I am not a good runner, I'm just not built for speed.  But I don't let that put me off.  I love running, I love challenging myself and I love the sense of achievement when my body has decided that it CAN do what I want it to!  Although my own workouts are more oriented around rowing at the moment, I still run most nights when I'm at home even if it's just popping on the treadmill for a light jog after the news and before panorama starts!

Why Run?

Running is a hugely efficient exercise, by that, I mean that it's one of the ones that will get your cardiovascular system in shape in the shortest time.  It's hugely stress relieving, lowers blood pressure and increases the ratio of HDL (good cholestoral) to LDL (bad) in the body.  Nackering yourself out on a run in the fresh air will make you sleep better.  And it's a BIG calorie burner. 

Apart from the physiological and mental benefits....
  • It's cheap, all you need is a decent pair of trainers and the rest of your kit needn't cost the earth.
  • It's accessible, just head out your front door... or if you want to compete, take a look at the long list of fixtures in the back of runnersworld every month!
  • You can do it indoors on a treadmill if the weather is pants or if you don't like running outdoors.
  • It can be sociable, there are hundreds of clubs up and down the country and hundreds of charity events and fun runs.

How to Run

Most people can just head out the door and start without really thinking about it, but sitting at a desk all day an having not run since you had to chase James round the playground to get your my little pony back, you could maybe do with thinking about a few things while you're out on the road.

Poor running technique means that you are not using your body efficiently. Biomechanical inefficiencies lead to repetitive motions which put unnecessary strain on bone, joints, ligaments and muscles and increase the likelihood of injury.

1. Above all, run tall and keep your body relaxed.  And stay alert and aware of your surroundings.

2. Hold your head erect and don’t stick your chin out – this will create tension in your shoulders. Look ahead, scanning the horizon, not at your feet. Keep the back of your neck and spine in a straight line, perpendicular to the ground. Leaning forward may lead to lower back strain.  Leaning back will cause pronounced heal strike (see below), which will put your joints at risk.

3. Watch out for rounded or hunched shoulders and for ‘shrugging’ when you run. Keep them square and relaxed. Tense, raised shoulders will slow you down, waste energy and prevent your lungs from expanding to their fullest range, thereby depriving your muscles of oxygen.

4. Keep your arms relaxed at your sides with elbows flexed at 90º. Let your arms swing freely in a forwards/backwards motion ie. in the direction you are running and not laterally across your body. Don’t exaggerate the arm swing - as you bring one foot forward, swing the opposite hand forward and up just below sternum (mid-chest) level.

5. Try to keep your hands in a relaxed fist, letting the thumbs rest on your index fingers and your finger tips gently connecting with your palms – clenched fists will create unnecessary tension throughout your whole body.

6. Don’t twist in your midriff from side-to-side – this causes imbalances in your body, which place stress on all the major joint areas. This is also extremely inefficient as it displaces your forward momentum sideways. The same goes for a bouncing gait – it displaces your momentum upwards.

7. The knees and feet should be aligned generally in a straight-ahead direction.

8. Take short steps and land your feet approximately under your body/hips with each stride. If your lower leg lands ahead of the knee, you are over striding and increasing your risk of injuries. Keep your knees slightly bent at all times and do not lift them too high.

9. Don’t strike the ground with your toes. Instead, strike softly with your midfoot and roll through to your forefoot smoothly.  A heel to toe foot strike means that the leg is straight when the heel makes contact with the floor sending the shock directly into your back and causing you to lose speed as you literally brake each time your foot lands. This is bad for your joints and affects your speed.

10. Reduce your times by increasing pace/cadence (number of steps per minute) rather than stride length. As mentioned above overstriding increases the likelihood of injury.

Getting Started

No matter what your goal is, whether its to be able to run for 10 minutes straight, to be able to run for half an hour, or do a 5K, you need to start off slow.  It also helps hugely to log your runs, the date, what you aimed for, how you did, your total distance and total time. 

A quick search on the net for '5k plan' or '10K plan' will throw up a miryad of results.  Rather than leave you floundering trying to work out which plan is best (they all work on a similar principle), I'll link you to the ones that I have personally tried and tested.

The Race for Life 5K plan got me off my crutches and running 5k in 6 weeks.  I have a handy spreadsheet that you can use along with it to log your runs and progress, just click here and save a copy for yourself.

Once I'd done the 5K plan, I wanted to try 10K but I also wanted to be faster so I started a 10K plan right from the beginning but at a faster pace than I'd done the 5K previously.  The Run 4 It 10K plan is no longer available on the net but I have the pdf and log saved, click the links and save a copy for yourself.

The Importance of Kit

Before you start pounding the streets, get thee to a running shop that does gait analysis!  Take a couple of pairs of leisure and work shoes with you so that they can see what your feet are doing, they'll want to take a look at the soles.  They will make sure you get kitted up with the right trainers.  This is so important, I truly can not get across to you how crucial this is.  Good trainers that are suited to your gait and running style will prevent most of the most common injuries, some of which can be really long lasting and have massive repercussions throughout your life.

If you're a laydee, get a flippin sports bra NOW!  You do not want black eyes, you do not want them ending up swinging round your knees, you do not want torn ligaments.  Even if you have the fried egg variety they can still move up and down a great deal more than you perhaps think they can.  If you're not sure what to get then have a look at the runners world gear section and sports bra reviewsLess Bounce offer a friendly service, publish reviews on the bras they stock and are generally a lovely bunch!

If you're a bloke, please, wear pants that offer some support, you dingly danglies flapping around isn't good for you and it's a dreadful distraction for the rest of us in the gym!

