Gyms are shut, fitness classes cancelled and we’ve been advised by the government not to travel further afield than our local area. The global coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a total upheaval of all of our lifestyles and that in turn includes our fitness routines.
Whether you liked to take advantage of walking part of your daily commute to work, squeezing in a lunchtime boxercise class or pounding the treadmill at the end of the day, chances are you can’t do any of that anymore.
However, as we are still allowed one form of outdoor exercise a day, running has quickly become the workout of choice for many. It’s free, doesn’t require lots of expensive equipment – and it’s about the last thing we’re still able to do other than walking to the shops.
If you’ve never run before, the thought of starting can be daunting. So we’re here to sort the fact from fiction and give you the lowdown on everything you need to know to put one foot in front of the other and get your cardio on.
What do I wear?
First things first, what to wear. While running is primarily a ‘free’ activity, you will need to invest in a few decent quality items to ensure you stay comfortable and injury free. But when you can’t get to the shops to try things on, Alexandra Parren, personal trainer, ultra marathon runner and content writer for sundried.com, says: ‘When buying shoes online, look out for stability shoes, which will give you plenty of support and cushioning and will help you to have a more comfortable and enjoyable run.’ Alexandra recommends ASICS as the best brand for stability shoes.
‘It’s advisable to size up when buying running shoes. The last thing you want is for your toe nails to fall off; it’s a complete myth that this is an inevitable part of running, it only happens if your shoes are too tight! The same goes for blisters, I have run marathons and ultra marathons and my feet have been good as new afterwards thanks to wearing the right shoes.’ She suggests finding an online retailer that offers free returns so you can buy a few sizes and styles to try on at home.
For clothing, Alexandra recommends looking for activewear specifically designed for running with sweat-wicking materials and multi-way stretch. She also suggests looking for leggings with built-in pockets for your phone and keys and investing in a lightweight jacket that you can tie around your waist if you get too hot. When it comes to socks, ankle socks as opposed to trainer socks are better and ‘my personal top tip is to find a good hair tie that stays in your hair without slipping out!’
How do I run?
‘One of the biggest mistakes most beginner runners make is setting out too fast,’ says Alexandra. ‘Your run will be successful and enjoyable rather than a painful slog if you listen to your body, especially your heart rate. Once your heart rate gets too high you will be breathing hard and will have to stop. The key is to keep your pace slow and easy so that you don’t get to this point. Don’t be afraid to take walk breaks as this will help keep your heart rate steady.’
Some other general running tips Alexandra advises include: ‘imagining you are squeezing a credit card between your bum cheeks – this will instantly improve your posture as it will have you standing up straighter, engaging your core, and utilising your glutes.
‘Another good tip is to imagine you are being pulled along by a team of dogs whose leads are tied around your waist. This will encourage you to move forward from your hips instead of slouching.’
Contrary to what you might think, Alexandra recommends doing dynamic stretches – ‘moves like leg swings and lunges’ – rather than static stretches pre-run. ‘Leave the static stretching for a specific stretching session which is not immediately before or after your run, perhaps in the evening after dinner.’
Where should I run?
As more people than normal are taking up running at the moment, you might notice your local park is a bit crowded. The pavements are actually quieter overall, especially around residential areas, so consider opting for pounding some tarmac instead. Alternatively, if you live in the countryside, head off the beaten track to find some space.
Always abide by the social distancing rules and keep at least two metres away from all other people – to avoid coming into close contact with others, try to avoid narrow paths and alleyways and take corners as wide as possible to avoid colliding with another pedestrian. Remember, as a runner it is your responsibility to get out of other people’s way.
As for your route, there are pros and cons for both doing the same route versus mixing it up, but Alexandra has this advice: ‘There are benefits to doing the same route over and over again, however it is definitely more advisable to mix it up, especially for beginners. You will get fitter if you run consistently, so there’s no need to keep running the same route to compare your progress. The key to running success is enjoying it as this will keep you motivated to keep going out and doing it. As such, it’s definitely best to have fun exploring new routes and keeping things fresh.’
What is the best running app?
There are loads of apps out there – one of the most popular ones is the NHS’s Couch To 5K. It’s a specially designed program that aims to get people who have never run before in their life (or for a very long time) running a full 5K in nine weeks. It tells you exactly how many runs to do per week and each session is broken into sections of walking and running, the idea being that the running sections gradually get longer and more frequent until you can run the whole thing. There’s even an accompanying podcast to guide you along each run.
‘Running apps can be a great way to get motivated and to get the most from your running. Community apps like Strava are like social networks and can be a way to discover new routes, make friends, and compare your stats,’ says Alexandra.
MapMyRun is another great free app for tracking your routes and getting stats mid-run such as your average pace and time.
Should I track my runs?
When wearing a tracking device, or wearable tech, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, it can be great to see your stats to help you get the most out of your runs and chart your progress, but it can be easy to get hung up on the numbers and forget why you started running in the first place. ‘You can definitely still enjoy running without getting too hung up on your stats. Focus on comparing your heart rate between runs rather than your pace, as this will be a great indicator of how your fitness is progressing and won’t demotivate you if a run wasn’t as fast as a previous one.’
What other benefits can running provide?
Other than the obvious physical benefits, there are many other benefits to running. ‘Running is about so much more than just getting fit and pounding the pavement purely because you think you have to. Running allows you to explore your community and your hometown, discovering new places you never knew existed.’
Just like any form of exercise, it’s proven that running can aid your mental health. ‘Running can inspire you and allow you to clear your mind; forget shower thoughts, I do my best thinking when I’m running. It can do wonders for your mental health and is the perfect way to spend some ‘me time’ away from the stresses of home and work life. Once you stop trying to run too fast and realise that jogging slowly without even getting out of breath is the way forward, you will discover a love of running unlike anything else.’