Running is a wonderfully simple sport. You’re in charge, and you can run where you want, when you want.
Best of all, if you follow these principles, you can make it last a lifetime and get the most health and fitness benefit out of your running programme.
1. Walk before you run
Few people are able to run a kilometre the on their first day of running, so don’t try it. You’ll soon feel discouraged and give in. Instead, begin by mixing running with walking.
For example, run for 30 seconds then walk for 90 seconds, repeating this for a total of 20 minutes. When you can comfortably manage this four times a week, adjust your walk/run ratio to 45/75 seconds four times a week. Then try 60/60, 75/45, and 90/30. In time you’ll be running for several minutes without breaks, and then you will be able to run for 20 minutes without stopping!
2. Build steadily
If your running is to progress you will need to work harder over time, but if you punish your body too hard too soon you won’t improve and you’ll increase the risk of injury.
Coach Jack Daniels advises his athletes to make a plan of their intended weekly training and then increase mileage or intensity only every third or fourth week. For example, if your current mileage is 30km a week and you’re aiming to build that up to 60km, add eight to 10km every three to four weeks.
Apply this same principle to increases in speed.
3. Warm up, cool down
Warm-ups let your body gradually adjust to the exercise, preparing you for the harder work to come and actually making the session easier.
Five to 10 minutes of running or walking before you start putting your body through its paces will also lessen the strain on your heart and reduce the chances of injury. (Read more about warming up, here)
Then after you’ve run hard, the first thing you usually want to do is head straight for the sofa to crash. Don’t, because an abrupt finish to exercise can cause cramps, dizziness, abnormal strain on the heart, and hamper the removal of the body’s waste products such as lactic acid. Just spend five minutes longer on your feet at a gentle pace to cool your body.
4. Choose your running surface carefully
Most runners clock their kays on the open roads. Roads aren’t the worst places to run, but try to run on the tarmac no more than three times a week. If you run the same route regularly, run it in reverse, too. Running the same camber of the road repeatedly can lead to injury.
Steer clear of concrete pavements, which will pound your body. Running tracks are okay for speedwork – although they are draining on the mind – but avoid them for recovery runs or fitness running.
Grassy areas are the softest surface to run on, but they can be uneven. Perhaps the best surface is an evenly graded dirt road; it’s easy on the body and relaxing for the mind.
5. Set goals
Staying fit and healthy is great reward in itself, but setting a goal can make you more motivated and help you enjoy your running more. When you sit down and set yourself a goal consider four elements, incorporated in the acronym RACE.
Firstly, choose a goal with a noticeable reward. It could be a medal, a time, or a new set of clothes if your goal is weight loss.
Secondly, make that goal attainable – within your reach.
Thirdly, make it challenging. If your goal is going to be a cinch, you won’t work to achieve it.
Finally, be explicit: set out specific races, precise target times, and the crucial points along the path to achieving your ambition.
6. Run by time, not by kays
This advice is especially valuable for beginners and those hoping to build endurance. When you find that you can gradually spend more and more time on your feet, all that hard work seems to be paying off.
If you’re a more experienced runner, you’ll find that thinking of time can prevent you tearing round your training routes at breakneck speed trying to set a PB. This can ensure that your recovery runs actually provide the rest and recuperation all runners need.
7. Build a base
You can’t fire a cannon out of a canoe. That’s how one coach once summed up the need for an aerobic base before the fast times will come.
This base of running can last from six months to as long as a year, and should consist of steady running and jogging. Enjoy this period; if you’re an ambitious new runner this may be a useful stress-free period of running when you can gauge which distances may be right for you to race in the future.
8. Learn the hard-easy routine
Whether you’re one of the world’s elite or a beginner, stick to the ‘hard-easy’ method of vigorous exercise followed by either a rest day or a recovery run. Even if you do feel fantastic the day after a hard run, temper yourself. If you don’t do that, you will struggle the following day, or worse, pick up an injury. Stress on top of rest equals improvement, but stress on top of stress equals breakdown.
Still, just how gentle should a recovery be? The key is to listen to your body for warning signs – sore muscles, aches, pains and fatigue – and err on the side of caution. Remember, too, that as you get older you will need longer to recover.
9. Build up your long run
Long runs are the definitive way to build endurance; strengthening the heart, the legs and the ligaments in the process. They also burn fat and boost confidence. Sounds good? It certainly does, but be cautious: If the longest you are used to running for is 30 minutes, gradually build up to an hour by adding five minutes to your run each week.
Just minutes of extra running make a difference – but too much, too soon and you’re setting yourself up for injury or illness.
10. Make running a part of your life
Holistic running’ was a term coined by athlete Kenneth Doherty in 1964. He believed that the runner trains 24 hours a day, not just for an hour or so of running.
Take a look at the way you organise your life, how much you sleep, eat, and drink. Then consider the balance within your training programme. Are you racing too much? Are you not making time to run those routes that are personal favourites? Are you running too much speedwork with too little time to recover?
Just as you should keep the balance in your training, do so with the other areas of life.