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Running: From Couch to 5K and Beyond

Updated: Jan 10, 2020

Note: this blog is targeted at people who are in generally good health and fit to run. Please make sure that you are cleared by your doctor or physician if you have a medical condition before you start running or training for a race.

First of all, I want to give a shout out to a couple of friends who have started running (you know who you are!) or asked about how to start running. You have inspired me to write this blog and think about the topic. Thank you!

I can't quite pinpoint exactly when I started to run and fallen in love with the sport because I have been running on and off over the years. I remember running my first 10k back in 2005, then my first half-marathon in 2009 and finally took the plunge for a full marathon in 2017. Yes it took me a long time to get there but it has been a fun journey. So it is never too late to start running. You can run whatever distance or time or place as you please, even 5 minutes of run-walk is a great start. I have written ten things about how to start running, but at the end of the day, you only have to put one foot in front of the other. Let your body do what it's meant to do, and let your mind feel the joy or endorphins!

1. Ask Yourself Why

Is it a new year resolution? Are you running to lose weight? For a charity? For stress relief? Or just want to get healthier?

Ask yourself why you want to run. Is there anything else other than losing fat or gaining muscles mass? Would you stick to the sport even if you don't lose or gain one gram after months of running? You know that there are less painful and more fun ways to get fit.

Running can be a very effective weight management tool with a myriad of physical and mental health benefits. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that you will achieve your target weight. The truth is that runners come in all shapes and sizes, ages, and background. Some may genuinely use running for weight management but there are a variety of reasons for taking up the sport: fitness, stress relief, mindfulness, self-care, a new challenge, a sense of accomplishment. Find your reason(s) and hold on to a positive attitude.

2. You are a Runner

Don't worry if you haven't exercised for months or years. Don’t worry about your body shape or whatever speed you are running. As long as you are moving and enjoying the fresh air, you are better off than sitting on a couch. You are a runner because you run and your body is made to do it. Be patient and give yourself time to adjust to the changes. You will be amazed at what your body can do and you will appreciate your body more as a result.

3. Regular Routine

Regardless of your fitness level, whether you are training from couch to 5k, 10k or a marathon, it is all about discipline and consistency. Set aside a regular schedule every week. Make sure your schedule is realistic so there is no room for excuses. Make yourself accountable by writing out your plan, putting it on your calendar, your fridge or mirror where you see it every day. Tell your friends and family about your goal so they can support you and make you accountable.

4. Be Prepared for Set-Backs

Don’t worry about missing your training sessions because of illness, injury or other commitments. It happens to everyone. Sometimes your body can benefit from more sleep and recovery. Be confident that you will come back stronger. Promise yourself that you will get back onto the wagon by thinking through steps 1 to 3 again. In time you will make running a habit and it won't feel such a daunting effort.

5. Listen to Your Body

Whether you are following a programme, training with a group or a coach. Listen to your body. Try not to run on consecutive days as you start out. Respect your rest days and sleep as much as possible. Increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week. You heart and lung fitness will improve faster than your skeletal muscles and the rest of your body. Allow time for your body to catch up with your cardiovascular and respiratory systems so that you can build a strong running base.

6. Group Training

Running may seem like a solitary sport but it can be sociable. Group training is a great way to meet people with different backgrounds but share similar passions. A running community provides a platform to share and gather tips on training, racing, gears, fuelling, hydration and more. Training with a partner or a group provides motivation and boosts athletic performance.

I remember one time at an evening group training back in New York, a running friend showed up looking pretty stressed out as she had to rush out of the office for group training. By the end of the hour-long workout (I think it was probably a sprint workout), she was beaming and glowing from the run. I asked how she was feeling. I forgot her precise answer but she said something great about running, you just run and stop thinking about stress and all the crap you have to deal with. What she said back then still sounds simultaneously incredible and obvious to me. I knew she had brought her laptop with her so she could continue her work at home that night. I wonder if she would have gone out for a run on her own if it wasn't for group training. I would never know the answer but I am glad she showed up and found a way to get that stress out of her system.

7. Eat Right and Stay Hydrated

Make sure you have enough time to digest before your exercise and choose something simple and easy to digest. You don't want to feel bloated or have something sloshing around in your stomach when you run. During exercise you digestion slows down significantly as your body shunts blood away from the stomach and divert blood flow to the skeletal muscles. For an easy workout, it is fine and probably better to go with an empty stomach.

Depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise, post workout your body needs carbohydrates to replenish glycogen store and high quality proteins to rebuild muscle tissues. Remember to stay well hydrated and take electrolytes. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, nuts and seeds can help reduce inflammation in joints and muscles.

8. Running Shoes

I would highly recommend going to a running specialist store and have someone knowledgeable help you find the right running shoes. Ideally you should have your gait analysed to determine what type of shoes (neutral, stability or motion control) are best for you. Try shoes on the treadmill (if available in the shop) or even a pavement (with permission).

Your feet swell when you run, so make sure you have plenty of room in your toe box, but not so big that you are swimming in them. It's normal for your running shoes to be one or two sizes up from your normal size.

A new pair of running shoes typically last 300 to 500 miles. As your mileage increases, consider having two or more pairs of running shoes so you can alternate between different brands or models. Allow your body and feet adjust to different stresses of the shoes. Alternating between shoes also help to extend their lives.

9. Cross Training

Strength training helps you build stronger muscles and core to prevent injury, build muscle power and more efficient strides. If you don't like lifting weights, simple work outs such as squats, lunges, bridges and planks can be effective. 20-30 minutes of strength exercises once or twice a week will make a difference to your posture and boost that final sprint to the finish line.

Other cross training exercises such as swimming, cycling, yoga, pilates and rowing are great for runners. Switching between exercises brings variation to your routine. As you cross train you are still working your cardiovascular and respiratory systems but your running muscles can get some rest or better recover from an injury.

10. Stretching

Stretching is last but probably the most important for runners. Stretching after a work out can help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. Go easy as you start running and warm up with some dynamic stretching. Small drills such as side swings, high knees, butt kicks and high kicks help to loosen up the muscles you will need for running.

Do stretch after your work out while your muscles are still warm. Post-run stretches include hip flexors, pririformis, calves, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and back. Stretching helps to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness, increase flexibility, improve blood circulation, restore your range of motion and improve muscular coordination.

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