Friday, 21 September 2012

How To: Run (without wishing for death)

I always wanted to be a runner, wanted to be one of the fit, healthy, strong women I saw jogging along the beach or triumphantly finishing the runs shown on TV.  Alas, my short little legs and dodgy knees never got me past the first 2 weeks of any official program.  For years I stopped and started, but never got to the point I could geniunely call myself a runner.

Until one day...

Now I run three to four times a week, even while travelling, have completed a couple of 5 and 10k's and am training for my first half marathon.  For the longest time I had no idea what I'd done differently, but the tips below are the result of some quality self-reflection.  Some are more, some less personal, all can be modified to apply to you.  I'm not special.  Anyone can do this, so go lace up your trainers!

Start small and slow, like really small and really slow.  My first three month's runs never went above 2 miles, a great many were even 2km and were completed at little above a walk.  PS. It's also ok to walk a bit when you need to.

The absolute biggest mistake everyone makes when they start is to bound out the door at a brisk pace and promptly die 100 metres down the road.  You want this to be a pleasant experience, not  utterly hateful, so push, but not to the brink of despair.  It takes practice to find your personal line and it changes for me day to day.  Just remember if you're slacking, the only person you're cheating is yourself.

Gradually up your distance by no more than 10% a week.  I just added another block to my loop whenever the previous one started feeling too easy, but google maps or mapmyrun are great for plotting routes.  It helps me judge my progress to stick at the same route for a little while.  It's tres motivating to realise the hill that killed you first time around is now barely a blip on your struggle radar.

When you do up your distance, drop your speed a little again.  This is especially important for distance work.  You can't expect to immediately run 6 miles at the same pace you were running 3.  The first time I ran 8 miles I did not take heed of this and ended up limping into a local pub and begging the barman to call my boyfriend to come get me!  A definite 'How Not To...'

Some people love the walk run programs around, the Couch To 5k is especially comprehensive, but I found checking my watch every minute stopped me from getting into the running zone.  Try them out, though, they might be perfect for you.

Breathe (or you'll die) as my Pilates teacher says.  This is the thing that took me the longest to get used to, because I hate feeling puffed out.  You should not be sucking air and trying not to throw up.  You're not on The Biggest Loser.  Until you're doing threshold runs (and really everyone hates those, I swear), you should be running at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation, albeit a slightly breathless one.

When I'm finding a run harder, or I can feel myself getting properly out of breath, I count my breaths in and out like you do in yoga.  Three paces in, three paces out and so on, until I feel back in control.

Also be aware that the first 10 minutes of any run tend to feel the worst.  Think of it as your body shifting up a gear.  I tell myself if I don't feel better in ten minutes I can walk for a bit and then tend to forget as I warm up...

Get professionally fitted for the right shoes.  Most good running shops offer this service.  And when you find them, keep buying them.  I will replace my Mizunos forever, because every other pair of trainers I've tried have left me limping (thanks dodgy knees).  Plus, now I know what I need, I can get great deals on past season colours on t'internet.

Buy a tracker of some description or download an app for your phone.  I've used the Nike+ Band for the last two years and just upgraded to the iPhone app.  You can go much more detailed and pricey, but I think it's technical enough for beginners, has a great community, online challenges and a cool interface.

Whatever you use, make sure you look back over the data from time to time.  It's so motivating to watch your distances climb and your pace fall.

Realise no one is looking at you unfavourably (or if they are, they're assholes and why would you listen to an asshole?)  When I first started I would never make eye contact with the super-fit runners I crossed paths with, because I was so embarrassed by my puce face and wibbly thighs. Last week I ran by another girl who was clearly just starting out.  I smiled at her, but she averted her eyes like I used to and I wanted to let her know I wasn't thinking, 'What a noob,' but 'Keep it up, girl!'  Everyone remembers how hard it was to start.  There's no need to feel self conscious.

Book a race, but make it a nice, friendly one.  Running Bug has details of all the UK  races and a wealth more info besides. There's nothing like getting a medal to feel like you're really a runner now and nothing like a race deadline to get you out the door when you don't feel like it, especially if there's sponsorship charity money hanging in the balance.

Listen to whatever keeps you going.  This might not always be the same thing.  For fast runs I need music with beats that help me keep my pace (180bpm is about a 7 minute mile).  There are lots of free podcasts at varying bpms you can download.  

However, on runs over 30 minutes I like podcasts or audiobooks.  For medium runs I love the Jillian Michaels Podcast - it's funny and she's inspiring, plus, at 45 minutes, an episode is a run.

Runs over that time need a story! Audible is great for high quality recordings of major titles.  Sometimes I get a little too into it.  'The Hunger Games ' definitely improved my pace fleeing from those trackerjackers!

Get the right kit.  Girlies a sports bra is an essential.  They are horribly expensive and need frequent replacement, but I picked up several Shock Absorbers on Ebay for less than a fiver just because they had a tiny bit of pigment damage.  They're under my vest and I'm sweating on them, so it's hardly a dealbreaker.

Look outside the obvious sports brands.  I HATE my Adidas leggings.  They're uncomfortable, lack stretch and fall down when I'm running.  You should find specialist running brands that really know what you need.  Granted this isn't such a problem when you're doing 15 minutes, but when you get to an hour and 15 (and you will if you want to) every seam on your cotton tee can feel like sandpaper.

For summer weight clothing I love Salomon's trail kit and the best winter gear I've gotten is by NewLine, a Norwegian company, only sold online by Runner's Retreat.  They're half the price of the big brands and twice as effective, I'm guessing because they have a lot more cold to deal with than we do!

If you stop, know that you can start again.  Life will get in your way sometimes, but if you've started once, you know you can do it again.  You may have to step it back down a few, or many, levels, but you can build it back up and a lot quicker than you did when you first began.  A tough week or a busy month is not reason enough to throw in the towel.  Just get back on the metaphorical horse as soon as you can.

What about all you other runners out there, any tips to share or techniques that work for you?

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