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Are You Run Ready? 6 tips to get you up and running

One of the things that I’ve noticed on my runs recently is how many more people are donning their trainers and pounding the pavement. Maybe it’s that January fitness vibe… maybe it’s lockdown… maybe it’s both! That post Christmas detox coupled with the fact that gyms are closed. We’re back to working from home with the constant temptation of the snack drawer, perhaps we’re attempting to home educate and that time out running provides us with a little bit of headspace where no one is asking us what seven times eight is I don’t know about you but these questions rarely yield little more than exposing my mathematical inadequacy and sending me running to the ‘toilet’ so that I can check the answer on a calculator!.

I love running and not just to hide in the bathroom! Partly because it’s an incredible full body aerobic workout, but mainly because of the headspace it provides and the sense of freedom that it evokes in me. I didn’t always love running though, in fact I used to hate distance running and if someone had told me that one day I’d feel robbed if I didn’t run twenty or more miles in a week I’d have laughed in their face.

When I was growing up my family lived in Liverpool for a while. It was during this time that I started secondary school. I loved it for the P.E. I was on every team that I could squeeze in after school but I was not on the cross-country team. My lasting memory of cross-country is having to go out in tiiiiiiny athletics knickers in the deep depths of Northern December, I was a sprinter and so without fail I would set off like a hare out of a trap, last about 200m and spend the rest of the 4,800m feeling like I was about to die. I hated distance running. I tried again in my twenties, slipped on my converse pumps and my other half and I set out on a ‘let’s get fit for our wedding run’. We made it around the block, finished it doubled over outside the Chinese take away over the road from our studio flat where we ordered dinner… we’d earnt it! My belief that I did not like distance running was affirmed, it felt like the nail in the coffin!

But all of this has now changed… I love to listen to Emily Abbate’s podcast, Hurdle. I listened to a brilliant interview recently with the Nike Running Head Coach, Chris Bennett. He described running like a punnet of strawberries. Imagine you’ve never had a strawberry, everyone keeps telling you how delicious strawberries are and so you decide to try one. You take your first ever bite of strawberry and it’s one of those green ones, super sour and not at all ripe, not nice at all. But people keep going on about this incredible fruit and so you give it another go, this time it’s all soft and mushy and again doesn’t taste good at all. If you have enough bad strawberries then you’re going to decide you don’t like strawberries.

Now I love running. And I want to share my top tips for beginner runners with you so that you can experience the juiciest sweetest strawberry of a run and fall in love with it in the way that I have.

6 top tips to start running...

1. Warm up and cool down, yes! Don’t skip them… I know it’s a drag and, in a time when there already aren’t enough hours in a day, they add ten minutes to your workout time, but these ten minutes are what will help to keep you injury free and happy. Before you run walk 1km, then take a gentle jog before completing these dynamic stretches.

When you finish take a gentle jog and gradually slow your pace down until you're walking whilst your heart rate drops back to normal. Then take these five stretches, hold each stretch for at least 25 seconds.

2. Follow a plan… yes, definitely! Couch to 5k, Under Armour Run Trainer, Nike Run Club, Just Run there are so many out there and with good reason. If you try to run too far on that first run you’ll end up feeling like you took a bite of a pretty gross strawberry, or you might enjoy the strawberry whilst you’re eating it, scoff the punnet and make yourself sick! All of these apps ease you into running with run/walk interval training. This is to help build muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness gradually so that you don’t find yourself doubled over outside that take-away never wanting to run again. If you’d never done a pull up, you wouldn’t expect your body to smash 3 sets of 12 the first time that you tried, in fact give it a go… without serious training it just won’t happen. Why do we think differently when it comes to running? It’s all about easing in, those periods of walking are just as important as those periods of running. The other thing that these apps do is to gradually increase the distance that you’re running so you don’t go from running 1km to running 10km, every step that you take when you run your leg and glute muscles contract, think how many contractions happen in a 1km run as opposed to a 10km run, you jump too quickly and you’re going to end up with some seriously fatigued muscles, or potentially lose form and end up with an injury because you don’t have the muscular strength to support your joints.

3. What to wear...Trainers… I have a love affair with my running trainers… they’re one and half sizes too big to stop my toenails turning black on those long runs so they’re no fashion statement but they feel like running on clouds. Running trainers are expensive and you want to get the right pair, it’s worth going to a specialist shop where you can try before you buy. But, doing a couch to 5k it isn’t necessary to spend £100 or more on a pair of trainers. First figure out whether you enjoy running, that beautiful pair of bouncy trainers can be your reward when you hit that 5k mark. For couch to 5k you need a stable pair of trainers, so maybe leave those thin soled pumps in the shoe basket but any decent pair of trainers will do. Put them on, bang your heel on the floor to create as much space as possible in the toe (if you are buying trainers especially then always opt for one size larger than your usual shoe size to allow for this space). Lace them up properly, with a double-knot you don’t want to have to keep stopping to re-lace those shoes.

...Sports bras… Yes, they feel a little like a modern form of corset and some of them entail a workout all of their own to get them on/off but a good sports bra will save you from back pain, breast pain and any nipple chafing (yikes!). Go high impact for running.

4. Where to run My advice when you’re starting out is an ‘out and back’ as opposed to a loop. This means that you run half of the time in one direction, reach the half way mark and turn around to run home. There’s something psychologically beneficial about knowing you’re heading home, it also helps you to keep a steady pace and makes sure you don’t end up half way around a park/pond/lake when you’re supposed to finish your run. Try to plan a route somewhere that inspires you and with as few roads as possible to cross.

5. Music for running Tunes… or no tunes…! I love to listen to music when I run because when a good, upbeat tune comes on it spurs me on, I run a bit lighter, a bit faster and (much to the distress of everyone around me) I sing a bit louder! That’s perfect for me on a speed run or an interval run but not so great if I’m trying to keep a steady pace. If you find that you can’t help but feel the beat but you need those tunes to keep you going, then you could try putting together a slower playlist or Spotify have some ready-made playlists under ‘Running’ which have a ‘BPM’ (beats per minute) so you just need to find the right tempo for you. Otherwise podcasts are great for keeping a steady pace, or silence… just the sound of your feet on the pavement and the rhythm of your breath… snippets of conversations as you whizz past people… birds singing… sirens blaring…!

6. Running Form I love the episode of Friends where Phoebe and Rachel go running. Phoebe runs free, arms flailing, legs akimbo; Rachel is super rigid and controlled. Who are you? My advice would be to channel your inner Phoebe and Rachel, you want the relaxed/loose Phoebe vibes when you run; but a bit of form a la Rachel will stop you from expending unnecessary energy and help keep you injury free. One of the biggest things I notice in runners is a twist in the torso when they run, a bit like they’re boxing their way forward. This twisting puts pressure on our hips and back. Try to imagine a line that runs down the centre of your body from the bridge of your nose down to your pubic bone, you don’t want to cross that line. Instead keep a nice loose swing in the arms forward and back from hip to chin. To save those calf muscles you want a nice heel to toe action in the feet and try to regulate your breathing, I like to breathe through my mouth when I run, in for two counts and out for two.

That’s it!! You are good to go. Enjoy those strawberries…!

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