Remember, the aim is to find your baseline, something you can build on in future runs.
When and where to run
The best time and place to run? Whenever and wherever is most convenient. Be imaginative in finding ways to fit workouts into your weekly schedule. Beginners should stick to relatively flat running as hills dramatically increase the muscular and aerobic strain of a run.
Also starting out, try to avoid roads and busy streets while adapting to running and until your fitness improves. If you are not used to the constant pounding from running on tarmac, street runs can be a killer on the joints! Look online at google maps and find a local park or any other nearby grassy environment. Also, consider athletic tracks as these are great to train on. Don’t be put off thinking of athletes running there, they won’t mind you, also its much easier on the joints.
It’s simple! One foot in front of the other at say 3X the speed that you walk at (beginner level)! Other than that, aim to keep your spine straight and not slouched (not leaning far forward or backward). Don’t over-stride; that could put extra strain on your knees. Run with your eyes focused about nine feet ahead. Let your arms relax by your side in a comfortable position.
Most beginners worry that they’re not improving fast enough. They often compare themselves to their counterparts they can see running on the other side of the road. Don’t do that. You are only ever competing against yourself! You get into shape according to your own body’s schedule. So take your time and focus on going further, and at your own manageable pace, not faster.
If you feel out of breath or sick, then you’re running too fast. This is so easily done when starting out and you are full of enthusiasm. Your body needs time to recognise and adapt to the new demands being made on it. Relax, take your time, the thing is to keep moving. If you are feeling slightly nauseous, slow it down, walk, breathe. Just don’t stop and allow the blood to pool. Keep going but at that slower pace to allow your body time to catch up. A month down the line you won’t be feeling any of that at all.
Avoid stopping immediately after a run if you can to avoid blood pooling. Always allow a few minutes to cool down after each run by bringing the heart rate down with walking. Then undertake a few static stretches to help shorten those muscles you have used back to normal length.
Regular running for beginners means getting out at least twice a week. Your running will improve as your body adapts to the demands of the training.
Consistency is key to a regular running program if you want to see the benefits. It’s better running twice a week, consistently than run six times one week with no running for three weeks following.
Whatever your level, having a goal or setting challenges is the best way to stay motivated (See our section on Goal Setting). Look into training for a race (5K, 10K, Half/Full Marathon or a charity run). They are all good motivators aim for SMART goals to help you progress.
Build a support system
Tell your friends what you are doing, good friends will encourage you with your progression and may even join you. Family members may help you balance commitments (child minding, daily chores etc) to allow you time for training.
Run with friends
It’s very beneficial to have someone about the same level of ability as you to run with. You can encourage each other when the energy levels and motivation are simply not there. You won’t want to let your running partner down, and neither will they want to let you down!
Find and join a local running club or group online or look up free events such as Park Run, local to your area.
Events like these can help you monitor your progress and challenge yourself against local runners. That said, aim for someone of similar ability who is supportive (and not overly competitive) with you.
Keeping a diary
Keep a diary of your progress, this will spur you on. Ensure you note down each run, and record your routes, distances, times, weather conditions and performance. That way, whenever your motivation is flagging, you can look back and be encouraged by how much you’ve improved.
Varying your runs, keeping it interesting
Keep your runs interesting by changing things up. Running the same route over and over again is repetitive and monotonous. Vary your routes, distances and even paces as you progress. Use running apps and sites like mapmyrun.comto chart your progress.
Try to build consistency via conditioning by running at the same time of day. Furthermore, try listening to the same pre-workout music till you associate these cues with undertaking your run. The cues have to be consistent creating neural pathways that make the activity a habit.
Treat yourself to something you enjoy immediately following the run. This way your brain associates exercise with an immediate reward. Keep the reward within reason…for example, don’t binge out on a pizza immediately post-run!! Try anything could be half an hour on a computer game; the healthy meal of your choice; some retail therapy or an evening out. Little boosts go a long way!
Procrastination is the Devil!
All too easy to talk yourself out of a run, especially when you are fatigued and/or the weather is bad. It is human nature to take the easy path. Our brains are designed to attempt to dissuade us from anything, not life preserving or serving an immediate gratification function. So you need to trick your brain and find a workaround.
Try concentrating on the reason that brought you to running in the first place. Another good one is saying to persuade yourself to do just five minutes. If you don’t feel like it after five minutes has elapsed, then turn around and go home. More often than not you will finish that damn run, you may even nail it!!
Get back on that horse!!
If you fall off your horse, dust yourself and get back on!! Sh*t happens in training everyone has their bad days or doesn’t make it. Does not matter, don’t feel like it on the day? Then don’t!! Do something smaller instead, one small thing, a ten-minute jog, a small bodyweight circuit, then decide how you feel. Still not up to it? Fine shrug it off and put it down to a bad day, the small workout you have done is fine! Just do something, anything doesn’t matter how short the session is. Shrug off the bad days, get back into the training another day, and you’ll still achieve your goals.
Remaining persistent is crucial to improved running. When you get discouraged or hit a plateau, remember the time and effort invested and the progress you’ve made. No sliding backwards, keep working towards the progress you are making, no matter how slow that pace seems!
Taking it to the Next Level
Ok, so you are a month or so plus into your running programme. You notice your fitness gradually improving, where do you go from here? This section will look at adjustments you can make to your running and other adjustments to improve your running game.
