John Skevington is an experienced UKA level 3 endurance running coach, and an endurance running mentor for England Athletics. In this guide he provides a comprehensive training model for those looking to get into running...
Are you a budding Olympic athlete? Well who knows but this might be the time to find out! This guide is for those of you who have a general background of fitness; perhaps you are someone who goes to the gym regularly, has good general health and fitness and would be able to manage a 5k run at a slow pace or with walking breaks, you maybe even considering looking for a low key event to get started in?
Whatever your goals and aspirations you have made a commitment to be a runner and to be a part of the nation’s fastest growing participation sport; with half a million people expected to take up running in the next four years. With all these new runners you certainly won’t be alone!
From 'Gym Fit Jogger' to 'Runner'
Making the transition from the gym or from being a jogger to becoming a regular runner can be a fairly easy step. Building up slowly is the key, as this reduces the chances of injury from trying to do too much too quickly; an extra few miles or minutes too soon can cost you weeks of lost fitness. The more you put into your running the better you will become, but do it gradually.
The starting point for any project is to make a plan, and becoming a runner is no exception. To make the transition to regular runner you will need to be able to build up to running 3-4 times a week, so you should look at the time available to you to fit the training in. Review your family and work commitments to see where you can fit in your running time.
Setting goals and making plans
Before engaging upon your plan you should set yourself a goal or target, so perhaps to be able to run a certain distance or time for a distance, maybe to take part in an event or even just to beat your best friend in a race round the block! The key here is to set your goal, which must be realistic and measurable – there’s no point aiming to be an Olympic athlete in 6 month’s time! Set your target and work backwards to where you are now, you are then able to create good progression towards your goal. Don’t forget to include some landmarks along the way; perhaps again a time for a distance or a period of time of continuous running.
When you begin your training you will be starting with fewer sessions and then build up as you gain confidence and fitness. The first couple of weeks will be about doing two training runs to start building your endurance, and then moving on to extra sessions as you progress (see sample plan below); building up to 3-4 training runs per week before you look to move to being an intermediate/advanced runner.
You should allow enough time for each running session to include completing a proper warm up and stretch down – always remember that stretching after a run is the first step to preparing for the next – so for a 20 minute run you should allow around 40 minutes. Your warm up should be a dynamic one and not include any static stretches; these should be left to the end of your run to maintain muscle and tendon length.
So your basic warm up would probably be made up of jogging to get the heart rate up, some high knees done quite slowly but concentrating on form, of which more later, heel flicks (start low and build up to higher flicks) and perhaps some walking lunges forwards AND backwards to work the important hip flexors, which can get tight especially if your work is seated at a desk.
Sample Training Plan
It may be too hard or too easy – or just right! Choose the days to fit your lifestyle, but try not to have a rest day especially in the early days
Fuelling your body for running
Hopefully, as someone who is quite fit and healthy, you have a good diet already. However, being a runner you will need to keep an eye on what you are eating, to fuel your body both before your run and afterwards to help repair your muscles after the run. Being a runner though doesn’t give you permission to eat what you want and when you want!
It’s fairly obvious that unless you have a cast iron stomach that you shouldn’t eat within two hours of going for a run, this might not be so important as you begin at slower speeds, but as you progress you will likely suffer from a stitch if you do, unless you are very lucky.
The key is to eat a well-balanced diet at all times, however you will benefit from having a higher intake of carbohydrates on those days that you run. These should be predominantly “complex” carbohydrates such as bread/pasta etc, rather than from sugars, which although giving you a quick boost will not sustain you. Also aim to keep you fat intake down, especially if you are looking to lose weight whilst building up your running.
Post run, you should as soon as you can, get a mixture of protein and carbohydrates back into your body. The protein will help repair micro tears to your muscles (these happen every time that you run and are part of the process of increasing your muscle strength) and the carbs will build back up your energy stores. If you are someone that can’t eat after exercise, a milkshake drink will do the same job.
So as a runner what should you wear?
The beauty of running is its simplicity so you don’t need to invest a lot of money at the outset. Technical tops, which “wick away” sweat from your body are lighter, more comfortable and easier to maintain than cotton or other materials that absorb moisture. You will need a good pair of shorts or running pants (depending on the time of year and your preference) again these should be made of a lighter weight material, which will keep the moisture away from your body and hence reduce the chances of chaffing.
When you are starting out you don't want to be spending a huge amount on your running kit, look out for great discounts on the Wiggle site, as well as last year's ranges that are often great products, but may just not be this season's colours. Keep a look out for bargains!
The one item that you shouldn’t skimp on is your footwear, buy the best that you can and before purchasing have a gait analysis to understand your foot plant, so that you can see what range of running shoes (e.g. stability, neutral, training etc) is best for you. Each foot can strike the floor over 100 times a minute when you are running, so for your feet and bodies sake you need good footwear. You can get an entry level pair of shoes for £30-£40 and a good pair of socks will also help keep the blisters away! Spend as much as you can afford on your shoes.
The perfect running form
You might not have but aspire to it! Running form or style can have a big impact upon the enjoyment of running and can be one of the keys to how you progress. You can find lots of information about how to run through websites and magazines but try and think about the following basics which might also keep the injuries away.
- Head – Let your gaze guide you, keep looking at the horizon and don’t look down.
- Shoulders – Keep them low and loose.
- Arms and hands – don’t run with a clenched fist. Your arms should swing forwards and backwards and NOT across your body.
- Torso - “Run tall” - try and keep your hips high as your run.
- Hips – The centre of gravity in your body so vital to your running. If you are keeping your hips high your are OK, but look out for tilting especially when you get tired as this will put pressure on your lower back and affect your body alignment.
- Legs – Unless you are a sprinter, you require slighter knee lift; as quick leg turnover as you can and a shorter stride. Your feet should land directly underneath your body. As your foot strikes the ground, your knee should be slightly flexed so that it can bend naturally on impact.
- Feet - try to run quietly, lightly and don’t slap. Keep your ankle flexed as your foot rolls forward to create more force for push-off. As you roll onto your toes, try to spring off the ground.
As you progress to the next stage you might consider joining a running group or even better a club with a coach who can guide you further.
About John Skevington
John Skevington is an experienced UKA level 3 performance endurance running coach. He is an endurance running coach mentor for the England Athletics area coach development programme, as well as being the national delivery manager for the new Athlefit project which was his own brainchild.