Guest blogger Neil McRobert gives some great tips on how to start running and how to learn to truly love it!
Running can be fun. Madness, I know; only a lunatic or a Brownlee brother would dare to make such a claim. Yet it’s true. Aside from all the standard reasons for running (getting fit, losing weight, mental wellbeing etc.), it’s important that you find time to actually enjoy the experience. Now, this isn’t to say that running is easy or that there won't be moments that you just wish it was over and you were back on the couch with a brew. If you want to get better you need to push yourself and that inevitably means pain, or at least a mild ache.
But when you are out there, on your own or in a group, it is possible to find some quite exquisite pleasure in the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. I started running properly about 18 months ago. By “properly” I mean getting out regularly for more than a few kilometres, ditching the treadmill and buying some actual running gear. It’s been a volatile love affair: the first few months spent ricocheting between joy and agony, before finally settling into a steady and enduring pleasure (with just a few little niggles now and then).
I’ve learned a lot, including the fact that I’m better than I ever thought I could be and that I’ll never be as good as I want to be. Mostly though, I learned that whilst running is all about technique and training, those aren’t the things you need to learn to enjoy the sport. So, rather than giving you chapter and verse on posture, cadence and breathing etc., I thought I’d tell you how to learn to love running. The rest will come in time.
So here goes. An 18-month learning-curve in a few points:
Set appropriate goals …
Don’t defeat yourself before you start. Yes, there are a few lucky souls who seem to be naturally gifted runners, but the majority of us are starting from a place of naivety and uncertainty about the sport. Don’t think that you’ll be able to just dash off a cheeky 10k or half-marathon without training. I tried this. I turned up to a half-marathon in a cotton jersey and short-shorts like the world’s oldest PE student and then staggered over the finish line looking terminally ill. It’s important to pace yourself and work within your limits. Day 1 – try for a couple of kilometres, or even just one, without stopping. Within a month try for five. Within two months try for 10k at a casual pace. Setting achievable aims like this will keep you from injuring yourself or becoming quickly demotivated. It will also mean that you have more to celebrate as you demolish each milestone.
… but don’t set them too low
That said, there is nothing wrong with pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do. Once you’ve gotten yourself to a place where you know you can run a comfortable 5k, try and extend it. Set yourself a pre-planned route that takes you away from home and then circles back; that way you will have to push through those extra few kilometres to get home. I pretty much guarantee you’ll make it and your front door will look like the gates to paradise. No one ever gets better at anything without trying for that little bit more than they did last time. It’s the same with running so once you have a base of fitness, try for 10-20% more speed or distance than you think you can manage. Respect your body but tell your brain to shut-up when it’s insisting you can’t go on.
Get out of the gym (for the love of God get out of the gym)
Gyms are great for a lot of things but – and this is just my personal opinion – they are massively detrimental to developing as a runner. If you take the act of running and strip away all the things that make it joyous: the scenery, the fresh air, the camaraderie, what you are left with is the treadmill. Endless plodding whilst Good Morning Britain or The One Show drones away on the wall-mounted TVs. Even worse, running at the gym gives you nowhere near the full-body exercise that outdoor running provides. Running outside gives you better balance, it helps you adjust to different paces, surfaces and gradients, it builds grit and determination and it certainly strengthens the smaller connective muscles that you need when moving agilely around obstacles and uneven ground. Most of all, it’s beautiful out there and you’ll be unlikely to see Piers Morgan.
Join a club
I honestly can’t stress this one enough. Nothing has improved my enjoyment of running (and life in general) as much as joining a running club. It’s easy to feel intimidated and worry that you won’t be good enough, but any decent club will cater for all abilities and will prioritise the social aspect just as much as the training. Running with a club gives you structure, camaraderie and support, and a healthy fizz of competition as there’s always someone around your level who makes you want to push a little harder. Plus, if the club is affiliated with a governing body such as England Athletics, then you’ll get insurance in case of injury. Don’t wait until you’re “better” to find a club. Join right away and watch how fast you improve. 8k on a weeknight is so much easier if you’re running with friends.
