1. Don’t try to run fast before you can run steady, don’t try to run steady before you can jog and don’t try to jog until you can walk efficiently.
(In fact, we might even go further and say don’t try to walk before you can stand, don’t try to stand before you can crawl and don’t try to crawl before you can roll! This is the natural human movement development from birth and is designed to strengthen and mobilise all the correct muscle groups so that we can then stand in a balanced way, walk in a balanced way and eventually run in a balanced way.
I know that most people won’t want to go back to the ground and work up from there because they will struggle with that, but the principle remains – learn to master walking and slow jogging before you go fast at least.
2. Focus on building up time on your feet rather than clocking up distances or fast times. Typically it may take you 35-45 minutes to complete your first 5k distance, with a mixture of brisk walking and jogging. Indeed I’ve seen some people able to walk in a fast and efficient manner at over 8 kilometres an hour.
I recommend starting with brisk walking, striding out and swinging the arms freely, whilst relaxing shoulders down and back, then gradually start to introduce some short periods of gentle jogging. Very gradually increase the time spent walking as you increase the jogging time, until you are only jogging. Only then should you think about running faster.
3. Focus on getting out most days, even if you are mostly walking at first. Consistency of training over months and years is what builds a strong running body. There are NO SHORT CUTS and equally it has little to do with ‘natural talent’. Anybody can learn to do anything well if they do it with intelligence, awareness and motivation and anything that you can imagine yourself doing you literally have the ability to achieve.
4. When not running incorporate as many different kinds of movement as you can for recovery. Swimming, yoga, Pilates, bodyweight exercises, dancing etc. will make sure that you counter the typical stiffness that many runners experience. Play with movement, learn to enjoy moving and do it whenever you can. Avoid sitting for long periods.
5. You should sleep better when you start running but build on this by setting a regular bedtime routine, as you would with your children (if you have any). You will feel more like running again the next day and make better food choices.
6. Running should not be used as an excuse to eat more cake! Poor nutrition will result in feelings of sluggishness and impact on your desire to move.
You may not notice this at 25 or 30, but you will as you get older and your metabolism slows down. You will also gain fat, despite all your running, in most cases.
7. Drink to thirst. Don’t fall prey to the marketing messages to keep drinking – many more people have died in endurance events from drinking too much water than too little. If your diet is low in salt and you sweat a lot (often a sign of a carbohydrate laden diet), I recommend taking on board a little good quality salt after runs, to help you absorb the fluids better.
8. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down afterwards. Warm up could just consist of starting by walking fast, swinging your arms and legs in different ways, mobilising hips perhaps with a few squats and lunges, a few toe touches etc.
Cool down the same – this will definitely help your recovery. It doesn’t need to take more than 5 minutes – keep it simple but get joints mobilised regularly to avoid stiffness building up. Joints are lubricated through movement, so static stretching is not particularly useful, except perhaps if used with proper breathing as in yoga. Think of mobilisation not ‘stretching’.
9. Clothing. Make sure you are warm enough but not overheating. Thin layers are recommended, dependent on season.
In Winter, you might consider running tights and thermal top under a light wind proof jacket, thin hat and gloves, nothing thick or heavy. In Summer, shorts and T-shirt or vest – you will soon get warm when you start running always remember but you want to be comfortable.
Footwear? This is a big question because your feet are crucially important in movement and posture. As a complete beginner you are probably best to find a shoe that you feel comfortable in and just be aware that tiny changes in footwear can lead to injury due to the incredibly sensitive dynamics of the foot. In between runs I recommend getting barefoot whenever it’s safe to get your feet working better and you might also consider a flat shoe for everyday wear to improve your feeling for the ground.
10. Lastly, enjoy the feeling of running free in the fresh air. If you enjoy it you are likely to continue with it. Anything that you see as a chore or unpleasant you will eventually give up. Remember we were all novices once and the reason we still run is because it makes us feel better, not because somebody has told us it’s good for us.