…. and good for you! Pat yourself on the back and feel that sense of accomplishment. Running isn’t easy, and to do it a few times is great, but to want to do it as a regular means of physical activity (and follow through with that) is awesome. Keep at it! Along the way though, you might have questions. You’re sticking to your running routine, but know this is just the beginning. Maybe you’ll enter a race. Maybe you’ll join a running group. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll run a 10km, half marathon, or marathon.While I’m not a certified personal trainer or running coach, I have been right at the beginning and know exactly what it’s like. I’ve made all the beginner mistakes you might make, even though at the time, I thought I was brilliant and knew it all. I didn’t and I paid the price. Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the long road to becoming a fully-fledged runner.
Take it slowly, everything will come in due time. It’s excellent you want to keep improving, pushing distance and challenging yourself, but like everything else in life, you need to be patient. Becoming a faster, stronger runner doesn’t happen naturally, you have to work hard for it. Be patient and you’ll notice results.
And while we’re on the topic of taking things slowly, just because you feel you can run another mile, doesn’t mean you should. There’s a story behind this one: I entered my first 10km after running 3.5 miles consecutively, without stopping to walk, for the first time. I had three weeks to go until the actual race, so I developed a kinda-sorta plan to increase my distance up to 6.5 miles, then taper a bit the week before the race. I ran the race in under an hour (59:13), but also got a nasty case of Iliotibial Band Syndrome, a common running injury to that band of tissue that runs from your hip along the side of your thigh, inserting onto the top of your lower leg. This felt like pretty bad pain on the outer part of my knee, and was something I dealt with for months afterwards, whenever I ran.
Why did I get this? Because I did too much, too soon. Proper 10km training programmes for non-runners like me at the time, can be up to 10 weeks; mine was 3 weeks. Pain in and around your knee, pain in the ankles, shin splints, just general pain manifesting itself within your first month of running are all signs of too much, too soon. You get to a point in your beginner running where you feel you’re invincible, and you feel so good, you turn your 4 mile run into a 6 mile run. Why would you do that if you’ve never run 4.5 miles? 5 miles? 5.5 miles? General rule of thumb for increasing distance is 10% of your total previous week’s mileage: I run on average 15-17 miles a week, depending on my long runs. This means my mileage only increases by 1.5 miles a week, and is spread out across all runs, not just one run. Do yourself a favour, and follow that rule.
|The beginner runner who thought she knew everything|
Get your gait tested for running shoes, especially your first pair. Once I was on the road to recovery from ITB Syndrome, further down the line, I started feeling weird in my knees again, but also my arches. I knew I was going to continue running, so parted ways with my £35, neutral support New Balance trainers that got me through my first 10km, and went to Run4It in Dundee to get my gait analysed and get fitted for proper running shoes that would support me where I needed it. Simply put, gait refers to the way you run; at Run4It, you run on a treadmill barefoot while they film your feet. The footage is then played back to you in slow motion, where you yourself can spot the issues with your gait. I’m an overpronator, which means my feet cave inwards when I run (more so my left), so my shoes require moderate support to prevent this from happening. I’ve had my gait tested twice, and it was exactly the same, and I now know what shoes to go for. Buying shoes without the right amount of support for you can lead to injuries, which can lead to you stopping altogether. Trust the experts and get your gait tested!
A good pair of running shoes is the best investment you can make, and should be your first piece of official running gear. Once you know your level of support, the world is your oyster for running shoes! You can splurge on those bright pink Asic Gel Kayanos you’ve always wanted (because they’re good for overpronators), or go for the cheaper, but equally supportive and made-for-wider-feet bright orange Nike Zoom Structure +16’s (mine!). It’s up to you. Just make sure you go for function first, then fashion. And as a beginner runner, I would avoid minimalist shoes to begin with; I get shin splints from just walking in them!
