If you have just the slightest curiosity about running, I’d like to extend a most gentle invitation.
The trick to running is that there’s no trick. Jog a really short distance – even if it’s 50 meters, so long as it doesn’t scare you, nice and slow, have a day off, go slightly further and repeat.
When you see runners especially on cold wet days, it’s easy to think they are either mad, obsessed or wired differently. They are not.
I treat runners and I run. I see everyone from starting the NHS Couch-to-5k, up to 52-in-52 (that’s 52 marathons in a year currently being done by Chris Patterson, because he thought of it). But I have only been running for a year, I had to overcome a fear I wasn’t aware of.
Fear and loathing in school
I loathed running at school. Dread preceded the cold, miserable Thursday morning games lessons. Mostly rugby and football with some cross-country and track in the summer, I left school hating it all, started smoking and not moving much. To me, being really out of breath took me straight back to the misery of cross-country runs. I think I was scared of it. Being out of breath is scary. But this was associated with a miserable experience, and associations can change. I think a lot us avoid activities we’d really enjoy and keep us healthy because of our experiences at school. Years later, I enjoy lifting weights and hill walking, just nothing that gets me too out of breath.
Overcoming the fear
In March 2017, my mate Rich and I summited mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest at 19,341ft. We struggled with exhaustion, dodgy food, cold nights, poor sleep, sore bodies, nasty toilets, but hardest of all the altitude. When there’s less oxygen, you get out of breath very quickly, and then you have to stay calm – which is hard. I was out of breath for a week. Many times, I looked at Rich sensing the struggle, he’d look at me and say with natural conviction, “We’re ok.” And we were.
On the last day, with only a few miles left of hard, rocky descending whilst dreaming about the hotel showers, it popped in my head: ‘I’m going to take up running’. Perhaps I needed to be out of breath for a week, and not die or collapse to realise “we’re ok”.
About 6 weeks later I paced awkwardly around the house with shorts, shirt and trainers on. ‘This is it, I’m gonna do it, gonna run man’. There’s a gate half a mile out the village, just want to jog to it and back without walking or stopping.
I did it. Did it again. Went a bit further. My mate P-Dog joined me. By November, P-dog and I were running 3 times a week, long, medium and short runs. Then one Sunday we did 11.5 miles. I have still not stopped or walked on a run. We continue to run and may well do a half marathon later this year. It doesn’t matter - goals don’t mean anything to me I like good sustainable habits.
12 very simple helpful things:
#1 Don’t buy the magic shoes.
They will not make you run more or better. Put on any crap pair of trainers you have so long as they’re comfortable. Pull them tight-ish to minimise rubbing and blisters. Numb feet, ease off a bit. I’ve used the same crap pair for a year.
#2 Build gradually.
This is most important of all. Your brilliant body will adapt to this new demand, it just takes time. Impatience will lead to injury so be kind to your body, and patient. Yes, we were born with the ability to run, but if you’ve not run since you were 15, you’re going to be in for a shock. If you are heavy, this adds to the demand on the body, so again, patience.
#3 Have at least 1 rest day between runs
You can do other exercises, just not running.
#4 Mind your aches
You will experience the odd ache and soreness. This is ok. If these persist when you are about to do you next run (48 hours later), take another day off. Do not run through pain. Your body wants to recover, let it.
#5 Don’t eat more food
The calories used for runs are fewer than you’d think. Have a full English fry up if you want, just know that your 30min run won’t offset it.
#6 Alone, a mate, or running club?
Doesn’t matter. Some like solo, I prefer to run with P-dog. I know great clubs nearby which really helps people stay motivated and lots of people are into Parkrun. They are friendlier than you think. Do whichever you enjoy the most.
Three times a week is great and plenty, do what you can but stick to it. If you have a break, lower your distances and ease back in.
#8 Treadmill, Road, Track running?
Doesn’t matter. All are demanding in slightly different ways. 5 miles of one will feel different to the other two. See what you like. I hate treadmills, love roads, I am thinking about track running...
#9 Don’t go faster
Improving speed is hard and one for later. Just gradually increase your distance, speed will come.
#10 Stretching? Foam rolling?
If you like it, go ahead, but it’s not necessary. I never do either. Consistency and recovery are way more important, so get this right.
#11 Running Apps
Again, it you like. But not necessary at all. I don’t use any I just plan a route and run it - and I don't need to tell anyone I did it. Simple.
#12 Hold it lightly
Be curious, be gentle with yourself and enjoy the process. Don’t grip this tightly, it is not a mission, it is a journey. Some days will be harder, maybe you had a bad night’s sleep, maybe you’re stressed, ease off, take another day if you need it, or do a shorter run. Developing a good sense of you body will serve you well.
More than fitness
This is not about motivation, it’s discipline.
This is not about goals, it’s a habit.
This is more than fitness, it’s being outside in all weathers and being content, relaxed and more than ok.
I don’t aim for events, but you may wish to. The shear joy of being able to run further, faster and recover quickly keeps me interested. I chat to P-Dog, look at the views, think about stuff, enjoy the quiet and feel good for the day. We sometimes repeat Rich’s wise words on a hard run, “we’re ok”. It means we understand it’s hard, but we’re not scared.
We can look at specific training patterns, diet, event preparation, specific trainer options and strength training another time. But for now, keep it simple.
My gentle invitation to you…
Find a gate and a crap pair of trainers and plop on out.
Thanks for reading.