Today marks three years since I began running. In that time I’ve gone from a wheezing 13 minute mile (and enough leg cramps to make me doubt ever walking again) to being able to run the Sutton Fun Run route (8.5 mi) in just over an hour (and getting my mile time down to 5:58 in the process). In that time I’ve learnt a few things, often the hard way, so here’s some tips on what’s worked for me for the 1,300 Km I’ve covered so far.

Mid-last year I had to take a four week break due to my knees becoming more and more painful. On a recommendation I visited the Up & Running store in Birmingham to have a proper gait analysis performed. You’re filmed running on a treadmill and your motion analysed. Apparently I “over supplanted” my feet, five minutes later I was walking out with a pair of shoes that have so far been miracle workers.

More than anything else, having the right shoes has improved how I run. If you ever begin to feel pains in your legs, stop running and get yourself down to a specialist running shop. The analysis is normally free, the shoes are *not* that much more expensive than typical trainers (mine were £60) and the potential damage you can cause otherwise is not something you want to experience. Another little tip for shoes: listen to them. If you’re feet are hitting the ground heavily you’re wasting energy and putting more force into your legs, try and be quieter for a much smoother pace.

Data Tracking
Definitely a geeky thing, but I’ve been tracking my runs since the very beginning. In all honesty, it’s what kept me going initially, being able to see how much I was improving (or not). A Nike+ served me well for a while, but it’s inaccuracy eventually led me to get a Garmin Forerunner 305 for my 21st Birthday. GPS tracking meant not only was it much more accurate, but it could also allow me to do some cool visualizations with the data.

With the growing trend of social sports websites as well, including Nike+ and Garmin Connect, it’s even easier to set-up office challenges and the like. Running with friends, whether online or onroad is a great buzz.

Like everyone I started with the standard cotton tees, but as soon as you start passing the 5K mark they become… less than comfortable. Sweaty, chafing, rubbing; not what you want to be wearing, especially in winter months. There’s a lot to be said for getting a proper running shirt and some lightweight shorts. Perhaps a bigger change though was moving to compression wear. After about the 13K marker my right thigh would always begin to cramp up, throw in some Under Armour shorts and I can keep on going. It’s also worth pointing out that unless you’re a professional athlete, these are definitely base layers so please don’t become one of “those” runners.

Cross Training
About a year after starting to run I decided to pick up swimming after a very long absence. I figured now my legs are improving, swimming should be easy right? No. Specialising too much in one sport is a *bad* thing, unless you only ever want to be able to do that sole sport. Cross training, exercising via multiple forms of sport, is a great way to improve your whole body. Swimming, and more recently cycling, have both had benefits on not just the individual performance but also across each other. And when you’re knees are aching after a particularly gruelling ride, it’s nice to be able to stretch out in the pool.

Intervals & Negative Splits
I’m including this point for when you’ve conquered those first few months of running and are looking to improve. These two techniques helped me take my mile pace from just under 10 minutes to 6 minutes in under three months. Intervals are exactly what they sound like: find a steep hill and sprint to the top, then gently jog down and repeat. It’s absolutely exhausting but do it a few times a week and you’ll soon find your average pace shooting up.

Negative splits are useful for the longer runs where you’re trying to improve your average pace. The meaning is simple: the second half (split) of your run should be faster than the first half. Starting off slower seems counter-productive, but it helps improve your breathing and gives you more energy for the home straights.

Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rule to running apart from… running. Make sure you enjoy it, don’t force your body into a set schedule as before you know it you’re legs will be falling off and you’ll forever associate it with pain. Don’t expect to lose much weight, I found any fat I lost was quickly replaced with muscle. Running with a buddy can be a great way to pass the time, but music can work just as well.

Three years ago I couldn’t run a mile. Since then I’ve clocked up 1,300Km. If I can do it, anyone can.

1 Response to Running

  1. Tim says:

    Analysis is definitely important, and it’s good to hear there is a shop that analyse your running technique rather than just try to sell you some running shoes that mask the problem. As daft as it sounds, a lot of people simply don’t run correctly (myself included until recently). Having someone assess your technique and make sure you’re running correctly is a must have.

    Would also put emphasis on doing a variety of exercise – even the professionals don’t do one thing all the time and for good reason.

    Have you tried tabata training? It’s very similar to interval training but with an emphasis on very short bursts of activity – 20 second intensive, 10 second rest for 8 times, followed by a 2 minute rest before repeating that set on 3 other different activities. It’s a really useful method for those starting out with exercise to very quickly achieve some good fitness, although there is some debate as to whether it works for everyone.

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