MSN Fitness: A beginner’s guide to starting running by Rachel Burge
Follow our expert advice and you can be off the sofa and running 5k in a matter of weeks
Health benefits of running
Running is a great way to lose weight (a moderately-paced 30-minute jog will burn around 300 calories) and will help improve your shape, toning up not only your legs, thighs and bottom but your core abdominals too. As well as improving your cardiovascular fitness and giving your heart a good workout, running will help to strengthen your bones and joints and reduces the risk of many diseases, including certain cancers, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Need another good reason to grab your trainers? Running makes you feel good. Studies show that jogging or power walking for 30 minutes three times a week can help protect against depression and anxiety. One study found that even a single 30-minutes jog on a treadmill was enough to instantly lift the mood of someone suffering from a major depressive order. And when you’re feeling stressed after a long day, running is one of the best ways to leave your cares behind you!
The importance of planning
If you are new to running or exercise in general, it’s important to find a training programme that builds your stamina over a number of weeks.
In the first week you may start with a brisk 5-minute walk, then alternate 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking, for a total of 20 minutes, for example. As the weeks progress the time spent walking will shorten as you spend more time running. To improve your fitness, you need to train regularly – and do that you need to plan your runs.
“Decide how many times a week you will train and block out times in your schedule,” advises fitness and personal training coach Georgie Tier.
“If you’ve made a date in the diary or agreed to go running with a friend, you’re far more likely to go. If you dread the idea of going for a run, tell yourself you will just do a fast-paced walk. Getting your trainers on and out of the door is the biggest part of the battle!”
Find a running programme
There are lots of excellent running programmes available online and as apps for iPhone and Android. The NHS’s Couch to 5k plan is an excellent option for beginners.
Set over nine weeks, it comes with a week-by-week guide on how long you should walk and run for each session and comes with free podcasts that you can download to your phone from iTunes.
Set yourself a goal
If you have a goal to work towards, you’re more likely to stay committed. If your goal is to run 30 minutes without stopping, why not find and enter a 5k race?
Join Race for Life this summer and you can also raise valuable money for Cancer Research. There are almost 300 Race for Life events across the UK – visit their site to find your nearest one.
The site also provides a useful six-week jogging plan and if you’re more advanced, a six-week running plan.
“No matter how good the programme, you’re not going to stick with it if you dread training, so find what makes running enjoyable for you,” advises Georgie. “That might mean running in a beautiful location, joining a beginners’ running club or going with a friend.”
If you need motivation to get started or an extra boost of support to keep you on track, try Fetcheveryone.com. It’s a great place to find fellow runners – virtually and in real life.
What to wear
Luckily, running isn’t an expensive sport. You don’t need to spend a fortune on fancy kit – all you need is a decent pair of trainers.
Find a specialist running store and ask the staff for advice. If you shop around, you should be able to find a good pair of trainers for £35 or £40. It’s worth investing in some running socks, as these can help reduce the risk of blisters. Popular brands include Wrightsocks, RunBreeze and 1000 Mile.
For more advanced runners, it may be worth getting your gait analysed. “Specialist running stores can look at how you run – you may have feet which overpronate (roll out when you run) for example, and need trainers with a bit more support,” says Georgie.
Another option is to do the ‘bathroom’ test at home. Checking the footprint left by your feet will give you a good idea of whether your feel roll out or in. You can see a picture here.
As for clothes, you don’t need to spend a fortune. Cotton clothing that’s loose and breathable is fine. Women are advised to invest in a good sports bra for extra support.
Good running technique
Running may seem as easy as putting one foot in front of the other, but adopting a good technique from the start can help reduce the risk of injury and make your runs less tiring.
“Keep your body, including your neck and jaw, as relaxed as possible and look straight ahead,” advises Georgie. “Looking down can cause tension in the neck and shoulders.
“Keep shoulders back and down and relaxed and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. Swing them forward and back, rather than across your body, to help propel you forward.
“Learning forward slightly can help reduce heel strike and ensure you land on the middle of your foot. Don’t stick your bottom out as this can cause lower back and hip pain.
“Land with a slight bend in the knee and run lightly and quietly. Finally, remember your breathing. Avoid shallow and quick breaths and breathe deeply and rhythmically. Focus on pushing out the out breath – and don’t worry about making a loud noise!”
What to eat and drink
While you need energy to exercise, don’t have a heavy meal within two hours of your run. If you need a snack, a banana is a good option. Make sure you drink water throughout the day and take a bottle with you if you get thirsty. Taking frequent sips is better than huge long gulps.
If you’re hungry after a run, opt for a protein-based snack (like strips of lean chicken or a boiled egg) as this will help re-fuel your muscles.
If you’re running to lose weight, be careful not to ‘reward’ yourself for a run with food. A 30-minute, medium-paced jog (5mph) will burn around 300 calories. Don’t undo your hard work by eating extra snacks throughout the day!
Staying on track
Finally, no matter which training programme you use, you’re bound to experience set backs. You might have a busy week at work, be away from home, or even suffer illness or injury.
“A good daily stretching programme will help keep injuries at bay,” says Gerogie. “Always warm up and cool down to avoid injury and stop if you feel dizzy or you feel sudden pain rather than an ache or tiredness.
“Take time to stretch after a run and allow any niggles time to heal. Use ‘Rice’ – rest, ice, compression and elevation as soon as possible. If you have a cold or temperature do not run as it could be dangerous.
“Everyone lapses, so don’t worry about missing a session or two. You only fail if you give up completely – the important thing is to get back on track as soon as you can.”
Before you know it, you’ll be looking back and thinking how far you’ve come in a matter of weeks!