Running can be a great way to stay fit and healthy, but it’s not always easy to get started. Whether you’re just starting out or have been running for years, this article will provide you with 10 essential tips that every runner should know about. Learn how to properly stretch, the importance of having good form, and so much more!
1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE FAST TO RUN
I know it might sound silly, but a few years back I totally believed there was no point in running because I wasn’t very good at it anymore. As a kid, I ran a lot. I spent my weeknights down at my local track in tiny spikes and a running kit. I was a 200m runner, and also did cross country. I guess I was above average – never the best, but I didn’t really care. For a bit of context, I grew up being pretty damn good at sports. I was your typical sporty kid who loved PE and spent every night of the week at an after-school sports activity. Ultimately, I was pretty good at everything. An all-rounder as you will. But I never fully excelled at anything. Maybe that was because I did so much. I never really focused my efforts on one sport. I always enjoyed running, but around the age of 14, I fell out of love with it.
Since hitting official adult status (god I feel old), I have been what you could call an occasional runner. ‘Occasional’ is the definitive, and maybe over-exaggerated word here. I basically stopped running, and then found it hard to start again. It hurts to run. It wasn’t easy anymore, and that put me off. My legs would ache, my chest would hurt and I would find myself wheezing anytime after the 2.5km mark. I didn’t like the feeling of ‘sucking’ at something. So I just quit. I would ‘occasionally’ decide to run again. Often when I found a bit of motivation to build up my cardiovascular fitness – but each and every time, the same thing would happen. I’d find it hard, I’d conclude I wasn’t very good, and I would quit.
It wasn’t until last year that I realized how stupid this was. That I was putting too much pressure on myself to be good, that I was taking away from the fact that I was running, and that deep down I did enjoy it. It didn’t matter how far I ran or what pace I ran at. It just mattered that I was running. And in doing that, I would over time get better. Not to Usain Bolt or Mo Farah’s pace, but better for me. That I guess is one of the biggest things I wish I knew when I started running again – that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be athlete-standard to participate. Running is inclusive, and it’s a competition against yourself. You just have to be willing to put in the work to get better!
2. PACING IS AN ART FORM
Another thing I wish I knew when I started running was that pacing is well and truly an art form. I take my hat off to any runner out there who paces themselves well, or heck paces other people during races. It’s something I have never been able to do. To be honest, I doubt I will ever be able to master it. But when I first started running, it was something I was so caught up in that it often overcomplicated my runs. I would get so tied up in pacing that I wouldn’t enjoy them, or probably perform worse than if I had just laced up and run. Don’t get me wrong, pacing can be important.
We all know there is zero point in gassing a mile just to then suffer for the next few miles from fatigue. However, if you’re just running for a bit of fun I think it is totally okay to just pace with your music and motivation levels. My miles are definitely quicker if I’ve got a good song blasting in my ears, or towards the end of my runs… hello finish line! And that is totally okay. Find a way to run that suits you. There are plenty of pacing apps out there / virtual coaches who will help you to perfect your pacing if it is something you think will be beneficial or want to improve for racing in the future. But if you’re just running to run, then just lace up and get out there with no care in the world.
3. YOU NEED THE RIGHT RUNNERS
It might sound pretty self-explanatory, but finding the right runners is definitely something I wish someone had told me more about when I first started running. Being a kid I wore spikes on the track, and had some trail runners for cross country. I was young, so I didn’t really have a clue – I just laced up what I was given, and ran. Since being an adult, I found the world of running trainers to be so overwhelming, not to mention extremely expensive. So, naturally, like many others out there (I know I’m not the only one) I didn’t bother.
For quite a while I ran in the generic trainers that I wore to the gym. I basically had one pair of kicks for walking, running and weightlifting. Which, I guess isn’t the worst thing I could have done, but it wasn’t great for my running form. I regularly get shin splints, which I just put down to running on pavements too much – but since switching to some proper runners (thanks to a campaign I did with Nike x Very) I’ve seen a huge difference in my running speeds and comfort. One thing I also did which I would highly recommend is going to a running shop and getting your gait and stride analyzed.
There are SO MANY different brands of trainers out there, all with different levels of support and for different running styles and distances. So instead of going for what you think is the best-looking shoe (totally guilty of this previously) get an expert opinion on what your feet actually need to run well.
4. EATING BEFORE A RUN ISN’T ALWAYS WHAT SCIENCE SAYS ON PAPER
Now this is a big one for me. I’m a sports nutritionist by trade, so proper nutrition and fuel for my training is something I always consider and make sure to prioritize. Now, this isn’t something that I necessarily wish I had known before I started running, as I already knew this. But from my experience with clients, I think it is something that a lot of people don’t know so I want to share it within this blog. Ultimately, when it comes to what to eat before a run, everyone is different.
Trust me when I say, there really is no one size fits all answer. When you read the running blogs or see a step-by-step meal plan in your favorite magazine on what to eat before a run – it’s very likely not going to work for you. I’ve come across so many people who continue to try to do what these articles say, and it makes them feel worse rather than more energetic. Scientifically, yes, we have guidelines and amounts of carbs that should improve performance. But from a practical application standpoint, it all depends on the individual, and what they can tolerate. I personally can’t eat a lot before a run, but equally feel significantly more fatigued if I don’t eat.
On the other hand, I have friends who eat a massive bowl of pasta religiously a few hours before a run. Or others who function better fasted, after eating a big carbohydrate-rich meal the night before. Some people prefer liquid carbs or even intra-workout strategies as opposed to pre-workout. Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter as long as it works for you. So when you start out running, don’t try to force a fueling strategy that just makes you feel worse. Experiment with different sources and timings, and create a diary for your energy levels and any gastrointestinal discomfort.
5. STRETCHING AND MOBILITY SHOULD BE SCHEDULED IN JUST LIKE YOUR RUNS
This is my final “things I wish I knew before I started running” point, and it’s probably one you will all be thinking ‘but that is so obvious’. And I agree. But how many of you out there reading this article know how important stretching and mobility are, but equally don’t do it enough? I bet a lot. When I started out running, I was so focused on scheduling my runs, that I overlooked the stretching and mobility sessions. To be honest, I started scheduling them in, and then I would ‘not have time’.
Or my funniest excuse looking back now was deciding I should be doing an ‘actual workout’ instead of doing 30 minutes of stretching, mobility and band work in the gym. Oh, how wrong I was. I can’t stress the importance of stretching and mobility in your running routine. Heck, even in your everyday routine regardless if you are a runner, a gym goer, a swimmer or a boxer. Stretching and mobility are not a waste of time. It can improve performance, reduce tension, improve posture, minimize the chance of injury and also help with flexibility. It’s the conditioning sessions we all need but never does.
So if you do ONE thing out of my list of five in this blog post, honestly I think it is this. Try to schedule your stretching and mobility sessions like you would an important meeting with your boss or your favorite date night. It will help you, in the long run, to improve your running technique, and help minimize any niggly injuries (oh hamstring pulls, I’m looking at you!) that running is so common for.
I really hope you enjoyed reading my top five things I wish I knew when I started running! If you’re new to running, or even have been running for a while – I hope you give some of these tips a try. Remember it’s never too late to switch up your habits. Be sure to let me know if you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share!