Estimated reading time: 5-7 minutes

Running can be a difficult thing to get into. Those first few steps can be daunting and a 5k run might as well be an ultra-marathon. You may worry about people looking at you while you run, but trust me, they are just looking at someone who is taking steps (literally!) to improve their health – and that is nothing to be self-conscious about.

It can all seem a bit overwhelming at first, but with the right knowledge and preparation you can make running a really useful tool to improve both your physical and mental health.

I will start off by saying that I am in no way a professional when it comes to running – just a keen runner who has a platform to share his experience.

Before the last year or so, I had dabbled in running in the past multiple times, starting late in secondary school. I would inevitably keep it going for a little while and then I would find my motivation on the wane. When I found my time suddenly open up around April last year – I decided to give running another shot – gyms were closed and it was free to do, so why not?

What I have found is that running has enabled me to add structure to my week, improve my physical health, and look after my mental health during an uncertain time. In a time that is lacking in stability, it has been a constant positive and something to focus on.

I was amazed by my own progression and when you are starting out, you will see massive improvements in your time and how it feels to run. One thing I can guarantee is that you will always feel better after a run. I found running as a great way to explore my local rea as well, you never know when you might find a hidden gem of a route!

In this blog, I hope to share some useful tips about how to get started in, or back into, the world of running and help you not make the same mistakes I did!

 Run your own race...

Why Running?

Out of all the forms of exercise, why have I chosen to write about running? Well, hear me out, but humans are built to run.

In the times of our ancestors, we would have been chasing animals to hunt over incredibly long distances or roaming great areas of land to gather food. When compared to other animals, it has been proposed that while humans are fairly slow on the maximum speed rankings – we would win events like ultra-marathons quite easily[1].

In addition to our comparatively long legs and more-rounded pelvises when compared to our primate cousins – we also have around 2-4 million sweat glands on our bodies. This means that as other animals are overheating and having to slow down – we can push through using our own purpose-built cooling system!

From a more modern outlook – after a small investment to start off with; running is free activity that you can do alone or in a group (in times of normality!) and you don’t have to travel great distances to get involved.

Top Tips

Before you take your first steps, there are a few small things to consider:

  • Proper running shoes – this is essential! One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started out running was not investing in a decent pair of running shoes. I ran in generic trainers and while this was okay for a little while; I eventually developed some niggles and had to have a couple of weeks off to rest. Since I invested in a pair that give me the support I required, I haven’t had any injuries and my speed has improved – win win!

  • Appropriate clothing – this one goes without saying. It is key that you wear clothing that enables you to have a full range of motion and feel comfortable while running. My top tip would be to invest in some compression shorts/leggings – they make all the difference and can really make you feel, look, and act the part!

  • Plan your route – are you going to be running on pavement or grass? Is it well-lit if you are running in the evening or early morning and will you need something high-vis? Will you need to cross a lot of roads which will upset your rhythm (or provide a welcome rest!)?

Side note - there is a common misconception that road-running will cause long-term damage to your knees – in fact, research has shown that regular runners have lower levels of arthritis of the knees than people who live sedentary lifestyles[2].

  • Warming up & Cooling down – I really can’t stress how often this is overlooked. I have played a fair bit of sport in my time, so I was familiar with a warm-up – but if you aren’t sure where to start – try this video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZfNtEtSnPI&ab_channel=TheRunningChannel – activation exercises are key to a good run as they prepare your muscles for exercise and can help to prevent injury. Cooling down is also essential and involves the gentle relaxing of your muscles to help speed up your recovery. This helps you to avoid stiffness and aches – and gets you back out there faster!

 Even cheetahs need to warm up! 

  • Run Tracking Apps – If you are like me and enjoy logging your times - apps like Strava are brilliant. The best part is you aren’t racing other people on these apps – you are racing against yourself. Don’t worry about other people’s times, run your own race and set goals for you. I should mention that if you aren’t bothered about your times, don’t record your runs – do whatever suits you best!

One Last Thing

I’ve decided this last tip deserves its own section – don’t push yourself too hard. Whether you are returning to running after some time away or brand new; listen to your body. It will tell you if you are going too hard – build yourself up slowly and give yourself time to rest and recover if you feel that you need it.

My advice for brand new runners would be to walk your route first, slowly increasing the speed of your walking before taking those first few jogging steps. Couch to 5k is a brilliant place to start for new runners and can get you covering a distance that may have seemed out of reach in no time.

Trying too much at once will lead to burnout, injury, and you potentially losing motivation. Take it easy, listen to your body, and most importantly – make sure to wave if you see someone out for a run in their Sport in Mind gear!

 

Calum Pettitt - Sport in Mind Berkshire Development Officer

 

References

[1] - https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2018/mar/14/why-humans-are-optimised-for-endurance-running-not-speed

[2] - https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a32598733/is-running-bad-for-your-knees/