|My shoes, past and present (and I’ve just ordered another pair!)|
While we’re on the topic of gear, it’s worth investing in proper running clothes. I remember thinking that I could save money and stick to my normal work out clothes. Again, I was wrong. It is incredible how good it feels to run in a better fitting, dry-wicking, light weight, specially-made-for-running-top, than a cotton tshirt that keeps moving around, and ultimately gets drenched in sweat. Proper running tights (long or cropped) are a dream that no pair of cheap, cotton leggings from Tesco can compare too. And in the winter, thicker running tights prove wonders for keeping your legs and bum warm while temperatures hover around 0’C. Running jackets in winter keep you warm and protected from the wind, yet are so light. Running socks provide much better cushioning for your feet. Proper running clothes allow you to move better, keep you warm when it’s cold, keep you dry when it’s hot, and let you just get on with the most important thing: the run.
|Just a fraction of my running wardrobe|
Hydration is so extremely important, especially during the (abnormally hot in Scotland) summer. Hydration means drinking water, not juice, not an energy drink, not tea, and definitely not milk before a run. Hydration should also start the day before your run; you should be drinking plenty of water the day before a run, not just the day of. If you’re running regularly, this means you’ll be drinking water all the time! Aim for 2L of water a day initially; the amount of water you drink also depends on your level of physical activity and how much you sweat.
By staying hydrated with water, you’ll also prevent that dreaded side stitch from happening, which is a result of either drinking the wrong liquids before a run, drinking too much water right before a run (happens to me), or not getting enough water the day before and day of a run. Water is vital for running, but also for our bodies to function, and the best thing we can drink.
Read up on running and inform yourself. Whether it’s running magazines, books, or blogs, the running world is chock FULL of information waiting for you to take in. The biggest mistake you can make as a beginner runner is to assume: assume that you can push distance quickly, assume you won’t have to follow a training programme, assume that if you run everyday you’ll get better as a runner, assume that rest days are for wimps (all wrong, in some way or another, by the way). Reading empowers you in more ways than one, it motivates you to keep going, and gives you answers to those burning running questions you have. Do your body a favour and read about running.
|Just part of my collection of running material|
Running books/magazines provide you with proper training programmes when you find that race you want to enter, and they’re worth following. I’ve only recently started following training programmes after failing miserably and plateauing on what I assumed was the right thing to do. In the past, I desperately wanted to run a 10km around the 56:00 mark and be able to push distance, but with the same-intensity running I was doing week in and week out,year in, year out, I wasn’t making any progress. I resigned myself to the fact that it hurt my body too much to run more than 6 miles, and that I just had to push myself like crazy to get even close to that 56:00 10km. Then I found the Bum Belly Blast programme, which forces you to run at different intensities and incorporates the long runs to build your stamina, and after only 4 weeks of doing it, I ran my first 56:00-ish 10km. Wow!
Running burns calories, but not as many as you think, unfortunately. Based on my weight (73kg = 160 lbs = 11 stone 6) and my height (5’7″), I burn about 125 calories per mile. If I run three miles, I only burn about 375 calories, that’s a Snicker’s bar and a small bag of Sunbites. If I run a 10km race (6.2 miles), I burn about 700 calories, which may seem like a lot of calories, but isn’t enough to eat like I’ve just completed an Ironman triathlon. Many people think running burns a ton of calories, however it’s only when I run 8+ miles that I burn 1000+ calories. As a beginner, you’d be able to notice changes in your weight and body within the first 6 weeks of regular running, but soon after, you’ll hit a plateau. To overcome this, you can increase the intensity and distance, but should also make positive changes to your diet because you’ll find that bad food results in bad runs, and good food results in good runs. You can be like me and eat therefore you run, but through my experiences, I’ve found that that alone isn’t enough.
And finally, the most important if you want to stick with running in the long run (pardon the pun), make running a priority. My week’s are planned out around my runs: I won’t make plans for Tuesday and Thursday nights, and Sunday mornings because that is when I run. If running is important to you, making it a priority won’t be hard, and you’ll find that the more you do it, the more it becomes routine.
While some other runners and bloggers might have different tips, this is just some of the things I’ve learned throughout my running journey, along with many, many lessons. I’m always evolving and moving forward as a runner; who knows what I’ll be like a year from now. Good luck to you and keep up the good work! And don’t forget to ask questions!
I’ve got plenty of posts lined up (in my head), including a recap of our Hebridean holiday, so stay tuned!