10 Tips for New Runners

Posted on November 12, 2010

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Published in Aquarius – Nov 10

So you’ve decided you want to hit the road?

Congratulations! Whether to lose weight, improve your fitness, enjoy some quality ‘me’ time or to relieve stress, the benefits of incorporating running into your life are endless.  Follow my top ten tips to help you get off to a flying start and bypass the minefield of information available, much of which is irrelevant, too technical or simply not practical. By Victoria Leckie

Warm up in style

The importance of warming up and warming down cannot be underestimated.  Too many runners become complacent and overlook this until they are constantly stiff or worse, continually injured. “Warming up raises your body temperature which increases the flexibility of muscles, ligaments, tendons and cartilage and leads to fewer strains, sprains and tears,” says Rachael Clough, physiotherapist and sports injury specialist at Dubai Physiotherapy & Family Medicine Centre. “A proper warm up actually makes your workout easier as your joints are lubricated and ready for action. The most important areas to stretch are the calf, hamstrings, groin, quads and buttocks and you should try and hold each stretch for 20 seconds.  Warming down on the other hand allows your heart rate to return to normal and encourages your body to get rid of any metabolic waste.”

Ease in gently

It is easy to get carried away when you begin running only to find your body rebelling because you’ve tried to do too much too fast!  Ease yourself in gently and you will reap the benefits, minimise the risk of injury and enjoy a new lease of life with a new found energy and glowing confidence. Begin by taking walks interspersed with short bursts of running and gradually build up from there.  An excellent resource to get you started is John Bingham’s book ‘The Courage to Start’ where the author describes his sometimes hilarious transition from couch potato to supreme athlete. Packed with inspiration and practical advice, Bingham shoes how anyone can embrace running as a life-enhancing activity and helps you to establish a programme of achievable goals. (Available on Amazon)

Get the right fit

Running shoes differ from other types of shoe as they are designed to only allow forward and backward motion. Go to a specialist store and get your gait analysed; GO Sport at Ibn Buttuta and Saucony, at Ibn Buttuta and Dubai Mall, are both good options. They will evaluate your feet and recommend the right shoe type depending on your biomechanical needs. There are typically three types of shoe available to support the three different gaits:

  • Overpronators require a rigid shoe to stop their feet rolling inwards when they run. They need control and stability
  • Supinators run on the outsides of their feet and require flexible, cushioned shoes that encourage the foot to roll inwards towards a more neutral position
  • Neutral runners simply need a stable shoe that does not lend to either type of pronation

Invest also in some good running socks to prevent blisters, a well-fitted sports bra, some breathable clothing and a re-useable water bottle.

Fuel Up

The old adage you are what you eat is never truer than when you’re engaging in high intensity sports such as running. You wouldn’t after all put petrol in a diesel car! Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and follow a run with some lean protein to help promote muscle repair.

Staying hydrated is also vital, especially during the hot Dubai summers.  Sip water regularly throughout your run and try an electrolyte drink afterwards to replace lost salts.  Local running enthusiast, personal trainer and nutritionist Fiona Smith says, “The amount of liquid you need will depend on the conditions.  If it is hot and humid, you will sweat more which means you will lose more water, salt and sugar.  As the levels of these decrease in your body, it understandably becomes less efficient and suffers under stress.”

Trade the terrain

Runners in Dubai are unfortunately not blessed with soft trails where you can pound away and enjoy a cushioned landing.  Nonetheless, it is important to mix it up as much as possible.  This might mean using the jogging track at Safa Park, the parkland within Safa or another local park (Al Manzil and Zabeel are both popular with runners), the treadmill, a paved road and the pavement itself. As you grow more confident and cover a greater distance, you’ll welcome the variety of different terrains and surroundings.  You may even want to join one of the local Running Clubs who organise regular events on varying terrain throughout Dubai.  Dubai Road Runners, Mirdif Milers, Creek Striders and ABRaS all welcome new and enthusiastic runners of all abilities.

All Pain no Gain

A few minor aches and pains are common, even expected when you begin running, but many a runner has caused serious injury by not listening to their bodies and not treating their niggles seriously. “Most injuries respond well to the RICE treatment – Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation,” says physiotherapist Rachael Clough. “RICE can relieve pain, reduce any swelling and protect the injury from further aggravation. Simple to remember and easy to do at home, this method is the best fast approach for most injuries and should be followed for a minimum of three days.”  If no improvement is seen you should see a physiotherapist or doctor for precise diagnosis and treatment.

Follow good form

Running is a natural movement; one we have leant instinctively as very small children. It still pays to take notice of your form though, not only to make it easier on your legs but also to help your breathing and to maintain a good posture. Try to keep your head and chin up and your shoulders relaxed. Bend your elbows around 90 degrees and swing your arms back and forth, as opposed to across your body. Run ‘tall’ i.e. with a straight back and try to keep your footstrike as light as possible. “Your feet should not slap loudly as they hit the ground. Good running is springy and quiet,” says Jane Hahn, senior editor at Runner’s World Magazine.

Rest & Recover

The golden rules to reduce the risk of injury and avoid burn out are to rest well, listen to your body and to avoid increasing your time / distance by more than 10% per week. Remember, your goal is to get fit and have fun so enjoy the process of starting out and don’t expect too much too soon. On days that you don’t run, do some cross-training, such as swimming or cycling, or work on your core strength.  Nassreh Ameri, personal training manager at Ignite fitness & wellness, is a firm believer that strengthening your core muscles will improve your running economy, speed and power. “You will run faster with less effort and reduce the feeling of fatigue. You’ll also benefit from improved balance and better posture. If you study anatomy you will find that all of the motion of a runner comes from the core and moves across the body in a spiral. A strong core affects the arm swing and the footfall.“

Motivational Tools

Whether a novice or a pro, every runner goes through periods where motivation is down and that extra push is required to get out the door.  This is where a few important accessories – a running buddy, an ipod and a training log – are vital.  If you have arranged to run with a friend, you’re far less likely to suddenly find a household chore that desperately needs attending to!  Time also flies when you’re in good company. “Find a like-minded friend to run with.  Some of the greatest friendships have been formed during training runs,” says Cynthia Hayward from online running magazine Time-to-Run. When it comes to music, some simply can’t run without it.  Create a playlist with your favourite tunes that are guaranteed to combat fatigue and keep you inspired. Finally, a training log is a great insight to monitor your progress and serves as fantastic motivation to track how much you’ve improved from day one.

Do it your way!

These tips will hopefully push you in the right direction but keep in mind that ultimately, every runner has different theories and vastly conflicting advice!  What works for one runner may not do so for another so experiment with what works and then stick with what you know. The only universal truths about running are these; it will make you feel better physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You will become stronger, your stamina will improve and you will have a surge in energy.  And best of all, it’s so easy to take up; no fancy equipment is required, no expensive gym membership, no advance booking; just a good pair of trainers and the will to get moving!

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