Learn to Run
Exercise was, once upon a time, my most hated thing in the world. Being an overweight and underskilled teenager, sport was downright difficult and embarrassing. Hitting a ball with a bat, kicking towards goal posts or even handballing, it was always a disaster. I still remember trying to run to a base during softball and instead sliding knee first into a huge patch of mud. My classmates had a great laugh. I walked around with two damp, smelly stains on my sweatpants for the rest of the day.
It’s no wonder I began adulthood fearing exercise. It was physically taxing and likely to result in ridicule. I was okay with walking, as long as there were no hills and the pace didn’t raise my heart rate. Shopping and clubbing were literally my only cardio. A woman who told me running gave her more energy was obviously crazy, I remember thinking, as I put another piece of chocolate in my mouth.
But then, I tested her theory. It may have been a week later, it may have been months later, but I deliberately went for a long, fast walk. And… I SURVIVED. And I did it again. And again. I’d ring friends or family while out walking, chat for 20 minutes and feel twice as good when I came home.
Slowly, I kept building distance...
I started running when a daily walk around a lake just didn’t feel like enough. I would jog a bit, walk, jog a bit more and that was it. Running on the beach always looked good in movies, so I gave that a shot on a quiet bit of coast in Maine, USA. I was overweight and my beach run lasted about 10 minutes, but it was exhilarating. When I returned to Australia, I persevered and was running 3.5 kilometres once a week. My housemate was an avid runner and I recall her coming home one evening, beaming after her first 10K. It inspired me to go further too. I hit 5K, 7K, 10K and then did the 12K City to Surf in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Dignified!
I suffered an injury in the following months (more on that another time) and was forced to give up all exercise. It took a couple of weeks to stop limping, then I started going for long walks again. It was months before I resumed running, and it’s taken four years to return to a weekly 10K. But I feel stronger and smarter than ever.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t read any books. I didn’t follow a running plan or join a clinic. I just gradually added distance or challenged myself to hit a certain time in a very organic, ad hoc kind of way. And IT WORKED.
Before you get started, I really recommend downloading an app such as RunKeeper – it’s free and will help you track your activity. The app also gives you custom audio cues during your run, such as current speed, distance covered and total time. The stats are really motivating! Or depressing, depending on how your legs are faring.
Want to start running? Here's my guide:
1. Start walking regularly – a few times a week.
2. Gradually add some short bursts of jogging/running during each walk:
a. Try five minutes of walking, one minute of running. Repeat throughout your walk. Do this as many weeks as you want.
b. When you're comfortable with that, reduce the walking time and increase your running time. Try one minute of each, or build up to five minutes running and one minute of walking (and repeat).
TIP: You can set intervals on Runkeeper, so it'll beep when you need to run/walk/rest etc.
3. Run for 3K without stopping – speed is not an issue!
4. Repeat the following week. And the week after that.
HIGH FIVE! YOU’RE A RUNNER!
If you're feeling good, add 500 metres and see how you go. Add on another 500m the next week. Hit 5K, and maintain that for a few weeks. Your next goals are 7K and 10K. And then you have surpassed this blog. Congratulations!
Keep these in mind as you progress
1. Vary your routes: Whether you prefer pavement or grass, flat ground or hills, mix things up when you can so you use different muscles. Repetition = injury.
2. STRETCH. You wouldn't drive a car for years without a service, and the same should apply to your body! Try yoga or BodyBalance once a week to loosen your muscles and relax the mind. Alternatively, invest in a foam roller (about $30 from sports stores) for a pain unlike anything else you've experienced. It's really effective though.
3. Do other exercise. Weight training helps my quads power up hills, and I feel the benefits of core exercises (a.k.a crunches and planks) even when I run on flat ground.
4. TREAT YOUR FEET! Sneakers are like toothbrushes. You don’t realise how worn they were until you replace them. And man, it feels good when you do. Same goes for socks.
5. How about a charity run? Use your new found running skills to raise funds for a cause! There are often 5Ks in bigger races. Or join a running group.
Sadly, running (like anything physical) can cause occasional aches and pains. If you're feeling anything more than a little muscle fatigue, get help. A physiotherapist might be an option and they can often teach you stretches or strengthening exercises to address the issue. A podiatrist may be able to assist if your feet are giving your woes, and let’s not forget my most prized but expensive footwear… customised orthotics. Also known as the best shoe inserts $800 can buy.
QUESTION: What’s your best advice to new runners?