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Answering common questions from new runners

Like with any new hobby, as a new runner you are always going to find yourself with many questions floating around in your head. But again, as with most hobbies, you often cannot find the answer until you become more consistent and familiar and find what works for you. Just a quick disclaimer to start this post: In no way do I consider myself a running guru or professional who has an abundance of experience and all the answers. However, now I have been running for around two years I can confidently say I have learnt a lot regarding the sport and can see stark progression from where I started in many different ways. Therefore, in this post I will be answering these questions based upon my own running experiences, as well as knowledge gained from reading and research, and aiming to help those who are near the beginning of their running journey. It is worth noting that individuals do vary and therefore you should never take somebodies advice as complete golden (unless a professional, such as a GP or physio) but rather use it to guide you and trial for yourself.

I asked across social media for those new to running to share their most common questions and these are what I received;

How do I start running?

Sometimes it does feel like the hardest part is getting started. I began by following a plan I found online, similar to the NHS Couch to 5km, as I felt that this gave me the push and motivation I needed in order to stick at it. Having structured sessions laid out for you makes it much easier to ease in to as well as providing small, achievable goals you can tick off at the end of each session. Following a plan also builds up your running slowly, meaning you won't burn yourself out too quickly and finish the session feeling demotivated and drained. Personally, I began to love running pretty quickly, which also drove me to keep persevering and led me to where I am now. Don't run because you think you need to, run because you want to.

How regularly should you run?

This can be quite personalised to the individual depending on your body, spare time and fitness ability. Firstly, you should run as often as you like! There is no specific, set amount of times you must run each week in order to see progress or call yourself 'a runner'. However, obviously over working your body with too much too soon is a fast track to injury. Personally, since I started I have always only ran three times a week. My initial beginner plan included three sessions a week, as did the 10km plan I followed after and also my most recent half marathon training plan. The only variation in the plans is the amount of distance covered across these three sessions which has continually increased during my time running. Up to yet, three times a week has worked perfectly fine for me allowing me to achieve longer distances and faster paces whilst keeping injuries (mostly) at bay. Upping my sessions to four times a week is something I have been considering, since my body is very comfortable now in my current routine. For a new runner, two or three times a week is a brilliant place to start and will allow you to see the progression you're striving for. Don't initially worry about upping your weekly sessions from this, but perhaps first focus on building distance gradually so your body becomes stronger and adapts to the new stress of running.

How long should I be stretching for before and after running?

For a more in depth explanation on stretching before and after running, check out my previous post. In terms of time dedicated to stretching, I would recommend at least 10 to 15 minutes post-run to ensure you are holding the static stretches for long enough and targeting all of the key areas. I usually try and hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds, but around 20 seconds if I can. Before running, a 10 to 15 minute warm up consisting of high knees, butt kicks and a good amount of dynamic stretching should be sufficient. Although, if you are heading out for a high intensity session or a time trial effort, make sure to add at least a 1km slow jog to the beginning of your run. Warming up and stretching properly are crucial to new runners to avoid injury, something I definitely learnt the hard way.

What is the best way to find the pace your are comfortable at?

Many runners at the beginning of their journey (myself included) get too bogged down by pace. Focusing on the amount of time you are able to run for without stopping, I believe, is a much better way to initially judge progression in the sport. In terms of finding your 'easy' pace, as discussed in detail in this post, ensuring that you can still talk in sentences without gasping for air is essential to make sure you are not running too fast. Being comfortable should mean you can maintain this pace for extended periods of time with steady breathing, which often means you need to slow things right down. Whilst this might feel counter intuitive when striving for improvements, it is actually vital for seeing progression in the long run (excuse the pun). Over time, your comfortable, easy pace will gradually increase, but unfortunately this doesn't happen over night.

How do you maintain a good pace?

This closely follows on from my previous answer. From this question, I assume maintaining a 'good pace' is referring to a fairly comfortable one with a run resulting in relatively even splits. Again, running slow enough is key. If you are finding yourself getting progressively slower during the run and not maintaining the pace you started with, it means you are setting off too quickly. Interval and tempo sessions are the time to push the pace, steady/easy runs should be consistently comfortable which is achieved by slowing down to a pace you can maintain over time. To reiterate, ensuring you can speak in full sentences without laboured breathing is a good way to judge if you are going too fast.

How do you control your breathing? How do I make sure I'm breathing effectively?

For me, I have found that breathing whilst running definitely takes time to get used to. In order to control your breathing, as following on from my previous two answers, you need to ensure you are running at a comfortable pace. If you are pushing yourself, your breathing will definitely become more laboured which is often experienced during races or interval/tempo sessions. However, even then your breathing should still feel under control. Often when new to running, difficultly breathing comes from your body being pushed too far too soon. Slowing the pace down, even adding walking breaks if needed, will allow your body to adjust and your breathing to become more regulated.

