Written By Barefoot Dawsy
Overwhelmingly the most common question I get from new runners is “where do I start?”.
Up until recently I’ve pointed new runners to the excellent Couch to 5K (C25K) program.
While this program is excellent, I’ve had plenty of feedback from people saying that they tried it, and for whatever reason, left after just a couple of weeks.
There are several reasons as to why people leave the program, ranging from it being just too difficult for their fitness level to commitments at work, children, etc. From what I gather, though, the main reason is that many people aren’t physically ready, and even more are not mentally prepared to become runners.
What follows are 8 ways to help those of you who are new to running get a leg up and hit the ground running (ha ha) before the Couch to 5k even starts.
1. Walk Before You Run
The C25K program starts you off slowly, but there is a jogging component that is introduced straight away. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to run in a running program, but even 30 second intervals can be extremely difficult for many people.
So, to begin with, it can be very helpful to build up to 30 minutes of brisk walking. The easiest way to get started is to try walking for as long as you can, 3 days a week, until you can handle 30 minutes nonstop. Once you can do this, try increasing your speed a bit each session until you’re able to complete it as fast as you can without breaking into a jog. If you can do this, then you’re well on you way to a strong start.
2. Set Yourself A Schedule
One of the biggest problems that new runners face is getting over-excited and trying to do too much. A lot of new runners will try to run every day, or nearly every day, and find themselves burning out within a couple of weeks. When you’re learning a new skill, especially a physical one, it’s essential to give yourself time to adjust. For every exercising day, there should be 1-2 days rest to let your body build muscle and repair itself. Allowing your body time to relax may make it feel like you’re slacking off, but in truth you’ll progress faster and last longer than you would otherwise.
A simple way to stick to this is to set specific days to walk/run on. For beginners, 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week should be plenty. A good choice is Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, which allows you ample rest between sessions and lets you start the week on a rest day, which is usually well-earned after the weekend!
3. Learn Good Form
If there’s one thing that new runners almost universally skip over, it’s learning good form before they start to run. By reading up on what you should be doing and familiarising yourself with the concepts of good form before you go for your first run, you’re more likely to have a safe and comfortable experience. There are plenty of resources on this site about improving your form, so have a read through and try to apply them whenever you’re out running.
4. Join A Community/Do It With A Group
One of the great motivators when trying to introduce exercising into your routine is to share the experience with others. More often than not, new runners will succeed in the transition by doing it with a spouse, friend, or coworker. There are some great online communities as well, including Nerd Fitness, which is becoming one of the most popular and newbie-friendly online fitness communities out there (did I mention I’m also a moderator there?).
Exercising with a friend or group of friends is a tremendous motivator, but can also keep you accountable and on-track. Nobody wants to be the person that lets the team down.
5. Set a goal
I’m certainly not the first person to say it, nor will I be the last, but one of the best motivators in learning a new skill is to set yourself a challenging, but tangible, goal. If you’re planning to do the C25K, then sign up for the first 5k race that comes up after your 6 weeks training is up. If you can’t find an organised 5k, then create your own!
Having goals to look forward to will keep the pressure on and give you a reason to keep going. On top of this, completed goals act as excellent milestones that will help you look back and see how far you’ve come down the track.
6. Get your gear sorted
At 6am after a late night, the last thing you want to do is give yourself extra reasons to stay in bed and skip the run. One of the big ones is not having all of your stuff ready. So, to avoid this, put together an outfit for running…shorts, shirt, etc, and stash it together in one place. This way, when you’re ready to go, you can just throw your running gear on and head out the door.
When you get home, put your sweaty stuff in the wash, and get it ready for the next run as soon as possible. It can be helpful to have a few go-to outfits that you can rotate, so that even if your running is out of sync with your washing, you’re good to go.
7. Get strong
Running can be rough on your body, especially when you’re not used to it. In the first few weeks, you can expect all manner of aches and pains as your muscles rebuild and regroup to adapt the new stresses it’s experiencing. A great way to reduce these discomforts is to do a week or two of basic exercises to get your body ready for running. A few sets of body weight squats, planks, calf raises, and lunges will go a long way to getting your legs into a reasonable place to start running from.
8. Get the latest App
Nowadays, it seems that nearly everybody has a smartphone of some description. These little beauties are excellent for helping you learn how to run. There are dozens of apps out there, many of which are free, that will make a big difference to your training. Search your app store for ‘C25K’ or ‘Running’, and you’ll find dozens of apps to suit your needs.
Learning to run can be a real challenge, but it does get easier once you’ve made it through the first 6 weeks. Keep at it, listen to your body, and above all, enjoy yourself!