With grateful thanks to Ray Bienedell of Run/Walk for Life
Every year, the morning of June 17 sees hundreds of unfit folk lacing up their dusty old running shoes and taking to the streets. Why? They all watched the Comrades Marathon the previous day and made a resolution: next year I’m going to give it a go. Come on, admit it! You’ve done the same! Perhaps you’ve actually run the marathon, or maybe you’ve never quite managed to progress beyond that first inspired week before slowly losing motivation … until the next Comrades, that is.
Running really is the sport of the masses – all you need is a pair of reasonable shoes, fairly good health, and you can hit the road. But, like any activity, the sport is far more enjoyable if you do things the right way from the start. The experts at Run/Walk for Life share some of their secrets with us:
What makes running so special?
Forget about the Comrades for a moment, and let’s look at why on earth anyone should want to run. According to the American Council of Sports Medicine, the advantages of running just three times a week, for up to 40 minutes, include:
* Weight loss
* Lowered risk of coronary heart disease
* Lowered blood pressure
* Lowered cholesterol levels
* Improved muscle tone
* Reduced dependency on medication for conditions such as asthma and diabetes
But you shouldn’t just run just because it’s good for you. It’s exhilarating and liberating too! Stick with it for a while and you too will succumb to its attractions! But beware, like all new runners you will be faced with a bewildering array of advice, whether from books or the media, or a well-meaning know- it-all friend who once ran a 5 km fun run in a previous century. Don’t despair! The following tips for beginners will transform you from a couch potato into an athlete lining up at the start of a 5 km road race in 8 short weeks.
Taking that first step to lining up on the Comrades start line
1. Be Committed
It probably took you a few years to pile on the extra kilos and lose your fitness, so be realistic and don’t expect to achieve all that you’ve set your mind to in a few days. Completing an 8- week programme is the ideal first goal. If you should skip a day, be kind to yourself and get right with the programme the following day. Often, the most difficult aspect of running is getting those shoes laced up. Be prepared to struggle a bit in the beginning, but rest assured that the more you do it, the easier it will become.
2. Join a running programme.
Making a lifestyle change can be a daunting task. The most common training error is to fall prey to that most peculiar of exercisers’ afflictions: “Terribly-keen-iris”. Novice runners usually exercise too vigorously because they are uncertain about what intensity of exercise is required to produce a benefit. Consequently they suffer severe physical discomfort, thinking that “no pain equals no gain”. The problem with this approach is that, as they become fitter, they have to endure ever-increasing levels of discomfort and also are exposed to an increasing risk of running injuries.
Don’t rush headlong into a poorly devised exercise regime; rather join a running programme like Run/Walk for Life where you can turn your average jog into a great aerobic workout, and receive excellent advice and motivation while training, in safety, with like-minded people. All you need to do is put aside an hour a day, three times a week. Not too difficult is it? Many novices experience boredom when running. At nursery school we are taught to play in groups; at primary and high school we are taught to play in teams.
As adults, much of our social recreation is also carried out in groups. It is not surprising, then, that people become bored while exercising alone. The programme recognises this frailty by organising its activities in groups comprising people with similar levels of fitness. But should you be forced to miss a session, remember that running can be done in virtually any weather and in any place. Running doesn’t require any special skills, expensive apparatus, a gymnasium, music, or even a partner. A programme like Run/Walk for Life acts as a support system to get you started on the path to improved fitness and, eventually, that first Comrades medal.
3. Set Goals
Set yourself goals that are:
Set a time period that is short enough to motivate you but long enough to allow results. Here are some examples of achievable goals:
* To be able to run non-stop for 10 minutes within 3 weeks
* To be able to run non-stop for 30 minutes within 7 weeks
* To enter my first 5 km fun run in 8 weeks
* To enter a 10 km road race in 16 weeks
4. Choose the right equipment
For a novice, entering a running store can be like stepping into a strange new world. A bewildering array of different brands, shoe types, clothing and other hi-tech goodies like heart-rate monitors confronts and confuses you. So let’s cut through all the advertising jargon and give you the info you need. The most important equipment you’ll need is undoubtedly a pair of running shoes. These should provide flexibility, cushioning, durability and motion control according to your own biomechanical make-up. When choosing a good shoe, consider the following factors:
* your weight
* foot type (such as pronator or supinator)
* running surface
* previous injury history
* weekly mileage
* how often you run
* whether you wear orthotics (a custom-made in-sole in your shoes)
We advise that you seek professional help from a reputable specialist running store. Chain stores may save you a few Rand on price, but sound advice from an expert will enhance your running experience and prevent future costly medical bills! Finding the best pair of shoes for your feet and sizing them properly are the specialist stores’ areas of expertise. Unlike the chain stores, most specialist stores have a returns policy in the event of your shoes not living up to expectations.
Breaking-in modern running shoes is quite simple:
* Walk around in the shoes for a few hours and pay attention to any manufacturing defects such as lumps, loose stitching, rubbing.
* Next, go for a short run. If all is still well and the shoes feel comfortable then you are good to go. You may choose to alternate your old and new shoes for a few days to make the transition phase more gradual.
The days of running in your old army issue T-shirt and takkies are long gone. Modern apparel now includes moisture-management fabrics, breathable water-proofs and caps, socks made for either the left or right foot, reflective gear, energy belts, and a host of sport-specific accoutrements. Go and check them out.
