When I ask people to fill out a questionnaire at the start of my 4 week Kickstart, the most common approach to keeping active is strapping on a pair of trainers and hit the streets. But a lot of the time, people seem to do it half-heartedly, or don’t feel a lot of the benefits.
So, I asked my running mad pal, Angela, creator of I Run Success to give some hints and tips to help. And, if the London Marathon is inspiring you to jog on, then this could really help make sure that you set off in the right mindset, and do what you can to avoid running injuries!
In the first of two blogs, Angela will tell us why it’s okay to run at snail’s pace and share some important steps to help make sure that you don’t end up hurting yourself…
Over to Angela:
I wasn’t born running. Not many of us are, we have to learn to do it. And I’ve done just that. To date, I’ve run over 15 marathons including qualifying for and running the 2016 Boston Marathon.
For a lot of people who aren’t running yet, or who don’t do a lot of it, the gap between where they are right now, and someone like me can seem huge. But remember, it wasn’t that long ago that I was right where you are, having not run much before, and with less than fond memories of being dragged around muddy paths for ‘Cross Country’ in secondary school P.E. lessons.
So, what can you do if you’re just getting started? Maybe you have visions of being a runner but don’t know how to start. Or, you have tried before, but it always feels horrid. So what steps can you take to enjoy running more, stay safe with it, and avoid hurting yourself?
Take it slow – not every run is a race
Probably the most common mistake amongst new runners – and, to be honest, some of those that have been doing it a while – is to use every single run as a competition, trying to go faster than the last time.
First off, the logic is a bit iffy. Yes, you can get faster over a period of time, but running the same route and just hoping isn’t the way to go about it.
Here are some important reasons for taking it slow.
To build up your aerobic base – Cardiovascular exercise makes you sweat, causes you to breathe harder, and gets your heart beating faster than at rest. Building up your aerobic base means that instead of feeling out of puff just running 2 metres for the bus, you’re able to run around the block. The best way to start to improve this is through low intensity exercise. If you’re just starting out in running this probably means you will be building your aerobic base fitness in runs where you implement a run/ walk strategy.
To reduce impact injuries – Even if you are really accomplished at another sport and would consider yourself ‘fit’, running carries with it a unique risk of impact injuries. This means that your soft tissues around your joints – your ligaments and tendons – need to get fit for running too, and it happens gradually. If you run too often, or too fast when you’re just getting started, you may cause inflammation in these soft tissues that can take quite a long time to heal.
To manage muscle fatigue – Have you ever experienced DOMS? DOMS is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – it’s the painful stiffness that you experience as a result doing exercise that you’re not used to. So, for example for me, I don’t tend to get it from running anymore, but got it in my back and shoulders after a 3 hour windsurfing lesson, having never windsurfed before.
Mostly, there is nothing wrong with a bit of DOMS, it is a sign that you pushed your muscles beyond their comfort zone, which is not a bad thing on occasion. But, if it stops you from wanting to run again, then it is a bad thing. So it’s better to start off slow, lower the intensity and gradually build it, so your body can get accustomed to the new form of exercise.
4 steps to avoid injury when running
We can’t get away from the fact that running is a repetitive and impactful sport. Both of these things make injuries highly likely. The repetitive nature of running particularly, will highlight any weaknesses in your body, and over time could lead to overuse injuries. These steps will help make sure that you get the most out of your running:
- Warm up
Just like any other sport or an exercise class, there should ALWAYS be some form of warm up. But a lot of runners will miss this part out. In my experience, whilst the usual excuse is lack of time, I believe the real reason is lack of knowing exactly what to do. You can read more about how to do it right here – but basically, get your body ready for the exercise ahead so that you enjoy the exercise more and prevent injury.
- Cool Down
This is all about returning your body to its pre-exercise state; relaxing a bit from the exertion. Again, the temptation with runners is to sprint to the last bit of the run. If you do this and then pretty much sit down, you’re going to end up with very tight muscles afterwards, which could potentially pull on tendons and cause serious damage. By all means sprint to a certain point near the end of your run, if you must, though there’s little benefit to be gained from doing that. But after your sprint finish, start walking – a brisk walk for about 5 minutes, slowing down over the course of the 5 minutes. And then do some longer stretches to lengthen your muscles back to their original state.
- Consistency is key
This is probably the most important one, and applies to pretty much anything in life. If you want to become good at doing something, and to get the most enjoyment out of it, you need to do it consistently. In running, it’s about fitness. If you run consistently, say 3 times a week for 8 weeks, you will be significantly fitter than when you started. If you run 3 times in week 1 then you don’t run again until week 4, then you may as well consider week 4 as your week 1, as you probably will have lost any improvements in fitness you picked up from the first week.
- Support your running with something else
This is probably the most important. A great way to reduce the frequency of injury happening is to be strong. Be strong overall by using strength training to keep your body ready for running. It will also help you to tone up and generally be fitter for life.
- Warm up