Nasal breathing is considered to be the most efficient form of supplying oxygen to your body during running, however this is something that takes a lot of time and practice in order to become comfortable with. During a slow, easy paced run, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is a good way to start building efficient breathing techniques. Runner's World have a good article to check out on breathing here.

What is a normal heart rate for my age during running?

Heart rate is an entirely personal thing. There are a few generic ways to work out roughly your maximum heart rate, such as using the age-predicted method of 220 minus your age. However, the most effective way to do this is by conducting your own maximum heart rate running test (such as this) using a heart rate monitor. Once you have this, you can work out your different heart rate zones. This means the ranges your heart beat should be in depending on the type of session. For slower, endurance building runs, your heart rate should be lower than a tempo or time trial run due to less effort being exerted. Calculating these zones manually is explained here, but often your fitness tracker or Strava account can do this for you as long as they have your correct maximum and resting heart rates inputted. You can then monitor these during and after your run to ensure you are keeping in the correct zones to get the most benefit from each session. I am definitely no heart rate expert and have not yet ventured into the realm of heart rate training, so for any more detailed advice please have a look online!

What are the best pre and post run meals?

I am currently working on a whole blog post surrounding this topic, so keep your eyes peeled for that very soon. In short, carbohydrates and proteins are key to fuel your sessions properly and maximise recovery afterwards.

Which running shoes should I buy?

A common question for many new runners, but, again, an entirely personal one. I would highly recommend visiting a running shop that provides a gait analysis service so they can assess your technique and fit you with the correct shoes for your body. Getting back into running after suffering an ankle sprain last year was difficult since my ankle had lost a lot of strength and balance. I visited Up and Running for advice on more supportive trainers and, after getting my gait analysed, came out with new trainers that made the world of difference. Additionally, they told me I had been wearing shoes half a size too small since your foot needs room to move during the motion of running, therefore my normal shoe size were not ideal (in Asics trainers). Finding the correct shoes is really important, since a lack of correct support can result in problems with your feet, ankles, shins, knees and IT bands.

Since beginning running I have always owned Asics shoes and would highly recommend the brand to anyone. My first pair of trainers were the Asics GT-1000 6 (I think) and I now have the Asics GT-2000 7, which are a really good shoe for added support.

What are the best apps to monitor progress?

Strava, strava and.. strava. When initially starting my running journey I trialled quite a few different free apps available. Strava intimidated me as I always thought it was for the "real runners" who knew what they were doing. But, I was completely wrong. Strava is an excellent platform, not only allowing you to socially interact with other athletes but also for tracking your progress over time. Admittedly, they have recently made quite a few of the features for paid members only, but they are currently offering a free trial of the premium subscription. Also, the yearly price for Strava isn't that expensive and worth it if you are a keen runner who wants to be able to analyse their progress using statistics and data. Having said that, even the free version is a great way to monitor your progression as a runner.

I do also enjoy using the Garmin Connect app, as did I the Fitbit app previously. The free apps to accompany your fitness watch often have good features and offer some valuable data insight into each session. It's easy to look back over time, monitor your PB's and also keep track of how far you've been running month on month.

What is the best way to burn the most calories?

I have to admit, calorie burning is never something I am overly concerned about and so take little notice on how many I've burned after each run. However, given everything I have learnt during my time of being interested in fitness, I would recommend using interval sessions in order to achieve the best calorie burn. As I'm sure most people are aware, short bursts of intense exercise mixed with periods of recovery are the most efficient way to burn fat. Hence why HIIT training has taken off in recent years. Therefore, interval training and hill sprint sessions replicate this within the running sphere and would equally create a good calorie burn. Obviously longer runs that see you out on the roads for three times the length of your usual interval session will result in a higher calorie loss, however this is relative to the amount of effort exerted. So, if you're looking for a quick way to burn maximum calories then interval training is the one.

How do I stay motivated during lockdown?

Great question, I would love the answer myself! With races being cancelled and training plans coming to a halt, motivation definitely dipped to an all time low. But, that's okay. It's an unprecedented time we are all living through and so being kind to yourself is essential. For me, I've found taking the pressure off distance and pace and just running for the sheer enjoyment is how I've kept the miles ticking over! Don't get me wrong, this isn't always easy and I haven't kept the miles up quite as much as I'd have liked every week. But, I think running needs to come from a place of enjoyment. If you're always forcing yourself out the door and every step feels like a chore, maybe try a different sport to mix things up. Finding what you enjoy is key to staying motivated in the long term.

Thank you to everybody who sent me their questions and I hope this post has provided some help and advice into these common beginner topics. If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I will offer as much input as I can!

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