By Chere Di Boscio
If the Paralympics taught us anything, it’s that anyone can be an athlete. No matter what your age or physical state, there’s really no excuse not to get your kit on and go for a run: if you live in the countryside, the streets are your gym. And if you live in a crowded, polluted city, then surely there’s a gym close by you can train in. All it takes to significantly increase your aerobic capacity and boost your metabolism is 8-15 miles a week. That’s only 3km, 4 times a week – around 2 hours running for a novice, 1.5 for an intermediate runner – and it’s well worth it.
The benefits of running are many. It improves your cardiovascular health, helps you burn fat and lose weight, can reduce your chances of osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes, busts stress and improves longevity. What more could you ask for?
Although running only requires a good pair of shoes, there are a few things you should know about it before you embark on a new workout routine. And if you’re already clocking up the kilometres with your current routine, we still have some tips that will make you stronger, quicker and better runner fast.
1. Start off slow
The biggest mistake that new runners make is that they tend to go for it – they do longer distances than they should. Start with a 20 minute jog, and build up in 5 minute increments. You need to think in terms of minutes, not miles.
2. Wear good running shoes
A good pair of running shoes should last you 400 to 500 miles and is one of the most critical purchases you will make. Go to a proper sports store and ask the sales staff for advice. Don’t ever use tennis shoes, sneakers or gym aerobics shoes – running shoes are designed to absorb impact properly; this is essential to avoid injury. Never go for style over substance here!
3. Get the right clothing
You’re going to need a great sports bra, running shoes and shorts or tights. Make sure your sports bra is snug and firm – running is a high impact activity that can damage breast tissue. I’d recommend Sundried bras – they are thick, snug and seriously minimise bounce. They also make great shorts and tights that wick up sweat – this is important. You want to stay cool and dry throughout your run.
4. Don’t overdo it
When you’re running, take the ‘talk test’. You should be able to chat with a training partner, albeit with a few huffs and puffs. If you can only get one word out at at time, you’re overdoing it. If you can practically sing a song, you need to push yourself harder.
5. Food is your friend – but not your bestie
You need fuel to run, and running may make you a bit hungrier. That’s fine – you can add some nibbles to your diet. But don’t go crazy – a half hour run burns around 300 calories, so having an extra banana or smoothie after every run is fine; having a greasy deep dish pizza is not.
6. Relax on top
When running, let your jaw hang loose, don’t bunch up your shoulders close to your ears, and occasionally shake out your hands and arms to keep your back and shoulders relaxed, otherwise you may get cramped. Also, don’t clench your fists when you run; keep the palms slightly open.
7. A quickie is better than nothing
So you woke up late, and all you have time for is 20 minutes on the treadmill. No problem! Even a 15 minute run is better than no run at all. As Nike says: Just Do It! To give a short workout maximum fat and calorie burning impact, run as fast as you can for 2 minutes, slow down the treadmill for one minute, and repeat.
8. Never stretch cold muscles
If you’re about to go for a run and start doing some hardcore hamstring stretches, chances are you may hurt yourself. Move your body around gently, by walking around or jogging lightly on the spot before you start your pre-workout stretches.
9. Stay fluid
Three words: Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate! No matter what the weather, we need water to sweat, lubricate joints, tendons, and ligaments, and to carry blood efficiently to major organs. A lack of hydration can cause fatigue and dizziness. Drink a bit of water before you run – but not too much, or you may need to run straight to the loo!
10. Pay attention!
You may want to push your running limits a bit, and that’s fine – just ensure you don’t push yourself so hard you get injured. The smart runner’s rule of thumb? Run through annoyance and boredom, but not through pain.
11. Listen up!
One way to go faster and harder is with a great playlist. Whatever tracks get you excited and make you want to dance around, put them on your playlist. It will energise you when you’re feeling low and motivate you when you can’t be bothered. Tip: don’t listen to those songs any other time. Make them a ‘running treat’ only, and you’ll associate your run with some of your favourite tunes. Positive reinforcement!
12. Don’t obsess about speed
So-called ‘junk miles’—i.e. super slow ones done on easy days or during warmups—do count towards fitness. Regardless of pace, the calorie burn per km is the same; it just takes longer to get there.
