Getting into any new sport can be daunting, particularly when it is something, which is driven, not by teammates, but ultimately by your own determination and enthusiasm. Running can, therefore, be one of the single most difficult sports to pick up as, in the end, whether you succeed or fail is up to you.
Despite this, there are many people who would love to run, or even who eye the Comrades marathon each year and wonder whether they could do it. For those people, we have compiled a thorough, but simple guide to getting into running and making this kind of exercise a regular part of your life.
Sign up for a race
The first step, believe it or not, can often be to simply to sign up for a race. Researching it, paying the entrance fee and putting it in your diary, can provide a great deal of motivation for you to get off the couch and strap on your running shoes. Runner’s guide has a neat calendar of events that you can easily scroll through to find a race that’s near your home and in a distance, you are comfortable running.
Be careful not to stress yourself out, and set a target that’s too difficult, but likewise make sure to pick a distance you know you are going to have to train for. That balance is what will provide the right motivation, without fear necessary to get you on the road.
Make it social
Getting together a group of friends who can meet and run with you is a real motivator. Knowing that your friends are out on the road, while you are still in bed can induce enough guilt to force you to get up and hit the road.
Organisations like Park Run can be ideal for starting out in running because the relaxed nature and social joy distracts from the difficulty of those first few weeks out on the road. At just 5kms they also make an ideal first target for you to run the full distance, which you will feel like you can never achieve when you take your first steps on the road.
Run/Walk at first
Most running coaches and enthusiasts will tell you that running is more about covering the distance than worrying about your times. Start out aiming to do 5kms, then make sure you cover that distance at each run. It doesn’t matter how often you walk, or what your time is, just make sure you get that 5kms under the belt. Each time you go out, you will find you naturally run more of the distance, and walk less of it, thereby improving your time.
Some coaches believe that running steadily then taking short walking breaks of 30 seconds, or a minute, can actually be a beneficial way to run marathons, as it gives your body a chance to recover, so don’t worry about the walking affecting your overall performance.
Once you are regularly running most of the 5km run, it’s time to up the distance you are doing to be closer to your target.
Train three times a week
A lot of people make the mistake of taking up running and then immediately trying to go out each day. This can be discouraging as your body hasn’t really had a chance to build on the previous day’s run before you are breaking it down again.
If your goal distance is 10kms, then run 5kms twice during the week, and try to do the full 10kms on the weekend. You can happily swim, or do weights on the other days if you really want to, but initially, it’s just about putting a few kilometres under your belt.
You may have heard rumours that certain runners, run in a particular way, or that heel to toe running is better for you. Ignore all the rumours. Experts these days are all pretty much agreed that running in your own way is the healthiest thing you can do.
The way you naturally run is, for most people, absolutely perfect. Try to stay relaxed, and run at a pace that allows you to conduct a conversation with the person next to you. You aren’t out there to break world records (at least not at first) and staying comfortable will lower your chance of injuries.
Also, don’t forget to warm up. A solid five-minute dynamic stretch session will usually do the trick, make things easier for your muscles and lower your chances of winding up hurt.
Don’t be afraid to switch things up
If you want to improve quicker, then don’t stick to the same routes every day. It may be easier and let your brain switch off, but the lack of challenge means you will find you gain fewer benefits.
On one day take on more hills, on another maybe do a longer distance. These challenges will overload your body in different ways, and provide the stimulus for improvement. They will also keep your brain in the game. Most people who quit running soon after starting, blame the mental “boredom” of it, so lower that factor, and give yourself something different to look at.
Taking the opportunity to explore new parts of your suburb or nearby parks, can keep things interesting when otherwise you would spend the whole run dreaming of being anywhere but on your feet. If your upcoming race takes place exclusively on tarmac don’t think you need to do all your training there either, step off the road onto trail runs, or across rugby fields. Every little bit of change can challenge your body and mind and keep you heading out the door.
Start a training journal, download an app and choose your running songs
In the early days, your hardest challenge won’t be the running, it will be the motivation. We as humans aren’t great at noticing our successes, particularly when they come in tiny increments and can become discouraged easily as a result.
Start a journal and track your runs. Write down what you thought, where you are sore, what you struggled with, or even what happened out on the road. A month later when you read back you will be given plenty of motivation to see how far you have come.
Your phone can be a great companion on runs and can help give you the added boost you need to keep going. There are plenty of great apps that can help track your run and compare it with previous ones. Two extremely popular ones are Couch to 5k (c25k) or Endomondo.
Another thing that can help is simply having your favourite tunes downloaded onto your phone. Instead of having nothing in your head but your strongest wish to quit, you will now be kept company by your favourite tunes. Make a motivational playlist of songs that inspire you, or get you revved up, and take that with. They make you drive faster in the car, they will keep you going on the road.
In the end, it’s just about running. Keep going, get out there and don’t stop. Sure you may have bad runs, everyone does, you may even pick up slight niggly injuries, but don’t let that distract you. Stop running until you heal then get out there again. If you have a bad run, look for the silver lining; “well I nearly passed out after running 100 metres and my neighbour saw me red in the face, but at least I did my first 500 metres without stopping”.
It’s all about you out there, and on the day you cross the finish line at that first race you signed up for, you will realise that no one got you there but yourself, and that’s a great feeling.