For other gear I like Run 4 It, again, they offer a great friendly service above and beyond the norm!  And you often get a free pack of jelly beans in with your orders!

Guesstimating Effort

The Blether Zone.
As the name suggests this zone enables you to easily run along and have a good blether with your running buddies (if you run alone feel free to blether to yourself, but remember what is said about people who talk to themselves!).  You don't need any scientific measurements or principles to run in the Blether Zone, quite simply if you are able to run comfortably and blether then you are not going into oxygen deficit and your heart rate will be higher than at rest but not nearly as high as when you run faster.  Aerobic running (i.e. running without going into oxygen deficit) is achieved at a level around 60% - 85% of your MHR, Blether Zone would be at the lower end of this range.  This type of running is appropriate for warming up for a harder run or race, or for a recovery run the day after a hard run/race.

To measure your heart rate after exercise it is best to take a pulse measurement from the Carotid artery on your neck, this should be easy to find as it pumps quite hard at higher levels.  Measure your pulse for 10 or 15 seconds and multiply by 6 or 4 to get your heart rate per minute.  Your pulse rate is the same as your heart rate.

The Puff Zone.
This is a gradual step up from Blether Zone.  You should still be able to chat to your running buddies but it may not be as easy to get your words out.  Most of your regular weekly running should be In the Puff Zone as this will give you the best cardiovascular (heart and lungs) exercise benefit, which is important for maintaining or improving your long term health and also important in building a solid foundation for improving your running times or distances (if that is what your goals are).  In Puff Zone you should be aiming for around 70 - 80% of your MHR.

The Pant Zone.
If you start to feel and look like a husky pulling a sled then you have probably entered The Pant Zone!  At this level your heart rate is probably getting up to 80 - 90% of your MHR and you will have started to exercise anaerobically (this means that you have gone into oxygen deficit and are effectively running without oxygen and building up waste products, predominantly lactic acid).  Once you have entered this zone it becomes increasingly difficult to sustain your running pace.  This zone is usually only entered towards the end of a very hard training run or race, or during specific training sessions where you vary your pace between slow and fast for a period of time or a set distance.  For beginners it is not really advisable to do much training in this zone, it is better to build up an endurance/aerobic base from Blether and Puff Zone training.  This also has the advantage of minimising the risks of injury or illness from overdoing things before your body has become accustomed to increased intensity of exercise.  Once you have been running for several months and perhaps taken part in your first organised race you can then think about introducing Pant Zone training to improve your times, you should also feel that you are running easier in the Blether and Puff Zones.

The Gasp Zone.  
The Gasp Zone is not a place that you want to be in too often!  It would really only be entered at the very end of a full out training run or race, even then only over the last few hundred metres as you try to coax a final sprint out of your weary muscles!  In Gasp Zone you will probably be exercising at 90 - 100% of MHR.  The other time you would enter Gasp Zone would be during short interval training at high intensity, which is used to develop speed.  For most recreational and health runners it is not advisable to do this type of training, unless of course you have secret ambitions of being the next Lee McConnell or Tom McKean!

Breaking the Routine With Some Different Training

Although these are worded for running club, you can easily use the principles and apply them to your lone running.

The first few minutes are run as a group, to warm up. At an agreed time, those who want to, put in a burst of speed. This can be done for a certain time (30 secs, 40 secs), a certain distance (4 lamp posts, to end off the road) or at the whim of the leader. After the burst the faster runners turn and jog back to meet those who are running steadily. Keep doing this for 15 - 30 minutes.

Out and Back
If you have a group of mixed ability and everyone wants to run for 30 mins.  Everyone heads out at the same time on an agreed route (a cycle path works well for this) after 15 mins everyone turns around and heads back. The whole group should reach the finish point together.

Indian File
The group run 5 - 10 m apart, on command the last person runs to the front of the line. When the person reaches the front, the person at the back runs to the front. This continues until everyone has had a turn or for an agreed length of time.

Choose a traffic free area, with a hill that takes between 30 - 90 seconds to run up. After the warm up, everyone runs up the hill as fast as they can. The first to the top shouts 'turn' and everyone turns and jogs to the bottom. Start with a small number of reps and build up gradually. Alternatively you can choosy a hilly loop and try to complete as many loops as you can in a set time (10 - 15minutes).

Figure of Eight
Decide on a route with a figure of eight one small loop and one larger loop. The slower runners run around the smaller loop in both directions the faster runners cover the whole figure of eight. If everyone runs for a set time (20 - 30 minutes) everyone runes at their own pace but you will keep passing other runner.

Time Trials
Every 4 - 6 weeks organise a time trial over an agreed route (1 - 2 miles). This will give everyone the opportunity to see how he or she is improving. You could even have an award for the most improved.

Handicap Races
The race could be held over the same route as your time trial. The fastest runner over the mile or 2 mile route starts last and the slowest first. For example over a 1 mile loop if the times were; Susan 10mins, Karen 10mins 30 secs, Lesley 11min 10. - at the handicap Lesley would start first (scratch), Karen 40 secs behind her and Susan 1min 10 secs behind. The winner is the first person over the line but you could also have an award for the fastest actual time.

A continuous relay with 2 runners. On an oval the first runner runs half way round and tags their partner's hand, whilst the partner runs rest of the circuit, the first runner jogs across the infield to meet the partner. The paarlauf can be run for a period of time or a set number of laps. Runners can also decide how many laps they will run before tagging their partner.

Again using your times from the time trials you could match runners together to have form teams to run over an agreed distance.

Cross Country
You don't always have to run on the roads. Why not arrange for your group to meet at the park or some cross-country trails and run on a different surface.

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