With the recent closure of gyms and our once-daily outdoor exercise allowance due to the coronavirus, lots of people I know have recently taken up running to help keep themselves fit over the coming months. I’m no expert, but I do have about 15 years of running training under my belt, and I’ve taken part in several half marathons, 10km and 5km races in that time. I’ve never been the fastest runner, but running has almost always been a part of my weekly exercise regime since I started it as a teenager, so naturally I’ve discovered some tips along the way that have helped make running a little bit easier and more enjoyable for me. I hope they help you too!
One of the amazing things about running is that you don’t need much gear. The most important piece of kit is your trainers. You don’t need to spend a fortune on running trainers, nor do you need to buy the most fashionable ones (in fact, that is probably a terrible idea – most ‘fashion’ trainers are generally not built for running any significant distance in). In pre-corona times I would have recommended going to a specialist running shoe shop to have somebody look at your gait and trying out some different styles before buying, but that’s obviously not an option right now. However, the Asics website does have a ‘Shoe Finder’ feature to find styles that might work for you. I absolutely love running in my Asics GT-2000’s, because they are well-cushioned and support my over-pronating feet. Alternatively, if you know what brand you’re after, the SportShoes.com website often has good discounts on most popular brands.
2) Plan your audio
I’m a massive fan of podcasts, and I often save my favourites for my runs each week, to help me look forward to heading out onto the trails. A few of my favourites are ‘How to Fail with Elizabeth Day’, ‘Happier with Gretchen Rubin’ and ‘Off Menu with Ed Gamble and James Acaster’. I also love Spotify playlists – yesterday I listened to ‘Motivation Monday’ (who cares that it was actually Friday), and that was awesome. There were so many crackers I had forgotten about which I used to listen to when I was at school. Obviously you can also curate your own running playlists too, full of the songs that get you wanting to move. On the topic of audio, if you’re after a new pair of headphones for your running I can highly recommend the Melomania 1’s by Cambridge Audio. I bought these back in January and they have transformed my workouts. I wear them for all kinds of exercise – walking, running, weight lifting – and they stay perfectly in place. The best thing about them, aside from being wireless, is that you can adjust the volume and skip tracks by simply tapping them, which saves you from getting your phone out and faffing around with sweaty hands when you’re running!
3) Conversation is king
Too often people set out for a run and go way too fast, so they get out of breath and tired after just a few minutes. This is not a good idea. Try to maintain a pace that you could hold a conversation at (about a 6/10 effort level) for the majority of your runs. You want to be able to maintain that pace for at least 30 minutes, not just three minutes. One great way to do this is to go running with a mate (in these corona times, obviously that is limited to a housemate). You can then have a nice chat as you go, and if you can’t speak, it’s a sign that you’re running too fast. If you’re running alone, just check in regularly with yourself that you could hold a conversation at your pace, or maybe even (as I have done a couple of times) chat on the phone with a friend!
4) Switch it up
I am as guilty as anyone for plodding along the same 5km route on my local bridleway most times I go running, simply because it requires minimal thinking and effort. However, changing up your route can be really refreshing! Try turning left instead of right outside your front door, doing your circuit in reverse or exploring a different neighbourhood. Whenever I do this, I always ask myself why I don’t explore different routes more often, because it makes running a lot more interesting! Another thing you should try to vary is your distance. Add an extra kilometre to your run, so you do 6km instead of 5km, or maybe challenge yourself to a 10km one day. Your body adapts very quickly, so if you only ever run 5km you will only ever get good at running 5km. But if you challenge yourself to run different distances, you will get better at running a variety of distances, which ultimately will lead to greater all-round fitness.
5) Don’t always track it!
Strava and other similar apps or GPS watches are amazing for giving you data about your run and helping you to track your progress, but you shouldn’t always rely on the numbers. Sometimes it’s better for our mental health to just run based on how we feel. If you’re doing a route that you run regularly I’m sure you know the distance, so just run it without tracking your speed and aim for that comfortable conversational pace. Focus on enjoying moving your body and appreciating your surroundings, rather than obsessing over the data. I love doing this at least once a week – it gives me so much headspace and zero pressure to hit a certain pace.
6) Flip it
Several years ago I bought something that changed my running forever. The item was a ‘FlipBelt’, an excellent contraption that can store your phone, keys and a debit card all snugly around your waist whilst you run, with no jangling around. You can even put it in the wash with all your running gear so it stays clean. I also use mine for walks and bike rides. I wear a size S and am a UK size 10. It was some of the best 28 pounds I ever spent!
7) Speed it up sometimes
Although I said that the majority of your runs should be at a conversational pace, it’s a good idea to occasionally do some speed work (once a week is plenty). This involves upping your pace for short periods, before resting and then going hard again. Speed work will help your body get used to running faster, which will help to increase your overall pace. After warming up, try running one minute fast (9/10 effort level), then walking for one minute, and repeat this for 20 minutes. Or you could run 1km fast (8/10 effort level), then rest for two minutes, and repeat this five times.
8) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Physical performance is negatively affected when you are just 2% dehydrated, which is really not a lot. It’s therefore important to make sure that you have consumed a decent amount of water before you set out for a run, and that you rehydrate as soon as you’re done. If you are running for more than about an hour it would also be a good idea to carry a bottle/ camelback with you, or stop to drink at a water fountain. As well as impairing your speed, dehydration can also cause headaches, muscle cramps and confusion, none of which are fun when you’re running, so it’s crucial to do all you can to avoid it.
9) Fuel up
Some people like to run first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, whereas others prefer to get a meal or two in before they hit the road or trails. People often ask me which is better, and the truth is there’s no right or wrong – you should do what suits you. Personally I am the latter – I tend to run late-morning and I like to have a bowl of porridge with fruit and peanut butter, plus a cup of coffee, at least an hour or so before I run, because it makes me feel more energised. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and have enough energy during your run, so you probably don’t want to be too full but also not too hungry! It’s equally important to consider your post-run nutrition - try to eat a meal that contains a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat, such as scrambled eggs on toast or a jacket potato with beans, within a couple of hours of finishing to help replenish your muscle cells so that you can run well again next time.
10) Don’t just run!
One of the biggest oversights of so many runners I see is that all they do is run. To get better at running you just have to run, right? Wrong, you need to strength train too. Running requires you to have strong legs, particularly your posterior chain (i.e. the muscles on the back of your body, including your glutes, hamstrings and calves), and a strong core, but runners often neglect to train these areas. Exercises such as Romanian deadlifts for your posterior chain and side planks for your core are brilliant for runners. Single leg exercises are also very important, because when you run you are standing on one leg at a time, so you need to have adequate strength in each individual leg – it’s no good if one leg is much weaker than the other because it can lead to tightness and possible injuries. Exercises such as lunges and step ups are great for building single leg strength.