Starting out – Some basic principles and a word of caution

Want to start running? Get to get the basic principles right, think of yourself as a motorcar.

I run with a group of novices, all of them stronger than me, all younger. Which one, I wonder will get injured first? It will be the one who fails to understand the law of the motorcar.

The runner’s body works just like a motorcar, made up of two parts that respond to training in completely different ways. The engine is the heart, lungs and muscles. The chassis the connective tissue, cartilage and bone structure. The two systems respond to training separately and in their own time.  

As you start to train, given three months of regular exercise, miraculous changes will occur. One day, almost out of the blue, you will have a fantastic run. All of a sudden it all clicks into place, and you start to feel great. Give or take a few weeks, it is at the three-month mark that all this starts to happen. This is the most dangerous period in your entire running career.

As predicted, your engine has strengthened, it has adapted. The heart, lungs and muscles have come along fine, and you are now a lot stronger than you were when you started out three months ago. The big problem is your chassis is nowhere near strong enough to support such a strong engine. Imagine a great big V-8 engine in a fragile chassis. Something is going to give, and it usually does. It usually happens around month three to six. That is when you can expect your first injury.

So what to do? How does one cope with this? The answer lies in understanding the next important step. Because the chassis takes about 18 months to two years to properly adapt, all of the training done in the early stages of your running career must understand this. Your initial training must be geared to strengthening the chassis, even at the expense of the engine. In practical terms it means a conservative approach, preferably on grass or a field.

There may well be howls of complaint coming from keen novices, but a conservative and gentle start now, pays handsome dividends later on. A month on grass, easy runs on the road after that, with rest days in-between will yield the right result in the long run. What is the formula then? Work to strengthen the connective tissue first, worry about the engine later. It will follow anyway.

A word from the wise on this comes from Plato – “the beginning is the most important part of the work…” Yours on the road……