The early part of the year is dominated by some high profile running events, kicking off in January with the Bupa Edinburgh 10K. Combine this with our New Year’s resolutions and sales of trainers must spike with people hitting the running track or the road for the first time in a bid to get active, keep fit and get some fresh air.
We are also fast approaching one of the biggest events of the running calendar in that of the London Marathon, an event where many of the diligent participants will be well into their training schedule. I say diligent as there are always a few who might not understand the magnitude of the 26.2 mile course and think a few training sessions will do the job. Obviously there will be some fortunate people who will make it through but the odds of failing to finish and even incurring an injury are pretty high for those not investing time into training.
In this article we will take you through some of the key things a new runner should look for before taking to the road, not just to avoid injury but to make the experience more enjoyable and more manageable.
The right clothing
It doesn’t matter which sport you choose, the clothing you wear is extremely important. It is also important to wear something which is appropriate for the duration of your run. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you should wear a big coat as after 5 minutes you’ll be regretting it.
The main rule with running gear is to stay away from cotton as this is not ideal when you start to sweat, with your clothes sticking to you. There has been a rise in popularity with base layers from companies like Under Armour which work to keep you cool and keep the sweat away from your skin. This type of material also means that even when its cold outside a long sleeve base layer is sometimes all you will need to keep warm.
In the middle of winter or on cold spring mornings a long sleeve base layer and appropriate jogging pants might be all you need to keep warm when on the move, but don’t forget your hands or your head as these are the two places you’ll tend to feel it most. Get yourself some gloves and a hat to stave off the cold.
In the summer you can obviously rethink the clothing situation, perhaps a short sleeve base layer and even shorts, again staying away from cotton since you’ll sweat even more in the sunshine.
The right shoes
It may sound trivial but the shoes you wear are very important. It’s also not just about fashion but about practicality as your running technique can dictate the type of shoes you require and even whether there is a need for insoles to help minimise the risk of injuries.
This article offers a great guide to buying the right shoes but you should look very carefully at the type of shoe you want to buy before starting to look at the aesthetics. Such is the importance of selecting the right shoe that many sports stores now have a treadmill for you to use in the trainer section. This offers two purposes in allowing you to test the trainers out but also for the staff to assess how you run.
Before you leave the store you need to be sure that you have the right trainers for the next 100+ miles otherwise you could encounter all sorts of problems from pain and blisters to encouraging sprains through a failure to support the joint.
How you run can determine the types of trainers you may need. We all run differently and if you’ve tried to control your technique in the mirror whilst on a treadmill in the gym it is not easy, so let someone else analyse it. Obviously there is a professional technique but not all of us take it that seriously and just do it for fun and have never had any formal training. Your technique overall can impact massively on your performance and help to avoid injuries i.e. a heavy foot can place more pressure on the knee joints and at the same time if your feet point inwards when running then there is an increased risk of you spraining your ligaments.
Tracking your progress on your phone
If you’re going out running then it’s only natural that you want to track your progress and even share it with friends. There are a host of IOS apps (other phones are available) in the market and this article suggests the 10 best available.
They all do pretty much the same job in tracking your running so you know your distance, speed and even the route you’ve run. This allows you to keep a log of your performance and if you’re training for a specific event you can see how you’ve progressed and how fast you’re getting. The map will also typically show you where you’re running at your fastest and where your weak points on the course were.
In some apps such as Strava you can even challenge people to specific routes so you can gauge where you rank amongst those locally to you. Nike Running has something similar where you can invite your friends to a race based on the combined total of miles. Another great way of pushing you to hit the road as everyone wants the bragging rights.
The right music
If you’re outside exercising then it is important to be aware of your surroundings to remain safe i.e. cars, cyclists, other pedestrians and runners etc so having your music turned up to the maximum is not recommended.
Having said that music is a great motivator so it’s finding that balance with safety. Getting together a good playlist can keep you going when you’re running on empty, with apps such as Nike Running even offering a power song feature which you can hit for a welcome boost when you’re feeling low.
If you’re registered on Amazon Prime then there are a host of pre-made playlists just for running, offering a mixture of high tempo tracks to keep you going throughout, as no one listens to Coldplay when they’re looking for an adrenaline boost.
A clear goal and associated training programme
What are you trying to achieve with your running? Are you doing it for fun? Are you looking to take part in an event? Or are you just looking to keep fit and see how far you can push it?
The goal you choose will dictate the training programme you adopt. If you are undertaking a marathon then you need to work on your stamina but you need to combine this with power and sprinting capabilities so that you can give yourself a boost when you need it. Interval training offers this by working on intervals of speed and distance to help train your muscles to handle endurance better.
Once you’ve selected a training programme, and there are plenty available online, you should stick to it and work towards your goal. Some days you may feel you could have run longer and that’s great but save some in the tank for next time as it’s not always plain sailing.
It is also worth noting that despite your training not all runs will be fun and enjoyable as we all have bad days. Just remember that these are anomalies and the best thing you can do is to get back out there and do it all again. How many athletes have had bad days? Did they give up? Of course not and neither should you.
The importance of a warm up and cool down
We’ve been doing warm ups and cool downs since primary school and there is a reason why, if you don’t then you are increasing the risk of incurring an injury and it’s even harder to start running when your muscles are a bit stiff.
There are loads of different warm up routines available from a few simply stretches to this one but the one thing you want to achieve from this is loosening your muscles so that you are ready for action.
When you’ve finished your run the last thing you should do is sit down and rest as this promotes a build-up of lactic acid which can cause stiffness in the muscles and is one of the main causes of injury. Try and think about the last time you failed to cool down properly, how were you feeling in the morning?
Knowing your limits and when to stop
Any professional athlete will tell you that they never give up and push their bodies to the limit in order to excel in their chosen sport but for the most part we are not athletes but simply enjoying keeping fit and enjoying a run a few times a week. Our bodies are not that of an athletes and therefore there is a limit we can push ourselves to before we break and more often than not we will either be unaware of what that limit is or just simply ignore it.
There will come a point on a run that our body tells us it’s time to stop and we should listen to it. Overuse injuries are the most common amongst all sports and this is where our body is telling us we have done too much and need to rest.
Just think, it is better to stop early today and be back out tomorrow than to push through today and not make it back out again for another week. This also relates to your training in taking gradual steps to build up your stamina. Your diet also plays a part in this as if you’re consuming large amounts of non-energy food i.e. chocolate then you’re going to have less energy to push yourself.
What to do in the event of an injury
We are all likely to incur an injury at some stage, it’s what we do after this which will determine how long we are likely to be out of action for. If you look at any injury blog they all tell you the same, stop what you are doing and rest and they are all right. Carrying on and pushing through the pain can cause more harm than good, but it is worth mentioning that pain from exercise and pain from injury are two separate things so whilst you can push through one of them we wouldn’t recommend doing the same for the latter.
If you were to sprain your ankle and carry on running then you are continuing with an unstable joint, increasing the likelihood of rolling it once again and causing a more serious injury through either tearing or even rupturing the ligament.
Once you have stopped the common consensus is in adopting the RICE principles of rest, ice, compression and elevation. Rest allows the body time to recover naturally, with ice helping to manage any inflammation whilst also offering pain relieving qualities. Compression is typically applied in the form of a brace or support and normally worn when active to once again manage swelling and help reduce pain but keep you active for longer. Finally, elevating the affected area above the level of the heart slows down the flow of blood to the region and therefore also helps to reduce inflammation. If these steps fail to show any signs of improvement after a few days then it is advisable to seek a professional diagnosis.
There is nothing better than hitting the road, just be aware of the things we have discussed when you start out on your journey.