[Ad / gifted] One of the positives I’ve gained during lockdown is rediscovering exercise. Pre children, I was in the gym five times a week. Running was my thing, until an injury put paid to it. Eight years on and a tentative attempt proved my ankle sufficiently healed for me to resume my hobby. Today I’m sharing my guide on how to start running again, or for the first time if you’re completely new to this.
I’ve also included my favourite running products, some of which have been gifted, and affiliate links to products I love.
How to Get Better at Running When You Can’t Run
When I very first joined a gym years ago, I got a free PT session as part of the deal. I told the guy I’ll do anything, but please don’t make me run – I can’t run. Of course, he made me run.
Thus began my first lesson in fitness: your achilles heel is the area you most need to train.
I quickly learned that ‘I can’t run’ meant ‘I can’t run yet, because I’ve not developed the required fitness level, because I’ve not trained, because I’ve had no desire to.’
Essentially, this new mindset meant that I could change, whenever I wanted to. I just had to adopt a better attitude and put in the effort. Turns out I’m extremely determined – I quickly improved, and I ran regularly right up until over-training compromised my ankle for the next few years.
I was training for a half marathon at the time and had to pull out as I literally couldn’t walk for several days. I was devastated but got into spinning instead which I also loved!
I continued spinning until a few months into my first pregnancy when I felt faint one session and decided to be sensible this time. However I continued swimming and resistance training right up until I gave birth.
At which point my exercise regime kind of fell off a cliff. For, hmmm… It’s been nearly six years! Apart from the occasional swim when I’ve been able to manage it around the girls, some light jogging during my second pregnancy, and flirting with a yoga class for a couple of months, I’ve really been terrible.
Although I was, until recently, marching to school and back twice a day, pushing two children. Which is possibly the reason that when I suddenly had the opportunity to get back into running, I surprised myself with my stamina.
Here’s my advice for getting started, or getting back into running:
How to Start Running Again – for Beginners, or Returners
Firstly, that determination I mentioned earlier is crucial to your success, or otherwise. You need to have a drive that fuels you when your body is screaming at you to give up – because it’s true what they say:
So much of running takes place in your head. I won’t pretend it’s easy, but I will promise it’s worth it.
So, before you get started, think about your goals. Why do you want to run? How much do you want it? What’s it worth to you?
If you’re looking for a quick fix to get skinny, running might not be good you. But if you’re hoping to look and feel healthier? You won’t regret it. To clarify – running can absolutely result in weight loss, but only as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Another even greater reason to run, in my opinion, is for the benefit to your mental and emotional wellbeing. Feeling stressed? Run. Feeling anxious? Run. Feeling depressed? Run.
The endorphins released during intense exercise can completely turn your mood around, to such an extent that there’s a name for it: runner’s high. I’ve experienced it; it’s real.
There’s no law against running when you’re happy either.
You don’t need much to run, but some products will make your runs easier/more comfortable/more enjoyable. Most importantly, I recommend investing in good quality socks, trainers, and sports bras; that said, they don’t have to be the most expensive equipment – these are what I’m currently wearing:
Kitting yourself out in comfortable, technical fabrics is next on the agenda. These were recently gifted to me and I love them:
Running Leggings, by Love Leggings
These running leggings are fantastic: they’re a snug fit – but comfortable, offering support rather than feeling tight. But my favourite thing about them is the pockets. No zips, yet cleverly designed to be secure enough to hold your valuables.
Long-Sleeved Running Top, by Sundried
I love this, it’s a really flattering and cosy fit, and it has thumbholes! The colour is beautiful too, and just so happens to go perfectly with my running shoes.
The rest is less important, though beneficial as you become more serious about your hobby.
Personally, I also consider a gadget to facilitate listening to music and tracking my process essential, but not everybody would agree. I know some people love listening to podcasts and some who run just for fun. Me? A fast dance track I love can be enough to get me over that metaphorical wall, and I like nothing better than smashing a personal best.
I’m using these earbuds and simply connect to my phone to use Amazon:
There are many schedules available online. Since I’m not qualified, I’m not going to get into those here. But what I will say is do your research and be aware of a few basics:
1. Start with interval training
When you’ve never run before, you cannot expect to tie your laces and go and run (or even slowly jog) for 20 minutes. It won’t happen. And this is where many people fail – by having an unrealistic expectation. It’s why I used to think I couldn’t run.
Instead, plan to run – walk – run. You can use street lights as markers or time yourself for a set number of seconds – but don’t expect to be able to long blocks of running with zero training. You have to build up to it – this is where we all start.
2. Build strength with resistance training
Strengthening the muscles you’ll rely on for running, will help you to run faster and avoid injury.
Overuse of weak muscles will inevitably lead to pulling or even tearing things you do not want to pull or tear; things which once pulled or torn can prevent weightbearing – aka walking – and end your running career before it starts.
Not to mention it bloody hurts. And may result is surgery in some cases.
3. Include hill training
Practically every runner I’ve ever spoken to hates running uphill. It’s hard. It hurts. No thanks. (By the way, if you mostly run inside on a treadmill, be prepared for an outdoor run to be much tougher. You have to factor in temperature, wind speed, terrain, and incline – all of which can have a massive impact!)
I used to do some pretty epic hill training (something like this), because I knew that while it was a killer, if I could do that then my general running would feel so much easier.
It worked – it unquestionably helped me improve.
