With approximately half of the nation starting to take up running and several queries from friends about how to start, here’s a little summary of my top tips for running newbies.
1. START! Super simple, obvious, but yes. Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can, all that jazz. All you need to run is the motivation to do so. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what you wear- to some extent - as long as you’re comfortable (more on that next) or how far or fast you go, the point is to begin.
I remember when I first started running in my late teens I was so self conscious that I would go running at the crack of dawn lest anyone see me...it took me months before I was confident enough to run at a more normal time. Which is bananas, now I think about it.
2. TRAINERS - Decent trainers are important, and more to the point trainers that fit correctly. While digging out that ancient pair of Reeboks from the back of the wardrobe may be ok as an interim measure, get yourself a comfortable pair of trainers with sturdy bottoms (i.e. not those foamy ones that are super comfy you wear on a regs) that you can use just for running. You don’t have to spend a fortune, stores like Decathlon do decent trainers for short distances that are about £30. I would go with a trusted sports brand though, and not Primark etc.
Get your feet measured if you can and get a pair that actually fit you - I discovered recently that for YEARS now I’ve been wearing trainers about half a size too small - and have lost many toenails as a result (this is pretty common, btw, don’t get too attached).
When it comes to running long distances (ie over 10k in a session) it’s a different story and you want to look at investing in a ‘serious’ pair of running trainers, and it can all get very involved and turn into a Goldilocks/Cinderella kinda situ as you hunt for the perfect fit, but you’ll get there. If you’re at this point you’ll probs also want to get a gait analysis to notice all those weird things you do when you run with your feet - it’s amazing how much there can be - and to use this to inform you as to which trainers to get for optimum support. My fave brands are classic ASICS and more recently Kiwi brand HOKA. You want to replace your trainers every 300 miles or so - sounds a lot but this adds up fast!
3. OUTFIT - after trainers the second most important part of your outfit are your socks, imho. Those thin cotton liner ankle socks we all have drawers full of? Nope, not gonna cut it my friend, unless you’re into blisters and extra smelly feet. Invest in thicker sports socks - here I would even recommend Primark’s own, if you’re on a budget (and don’t care about shopping ethically but that’s a whole other can of worms) - just saying, doesn’t have to be so pricey.
After this I would say that a sports bra is the most essential, for ladies. Get one which actually supports you and is comfortable - this can vary again if you’re distance running however, but for shorter distances, chafing isn’t as much of an issue.
When it comes to t-shirts you can get all sorts of special running shirts and vests etc. For the longest time I just wore oversized cotton band t shirts and vests, kinda stingy but also adamant I didn’t need special running gear, especially not in neon (so punk)...but now in my later years appreciate breathable moisture wicking fabric which is easy on the skin and cooler for those long sweaty summer sessions. I’ve also come to embrace even wearing neon, because visibility is important while running in the dark, I’m not keen on getting run over.
When it comes to leggings I personally much prefer ¾ length because I don’t have the sensation that the waistband is being pulled down towards my ankles ike I do with full or ⅞ length...this is with most pairs of full length leggings I own, of all different fits, brands, sizes. I have learned the hard way that my fave yoga wear does not necessarily translate to good running wear. Again there’s a whole load of places to get running clothes, my fave capri leggings are an ancient pair from Nike, and my fave shorts (God help you, get a long enough pair) are from Decathlon.
4. WHERE - if, like me you are somewhat navigationally challenged, the thought of running may fill you with dread for fear of getting lost. And then having to run a long way back. Whilst a valid point, you could always just run to a certain point and then turn around, and run back, if you’re not familiar with your local surroundings and not so adventurous. If you want to take your phone and use google maps, obvs do that. I prefer to leave mine at home because a) it’s too clunky and big and b) I don’t want to be distracted. In time you’ll get to know the local area and build up little loops and a variety of runs. Or you could be really basic and stick to your two or three little runs and rely on your running partner to devise new and exotic routes in other neighbourhoods (thank you, Charly). Or use an app like Map My Run to do it for you.
5. HOW - well, you put one foot in front of the other...I jest. We all know how to run, even if we do resemble Phoebe from Friends to begin with. Try running as far as you can without stopping, and then take a little walking break. Repeat. This is called interval training. You can set little goals for yourself as you progress, trying to increase the distance without stopping or running segments faster. Which leads me onto…
6. APPS - you can use to help, as without bragging on social media, did it even happen?! No but really, a useful and free app for tracking your running is Strava. This way you can map your routes, see your pace and share your progress with fellow running geeks, as well as monitor/track other activities (like cycling, and then your friends can laugh at how slow you are and point out that you actually run faster - again, thank you Charly). You can link Strava to a running watch if you have one and I think your fitbit too.
7. FOOD & DRINK - you definitely don’t need to worry about taking snacks with you (eg gels, apricots, nuts) unless you’re distance running. As for water I'd give it a miss but make sure you're hydrated enough BEFORE you start, ie don't just neck a pint ten mins before. Whether you run fasted or a few hours after eating is up to you, but you don’t need to massively carb load specially (again unless you are long distance running). My secret running tip is coffee - I’m very sensitive to it and having one in the morning before a race gives me superpowers. It can be nice to have one to perk you up before your run, but obviously everyone is different and this could work out not in your favour if it makes you need to do a Paula Radcliffe.
8. WHEN - think carefully about when you’re going to run. Obviously it needs to fit in with your schedule (although at the moment, let’s be honest, what schedule) but think about your energy levels. It can feel great to run first thing but do you want to run fasted? Personally I like to eat a couple of hours or more after eating, knowing there is fuel in my tank and feeling adequately rested. If it’s the height of summer though, do you really want to run in the middle of the day or early afternoon, and equally in winter is braving the cold, wet dark night realistic when you’ve just come home from work at last and you’re warm and dry?
9. FIND RUNNING FRIENDS - while running solo is amazing because it gives you all the time to clear your head and just enter a really meditative state, running with friends is also wonderful, especially in harder times like if you’re just starting out or training longer distances. If you don’t have any friends willing to run with you try joining an initiative like Park Run (when we’re not amidst a worldwide pandemic) - they organise a 5k run every Saturday morning (usually around 9am) at parks across the UK and worldwide for free. If you’re super keen maybe join an official running club or a local ‘unofficial’ running club - my fave are the Codsall RIOT (running is our therapy) squad who meet in Wolves at Codsall Leisure Centre every Weds at 7pm and do a 5 or 10k option (again when we’re not in the grip of COVID).
10. PERSIST! - even though it’s tough at first, you’ll easily get better with practice and maybe even see pretty quick changes in your physique, too. While some amount of discipline is necessary (as with everything in life) if you’re not finding any joy in it then don’t do it (again, re: everything in life). Power walk or roller blade or disco dance or cycle/ do whatever brings you joy instead. But if some part of you enjoys it then carry on. Don’t give up at the first hurdle, when you’re pasty and feel like throwing up cos you pushed yourself too hard that last mile or started off too fast and had to drag yourself the rest of the way. See if you can give it a fair trial and go with it for a month and see if you notice the benefits. And if not...well, there’s always yoga.