With the sun finally making an appearance, new runners are beginning to take to the streets, fields and hills. I often find that people are nervous before they take up running, but there’s no need to be – running is an excellent way to improve your general fitness and also kick-start any weight loss you may be trying to achieve.
Here are a few of the most common worries I hear, and the reasons why they shouldn’t be anything to fear!
1. Will I cause damage to my joints (specifically knees) from excessive running?
There is no definitive answer to this as it depends on a number of factors such as age, fitness, strength and previous training history. The action of running should not cause damage to a healthy strong joint, especially if you are running correctly and factoring strength and mobility training into your routine. If you are particularly worried I would suggest getting a professional to run you through a movement screen to test whether the main muscles used for running (glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors and quads) are activating correctly and working together efficiently. If they are, then it is unlikely you will damage your joints.
2. What if I’m not the right build for running?
Women seem to struggle with this more than men. With differing body shapes and the constant image of the typical runner on billboards and in magazines this is a common worry. You may not be slight and light weight but that does not mean you cannot or should not run. The lighter you are the easier it may be to cover those long miles but the heavier you are the more power and strength you may have for the sprint finish and speed required while racing (if that added weight comes from muscle). It is no secret that the less body fat you have the easier you will find running but this shouldn't prevent you from getting started, after all, running could help you lose some of this stubborn body fat. Compression clothing and tight sports bras can help keep those jiggly bits under wraps while covering you up and allowing you to not feel weighed down. Everyone can run, and the more they do, the easier it will become.
3. Am I running far enough?
Most people running for fitness will assume the more miles they cover the better, but this is not always the case. If you are new to running start short. I usually suggest 3k-5k continuous running. If you are a complete newbie to exercise, pick a time and run for that amount of time, for example 10 minutes. Increase this by 2-5 minutes or 0.5-1k once you are stronger at that particular distance or time. There is little benefit in jumping straight into a long run of 8-15k before you are fit as the work effort will plummet. Starting at the longer distance is like trying to lift 100kg with no previous strength training...it ain’t gonna happen. If you can’t run 5k in 25 minutes you will never run 10k in 50 minutes. Work your way up and once you reach the longer distances you will be much faster and stronger than if you had started with them.
4. I don’t know when to increase my distances.
Whether you are running for fitness or running to train for a particular distance you should always vary the distance and route. The body adapts to a stimulus if completed regularly over a short period of time. Once you have run 5k of the same route 5-10 times the body becomes more efficient at that distance. When once you found it almost impossible to maintain 5 minutes per kilometre you now will find it relatively comfortable. To see progress, you must overload the body and change the stimulus regularly. I suggest changing the route every 4-6 weeks and incorporating runs of different distances/speeds every week. Ideally, aim for 2-3 runs a week at varying intensities: for example a 5k fast run, 10k moderate run and one interval/speed session.
5. Should I use a treadmill or run outside? What is the difference?
There is a huge difference between running on a treadmill and taking to the streets or fields. Anyone who uses treadmills and runs outside regularly will most likely agree that you can run for longer without tiring as quickly on a treadmill; this is due to the difference in terrain such as the lack of hills, grass and gravel. The foot strikes the ground at the same angle continuously on a treadmill which can cause injury of a long period of time. The feet and ankles are designed to stabilize when traveling on uneven surfaces. The constant impact at the same angel can upset the joints, tendons and muscles all over the body. There is nothing wrong with using a treadmill occasionally as it may allow you to reach more distance, but I would suggest mixing it up and only using the treadmill when necessary. After all, it’s so much more interesting to run outside! If you plan to complete a race outside my advice would definitely be to train outside, to allow the body time to adapt.
6. I feel exhausted after 60 seconds, I can’t carry on.
I hear this a lot! Running is a weight bearing exercise, meaning you are carrying all your weight continuously unlike activities such as cycling or using the cross trainer. Due to this, larger runners may find it harder, but anyone who is new to running will struggle more in the first 5 minutes than after the first 15 minutes. Your body need time to adapt and start circulating oxygen. Running in the morning or after long periods of sitting can also make you feel breathless as this can cause blood pooling when the valves of veins in your legs do not work effectively, thereby making it difficult for blood to return to the heart. I suggest a 5-minute jog/walk to get the blood circulating and raise the heart rate, along with a 5-minute dynamic mobility session before running.
7. Are all the fancy gadget and monitors necessary?
If you are new to running then I always say you need the bare minimum: a suitable pair of trainers and comfortable lightweight clothes. Many runners get bogged down in timing their runs with GPS watches and measuring their heart rate per kilometre. This can be very helpful if you are a regular runner training for a race or, completing runs requiring a specific pace such as tempo runs and fartlek runs (runs with varying pace). For the average recreational runner, I do not believe these gadgets to be necessary. Just get running, build the distance/time running and increase your fitness. The beauty of running is in its simplicity.