So you want to be a runner?

If you're thinking of taking up running, whether for fitness or with the intention of taking part in races, you may not know the best place to start. While it's true that you can just strap on some trainers (or not!) and put one foot in front of the other, there are things to consider before you head out the door. Here are 5 steps to help you build good running practice and stay injury-free.

1. Where are you starting from?

Are you starting out on your fitness journey from scratch? There are plenty of Couch To 5K plans available, including dedicated apps that you can follow. These usually start with walking interspersed with increasing amounts of running intervals.

Even if you have a good base level of fitness but have never run before, it's also important not to overdo it at the beginning. Running is an impact activity that will take its toll on your body if you don't ease in gently.

2. Strength training

Do some basic strength training to build the muscles in preparation. Bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges can be done at home and if you have access to a gym then deadlifting or kettlebell swings are great for building the posterior chain muscles that are important for running. Read my post on strength training for running. 3. Rest!

Making sure you take recovery days is very important. Even if you don't feel tired or achey the next day, rest between workouts is definitely a good idea in the beginning.

Aim for 2 to 3 sessions a week, spaced out with rest days in between, and build from there. This allows time for your muscles to repair and recover - overworking can lead to injury.

4. A word about stretching

There are mixed opinions on whether stretching is useful for runners. You should definitely avoid static stretching before a run (holding a position to stretch the muscle) as this can damage a cold muscle, and favour a more dynamic warm up, to mobilise the muscles and joints (hip and shoulder rotations, legs swings, high knees and heel flicks).

Some gentle stretches after a workout can be beneficial but keep them within a safe range - for most people this is a 4 or 5 on a scale where 10 is the maximum they can tolerate, although everyone's body is different. Runners don't need to be super flexible so overdoing the stretching may actually set you back.

5. Nutrition

As with everything diet related, you will find a lot of different advice and strategies for eating as a runner.

Many runners will eat carb-rich diets as these provide a good source of glycogen, which fuels the muscles during exercise. That doesn't mean all-you-can-eat bread, pasta and potatoes, but these foods can definitely help propel you along. There are some that espouse the Ketogenic/Keto diet (high fat, extremely low carb), saying that the body will burn its own fat as fuel and this may work for some but not everyone.

The key is to find a strategy that works for you because everyone is different. You might find that you're ravenous after a run but you've also got to be careful not to over-consume. While running is not the optimal way to lose weight, eating more calories than you burn will lead to weight gain, which makes running harder. Many people find using apps to log meals and exercise helps them understand calories in versus calories out, and this can also help you see how different foods affect your running and energy levels. It's a good idea to not eat anything heavy for at least a couple of hours before you run.

Quick summary

  • Start easy

  • Build strength

  • Recover properly

  • Don't over-stretch

  • Eat right for you.