Whilst in lockdown it seems the whole world and their dog has taken up running, but how many of those have done it the right way? And how many of those have ended up injured, finding aches, pains and niggles, or simply feeling disheartened because they couldn’t run as far as they thought they could?
If you can relate to one of those people, then keep on reading because this blog is about to change the way you run for good with our top tips for getting better at running!
Take it slow and progress steadily.
Ever heard the saying slow and steady wins the race? Well that’s especially true when it comes to running. I’m going to get into this using a weights analogy, as many people when they first start running assume they’ll be able to run the distance from the word go.
Say you walk into a gym for the first time and see a heavy loaded barbell on the floor, holding 100kg of weight. If you tried to pick it up off the floor (performing what’s known as a deadlift), what do you think might happen?
Either a) You might get injured (hurt your back or strain a muscle as the weight is too heavy) or b) Nothing. You won’t be able to lift the weight and it will stay right where you found it, and this might leave you a little disheartened.
If you were still determined, however, to reach that 100kg deadlift, where would you start? Simple, right? You would unload all the weights, start with the empty bar, and gradually increase the weight over time (aka progressive overload). You might even enlist the help of a Personal Trainer to guide you with form.
So now let’s imagine that 100kg barbell is reflective of a 10km run, and you’re a complete beginner to running. You might have seen on Facebook that your friend Susan has just completed a 10km run and smashed it with a new PB, which has left you feeling motivated to start. You might think to yourself, well 10km can’t be that far right? It only took Susan 56 minutes, that’s less than an hour, and I can walk for way longer than that… So you go out, you attempt a 10km run, and notice that after 3km you can’t breathe, you’ve got knee pain, and you’re regretting everything.
Chances are most people who have taken up running during lockdown started in this same boat. And whilst this can leave you feeling a little de-motivated, I urge you to dial it back and try again. Week 1, see how far you can comfortably run, maintaining a steady pace throughout. This may just be 2-3km initially, and that is absolutely fine. The next week, you’re going to aim to add 0.5-1km onto this distance. Same in the next week, and the next. And it will be achievable. Challenging, but also achievable. You will feel amazing after each run, knowing you achieved just that little bit further than last week. And soon enough, you’ll reach that 10km mark – beat that, Susan.
How to properly train for running
When it comes to running, whether you’re a complete beginner or training to be the next Mo Farah, the intensity of your runs, whilst following a progressive overload training protocol is going to be the key to improving. What this means, is say you’re running 3 days a week, you don’t want to just push for the same distance and same speed for each run. This is repetitive and although you may see improvements initially, there will come a point where your progress will plateau. Therefore it’s important to train the different aspects of your running – that is distance, speed, and recovery.
For your distance training day, you would go at a slower, moderate pace, and this would be your longest run of the week and should follow the strategy outlined in point number 1.
Now, next up we have training for your speed. On this day, you might run a much shorter distance, perhaps half of your longest run, but aim for a much faster speed. Aim to keep your pace steady throughout the entire run, which should feel somewhere between a jog and a sprint.
Now on your final run of the week, which is going to aid your cardiovascular output and recovery time, I would recommend using an interval-based training protocol, also known as Fartlek Training. This is a simple training protocol to introduce, and it involves random intervals of walking, jogging and sprinting. Using general landmarks on your run such as trees, lampposts, road openings etc. you can mix up your pace and running style. You may decide that from your house to the end of your road you will jog, then once there you may see a large tree in the distance and decide to sprint to it, followed by a short interval of walking (recovery time) before repeating a similar approach for the duration of your run, constantly varying the pace and distance. These sorts of runs will probably be a mid-distance between your short and longer runs, but will be utilising the different energy systems in the body and helping it to learn to recover quickly whilst in the walking phases.
Warm up before your runs
I know you probably just rolled your eyes when you saw that heading, thinking “but my run is my warm up”. Well… unfortunately that’s likely where you’ve been going wrong. A great saying from Dave (a physiotherapist at Bodymechanics) – you are what you do every day. Say if you’re sat at your desk all day working, then it gets to 5.30pm and you decide to go on a quick run before it’s time to get dinner on the table.
Your body has been sat down, in a tight, closed position all day, and this is what it’s used to. If you then go straight out into your run, your hips and chest may feel quite stiff, and your glutes might not kick in as much as they should, which could lead to altered form/ running mechanics and cause some pain to the knees, hips or ankles. This is just one example of the numerous things that could go wrong when going straight from the desk to your run.
So to help avoid picking up aches, pains or injuries on your run, here are the 3 things I recommend including in your warm up.
Dynamic Stretches – moving you body through the ranges of movement required for running, to help prepare the muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Balance and Activation Drills – These prepare the muscles in your lower limbs to deal with landing on the pavement as you run, helping to stabilise the ankles, legs and hips. The better prepared a muscle is for running, the less likely injuries will occur.
Heart Raiser – Often the hardest part of exercise is getting the heart rate up in the first place. Once it’s there, it’s much easier to maintain as your body adapts to pump blood and oxygen around the body to the working muscles. Get it pumping before your run, and it will make it that bit easier in the start.
All three of these are also great for getting your CNS (Central Nervous System) ready to run, meaning your body will be better adapted and prepared to go the distance.