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How to start running – from someone who hated running!

Not that long ago, I wasn’t a runner.  Yes, I’d done my enforced cross country at school and wasn’t a bad 100m sprinter in my day, but I always hated it and, for the next 12 years that’s how it stayed.  I looked at runners and wondered what on earth possessed them.

That’s not to say I didn’t see the good in running – I absolutely understood all the benefits running can bring to your physical and mental health, but I just didn’t fancy it.  Then, in 2016, my Personal Trainer asked if I’d like to do a Tough Mudder with her and a few of her other clients.  I was feeling adventurous so agreed…and I’m so glad I did…I absolutely loved it!  There actually wasn’t that much running on the day, with all the obstacles, but what it did do was push me outside my comfort zone and the euphoria when I finished was like nothing I’d felt before.  

Having dipped my toe in, I wondered what I could do that would really challenge me.  Really push me.  Get me so far out of that comfort zone I would be a changed person (ok, maybe slightly melodramatic but still…).  I looked back to those days of hating running and knew that running would challenge me both mentally and physically.  

So, never being one to do things by halves, I signed up to a 69-mile ultramarathon.  I would like to say at this point, I would usually not recommend going from zero to hero on anything physical but hey, I was feeling brave.

With 8 months to train, I had to start somewhere.  And that somewhere for me was utilising one of the fantastic apps that help you start running.  There are loads available, one of the most famous being the Couch to 5k app/programme, but I used the Running for Weight Loss app.  The premise is the same for most of these apps in that you start with run/walk intervals and, gradually over time, you increase the running interval and decrease the walking interval until you are running consistently for 30 mins or more.  This should get you to roughly 5k.  

I would highly recommend this approach as a starting point.  Not only does it keep your training structured, giving you set workouts, it only requires you to run for 30 minutes, three days a week (which I would hope is achievable for most of us).  The app also reduces the risk of injury by gradually increasing your mileage or time each week.  It’s easy to pick up injuries if you go too far, too soon, too fast so having a lovely person in an app telling you what to do and when, really helped me rein in my over-enthusiasm.  It also meant I gradually built my running fitness – I was what I would call ‘gym fit’ to start, as I trained with my PT 3 times a week, but I found running fitness was very different.  Even on my first runs, I found myself tomato-faced and sweaty within minutes.  Honestly, even now I am amazed by people who make running look easy!

As I gradually built my running fitness, so my confidence and, dare I say it, enjoyment levels grew.  It was really tough in the beginning – every run felt hard and I would count down the seconds until I could reach my next walk break.  But I persevered and soon was able to run for 30 – 40 minutes and cover 3 – 4 miles.  

So, what are my top tips for beginners.  Even if, like me, you hate running you can learn to enjoy it and reap the rewards running brings.

  • Utilise an app such as Couch to 5k or Running for Weight Loss – they will give you a structured running programme and keep you motivated before and during your run.  Remember to set your notifications on so that the app reminds you when your next workout is due.
  • Remember your why – why do you want to run?  This is a really important one, as this is what is going to get you up and off the sofa to go out when it’s wet and cold outside, or you would rather go to the pub instead.  For me, it was knowing those 69 miles were going to be really unpleasant if I didn’t prepare myself physically.  But it might be that you want to lose weight so you can run around after the kids in the park.  Or you may want to relieve anxiety or mental health issues by running.  Whatever it is, pop it on a post-it note and stick it to your fridge or bathroom mirror or anywhere you look regularly, to remind you of your why.
  • Set yourself goals – and not just any goals, but SMART goals.  Setting goals is crucial as it gives you something to aim for, increases motivation, improves focus, makes you accountable and so much more.  Suffice to say, goals are great!  A SMART goal is one that is:
    • Specific – not broad and vague like ‘I want to run’ but specific like ‘I will run a 5k ParkRun in St Albans on 1st February
    • Measurable – enabling you to measure your progress along the way – here’s where your app will come in useful as it tracks workouts and your progress towards your end goal of 5k.
    • Achievable – your goal must be something you can realistically achieve with the right application and training.  It’s no use setting yourself a goal of running 5k in 20 minutes if you haven’t exercised in 20 years.  But completing a 5k could be achievable if you train consistently.
    • Relevant – your goal must be relevant to you and something that you want to achieve.  So don’t compare yourself against others or set a goal simply because you see others doing something.
    • Time-bound – this means your goal must have a deadline i.e. a time or date where you will have achieved your goal.  Here is where entering an event or ParkRun or similar can be useful as you know the date that you will be participating and it gives you a deadline by which you must achieve your goal.
  • Give yourself rewards – imagine your goal is to run a 5k ParkRun in 8 weeks’ time.  Of course, you will want to reward yourself when you achieve your goal – that reward is another thing to keep you motivated with your training.  Rewards could be treating yourself to a new bit of running kit; a nice meal out; a pint….anything that will keep you motivated.  I must confess, when I first started running and completed my first few half marathons, I used to reward myself with a large pizza from a well-known pizza retailer.  I’m not kidding you, I’d talk about that pizza from about mile 6 onwards during the event and it sure kept me going to the finish line.  Admittedly, not particularly healthy and I wouldn’t dream of doing that now, but still….
  • Get yourself the right kit….but don’t spend a fortune – running is one of those sports you can take up for next to nothing.  The only thing you really need to start is a decent pair of well-fitting running shoes.  But I would urge you not to head out to your nearest running store and spend £100s.  Shop around – look at sites like rerunclothing.org for pre-loved running kit that helps reduce the waste our community produces.  Or eBay is another great place to buy running shoes that don’t cost the earth.  Find shoes that are comfortable, fit well and doesn’t give you blisters – along with a basic shorts/leggings and t-shirt/vest combo.  Again, ReRun Clothing or even stores like Primark do some great, low-priced fitness gear.  That’s enough – for now.  Until you come to love running as much as I do, then you can devote a whole wardrobe to your running kit 😊
  • Fake it till you make it – I apply this in life generally, as I think most of us are too scared to step outside our comfort zone and do something different.  As soon as you step outside for your first run, you’re a runner!  Regardless of whether you’re running 8-minute miles or plodding through 15 minute miles at barely a jog, you’re a runner.  Remember that, and smile!  There have been countless studies showing that smiling really does make exercise easier and, if you keep smiling, you can’t help but start to enjoy yourself eventually.  
  • Get inspired – this is something I still do today to inspire my running and adventures.  Read blogs, listen to podcasts, talk to other runners, follow runners on social media.  There are thousands of people out there just like you, who all started somewhere.  Use them to be inspired, then get out there and run! 
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