1 Aug 2017

Tips and tricks for new runners

I’m by no means an expert with running. I have no qualifications and I’ve never been coached. My progress from Couch to Marathon happened through running friends whose unsolicited advice I raged at but secretly took on board, stalking running communities on Instagram, a lot a lot a lot of Googling, and making shit up. Mostly the making shit up part.

But, as I’ve documented my running since day one, others have started running too and I’m often hit with Twitter and Instagram DM requests from strangers, and Facebook messages from old school friends, who want to know how to start running. 

This is support I can give. Support to encourage others to get their arses out the door, and empower them to realise that they CAN run, if they want to.

So, here are the most common questions I get and the most important advice I'd give. It’s not an IKEA instruction booklet to follow to the letter, or strict and heavy advice on the technicalities and science behind running and all that comes with it, but a bunch of lessons I’ve learned since opening my old wardrobe to see what I could wear to go for a run 694 days ago.

What do I need to start running?

Your feet and a thought.

Seeing runners in a bunch of fancy looking gear can be overwhelming, because surely they need it all to run, right? Nope.You don’t need fancy shoes and clothes and apps and armbands and waist bags to run. The beauty of running is that it’s free and requires nothing but you. I started running in denim shorts, a knitted t-shirt, and pimsolls from Primark. Fuck it, I thought. It won't kill me, and it got me started. And I was fine!

To start with, anyway. If you’re going to keep on running then it’s definitely worth investing in some ‘stuff’, if you can. Most importantly: shoes and sports bras. 

A lot of running shops provide free gait analysis (basically putting you on a treadmill and filming your feet to see how you run) which can help in finding you the best running shoes. Good running shoes CAN be pretty expensive so you’ve gotta be committed to make it worth it, and might need to do a bit of saving, but it’ll do you wonders. I’ve had no problems with my feet this year since getting my new shoes. They did me a solid through all my marathon training, so I’d highly recommend! 

Perhaps wait until there’s a sale on in your nearest running shop, though, or ask for gift cards…

If you’re blessed with the breast then pal, seriously, please get a decent sports bra. They don’t have to be expensive (but don’t bother with Primark) so have a scout about and try them on. Run on the spot and if your tits stay locked, you’re sound. There’s nothing worse than them bouncing about on a run. It feckin’ hurts.

If you end up running the long runs (more than 10 miles I’d say, but it depends on your clothing), get a lube stick or some plain old vaseline for that chafing. Listen to Auntie Lou. Smother that shit everywhere, including under your boobs, bra straps, underarms, groin, waist, and FEET. Mmmm, slimy toes. 

And a thought. You don’t need goals, motivation, or even a reason to run. You just need a thought, a feeling in your gut that you want to. Don’t force yourself out, not to start with. You need to fall in love with running before you’re allowed to force yourself to go out (if you’re in training, e.g.).

Where do you find motivation? 

You might know that you want to run and love to run, but you still struggle with the motivation to actually get out and stick to it. It’s totally fair enough. Running can be effort. It might materialistically require very little, but it requires a lot of willpower. So:

- Try and get into a routine. Have a set number of times you go out a week, and plan the days and times you go. Once you’re used to doing it, it’ll come naturally. It’ll just be a part of your week.

- Create running playlists. Easy one. A playlist distracts me and pushes me on. Suddenly, four miles later, I’ve run for a whole album, feel like I’ve been in a movie, and feel fucking great.  

- Try podcasts. As listening to music tended to speed me up, I tried podcasts to slow me down. Often I can’t actually concentrate to what they’re saying (but my concentrate is pitiful at the best of times) but just the background noises of people talking helps distract me from ‘why the fuck am I running around this park for the 10th lap now, who I have become’. 

- Change up your route. This can be hard because you might be anxious about where you run, or you might run on a treadmill, but it can help distract you and makes things more interesting. I tend to stick to the park. Laps do me fine. But sometimes I’ll escape and run around different roads if I feel like it. For the long marathon training runs, I definitely found new routes. Like hell I was running around our little park for 15 miles.

- If you run in the morning, get your running clothes on when you wake up. Then you have to go. Half the battle won. 

- Break your runs into chunks. I find myself shouting ‘JUST AN EPISODE OF EASTENDERS TO GO’ on long runs, but you can just think, “Just get to the next minute,” or “Just get to the next bench,” and basically trick yourself into finishing. 

- Get sucked into Strava (or another running app). If you like stats and community and maps (I bloody love a running map) then download an app to keep track of your stats and mileage. The community aspect can be great.

- Maybe don’t always look at your watch/Strava/Fitbit, etc… My most enjoyable runs are often when I go out without a plan and don’t look at how long I’ve been running or how far I’ve gone. I end up remembering why I run in the first place and I run for the love of it again. No pressure.

- Follow running accounts on social media. Be careful with this one as you don’t want to get obsessed with other runners - remember that you run for yourself and there’s no one right way to run/train/eat/etc - but Instagram especially has been a beautifully encouraging space for me. I follow a bunch of chill, funny, encouraging, and inspirational runners of all genders and ages, who all run for different reasons.

- Book a race! Nothing like forcing yourself to get out by booking a 5k, 10k, half marathon. Have a browse on Running Diary to find some good’uns. I give it a few months before you order a medal rack.

- Go to parkrun! Oh here she is, banging on about parkrun again… parkrun is free, easy, encouraging, and just beautiful. There, I’ll say no more.

