5 Things I wish I knew before I started running
This is a very quick read, running is different for everyone I would love to hear your thoughts?
Running is a great leveler. If you are able bodied, for very little cost you can get out and run. You don't need any fancy technology, or latest gadget, you technically don't even need shoes, ok barefoot is a bit hardcore but technically correct (and may even make your running form more efficient).
Here is a short list of things I wish could tell my younger self when I was in the early stages of becoming a runner perhaps even the first couple of years of running. I'm sure these may seem obvious, but I hope at least one of them can be useful for anyone wherever they are on their own journey.
1. Slow down
It may sound really simple, but improving as a runner doesn't always mean improving speed. One of the main benefits of running slower is that you can actually enjoy it.
Why get yourself really out of breath, flustered and red faced just for an extra 15-30 seconds per mile off your times. Instead, focus on good form, look up, smile and enjoy your surroundings. After all, running is supposed to be fun!
2. Join a run club
- It's a really great way to meet people and their dogs! Honestly worth it just for the dog hugs.
- It's the best way to explore your local area, the club will likely know really good routes that might actually be quieter than you expect.
- It's not as hard as you think, there are many different groups ranging from run/walk to casual 10kms and then your usual 10 min mile 9 min mile 8 min mile groups all the way down to the intense time trial sessions and Fartlek.
- Having people around you will push you and make you a better runner overall, and besides exercising and being sociable is good for your mental health!
Ok there may be nuances here, based on where you live, and of course COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works but even during lockdown many run clubs around the country have been connecting people virtually embarking on fun photo challenges.
It is now permitted by Government and England Athletics guidelines to go for a run in a group of no more than 6, providing 1) it takes place entirely in open areas, 2) all runners remain 2m apart at all times, 3) everyone follows normal Government hygiene guidelines on handwashing etc.
Joining a run club is a great way to get socialising and meeting new life long friends, the best part is you can talk about running for hours! Have I told you I'm a runner?
3. Heart Rate Training Zones (Focus on Zone 2 Training)
One excellent part of running frequently is the benefits it has on your overall cardiovascular health and fitness.
As wearable fitness tracking devices have become the norm, tracking heart rate zones is becoming easier than ever. Using a heart rate monitor, either a strap around your chest or on your wrist as part of your smart watch. Using data to guide your training plan is a great way to improve your fitness and will improve your running in general as it will focus less on your speed or times and more about how much effort your are exerting. How much "load" your body is pushing itself through is important to monitor, increasing too much load too early on will likely leave you in pain or injured or worse.
Reviewing your heart rate zones will give you the best idea of how hard you are pushing yourself, and will be the best way to compare improvements in your health.
Having some workout sessions focused on different heartrate zone might be a better way to plan different runs each week.
You can monitor subtle but useful improvements to your health.
It will stop you focusing on how fast you are going but more on your effort level, and bring awareness to your overall form and health.
4. Do more Yoga (+ stretch more in general)
I think the jury is out on stretching (its good for you), yoga is more mindful stretching and I am ashamed to say I had avoided yoga until the age of 30.
There are plenty of ways to get free yoga tips, I would strongly recommend Yoga With Adriene and her free videos on youtube and her own website.
5. Strength and conditioning - with a physio to prevent and recover from injuries
You might be like me, either ignoring injuries all together (listen to you body!) or just avoiding going to the gym, I find just going for a run is just easier. But oddly doing other non-running related exercises will actually improve your running. Adding strength and conditioning and core training exercises to your week will make you a better runner.
Swimming is usually the go to tip here, and to be fair it may count as a good strength and conditioning exercise.
Like with any specific niche, there are experts and professionals who are worth paying for. Paying for physiotherapy needs to be one of those that are promoted more. I cannot stress enough how much a good physio will help your injury prevention and recovery.
Science confirms that core training improves running form. Core training is thought to be one of the essential focus area for runners because while running you actually use more muscles than you think.
There are also lots of scholarly articles and light reading confirming that core strength training improves running form below:
APA Sato, Kimitake; Mokha, Monique Does Core Strength Training Influence Running Kinetics, Lower-Extremity Stability, and 5000-m Performance in Runners?, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2009 - Volume 23 - Issue 1 - p 133-140