I’ve recently started running again for the first time in about a year (I’m not counting the 3 times I ran 3k in February…), so I feel a bit like a beginner again. From the time I was a true beginner (i.e. when it was an achievement to have run for a minute and walked for two a total of six times), there are a number of things I now know I got totally wrong, so I thought I’d share some tips here to help anyone who’s starting to run for the first time to avoid the mistakes I made and enjoy it all a lot sooner.
- Don’t think that people are judging you – When I first started running I felt like everyone else running in the park was looking at me and thinking how terribly unfit I was, pitying me for how I stopped to walk every few minutes. Actually, no one is thinking that. You really can’t tell if someone you run past (or who runs past you, which is generally the case at my usual pace) is slow because they’re a beginner or because they’re a seasoned runner recovering from injury – they might be looking red and heavy breathing because they’ve managed to run for 5 minutes for the first time or because they’ve just finished 15k, and the reason that they keep stopping to walk could just as easily be due to a complicated training programme as because it’s the first time they’ve ever run for anything other than a bus. So just think about what you’re doing rather than what people might think you’re doing, and use anyone sprinting past you as inspiration rather than intimidation – it’s highly possible that they might have been in exactly your situation in order to get to that point.
- Don’t push it too much – When you first start running (and indeed whenever you start looking to increase your distances) it can be tempting to just go for it and keep running as far as you can as many times a week as you can. This is how I (and many other people) ended up with shin splints. Your body needs to get used to running and build up the tools to deal with longer distances, if you don’t give it a chance to then you’re quite likely to get injured. The general rule to stick to is to increase your distance by 10% each week (so if you run 5k twice one week (10k total), you can do one 5k and one 6k the following (11k total)).
- Get the right trainers for your feet – Once you’ve decided that running is something you’re going to stick to, make sure it’s something you can stick to by investing in trainers that work with the biomechanics of your feet. Lots of sports shops will do gait analysis/biomechanical assessments – they will ask you to run on a treadmill while they look at how your feet strike the ground. After this they will recommend the type of trainer best for you. My feet overpronate quite a lot (in less technical terms, I walk like a duck), so I have running shoes which support and correct this, meaning that my feet hit the ground straight and don’t put pressure where it shouldn’t be. You can read more about pronation here.
- Get some structure – Lots of running clubs have beginners courses which can be great ways to start – you’re with people of the same standard and will get some great tips as you go along (my issues with pacing were sorted out when I joined the Cambridge & Coleridge club’s beginners course). If this isn’t an option then there are lots of programmes online that you can follow – just google ‘beginners running’ and pick a schedule that works for you (usually some kind of run/walk pattern that increases week on week until you’re just running).
- Remember that you’re not actually going to stop breathing – This was a great tip from my friend’s husband when she started running (thanks Jen & Chris!) which I still remember from time to time. Unless there is something seriously wrong, your body isn’t going to let you stop breathing, no matter how much it feels like it might, and it can be quite a comfort to remember this at times! (if you have asthma, this can obviously be a different challenge – there is some great information to help with this in this blog).
- Always stretch – To help your body be happier about the idea of running, and keep doing everything you can to avoid injury, you should always stretch when you finish a run. Check out this YouTube video for some suggestions of ways in which you can stretch.
- A bad run isn’t the end! – Everyone has days where things don’t go the way you want them to, and running is just another place where this can happen. The more you run, the more you get to notice the patterns of bad days (i.e. how you run when you’re dehydrated, what happens when you’ve not eaten properly or have eaten too much and not left enough time before running), and start to educate yourself about how to plan better so think of a bad run as a learning experience rather than letting it get you down.