Its that time of year again when lots of people who would describe themselves as “not a runner” lace up their trainers and start running as part of a new year health kick, so as your friendly, neighbourhood running club we are here with some advice and tips to help you along the way. This isn't a one size fits all approach, and we aren't highly decorated coaches at DRC, its just the ramblings of people who've been where you are and went on to fall in love with running and are passionate about helping others to do likewise.
We aren’t going to reinvent the wheel here, there’s already a beginner programme out there in the form of the NHS Couch to 5k programme, complete with its own app. This is backed by England Athletics and is a superb starting point which many our members have followed and gone on to run marathons and beyond. So the core of our advise is... follow that.
The programme will guide you through three, 30 minute sessions a week, starting out with small, manageable segments of running (60 seconds or so) broken up by longer periods of walking and will then gradually build up the length and duration of the running segments whilst phasing out the walking sections over a period of 9 weeks. Its sensible, manageable, and achievable for anyone.
However, what it doesn’t come with is those nuggets of wisdom from those who’ve trodden that path, so here’s some tips from us to those who are about to embark on the programme:
It will be hard at first – There is not a runner out there who did not want to chuck it all in after their first few sessions. The truth is that running for long periods of time is very hard in the beginning and even from that point it is equally hard to make improvements and maintain fitness.
Part of the joy of the sport of running is pushing your physical boundaries and finding out what you can achieve. Working towards a race goal requires pushing your limits and is therefor hard work - whether that is running a sub 3hr marathon or completing a 5km run without stopping. So, we cant make any promises about it getting easier, but we can absolutely promise that you can find a great deal of enjoyment in the struggle.
Buy some proper running shoes – Running is a simple sport that does not require a lot of kit and equipment, you can run in whatever old trainers you have kicking around but we cannot stress enough how much of a difference a good pair of running shoes can make. You do not have to spend a lot but there are rights and wrong types of shoes depending on your size, weight and running style. A trip to a running shoe specialist is a good idea, they can analyse your feet and ‘gait’ and make recommendations for particular shoes.
Having the right pair of shoes may well be the difference between injury and success on your C25K journey.
If you really get into running after the C25K programme, then you can join the rest of us on the dark side where we can (and do) spend the GDP of a small country on kit and shoes on a monthly basis.
Slow down – When the app says “run for x minutes”, the aim is to not run as fast as you possibly can until it tells you to walk. A light jog is sufficient – even the most experienced of runners (and we’re talking right up to Olympians) are sometimes guilty of setting off far too quickly and paying the price later on.
Your aim, right now, is just to build up to a point where you can complete 5km without stopping and that means running reservedly – you can then spend the rest of your life afterwards trying to run it faster… That’s what we do and believe us, it’s a curse! so savour these months where running slowly is your primary aim.
Don’t run on consecutive days and stick to the plan. The app suggests running three times a week and we’d suggest spreading these days out so you have at least one rest day between each session. Even if you’re feeling good, don’t try and cram in extra sessions. Properly recovering from the last session before the next is part of the training process. That’s when you’re muscles are repairing themselves so that they’re stronger the next time out. If you do more and don’t rest, you risk injury and setting yourself back much further than you’d have gained by trying to do too much, too soon.
Join Strava and record your efforts. Strava is a social media platform for athletes but it also doubles up as a training log and diary and provides you with a shed load of data and numbers to pour over. All you need is a smartphone with GPS and it will record your workouts and you can bask in the glory as people stick a thumbs up and congratulate you on your efforts.
You can nerd out with the facts and figures it spits back at you and follow your friends and acquaintances. Like all social media, it can have its drawbacks but where running is concerned it can make a solo pursuit a social one and can connect you with a support network to help you along the way.
Consistency over a long period of time is key to improving your fitness. The one weakness of the C25k app is that it is formulaic and doesn’t provide any feedback. The aim is not to rattle through it all as soon as possible - use it as a guidebook rather than an instruction manual.
It is OK to repeat a session or a week. Everyone is starting from a different point and injuries, illness and life situations can all knock you off track. Listen to your body and what it is telling you. If you are really struggling, go back a week. If a particular session on the programme feels very tough, keep repeating it until you feel ready to move onto the next one. The main thing is not to feel overwhelmed if your struggling, just keep doing what you can until you feel ready to move on. If it takes you longer than 9 weeks, so what?
Enjoy it! If you are a complete beginner, there will be times when you want to quit and times when going out of the house in the cold and dark is the last thing you feel like doing. However, the sense of achievement you will feel at the end of the programme will make all of the hard work worthwhile. After you've completed the programme, there's a vibrant and inclusive network of runners locally who you can get involved with. C25K graduates would be well served by the Dronfield Diamonds meetings.
Who knows, maybe one day, you’ll join our ranks, be calling yourself a runner and entering obscure races in far flung parts of the country…. Never say never – every one of us was once where you are right now.
Good Luck and happy running,