Incidentally, I once read an excellent tip about how to approach running uphill:
Don’t attempt to cover the same distance, at the same pace, as if there were no incline. Instead, keep your strides, arm movements, and pace consistent which, as the incline increases, will equate to a shorter distance covered at your regular pace.
This technique will help you to conserve energy as you tackle the hill, so you don’t burnout before you reach the apex.
4. More interval training
So you can run for two or three miles without stopping now; that’s great and something to celebrate! But if you want to pick up your pace, distance running is not going to help you.
In the beginning, interval training is perfect for increasing stamina; as you progress it’s still important – this time for improving pace.
Now, instead of the run – walk – run pattern you did previously, now try run – sprint – run, or walk – sprint – walk if you prefer. So long as you include sprints, you’re good.
5. Include rest days
This is crucial to your success. Same principle as weak muscles – insufficient recovery time also inevitably leads to injury.
Say it with me: Don’t. Over. Train.
Really listen to your body – don’t be lazy, but rest when needed. If you’re like me, ie. all or nothing, having a schedule can help so you’re not tempted to fit in extra training when you’re due a rest day
Incidentally, you can simply switch it up and use your rest day to have a swim instead, or do some yoga. Anything that gives your knees a break is fine.
Top Tips for Beginner Runners
During my time running I’ve picked up some tips, mostly from making mistakes and learning the hard way! Here are my top tips for running.
• Fuel / refuel adequately.
How seriously you take your new hobby and how strict you choose to be, determines how rigidly you stick to a specific diet to aid your runs. You may like to look into macros, and replenishing glycogen levels to prepare for your next workout. But that’s probably not strictly necessary.
Just be sure to properly hydrate before and after a long run, eat well most of the time, don’t run on a full stomach, and eat something healthy soon after a run.
• Experiment with times of day.
It’s amazing the difference working out at a different time of day can make! If you always work out at the same time of day, consider switching things up.
Turns out I’m a morning person – who knew?! I like to get out done and out of the way before I start my day so I can forget about it. It sets me up for the day too – all those endorphins definitely help to put me in a good mood.
• Coat friction areas.
For men, this will be the nipples. For me, it’s the arch of my feet since I once ran through blisters till they were a bloody mess, and kept on going. It’s fair to say I’m not just determined; I’m stubborn as a mule – and my arches are now prone to blister if I’m not exceptionally careful.
You can use an anti-blister stick like the one below, or Vaseline works fine if you already have it in the cupboard.
• Break in new running shoes before attempting a long run.
See above point about blisters…
• Make sure you’re comfortable.
Speaking of which, it may sound obvious, but be comfortable before you set out.
What starts as a minor irritation, a couple of miles in will become a source of great discomfort or may even lead to injury.
• Check the weather.
Getting drenched is not especially fun – although a light shower is actually exhilarating if it happens while you’re already out! I wouldn’t choose to leave the house in rain though.
And running in the heat is soooo much harder! In the height of summer I do not enjoy outdoor running, and if I’m going to do it, I’ll go first thing in the morning.
• Start with too few clothes.
While we’re on the subject of temperature, always dress as though it were several degrees warmer!
Once you get going you’ll quickly warm up, and there’s nothing worse than having to lug around clothing you don’t want to be wearing.
• Be consistent.
As with all exercise, running is definitely a case of use it or lose it.
• Don’t over train.
Did I mention you shouldn’t over train?
• Increase distance by max 10% per week.
I’m not going to say it again, but see above.
• Track progress.
Not essential, but really useful to see how far you’ve come and to enable you to set goals.
• Check posture.
It’s natural that as you run your shoulders will creep up around your ears. Check in every few minutes: unclench your fists, roll your shoulders and straighten up your posture. Your traps will thank you for it later.
Also note how your arms swing, and try to avoid twisting your torso, which wastes energy.
When Not to Run:
• Do not ignore joint or ligament pain.
I did this with my ankle and regretted it.
More recently I had to stop running when my knees became painful. I rested, then did some resistance training to strengthen and stabilise my knees – and I’ve not looked back.
About a week after my injury appeared, I attempted another run. This time I’d learned my lesson (from my ankle injury), and turned back home almost immediately.
Returning to exercise before an injury has recovered its a false economy of time!
• Shin splints
Some people seem to be susceptible. You can try better shoes or running on softer terrain once healed, but do not continue to run with shin splints.
Compeed is excellent for unbroken blisters. (Do not use on broken blisters, which is how I stupidly caused the weakness in my arches!)
• Chest cold
You can run with a head cold if you feel up to it, but be very cautious if it goes to your chest. You’re far better off taking a break to give your body time to fight off the illness.
• Run through a stitch if you can.
Unless it’s persistent for more than a few minutes, you can try to ignore this. Try pushing at the point of pain to alleviate discomfort.
The bottom line is that anybody can run. If you want to compete, that’s cool; if you want to run just for fun, also cool. The ultimate goal should be to enjoy it, so that you stick with it. Otherwise what’s the point? And on that note, I have one last tip for you:
If you’re struggling to find motivation, before you quit, take a run early in the morning before it gets busy, somewhere green.
There’s an ethereal, almost magical quality about the light. Photographers call it the golden hour, and the way the sun streaks through the trees, it truly is like spun gold. If this doesn’t convince you to persevere, then nothing will.
There you have it, my beginner tips for running! Will you give it a try?