Now is as good a time as any to decide that you want to improve your health and get fit, and what better way than to start running? With running you don’t need to join a gym, you don’t have a monthly bill, you don’t need to dedicate a room in your house to create a stuffy home gym, and you don’t need endless bits of equipment. When you start running, the world is your gym, and the only equipment you need is a good pair of running trainers. In this article I’ll explain why running is great for everyone, how to get into running, and how to avoid injuries associated with running.
Why running is great for everyone
Running is great for you, regardless of who you are, and what your goals are:
Running for general health – Running is known to improve cardiovascular health, which will protect you against cardiovascular disease1. This alone makes running a great sport for most of the population to take up because cardiovascular disease is a rapidly growing problem globally, and is responsible for 30% of all global deaths. In fact, running and cardiovascular health are so closely related that a study in 2011 found that men in their 50’s who were able to run a mile in 8 minutes had only a 10% lifetime risk of heart disease2! Running also helps improve glucose tolerance and insulin resistance which can help protect against type 2 diabetes3, which again, is a rapidly growing ailment in the western world, and the WHO have predicted that by 2030 it will be the 7th largest cause for death globally4. Finally, running releases endorphines in your body, which make you feel happy, and improves mood5. The mood enhancing benefits of running are so significant that they can even improve the condition of people suffering from clinical depression (again, another major health problem which is growing rapidly worldwide). It’s not unreasonable to say that running can address many modern health issues.
Weight gain and growth – It’s a common belief that cardiovascular exercises and weight training do not mix well, but there is a place for running even if you are trying to gain some muscle mass. Long distances aren’t such a good idea because they burn too many calories to make meaningful progress, however, sprinting short distance will still give you the benefits of running without negatively impacting your training. In fact, doing explosive sprints has been shown to increase protein synthesis in the target muscles6, and so can even help with gaining muscle mass.
Weight loss and toning – Many people start running to try and lose weight, and as long as its is done properly, can be an effective weight loss tool, simply because it helps to burn off extra calories.
Regardless of age… – It’s commonly thought that sports like running put too much strain on joints for older folk, but this isn’t true. Although much more care is needed than for young people, old people are just as able to enjoy the benefits and partake in running, they just need to make sure they give themselves enough recovery time, and allow their body to adjust to the exercise if they are new to it. Even the NHS recommend that people over the age of 65 should try and do up to 75 mins of running a week, and they notoriously err on the side of caution.
Aside from the above benefits, running gives you an much needed reason to get outside, get some fresh air and a chance to connect with nature again.
How to Start Running
All the information below will be covered in greater detail in our YouTube mini-series called how to get into running, which you might want to refer to as it will have some useful visuals for stretches and foot fall, both of which are very important when you start running.
If you don’t have any proper running trainers then it’s OK to go for some very short runs in the park, but this isn’t going to do your feet/ legs any good, and if you are serious about getting into running, you will need to get a good pair of running trainers. Personally, I would recommend starting with a pair of transitional trainers such as the Nike Free’s (which I have used in the past) because they are comfy, offer your feet support but still allow flexibility. They are a great first trainer to get into running. However, if you are feeling a little more adventurous, then you could consider some bare-feet running trainers such as the Vibram 5-fingers (my current, and favourite running trainers). These take a bit more getting used to, and whilst the tendons/ muscles in your feet strengthen, your feet will feel sore (this is normal).
A good pair of running trainers are essential for anyone wanting to get into running, but once you start running regularly and covering greater distances, you will want some more kit for comforts sake, and I would recommend the following:
- Running shorts – Something light and breathable. I use the Nike 2-in-1 running shorts.
- Running top – Anything made of a combination of synthetic and natural fibres which will help wic the sweat off your body and keep you dry. I use UnderArmour tops, but all running tops serve the same purpose.
- Running socks – These aren’t needed if you are thinking of going for bare-feet trainers, but if you are going to wear transitional or conventional trainers I would recommend getting a good pair of running socks – your feet will not know comfort like it.
