In these mixed-up days of COVID-19 lockdown, it feels like everyone’s a runner.
You only have to head out for your daily government-prescribed exercise session or stroll down to the supermarket to notice an unusual influx of lycra-clad individuals. For me though, this has been such a lovely sight to see. I’ve been running more regularly than ever since October last year, in preparation for the London Marathon so it gives me a lot of joy to see other people getting into running.
As you’ll all know, this year’s marathon has been postponed and is now (hopefully) taking place in October. I got 10 weeks into my intensive 16-week training plan, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath me as the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak became clear. It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster if I’m honest.
Last Sunday would have been my 20-mile training run, the longest route in the training plan before the big 26.2 miler on the 29th April. And, whilst I’m still finding it hard to come to terms with the loss of this ‘parallel reality’, I’m managing to keep my fitness up with three runs a week; gearing up to start the official training plan for the second time in June.
So, back to the real point of this post: How do you start running? I know exactly how daunting it feels leaving the house for the first time dressed in fitness gear and readying yourself to run. I also know how incredibly difficult running feels at the start of your journey. The taste of blood in my throat as I was forced to run laps around a soggy school field is a hard memory to shake off. So what motivated me to start running as an adult?
Initially (back in 2013), it was my determination to complete a physical challenge – something I’d never really done before – that got me running. I signed up to the London 10,000, a 10k that takes place on the streets of London, and set myself the goal of a sub-1-hour completion time. I’d never ran prior to this for more than 10 minutes at a time, but I was young and healthy and I knew it was possible – so I just focused on that. I completed my 10k in 53 minutes, setting a personal best I’ve never been able to beat and giving me the mythical ‘runners high’ that ultimately got me hooked.
Honestly, the bottom line is that absolutely anyone can get themselves to that level of fitness if they put the effort in. Easier said than done, I know, but what really worked for me was setting a goal and sticking to a training plan as best as I could. I figure that a list of tips is going to be more useful than anything else here so here goes. How to start running if you’ve never done more than a long walk in the countryside:
1. Pick a race and commit
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To give yourself an idea of how long it’ll take you to get to 5k or 10k level, just have a look online for training plans. Once you’ve set yourself a reasonable goal, I find it really helps to put your money where your mouth is. Once you’ve spent the £30 entry fee you’ll definitely feel more motivated to stick to your plan.
No, running isn’t just about races but, trust me, there’s no better feeling than seeing your friends and family cheering you on from the sidelines on race day. It’s definitely my favourite part and it makes all those training runs worth it.
2. Run/walk it out
This one is key for beginners who’ve never done more than a walk. The number one technique for getting into running is to break it down into manageable run/walks and build up to running solidly. I’d recommend following something like Couch to 5k or the Runpod 5k Challenge to give you the basic frame here.
These plans take between 6 and 10 weeks to get to 5k depending on how often you get out and run, but I’d recommend going three times a week to keep your fitness up and to keep things ticking over. We don’t have a lot else to do at the moment, so make sure you’re making the most of your time outdoors.
Running shouldn’t be something you feel guilty about missing but it’s also important not to just do a few runs and give up. When it comes to running, consistency really is key. I’m not saying it’s going to be easy but I do 100% believe that it will be worth it. There’s nothing better for your mental health than a good run in the sunshine and once you can run a 5k, trust me, anything will seem possible.
3. Focus on your breathing
This is something I learnt from my dad and I’ve been thankful for his advice ever since. Before I knew about the importance of breathing I used to go out hell for leather, huffing and puffing all over the shop. All you need to do to make things easier is to count your breaths, matching the seconds you spend breathing in and out to your strides.
I like to start with four steps to every breath in and four steps to every breath out. At some point, this will get a bit harder, so reduce this to three steps every breath in, three steps every breath out. This is what I tend to maintain on long runs but, if you’re going uphill, feel free to reduce your breaths to two steps to breathe in, two steps to breathe out – or even one in, one out if you’re sprinting.
Ideally, you shouldn’t be doing such quick breaths in and out for long, but it will help things short term. Once you’ve got to the top of the hill just gradually increase your breath length and ease back into your natural rhythm. Listen to your body and you’ll soon realise what breathing pattern works for you.
4. Find your distraction
My number one game-changing running tip is to figure out what works for you as a distraction and use that to your advantage. For me, it’s podcasts. I have never understood how people can run to music but podcasts have been my best friend during training. I’ve even written a blog post on my favourite podcasts to run to here.
That’s not to say that you’re wrong if you like listening to music when you run – whatever works for you. Just make sure you’re well stocked-up with playlists or podcasts before you head off on a long run. This will do wonders in keeping your mind off how knackered you are.
5. Don’t forget to eat
I think the problem with running is a lot of people view it as a very transactional way to lose weight. Yes, exercise will contribute to healthy weight loss (and running is an extremely effective calorie burner) but once you’ve found the joy in running it becomes so much more than just a weight-loss method.
Make sure you’re hydrated before you head out and after you get back (if you’re running for under half an hour you won’t need to hydrate during your run) and eat a good carbohydrate-filled meal the night before (if you’re running in the morning) or three hours or so before your run.
Once you start thinking of food as fuel you’ll start to realise why some runs are much harder than others and you’ll want to optimise performance as best you can. The good news is: this means pasta. Try Cook, Eat, Run, or The Runner’s Cookbook for some healthy, runner-friendly recipes.
6. Stick to your training plan
I know sometimes you won’t want to run but have I ever regretted getting out of the house and getting my heart pumping? No. However, if you miss a run on your training plan, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s best not to try to make up for it by squeezing in another run later on – just forget about it and move on.
Life does happen and your fitness isn’t going to disappear overnight (that’s another reality it’s taken me a long time to believe). You can only do your best and as long as you’re sticking to your training plan over 80% of the time you’ll be alright.
7. Stay positive
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You’ll soon realise that for absolutely no apparent reason some runs feel infinitely harder than others. One day you might be breezing along, feeling like you can run forever, and another you might be in absolute agony. Sometimes you’ll feel sluggish with no explanation but that’s just the way it is.
Every run can’t be a PB and you won’t always feel great, but as long as you can accept that it’s just a one-off, you’ll be able to bounce back. Keep going and believe in yourself and I’m absolutely confident that you can pull this off. It will all be worth it in the end.
If you’d like to see more of my running journey you can follow my running account on Instagram @lilyrunslondon. Good luck!