Improve your daily activity levels
Take 15 minutes of your lunch break to walk the office corridors; if your job is sedentary, set an alarm every hour to remind you to get up mobilise. You could even undertake an exercise of your choice! Squats, push-ups, tricep dips. Do just one set, but do something.
Consider some resistance training
Resistance training can prepare the body for the stresses of running. It does this by strengthening and stressing the core and leg muscles that we utilise as runners. Individual programming targeting your individual needs can work best (personal training etc). Consider some compound weight-training to develop overall strength or functional training for explosive power in your runs.
Develop your pace
When you first start running, the trick is to be consistent enough to build strength and endurance. On the other hand, you must keep your pace slow enough that you don’t overdo it and get injured. So, do all of your training at an easy pace. Get into a rhythm that feels like you could maintain it forever. Develop the endurance first, speed will come later. Once your fitness has developed you can begin to challenge yourself and see if you can quicken the pace. Try speed bursts later in the run, between last posts, park benches or other available landmarks.
Continue to log your progress
Continue with your training log or consider going hi-tech with a GPS. Either way, confidence will build from watching the miles add up. Keep away from the scales if weight loss is your goal. Indeed, you don’t want to look at that at all if you can avoid it. Initially, concentrate on the running and your progress solely. The weight loss will come after your body has made the adjustments and begins using fuel more efficiently!
Consider monitoring your resting heart-rate for one minute first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed. You can then include this in your daily log. As fitness improves, you’ll get the motivational boost of seeing the resting heart-rate get lower and your heart becoming stronger. This will be a powerful demonstration of how your body is responding to the training.
Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses
Consider what you can improve to make you a better runner… Mixing cardio training up with say cross training? Resistance training to improve muscular endurance? Stretching and flexibility? Build on your strengths and focus on improving any weak areas.
Nutrition for Runners
Keep an eye on the carbs
Carbohydrates are essential in a runners diet. However, what carbs you eat and much you consume is what you have to watch! Doughy bread; bagels; pasta; potatoes and pancakes, all that starch!! Although they certainly won’t kill you should be kept to a minimum or better again substituted with a healthier option. You don’t need to overload on carbs (even healthier carbs!) prior to a run. Have a small snack an hour or two before you run. Its fine to go heavier with the carbs post run but again don’t overdo it! A snack that offers a few carbs and a little protein is more than sufficient.
Do not avoid healthy fats
Fats have been demonised in the media as causes of obesity. (Sigh) so far from the truth… Fats in actual fact (Omega 3’s) are a very important part of our basic nutritional needs. Healthy fats are vital for cell repair and everyday function. It’s actually a wonder how people on low-fat diets function adequately! Anyhow, get your fats in! 30-35% of your average daily intake. Just make sure its the right fats! No cakes or buns and avoid margarine, too much cheese and butter. Look at acquiring healthy fats from Fish, Eggs, Yoghurts, Milk, nuts and grains.
Sugar is the enemy
When producers come up with low-fat products, they often compensate for lack of taste by overloading the product with sugar (which is far worse for you). Avoid in particular white refined sugar, found in trans-fats products (cake and other treats). If you really need a sugar rush, aim for natural sources such as fructose found in fruits and vegetables. However, try to keep fructose consumption to the earlier parts of the day (morning and afternoon).
Drink adequate water
Water, sugar and electrolytes (ionised salts in blood, tissue and cells) are important for runners…WHEN they run for ninety minutes or more!! Other than that they are largely not needed. Beginner runners certainly don’t need a sports drink. They are not running far enough so don’t need to refuel like marathon runners! Stick with sipping water when you need it and avoid the popular ’sports’ drinks (usually pumped full of unnecessary sugars).
Eat real food
Don’t buy into the ‘cure-all’, quick weight loss’ fads sold by dietary charlatans. The quick results and then rebound effect caused by many of these diets are infamous. They lead to a vicious circle of weight loss and eventual gain once the body figures out what’s going on. Stick to eating standard, simple, unprocessed natural foods balanced with regular exercise to give you the same but lasting results. There is always a negative result in some shape or form once some macronutrient, vitamin or mineral is removed. Focus on balancing a quality calorific intake with your body specific calorific needs. See a nutritionist or dietician is the best advice if you are uncertain.
Calorie intake Vs energy requirements
What is all boils down to is that you will not drop five pounds just because you run. You also have to reduce your daily food intake. Figure out your energy requirements and base your daily calorific intake around this.
Stretching before or after a run?
A pre-workout stretching routine doesn’t prevent injuries or improve performance, so there’s no reason to do it. The time to do your stretching is after your run, or even later in the evening. Stretch (without straining) your calves, quads and hamstrings for a total of 10 to 15 minutes.
Expect a little tenderness
Aches and pains are the norms here especially for beginners, welcome to the runner’s world! However, these are temporary and don’t lead to long-term damage. When you experience mild aches and pains, follow the tried and tested PRICE solution Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
Well, I hope that has proved informative. I am hoping to help some of you avoid some of the pitfalls I made early in my running life. Fingers crossed this may be of use. Anything I haven’t covered, or you would like me to cover, please feel free to get in touch. As for you, time to hit the tarmac! Go get em Tiger!