- Arm mount for phone – Most running kit doesn’t have pockets, and so a phone arm mount allows you to carry your phone with your runs, listen to music and track your runs with apps like Endomondo (free GPS tracking app). These arm mounts often come with a key slot so you can carry your door key, and sometimes a money slot too.
Once you have the kit, you are ready to run, but be careful, you don’t want to get injured!
Warm-ups/ cool downs to avoid running injuries
The key to avoiding injuries from running is to make sure you have the right trainers, you don’t do too much too soon, and you warm-up/ cool down correctly. It is the warm-up and cool down witch most people avoid, and it’s understandable, when you want to run, you don’t want to waste time stretching, and when you are done you just want to chill out. But trust me, they are important, and it was missing these exercises which contributed to my shin splints when I started, and they are not fun to have.
Warm-ups: A correct warm up will be made up of dynamic stretches (as opposed to static stretches, which as associated with increasing the risk of injury). Dynamic stretches simply mean any stretch which involves movement, and these are good because they get the heart pumping, blood flowing to the muscles and warm up the muscles without too much stress. Some of my favourite dynamic stretches for running are tip-toe stretches which involve going as high as you can on your tip-toes repeatedly, and heel flicks, which involves jogging on the spot and flicking your feet back behind your body.
Cool down: A correct cool down after running is a very slow jog/ walk after your run, followed by a couple of static stretches, which as the name suggests, are stretches where you hold a position. The best way to do this is try and end your run before you get home, and walk the rest of the distance. Once home, find a step or curb and stand on the edge. Then drop your heels down (almost like a reverse tip-toe stretch), to stretch your calves. Then once you get inside, stretch your glutes by having a well deserved lie down of the sofa/ bed/ floor, raise one leg up, grab the back of your leg, and pull it towards your body.
To begin with, all you want to do is find your ‘runners legs’. Go for some short runs (maybe a mile or so), find what pace suits you, and get used to the breathing etc. Once you are comfortable with running, you can start thinking about a training routine. A good routine to begin with (and one I still use) is the following.
3 runs a week (not on consecutive days) made up of:
- Fast run – A shortish run where you try and improve your time of the previous week. This should be a couple of miles, but only do what you are comfortable with to start.
- Interval runs – These consist of doing short sprints (100m) followed by slow jogs, which allow you to catch your breath. It’s important not to stop after the sprints, because this helps your muscles recover faster, and will help increase the pace you are most comfortable to run at. Try and do these for the same distance as your fast run day.
- Long run – Try and increase the distance you run from the previous week (up to a limit of course). This can be anywhere from 7- 13 miles depending on your goals and fitness, and there will be some people who do more! This is best done on a weekend so there is no rush. You can take this one easy – it’s about distance, not time.
And that’s all there is to it
I appreciate that it might look like a lot to begin with, but there really isn’t much to running. Get a pair of running trainers, and get out there! If you do have any more questions about how to get into running/ the kit etc please ask in the comments below and I’ll get back to you (or in the comments on the YouTube videos).
1. Eaton CB. (1992). Relation of physical activity and cardiovascular fitness to coronary heart disease, Part II: Cardiovascular fitness and the safety and efficacy of physical activity prescription. J Am Board Fam Pract. 5 (2), 157-65.
2. Jarett D. (2011). Lifetime Risks for Cardiovascular Disease Mortality by Cardiorespiratory Fitness Levels Measured at Ages 45, 55, and 65 Years in Men. Journal of the american collage of cardiology. 57 (15), 1604-1610.
3. Laurie J. Goodyear, PhD. (1998). EXERCISE, GLUCOSE TRANSPORT, AND INSULIN SENSITIVITY. Medicine. 49 (2), 235-261.
4. World Health Organisation. (2014). Diabetes. Available: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs312/en/. Last accessed 09/01/2015.
5. Rahkila P. (1988). Beta-endorphin and corticotropin release is dependent on a threshold intensity of running exercise in male endurance athletes. Life Sci. 43 (6), 551-8
6. Smith AA, Toone R, Peacock O, Drawer S, Stokes KA, Cook CJ. (2013). Dihydrotestosterone is elevated following sprint exercise in healthy young men. J Appl Physiol. 114 (10), 435-40.