Beginning Running: Lessons of a Novice Runner

Fat RunnerJust after Christmas I decided to take up running. I’m not very good at it, but I have learned some important lessons that I wanted to share in case anybody else out there was thinking of taking up this noble sport.

Two Shoes!

It sounds obvious that you need decent shoes to go running in, but that “decent” word doesn’t quite describe the complexity of your choice. When I first started I had some normal £15 trainers which quickly vapourised once I exposed them to a bit of light treadmill effort. I upgraded to some £44 Nike “Full-Length Air” foam-soled jobbies, which I forget the name exactly but it was something like “Nike Citrus”, which explains the neon yellow highlighting, and why my inability to run longer than 7km without keeling over makes me so bitter… They’re great trainers and have lasted the 100km or I’ve waddled to date and show only minor damage to the inner sole after this distance. I am now looking at something a bit lighter and more robust.

The current trend is for “barefoot running”, which sounds really dangerous given the state of today’s pavements. The smart folks at various running-shoe manufacturers have invented barefoot trainers. Some are just normal running shoes but with a bit less sole so you can feel more of the paving (and occassional shattered glass) under your feet. Others, like the Vibram Fivefingers:

 

Vibram Fivefingers
Vibram Fivefingers (they're toes, ya eejits!!!)

 

… are built around the ethos that your running shoes should be mere veneers over your fleshy hooves.

A great article about running shoes, and in particular the Vibram Fivefingers, is at Rogers Is Running by elite runner, and my ex-colleague, Stacey Rogers.

 

And… Stretch!

My first big goal (running 1 mile non-stop without dying in a heap, on fire, in a ditch, covered in bees) was achieved when I realised how important stretching before a run is. Prior to that I would head to the gym on a morning, chuck my bag in the locker room and jump straight on a treadmill. A minute later I would be heading back to the locker room looking like I was suffering from rickets.

My first day of stretching properly was an epiphany. I spent twenty minutes really giving my calf muscles and thighs a good limbering up; and then I felt (for the first time) properly ready to run. I managed 30 minutes that day, at 7.5kph, pretty slow by anybody’s standards but not a bad first shot.

 

Lean, Mean, Running Machine

I’ve never been what you might call “thin”. In fact, for much of my life I’ve often been called “fat”, or words synonymous. I blame a childhood diet consisting primarily of Birdseye Beefburgers and Fish Fingers. (Mmmm). But my body is all wrong too. I’ve got stupidly broad shoulders because I dabbled in some Rugby when I was going through puberty, so my body assumed that would be my sport of choice for life. It was wrong. After a year of pain on the Rugby pitch, I switched to Tae Kwon Do at the age of 15, a sport not known for its broad-shouldered elite fighters!!

Twelve years on, I’m a black belt, so the silly arm/torso connections haven’t held me back too much, but I’m left with lean legs and a big beefy top end. I’m basically the worst possible shape and too top heavy for any kind of sport. Least of all running.

But I have lost weight since starting to run and from different places than I lost it when I was at the peak of my Tae Kwon Do ‘career’. From the front I am slimmer, but sideways on my back arch is becoming more prominent. Somehow I don’t think I’m actually losing any body mass, instead running is just repackaging my insides in a more streamlined shape. :-/

 

Fitness

I’m now getting into work on a morning, slinging my bag in the locker room, and churning out a good 40-60 minutes of running. On average I’ll cover about 5km/6km and usually only stop when I realise I’ll be late for work or a recurring knee injury becomes too painful. On the whole I’m making good strides (see what I did there?).

Recently I have switched from building up mystamina and endurance to improving my pace, so-called “speed work”. I’m now clocking up 9kph (6mph) although my endurance has dropped for now to 4km/5km. But the most interesting thing is that since switching the pacey runs I’m noticing a significant improvement in my overall fitness and weight loss. If you’re going to take up running, get fast as fast as you can, the endurance and distance will build faster than the other way around like I did.

 

Things Running Made Me Love

Running is a weird activity, it makes you appreciate stuff you never did before:

  • Icy cold showers
  • Cutting down on food because you know you’ll have to carry it on the run the next morning
  • A brisk wind on your back
  • A bit of gentle drizzle
  • Lycra
  • Getting to places quickly without having to burn expensive fuel
  • Sports caps on water bottles
  • Lightweight mobile phones (I haven’t got one of these… :-/)
  • Dance music (well, some of it)
  • Endomondo‘s generously poor GPS lock

 

Things I hate now

  • Hills
  • People who can’t keep the pavement outside their houses properly maintained (my first outside injury was a twisted ankle at 1.5 miles the first time I ran outdoors!)
  • A brisk wind at your front
  • Temperatures above 10ºC
  • Drivers who storm right up to the Give Way line before stopping and looking for pedestrians
  • Hills (although weirdly, I prefer running up-hill than down, it suits my abbreviated calf muscles)
  • Endomondo’s annoyingly long GPS-lock times 🙁
  • Did I mention hills?

 

Next?

I’m hoping to join the Newcastle Park Run on a Saturday morning in the next month or so, a 5km circuit around Newcastle’s Exhibition Park and once I’m doing sub-30min I will look at entering some other timed runs.

For now, it’s a big focus on weight loss, pace, endurance, and protecting my dodgy knee from harm.

I want to do the BUPA Great North Run within a couple of years (hopefully sooner than later) but I’m going to have to start doing greater than 6km if that’s going to happen!! Hopefully my body will reshape itself again into something a bit less archy-backed and still-podgy around the midriff before I tackle that 13+mile hell…

Let me know if you have any hints, tips or good links in the comments below!

 

Final Words of (semi-)Wisdom

  • Always pre-hydrate for a while before you run. Water. Nothing fizzy.
  • Always stretch. If you don’t have time to stretch you don’t have time to run.
  • Always go twosie before you run. (Maybe that’s just me, but your insides will get shuffled around a bit)
  • Always go onesie before you run.
  • Don’t ever, ever give up. Set yourself a distance, a pace, a route, and FINISH IT!
  • Have very supportive family and friends to pat you on the back when you do well.
  • If you gotta go, you gotta go (but please find a toilet if you’re in the gym)
  • Remember, it gets easier. Right now you’re the worst you’ll be, every time you run you’ll be a little bit better and if you invest the time you’ll get better faster! Everyone had to start at the bottom.

 

Good luck!

 

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