- Join a running club. I can’t vouch for this one completely yet because I’m trying out a running club for the first time tonight, but I’ve heard they can do wonders for your progress and motivation.

Find your ‘why’

Why do you want to run? Hmm? No seriously, I’m asking. Why? Don’t sweat, there’s no right or wrong answer, but you have to know why you run. “But you said you don’t need goals, motivation, or even a reason to run, Louise…” Yes, I know, I’m fickle. But even if it’s, “IDK, IT’S JUST PART OF MY ROUTINE NOW, OK?!” That’s still a fine reason. Stop shouting at me. Having your ‘why’ can just keep you motivated if you’re ever in a slump or struggling. It’ll keep you in check and grounded, and keep you in love with running. It’ll make you remember why YOU run, for you.

Your ‘why’ could be:

- To challenge yourself
- To get fit
- To change your body shape (whether that’s losing weight or gaining muscle or toning, etc)
- To support your mental health
- To get you outside
- To have a routine
- To learn a new skill
- To have a hobby
- To make new friends and do something social.

All of these reasons are valid, healthy reasons to run. You just have to enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point. Remember that your reason to run is yours and it just has to be positive. If you feel you’re suddenly running due to an unhealthy obsession then it’s best to stop and reevaluate.

How to go from couch to 5k to 10k to 13.1mi to 26.2mi… 

You’ve started running. Brilliant. Fab. Wonderful. You can kinda comfortably run 5k and your PBs are showing that you’re getting fitter. But what happens when you want to run further? Is there a knack to it? Rules to follow?

No. Again. Still no. No rules. But there are some basic things I’d advise:

- Don’t worry about finding the perfect plan. I never had a plan when I trained for my first 10k. I just increased the distance week by week until I hit 8k (you never run the full distance of what you’re training for). You can find a bunch of free plans online, and you can try any that suit you, but the most important thing is that you’re training far enough in advance to increase your distance week by week gently.

- Run three times a week. This is pretty imperative to me. One short but fast run, one longer steady run, and one long run. The faster runs will train your lungs well, and the longer runs will train your stamina. This is my basic go-to. But don’t panic if you need to miss a run. You’re not going to ruin anything. Resting is always just as important as running when training anyway.

- DRINK ALL THE WATER. Please just keep drinking, even on rest days. It does you SO WELL. Hydration is more important than nutrition when it comes to running, in my eyes. I can run on an empty stomach but I’m fucked if I haven’t drunk anything. Saying that, the longer you run for, the more food you need. Eat pasta the night before a long run, take out gels or bloks to eat every hour (test different kinds out until you find something that suits you and your stomach), and eat lots of protein afterwards to repair tired muscles.

- Have fun with it! Jumping up to longer races doesn’t have to be super intimidating or intense. Remember why you run, imagine yourself crossing the finish line, and have fun. Run with a buddy, create interesting routes, get excited for your Strava stats, and get buzzed thinking about all the food you can eat after a long run. You’ll be fine.


- You will have bad days. Sometimes you will feel shit. Sometimes you will have bad runs. That’s ok, don’t beat yourself up over it. It happens to everyone. You could have had a bad night’s sleep, you might be dehydrated, you might have had to miss a week of running, you might be on your period. There are so many factors that can culminate in a disappointing run for you. Just try again next time.

- You might put on weight. If you’re running to change how your body looks, remember that you will probably put on weight before you lose it and there’s science behind that. Your body will retain water and build muscle quicker than it loses fat. Just be patient, and focus on how good your body is feeling rather than the number on the scales. A general rule for all, there.

- You might always sweat and go red. I have accepted this. I am a serial sweater and will leak the Pacific Ocean down my bright red face just after a 5k. It’s just what my body does and I deal with it.

- Good progress for one thing doesn’t mean good progress for another. Training for a marathon meant short and fast runs were out the picture for me for a good few months. They were impossible. Your fitness for a fast run will be different for a long run, so don’t panic when you suddenly find one thing harder.

- You WILL lose fitness if you stop but THAT’S OK. Life happens, shit happens. Your body will lose the fitness its gained after a few weeks of not running but it doesn’t take long to build back up. Don’t think you’ve fucked everything and will have to start from square one if you take a break. Enjoy the break and ease yourself back into it after.

- DRINK ALL THE WATER. I won’t tell you again.

- EAT MORE IF YOU RUN MORE. I’ve already said this too, but I’m emphasising it now. The longer you run for, the more food you need both before and afterwards. Fuel yourself like a car. Treat yourself well and don’t restrict. 

- Running changes your insides too. The most impressive fitness change I found was in my lungs. My lungs would burn during just a short run, but now they’ve adapted completely. It’s fascinating. Your digestive system might play up too. They don’t call it runner’s tummy for nothing. Be warned.

- Listen to your body. If you’re sick or injured or exhausted, don’t run. Your body can’t. Saying that, running often gets rid of my headaches if you’re interested.

I cannot believe I’ve just managed to basically write JUST DO WHAT YOU WANT, RUNNING HAS NO RULES for nearly 2,500 words. 

I just have a lot of thoughts and feelings on running, ok? I want you to enjoy it. I want you to run for you, and have fun and feel good and feel proud and empowered. I don’t want you to get wrapped up in stats and doing the rifght thing and always improving and pushing yourself too far and buying the right gear. 

Make shit up. You'll do just fine.

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