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How To Start Running: The Absolute Beginner's Guide

If the only marathons you're interested in are Netflix ones, read this.

Running is the perfect workout for our times, getting you out of the house, supporting your mental health and increasing your fitness. But where do you start if you’re someone who gets puffed out just thinking about a 5k? 

When lockdown was first put into place several months ago, many of us discovered new hobbies. Whether it was learning how to bake sourdough bread, getting lost in a good book or cutting our own hair - quarantine brought out sides of us that we never knew we had. But there was one activity in particular that gained a following: running. 

Before this year, the very idea of heading outside and pounding the streets, or circling laps of the local park, wasn’t one that seemed enjoyable. Then the pandemic hit and suddenly going out for a run was seen as a luxury. Perhaps it was down to the fact that it was the only chance we had to leave our homes that day or maybe it was because it was the best way to clear our heads from what could only be described as a stressful time. Whatever the reason, running became somewhat of a saviour for our wellbeing in these unprecedented times. 

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While the world has returned to some sort of normal and our banana bread loaf tins have returned to the back of the cupboard, running has thankfully proven to be the one lockdown trend that is here to stay. 

If you were one of the few who ignored their 5K running challenge or swapped their running shoes for Netflix marathons, it might mean the time has come to give in to the run. We know, it's hard. But it truly is the perfect way to get out of your current workout rut. 

Once you’ve got the hang of the tough mix of pacing yourself, breathing right and dodging others on the pavement, you might even learn to love it. To help you get there, we quizzed personal trainer and owner of Anywhere Fitness, Ben Walker on how to start running (and not hate it). 

preparation is key 

Just like you have to shave, exfoliate and moisturise your skin before laying on a fresh layer of tan, it's vital that you prepare for your first run. "The first thing you need to do is invest in a good pair of running shoes," advises Walker. "Proper running shoes provide arch support and protect the midsole of your foot which avoids a lot of common running injuries from occurring. They also tend to provide a lot more spring and suspension which particularly helps beginners to run longer without stopping." But the preparation doesn't stop there. "It's also a good idea to invest in a few decent pairs of running socks," says Walker. "These socks are extra thin and fit snugly around each foot. Their elasticity adds compression against the skin which allows your feet to breathe during activity and ensure your feet don't become overheated and susceptible to blisters."

map your route

Don't just 'wing' your running route; be familiar with where you're going to go before you head out. "Pick a route with wide-open space and good views on the way," suggests Walker. "Mapping your run should be an easy thought process and simple to record your results. Don't feel overwhelmed about getting super techy. Try using a free app like MapMyRun from Under Armour, it uses GPS to track your route, records the time it takes you to complete it and will connect you to the running community for future running tips and trends."

set yourself a goal

If you want to stay committed, then you need something to work for. Your goal may just be to complete 5k without stopping, or to do it in under half an hour – it doesn't matter, as long as you work towards that goal. "To accomplish your goal, I would start with a 4-week training plan," advises Walker. "In the first week, walk the 5km circuit at moderate to high intensity on four different days. Make sure to time yourself and record your results each time. Complete each session at a better time to increase speed, improve fitness, and adapt your lower body to more physical activity. In the second week, pick it up a notch. Start each workout by walking at the same intensity from the last outing. To ease into the jogging phase, walk for half the circuit before starting to jog at a very light speed for the rest of your session. Once again completing four of these sessions within the week and raising the intensity in which you jog each time."

keep going

Once you've started to jog at a light pace, it can be all too easy to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself with a night on the couch. While rest days are important, they shouldn't turn into rest weeks. "In the third week, say goodbye to walking as we begin each session with a light jog," says Walker. "By keeping good running posture and jogging at a light pace for the first couple of kilometres, start to lengthen your stride and your hand movements and run at a manageable speed. For each of your four sessions this week, cut back on the length of the circuit in which you jog and start to run more of the distance." Then it's time for the real challenge: the full 5k at pace. "In the fourth week, you are ready to run the full 5k from start to finish! Complete the circuit at a comfortable running pace and look to beat your personal best (PB) each time," explains Walker. 

mix it up

You've just ran 5k and you're feeling pretty good about yourself. While you could stop there, you shouldn't. "Keep motivated and learn more by joining fitness communities to get involved in challenges such as 5-10km races and keep setting yourself new goals," says Walker. "Design new 5km routes that are more elevated with short hills and slopes to take your fitness to the next level."

listen to your body

Listen and learn the difference between an ache – perhaps just muscles getting used to all this new work they are doing – and a pain. But don't despair if you get the latter: check your shoes are right (see above) and that you haven't upped your distance too drastically – increase by increments. "Remember to always keep up with good runners' practices," advises Walker. "Stay hydrated before and after activity, eat plenty of nutritious food including protein to recover, and always remember to stretch after every workout. It's also essential to incorporate strength exercises into your program for your hips and legs to enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury."

Main image by Maayan Nemanov 

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