13. Aim for a goal
Choosing to enter a race is a great motivator. Whether it’s a local 5km fun run for charity or a full on ultra-marathon halfway around the world, you’ll have something to look forward to, and a reason to get out of bed and hit the track every morning. Build up your goals – even if you only want to do 5ks, work on besting your time, for example. Otherwise, aim at increasing distance – or even incorporating cycling and swimming, and do a triathalon. The possibilities are endless!
14. Visualise and affirm
What helps in yoga also helps in running. As you run, imagine yourself as a thoroughbred horse, graceful gazelle, Olympic athlete – whatever motivates you. Repeat an affirmation in your head: ‘I am strong.’ ‘I am improving my health and body with every step.’ Again, whatever floats your boat. It worked for Mohamed Ali – during every workout, he told himself he was ‘the greatest’, long before he won a major fight!
15. Mix it up
Fartlek training can help you build strength and endurance. All it involves in running at a normal pace, then bursting into the fastest run you can for 30 seconds. Wait one minute, and repeat. You can do this for 10 minutes to start with, and build up to 15 or 20. It’s an awesome way to burn fat!
16. Rest up
Resting is as important as working out. Give yourself at least 2 days off a week. Not sure if it’s a rest day or a run day? If your morning pulse rate is up 10 or more beats above your average, then you haven’t recovered from the previous day’s training. Take a day off until it returns to normal.
17. Enjoy some Java
Having a coffee before a run can actually improve your speed and endurance significantly. Just ensure you don’t have a latte, as milk creates mucus and can impair your breathing.
18. Challenge yourself
Hills are a great way to work the different muscles in your legs and to make yourself a stronger runner. Keep your chest up, hips forward, and push strongly off each foot. Move into hill sessions gradually, running up the first few times at a moderate pace, then increasing the speed as you get stronger. You can also do this on a treadmill, which is especially great if you have bad knees: running downhill can be tough on joints.
19. Treat your tootsies
Your feet take a serious pounding when you run, and while we stretch our legs after, we rarely do anything for our foot muscles. To give them a nice massage, place a small ball – like a tennis ball – on the floor and gently roll from the heel to the ball of the foot. Do this for 30 seconds on each foot every morning and night. Make it part of your daily routine – feels great, and your feet will thank you!
20. Safety first
Make sure you double-knot my shoelaces. It not only sucks having to stop your run to tie them, but it could be dangerous. Also, if you’re running outside, be very careful of the traffic – especially if you can’t hear it thanks to your headphones.
21. Breathe easy
Breathing is the main thing that beginner and intermediate runners do wrong. It may seem counterintuitive, but most runners breathe too much and too fast, bringing in far too much oxygen too quickly, which means they’re not getting all the CO2 out of their lungs. Consequently, they get even shorter of breath. The best advice is to breath through your nose – if you’re gulping for air from your mouth, you may be overdoing it.
22. Clear your mind
Research shows that the best athletes in all sports have the least activity in their brains when doing their sport; they basically function on autopilot. So clearing your mind and not overthinking how you’re striding, what your posture’s like, etc will actually help your subconscious mind develop the best running technique for you.
23. Say yes to yoga
A lot of runners pooh pooh yoga because it’s not ‘hard’ enough. But I can tell you from experience that yoga can benefit your running enormously – it makes you more flexible, stronger, and stretches muscles. There are several free yoga for runners tutorials on YouTube – try them!
24. Rock a roller
One of the hardest muscles for runners to stretch is the IT band – the long muscle running down the exterior part of the leg. It’s also responsible for many running injuries. To avoid such problems, use a foam roller. Foam rollers stretch out the myofascial tissue that gets so tight. Focus on your calves, hamstrings, glutes, inner and outer hips – and of course, the IT band.
25. Lift weights
Running well is not all about the legs! Stronger arms mean a faster pace. Your upper body helps pump you forward, so to improve your strength and speed, use light weights to mimic your arm swing by pulling the band towards you. Once you’ve worked your muscles to fatigue, reverse the motion and push your arms away from your body.
All images: Sundried Activewear