5. Train Safely
Make sure that you are reasonably healthy when you start your training programme. If you have been inactive for a while, and you’ve been hitting the beer-and-burger trail, we suggest a visit to your GP for a quick check up. While you’re there, set your mind at ease and have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. Also discuss any other problems like pains in the chest, shortness of breath, dizziness and joint pains. Run/Walk for Life screens all new members for the risk of coronary heart disease and will refer you for the relevant medical tests if required.
On the subject of safety:
* always run on well-lit roads
* always face oncoming traffic
* always wear bright reflective gear in the dark
* always avoid deserted stretches of road
* always tell someone what route you’re taking, and when to expect you back
6. Loosen up
Those muscles haven’t worked for a while, so be gentle with them. Start with a gentle stretching session before every run. Ten minutes’ worth of stretching will prepare your body for what’s to follow. We strongly recommend that you start each exercise session with flexibility exercises such as stretching. Not only will these stretching exercises improve your range of motion and help you cope better with daily tasks, they will also help prevent running-related injuries.
Ideally, you should stretch all the major muscle groups associated with running, such as the hamstrings, calves, quadriceps and the upper body. Each stretch should be held for 20 to 30 seconds, without any bouncing or jerking, and only to the point of mild discomfort. If you have a temperamental back avoid any twisting or bending movements. It is also advisable to cool down with some gentle stretching exercises after your exercise session.
7. How much do I start with?
This is the most frequently asked question by all novice runners! A good programme will start you off with walking, just to ease those sleeping muscles back to reality, and then slowly start introducing running into your training plan. In the beginning, the time spent on your feet is more important than the distance you walk or run, but your training programme will guide you on this. Rest days are important. Treat yourself, go to a movie, and impress your friends by telling them that you are on a rest day in your running programme.
8. How fast should I run?
The secret to how fast you should run is in your breathing. Always run while maintaining a negative talk test; that is, make sure you can talk comfortably and you do not have any long spaces between your words when talking on your run. Think of word spacing as orange on a traffic light. If you don’t slow down, the next stage will be a red light and a complete stop! Once you have laid a solid foundation of regular running you can start toying with pulse ranges, but for now, stick to the talk test.
9. What about after my run?
Prevent dizziness or feelings of faintness by walking around briskly for about; minutes and allowing your muscles the luxury of a gentle cool-down. Enjoy the feeling of post-exercise euphoria! Finish the session off with an easy stretching session and take a long hot shower, you’ve earned it! You are now a runner.
10. What if I experience muscle pain after running?
Some discomfort or pain after exercise is unavoidable. Fortunately there are tried and trusted methods to diminish the pain. Most novices go through an “adaptive” phase. In this phase most runners commonly experience discomfort as muscles and connective tissue adapt to regular exercise. But don’t despair, help is at hand. The following are the most common methods used to treat muscle pain:
A commercial ice pack or frozen vegetables wrapped in a damp cloth and applied to the site of pain for 10 minutes will help stop pain and reduce any swelling.
* Moist heat:
This can take the form of a hot bath, a shower, hot packs or warm towels. Used for 10 minutes these will also help alleviate the symptoms. Your physiotherapist may also use ultrasound in certain cases to deliver deep heat.
* Relaxation therapies:
Physiotherapists can instruct you on relaxation techniques that will help you to release muscle tension.
* Other pain-relief methods include hydrotherapy (exercising in water reduces the impact on certain joints) and mobilisation therapies (such as traction and massaging).
11. How to maintain running motivation
Running is such a simple sport, you’d think that just about anyone can do it. But that’s not quite true. Research has shown that 50% of adults who start a running programme quit within a few weeks. The key to staying on track is staying motivated. We all go through phases where our motivational levels are low. Staying in bed on a chilly winter’s morning, or settling in front of the TV sometimes seems a better idea than lacing up those running shoes. But here are some fool proof ideas that will really help you stick to your programme:
* Keep your logbook detailed and up-to-date. This provides invaluable training data, tracks your progress and serves as a great source of inspiration.
* Make running fun. Don’t let running become another stress in your life. Rather, let it be a de-stressor by allowing you to tune out and get in touch with your inner self and nature.
* Add variety. Change your routes regularly. Include some cross country or trail running routes in your weekly runs, and cross-train by cycling or swimming or doing another activity that takes your fancy.
* Find new challenges. Enter a local road race, or enter an out-of-town race and make a family weekend of it. Set new goals for personal-best times; or offer your services as a helper or marshal at a local race and see how it gets the competitive juices flowing. Run with a heart rate monitor, and you’ll be amazed at how this silent partner can inspire you.
* Feel good about yourself. Positively reinforce the triumphs you have experienced, like the weight you have lost; the smaller clothes size you are wearing; the new sleeker you; the health benefits like lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels; your road race triumphs; and your increased self-esteem! You’ll be amazed at the many positive changes that running will bring to your life.
* Read more. Nothing is as motivating as reading running articles about new running innovations, running shoes or road races; sharing in the countdown to major events such as Comrades; reading how the champions prepare for Comrades; and devouring a host of other related information.
* Make a new running friend. If it’s one of the opposite sex even better! Make a definite arrangement to meet your new friend and, knowing that you have a commitment to meet someone, you will be less likely to find an excuse for not going on that run. Group sessions provide the ideal environment for not only formalising training days and times, but also for making new, like-minded friends.
Dr. Jacques Rossouw, specialist running consultant with Run/Walk for Life’s 16-week 10 kilometre programme for novice runners –