For many years I hated running. Early experiences with school cross country races left me scarred and even today, the thought of trudging through a muddy field in the depth of an English winter makes me shudder. But, when it comes to routes and scenery, we're spoiled for choice in Cornwall and although I'd never describe myself as a 'runner' I have been doing a bit over the last few months and, contrary to all expectations, I've enjoyed it.
There are many benefits to running. Not only does it improve heart and lung function, it builds muscle strength and endurance, burns fat and helps to strengthen bones. It’s also a great way of reducing stress. What’s even better is that it is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels and is one of the cheapest ways to get fit.
Before you start
Running is a high impact sport so make sure you have a good pair of running shoes. Pounding the pavement in that battered pair you bought 10 years ago will only lead to trouble – blisters at the very least and quite possibly joint problems or injuries.
Most specialist sports shops will assess your gait to ensure that your shoes provide the correct support. If you have you have foot problems such as fallen arches you may also require orthotics.
There are some people to whom running comes as naturally as breathing and others who find themselves exhausted by a 100-metre dash for the bus, but with patience and the right training, everyone can run.
Goal setting is an important part of a running programme and will help you to keep motivated. Choose realistic goals that will fill you with a sense of achievement when you reach them. For a beginner, this may be something as simple as running for 10 minutes without stopping. As you become fitter you will be able to set more challenging goals such as completing a 5k or 10k run.
Beginners should start slowly and gradually increase the length and intensity of their runs. The best way to do this is with interval training in which you alternate periods of running and walking. Initially you may only be able to run for 30 seconds but as your fitness improves you will be able to increase the length of the run and decrease the time spent walking.
The key to success is to constantly challenge yourself. Once your workout begins to feel easy, it’s time to increase the intensity. You will eventually be able to run at a constant pace without walking.
If you prefer to train with others, get in touch with your local running club or group. Many of them offer beginners’ sessions. It’s an excellent way to learn the basics and the group dynamic can provide much-needed motivation.
Taking it to the next level
Established runners often find they become stuck in a rut and, despite regular runs, don’t see any improvement in their performance. The human body adapts to exercise extremely quickly, making it imperative that you find new ways to challenge yourself. Adding variety to your running programme is an excellent way to do this.
Alternate longer, low intensity runs with short, fast ones or try high speed interval and hill training. If, for example, you can run 5k easily, start training for a 10k run and adding a session of sprint intervals once a week. By varying your training techniques, your body will remain challenged and your performance will continue to improve.
Investing in a running watch or fitness tracker can will help you to keep track of your progress and help you progress to the next level. Finding a training buddy, joining a running club or taking part in a Parkrun will also help motivate you
A note on technique
Running can put a lot of strain on the body. Developing a good technique will help to minimise the risk of injury and ensure optimal performance.
There are lots of books on running technique, including barefoot running which has become popular in recent years. You can even hire a running coach but whatever your running style, there are a few points to bear in mind.
Maintain good posture and a strong core, with your head upright and chest open.
Keep your strides short and maintain a high cadence. This encourages a good foot strike.
Relax your neck and shoulders and keep your arms loose.
Running Well by Sam Murphy and Sarah Connor. This is an excellent guide to running, including advice on technique, training and how to avoid and treat injuries.
Get Running by Matt Roberts. Lots of advice and programmes whether you’re training for your first 5k or a marathon.