Your first run
The advice below is based on an average human with no massive underlying health issues. If you feel this doesn’t apply then check with your doctor before starting training. Unlike many sports, running really can be for everyone but it’s worth checking for medical advice so you approach it sensibly and safely.
Some doctors may warn you running is bad for your knees. You know what else is bad for your health? Being so unfit you can’r run for the phone and can’t even see your knees without a mirror. There are runners on over 1000 marathons who haven’t yet managed to grind their knees to dust.
The beautiful part of running is the simplicity. Whilst there are countless magazines and shops trying to sell you products to do it better, easier or faster, the essence of running is you need very little. If you’re starting from zero like many of us then it’s likely you have suitable gear to hand for your level. If you’re a keen player at other sports then most of the kit can be substituted for what you have already (although if your sport is diving no one wants to see you running around the park in your Speedo).
Trainers – Once you progress and start to increase distance it’s definitely worth investing in some proper trainers, ideally with help from a running shop and gait analysis. Don’t let that put you off. For the first few runs where you’re likely be covering short distances relatively slow and with a lot of walking breaks you can get away with whatever trainers you have kicking around in the house. The more hardcore ‘natural’ runners will advise that trainers are the root of all ills and we should all be running barefoot or in offensive looking foot ‘gloves’ but they’re typically ignored….
Socks – Whilst specialist running socks are available, with twin skin (two layers to prevent blisters) and fancy fabrics, any socks will work to get you started.
Legs– Depending on weather any combination of shorts, yoga pants, sweat pants/jogging bottoms will do. It will take a few runs to get to know how much the heat or cold affects you so don’t rush out to buy technical running tights as you might well find them useless for all but the sub zero winter.
Bums – Underwear is a matter of choice. Some swimming shorts will have an inner mesh for the gents and be ideal for the first runs, and mirror what’s on offer in the proper running shorts. Some runners go commando, most don’t. Stick on your most comfy undies and you’re done. Unlike in the office no one is going to care if you have VPL. Specialist running pants can wait.
Top half – A lot of magazines will chastise runners for even considering running without a moisture wicking technical top. Whilst these man-made fabrics are great for drawing sweat away from the skin and marginally reducing rubbing and chaffing they’re also unnecessary for beginners. Stick on a cotton tee. It might show the sweat and prolonged use might lead to the odd bit of chaffing but you’re unlikely to find that an issue for a few runs yet. Again depending on weather you may need another layer – fleece or hoody. Stick on what makes you feel comfortable. You’ll generate more heat than you expect once you get going but for beginners, feeling a little too warm is far less off putting than freezing your arse off on a winters day.
For the ladies, you’ll need to consider sports bras. I’m told be the Wife these are hideously expensive and hideously awkward to put on. Some women have recommended doubling up on your normal bras as a stop gap if you’re not quite ready to brave the shops and commit your cash to a ungainly piece of underwear you’d rather never be seen in.
Timing – There is no need to fork out for an expensive GPS running watch initially. These are fancy devices that track distance and pace and can monitor heart rate and countless other data fields, allowing you to scrutinise your run in finite detail. Don’t let a lack of a watch stop you when either a free running app on your phone (if you feel safe enough to take your phone with you) or a normal watch will do to measure your time spent running.
The only other items you might need depending on weather and time of day is a head torch (can be purchased from most pound shops) and hat or gloves (these don’t need to be run specific). Assemble you gear from around the house, and go and run a bit. Don’t let the magazines and TV adverts full of ‘essential’ running apparatus put you off. If your ancestors could chase a gazelle in bare feet wearing a loin cloth you can manage to get to the end of the road in trainers and tracky bottoms.
Now you’re set to go running. A good starting point is either to run with a friend or a local beginners group (often free for the first few sessions). Check your local running clubs or local running shop as they normally offer courses. If like me you’re too embarrassed to be seen huffing and puffing in public and feel an embarrassment to your species this may be too much to consider but don’t be put off. These courses are put on by passionate runners specifically for people beginners. There is no chance you will be the biggest, slowest or sweatiest beginner they’ve ever coached however much you might think so.
If you still wish to hide from humanity then the Couch To 5k programme is a great beginners resource and available either as podcast to use on your phone or MP3 player or a simple list of runs to follow. It’s designed for the absolute beginner and is largely walking based to start with, allowing for short sections of running. These running sections increase over the week in a gradual and proven manner to minimise risk of injury. Finally you’ll finish the course running a full 5k. This sounds daunting at first to all new runners so don’t be put off. It will seem ludicrous to run a whole 5k when you can barely run for the bus but you need to trust the plan and progress will come. If any week seems too hard then repeat the previous week until comfortable and move up when ready.
Building up the distance
An often used figure is not to increase weekly mileage by more than 10% at a time. This is to avoid injuries from any sudden jump in distance. You might well be very fit from other sports so capable from a cardio capacity of running far in excess of what your legs and lower body are able to support. You may well hear tales of runners such as Rob Young or Steve Way who stumbled into running and were amazing from the start, covering marathon distances within weeks. These are the exception to the rule. If under the guidance of a coach or running club, or simply following the Couch to 5k you’ll be guided slowly through a natural progression.
In my own running I’ve slowly increased weekly mileage over the years and have been largely injury free. Some of this is luck, as on any run or even walking to work you could twist an ankle or pull something but overall I believe the slow increase has worked.
Ultimately the best way to improve as a runner (and to even get to the point you feel like you deserve the title of runner) is with consistent, uninterrupted quality training. Pushing through an injury will likely see it get worse, or incur other injuries as your body compensates for a stiff calf/dodgy ankle. Not only will this affect running but your proper life as you limp around work or attempt to herd feral children into their uniform before school.
Ramping up the distance too fast will also leave you too tired to perform. Your next run will be slow and awkward and you’ll feel like you’ve taken a massive step backwards and should never have started this whole stupid hobby. Don’t stress. Go home and rest and try again next session with fresh legs and a clear head. Running is meant to be fun.