My top tips to start running (during lockdown)
1. Invest in some proper running trainers
Every runner definitely needs to take a very close look at their technique. But with all the specialist running shops closed at the moment, would I recommend a gait analysis to help you buy a pair of running shoes? Not necessarily! The majority of people can run in a neutral or stability shoe, but the most important factor by far in choosing a shoe that is comfortable and that is built for the purpose of running! So please do not run in your Vans or Converse trainers, and god forbid you dust off those running trainers at the back of your cupboard and run in a pair of 5-year old trainers. It is not worth the risk of injury forcing you to stop your new hobby far quicker than you started it!
How do you know when it’s time to replace your running trainers? Check the soles for wear and also in and around the shoe (holes, loss of shape, etc.) but also be honest with yourself when wearing them and feel for any lack of support or cushioning. If you feel like your feet are striking hard rocks rather than feeling supported and with a ‘spring’ in your stride, then it’s probably time to bid them farewell! A tip I give to my clients when they purchase a new pair of running trainers is to write on the inside of the shoe the date the bought them in permanent marker. This will give you a rough idea of their mileage going forwards.
2. Take it slow.
Just like you would break into a new pair of trainers, the same applies to running particularly when you are a beginner! Start off with smaller distances and build that up slowly. There are beginners running apps like Couch to 5K that can prove really useful during this time. Try a simple format of running or jogging for one minute and then walking for one minute.
Most importantly listen to your body and BREATHE. breathing builds more efficiency, a steadier pace, and a calmer mind but it is hard to maintain a steady pace of breathing when you first start to run.
My best advice to get started with your breathing is to inhale through your nose and out through your mouth for the best gas exchange at an easy pace. Stick to a pace that allows you to speak a few words or sentences (throw in walk breaks every few minutes if you have to).
3. Eliminate over-striding
If your foot contacts the ground ahead of your hips, you’re committing this form flaw. As well as wasting energy, over-striding increases the force of impact putting you at risk of shin splints, stress fractures and knee pain (see earlier post on ‘Runner’s Knee’).
Over-striding can be a result of a number of factors; tight hip flexors is a common culprit so ensure you stretch them out regularly.
Over-striding can also be the result of slow stride rate. By speeding up your foot strike, your feet will be more likely to land underneath your hips.
4. Tread softly
A bit of a heavy plodder? Are you pounding those pavements hard? If you’re stomping down with each step, this is undesirable for you as well as your neighbours.
If your feet are slapping down, your lower leg muscles will be working overtime to reduce impact. This can put you at risk of shin splints and other lower leg injuries, particularly if you’re flat-footed and tend to overpronate.
To fix this issue, think about running like a ninja. Keep a light, quick step and imagine you are running over egg shells.
The way to practise this technique is to incorporate more plyometric movements. Also known as jump training or plyos, these are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time with the goal to increase both speed and power. Think hopping and skipping!
5. Perfect your posture
Running with good posture is key to efficient, injury free running. However, most of us could improve ours.
We spend way too much time sitting down and this has a big negative impact on how we run. Spending too much time at our desks can lead to rounded shoulders and tight hips. These movement patterns become ingrained and we adopt them in our running form.
Stretching out our hip flexors can help to counteract the effects of sitting down; do this regularly throughout the day.
You’ll want to practise running with good posture. As a quick fix, imagine you’re a puppet with a string attached to the top of your head, pulling you towards the sky.
Focus on running tall, but with a slight forward lean. Ensure this slight lean comes from your ankles and not from the waist. That way your body stays in alignment. If you bend at the waist, you risk overstriding and pushing your hips back when running. If you lean from the ankles, your hips will move forward allowing gravity to do some of your work and save you energy.
Incorporate some shoulder stretching exercises into your workouts, for example scapula wall slides and shoulder shrugs. These will open up your chest muscles and release any tension in those shoulders and shoulder blades. You can even do them at your desk!
6. Make your run fun!
I, for one, have always been a solo runner and now with the social distancing measures in place more of us will be running solo for a little while longer. So how can you make a run less boring? Well, how about downloading your favourite music playlist, or catching up on an interesting podcast?
Prefer to not be distracted? Be adventurous with your running locations — why not venture to a park or area of your town that you haven’t explored yet?
You can also set yourself mini targets on your run and watch how quickly your progress improves. For example, each time you see a post box you have to sprint towards it before continuing your run. Or set yourself mini distance markers — run 100m, walk 100m, etc.
If you live with others then this is where accountability can come in very handy! Get your partner, housemate or other member of your family to join you on your runs! This will encourage you both to maintain healthy activity levels during lockdown. And you never know, you might decide to continue your new-found hobby for the long-term!