Run off road as well
Running on the road has its reassurances. It’s well lit, hard to get too lost, and there’s always a shop around the corner for a desperation can of Red Bull. Road running is also relaxing as you can pop a podcast in your ears and switch off (watch for cars!) But don’t be afraid to get off-road and try some trail running. It is a completely different experience as you leave the tarmac behind and dash across the moors and hills. You’ll see some wonderful sights, you’ll train alternative muscle groups and hopefully find some mental peace away from the urban hustle. Trail running has nothing to do with speed or times; it’s all about the experience and a different perspective.
Buy a watch (but not too soon)
Sports watches are great for monitoring your performance. There is a massive amount of variety in the marketplace these days, ranging from introductory models up to watches with more computing power than NASA needed to visit the moon. They are really useful for measuring progress and learning to pace yourself over longer distances and I would heartily recommend buying one after a few months of running. However, don’t buy one too soon. If you splash out on a watch during your first weeks of running it will be easy to focus on the wrong things and dishearten yourself. Wait until you are starting to enjoy the simple act of running before you start worrying about statistics.
Get this one right away! Strava is a free app for both Android and iOS devices that allows you to map your runs. It also doubles as a social media platform to connect with other runners (and this is really good fun if you’ve joined a club). It’s incredibly satisfying to look at a map of your run and see that you’ve improved on a previous attempt. Even if you don’t see immediate progress in speed, just watching that running total of miles covered starts off a little whisper in your mind that “maybe, just maybe, you’re becoming a runner.”
LISTEN TO ME PEOPLE! Parkrun is your new religion. It’s also the most fun you’ll have all week. Parkrun is a free, nation-wide running event that takes place every Saturday morning in public parks up and down the country and abroad. I was lucky enough to attend a tiny event in Canada where I was given a hero’s welcome and then ran the 5k of my life. All the routes are 5k long and timed using a personal barcode. There is nothing more satisfying than getting a new Parkrun personal best (PB) texted straight to your phone on Saturday lunchtime, and it will keep you motivated throughout the week. Even for those who are not competitively minded, Parkrun offers a wonderfully friendly, inclusive atmosphere. If there is one thing in your week that will help you enjoy running, it’s Parkrun. Can you tell I’m a fan?
Enter a race within 6 months
If you are just starting then this may sound mad. The thought of actually racing – of running without being able to stop whenever you want – may sound like an impossible ambition. Trust me on this though, racing will give you the buzz to train and to push yourself beyond anything you think you can do when you’re just running on your own. For example, my 10k race time is regularly a good 8-10 minutes faster than my standard time over the same distance. It absolutely does not matter how fast you run or what position you get in the results. The importance is in putting yourself under some healthy pressure, having something to train towards, and getting the recognition of your efforts in an official race time. There are hundreds of race events around the country every weekend, so I’m not just talking about the big, glossy city centre affairs. Have a look on Run Britain.
You’ve worked hard. You’ve run after work and early weekend mornings. You’ve sweated and cursed up numerous hills and you’ve churned out your first 5k, 10k, marathon etc. Stop and take a moment to recognise your achievement and make sure you reward yourself. This can be anything, from a simple hot bath after a long run, to some new running gear or a spa-day, or, if you’ve really got the bug, it could mean signing up for a particular running event. Whatever it is, make sure you reward the body and the mind that have got you this far. And then go for a run.
If you are thinking of taking up running then good luck and welcome to the family. The more people we can get outside on the pavements and hills the better the sport will become. Go steady.
You can find me on @nakmac (twitter) nojmac (insta) neil mcrobert (strava)
If you want to read more of Neil's work all about running (he's a blogger and copywrighter for Blacks) check out his blog posts :
If you have any questions, or have any other great tips to add, we'd love to know! Please drop a message below
Thanks for reading xx