How To Start Running
I love running. I started in second year university (2005) when the accumulated pressure of Jared and both parents being runners finally built up enough to get me out for a spluttering fifteen minutes. Since then I’ve been through phases of running over 50km a week to hardly running at all, but I’ve managed to race three half marathons in that time. Running is my go to physical activity, and I definitely notice a marked difference in my mood and motivation when I haven’t been for a run recently.
I am a running generalist, not being particularly good at any aspect but loving the full spectrum of experiences it offers. I enjoy the physical and mental toughness needed to run fast, and I enjoy the time to think when running slow. I enjoy the solitude, and I enjoy a long yack with Jared running together. When I’m travelling it is a great way to discover a new city.
There is only one thing you need to know to start running: follow the c25k program to the letter. It didn’t exist when I started running but it is pretty much what I did, only better. The c25k program is excellent. Get your shoes on and just do exactly what it says. It isn’t hard, and it isn’t a large commitment.
The rest of this post is just protips.
Do heed the warning about pushing yourself too hard. No matter how keen you are, your body will need time to adapt. I made this mistake when I started cycling. Already having a hefty bit of aerobic fitness, I flogged myself every session. Climbing a hill one day, my knee gave out and I had to peddle home with one leg. It was a couple of months before I could run or ride again.
Go easy on your body, and take the rest days. One of our mates came to us for advice on sore legs and exhaustion after having just started running. On investigation we found he had run every day for ten days straight! Three days a week is plenty to begin with, giving you at least a day off in between each session.
When running slow, there is a tendency to move in a similar manner to how most people walk: striking the ground with your heel and rolling your foot through it. This is a really bad idea. Running places a lot more stress on your body than walking, and your heel is not made to absorb it. Try running even just a short distance barefoot to see what I mean. Shoes cannot provide enough support to negate that stress. A thin strip of rubber cannot absorb the entire might of your body weight thrown at it with bad technique.
Instead of landing with your heel, you should land towards the front of your foot. This allows the natural suspension of your foot, ankle, and leg to properly absorb and redirect the downward force of running. Modern shoes act as an impediment to this; excess padding retards the ability of your foot to feel the ground and do what it does best instinctively.
You will likely feel self-concious when you start running. Am I wearing the right shoes? Does this stride look ridiculous? Is my breathing too loud? This is normal, but you will eventually realise that nobody cares. Really, more so than in normal life. You can hear my tortured breathing a mile off. Just get out there and run.
Once you can run 5km without stopping and want to continue training you have a few options. There are plenty of programs on the internet to take you from 5km to 10km to 21km or to a full marathon. You’ll do alright by just picking one and sticking to it - they all follow the same pattern. Each week do at least three sessions:
A slow long run. This should be much slower than you would think; your heart rate and breathing should stay well down. The basic idea is to train your body to tap into its long term energy stores. You are going for distance, not speed.
A medium run where you push it a bit—a “tempo” run. The best description I have heard of this run is from a Runner’s World article: “You know you’re working, but you’re not racing. At the same time, you’d be happy if you could slow down.”
A short hard intervals session, such as 10×300m or 4×800m, with only a partial recovery between each. If you don’t feel like throwing up afterwards you are Doing It Wrong. This session probably isn’t necessary if you are just after endurance, but it’s pretty fun so totally throw one in. I don’t know how to make you believe that last sentence. Perhaps just start by putting bursts of speed into your normal runs.
Fill in any other days you wish to run with easy sessions, getting kilometres in the legs.
Once you get the basics in your legs, running is the most rewarding of exercises. You can do it anywhere, in any weather (monsoonal rain is heaps fun to run in), with only a pair of shoes.