Hi, I’m Alex and I’m a Runner.
Believe me when I say I’ve come a long way to get to this point. A couple of weeks ago I could barely manage running to the end of my street without getting out of breath, then yesterday I reached my 10km goal for the very first time ahead of my first race in May. I sobbed like a little girl with pride and joy and exhaustion. But most surprisingly, I loved every (very long) minute of it – it was nothing short of a miracle.
I have the Running Bug.
I’ve alway ran or worked out in some shape or form – 15 minutes on the treadmill here, a gym session there – but it always felt like a necessary evil, not something I truly enjoyed. My weight has always been an issue, and dealing with it is and has been a constant struggle. But then a couple of weeks ago everything just seemed to click, and I became a Runner with a capital R. *I LOVE RUNNING.* For any budding runners out there, I want to share with you some of my tips, because believe me: if I can do it, anyone can.
Before I start, just know there’s no magic solution I can give you: in order to improve your running, you simply have to put on your shoes, head out that door and do it. It’s so damn simple. However, I have recently learned that the key to taking that first step out the door is mostly in the head. Running is a psychological thing: the difference between 1k and 10k is in your head, believe me. God knows I’ve found countless reasons not to go out for a run in the past, so it’s all about minimising your excuses not to do it. Here’s my 10 tips to get you out there and enjoying running just like I am doing for the very first time.
Note: Since writing this post, I started Fashercise – a blog devoted to all of these subjects! Make sure you check it out!
1. Get yourself some new kit
I used to work out in old tracksuit bottoms and faded t-shirts which should never really see the light of day. If you wouldn’t want to be seen in public dressed like that, so why would you work out in grubby gear? I’ve found that since investing in great looking and technically adequate kit, I’m far more motivated to go for an outdoor run. When I feel like I look good, I’m far more excited to go out there in public… if only I could wear a mask over my purple face :) I’m a massive fan of all things Stella McCartney x Adidas, Nike and H&M’s sportswear.
Besides… any excuse to get new clothes, right?
So what do you need? Get yourself technical sports bras and leggings, as they will make your run far more comfortable, a good set of trainers to give you the right support (I recommend having a GAIT test – you can do that in store at NikeTown or Runner’s World for example – which will analyse your strides and recommend the right type of shoe for your specific needs. Good shoes will make injuries a lot less likely!), a handy water bottle, an arm bracelet for your music player and a good set of headphones. Below are some of my picks of the coolest sportswear must-haves:
2. Let’s talk about tech, baby
I’m a sucker for gadgets and apps. When it comes to sports, I’m a firm believer they can push you that little bit further. They can track and compare your runs, motivate you and analyse your statistics. There’s a ton of incredible apps out there, so definitely do some research. Personally, I’m a big fan of RunKeeper, an easy-to-use and free app which can track your runs via GPS to give you a correct distance and speed. It has several set training schedules and it allows you to add friends through Facebook and engage in a little bit of friendly competition. I also use MapMyRun, which works in a similar way and allows you to map your run even before or after you’ve done it.
Nike also offers a number of great little gadgets and apps – Nike+ GPS app again works in a similar way to the ones I mentioned above, and I also own the Fuelband which gives me a rough idea of how much general activity I’ve done during the day. For more accurate tracking try the Nike+ Running Watch or armband (which works with a chip in your shoe). Adidas offers a similar tracking device, miCoach.
A screenshot of my running route using RunKeeper
3. Set a goal
Nothing motivates more than the looming threat of public humiliation, aka a race. I only started taking running seriously after I signed up for a 10k this May. Suddenly I had a goal and a date to reach it and it’s been the best thing working towards something tangible. Before I was going on pointless short runs, without much motivation or focus – these days it’s all about reaching that target, and once I reach it, improving my time. Set yourself a specific goal to work towards – it doesn’t have to be a race – and it’ll get you going in no time.
4. Be Realistic
You want to run a marathon? Well, so do I. I’ve signed up a couple of times, thinking that “if I got a place, I’d start taking it seriously”. One year I did get that spot, started training and messed up my ankle bad enough to not be able to run at all for a long time. The challenge was simply too big – not realistic enough for my capabilities. Is it possible? Sure, plenty of people have done it and I admire them for it (here’s a novice to marathon running plan if you do want to attempt it), but it wasn’t for me. I’ve now taken the smarter decision to start slow: first with a couple of 10k races, then gradually upping my distance so that maybe one year I will run that marathon.
There’s tons of races out there for beginners, so don’t worry about never having done one before – these days they’re just about having fun running. For example, on May 18th, Nike and ELLE are hosting We Own The Night, a 10k run at night in Victoria Park for women only, with tons of entertainment and music to make it a really fun night out with your girlfriends. 10k is a totally achievable goal, so why don’t you try it?
If races aren’t for you, keep a distance in mind and gradually work towards it. I’ve found that it’s better to work towards a distance rather than a set time – everyone runs at a different pace, so reach your goal in your own time, not someone else’s. Be ambitious, but not stupid: if you’ve never run before, it’s not realistic to think you’ll be running 20k in a month’s time.
I’m also realistic that I won’t be breaking any speed records just yet – in my quest to reach my 10k goal, I knew I had to slow things down. Sure, it’s embarrassing when your jogging speed is as slow as some people walking on the pavement, but it doesn’t matter: it’s about getting there, however slow or fast that may be. It’s a process, so now I can start to go faster.
5. Find a running buddy
Running with a friend is one of the most amazing things you can do. Find a friend on a similar level so you’re not intimidated and together you can motivate and create a bit of healthy competition, the best way to get you running a little faster and more often! When you don’t feel like heading out, it’s good to have someone who can give you that (proverbial) kick up the ass. And even when you can’t run together, keep up to date with each other’s training schedule, always motivate and challenge. You can also connect and compare runs via the many running apps for your phone (I use RunKeeper), just to keep an eye out on each other’s progress (and do a little better than your friend, obviously!)
You can also join a running club or check out websites where you can find a running buddy in your area like Jogging Buddy. And if you don’t feel like a real life running partner, why not use social media to keep you motivated? Yesterday I really didn’t feel like going for a run and tweeted about it – the encouragement I got from online friends and strangers convinced me to put my trainers on and head out.
6. Find a nice route
Running in Central London can bring its challenges. I used to run around my neighbourhood, but the constant stopping and starting for cars and traffic lights meant I got exhausted really quickly. There’s lots of uphills and downhills too, which again aren’t great when you’re trying to keep a consistent pace. Another issue is boredom: doing the same run every time can get a little… zzzzz. So one day I decided to just hop on a bus to Regent’s Park where it’s nice and flat, without traffic and it has a couple of great set routes to follow. Jogging past beautiful landmarks, watching the giraffes at London Zoo and surrounded by fellow runners, it never gets boring – in fact, I’m actually looking forward to it now.
Wherever you may be in the world, look up a safe, scenic and flat route where you can really just focus on the run and improving your stamina. You can create your own route at MapMyRun, or find some in your area created by others. If you’re prone to injuries, look for runs on a softer underground, like parks or running tracks.
The Giraffes during my morning run definitely keeps it interesting.
7. Create a great playlist
I can’t stress the importance of a good playlist enough. A selection of happy songs with a good beat will get you to run a little faster and a little longer. It’ll get you to sing and enjoy. Studies have shown the right music can improve your performance by 15%. Make sure you get your playlist sorted before you head out – you want it ready to go, not have to fuss around with your iPod whilst running, which is a distraction.
Personally I am a bit of an indie rock kid, and at first I went running listening to my usual tunes. As much as I love Bon Iver or The National, the music is more likely to get me to doze off for a little while than to inspire me to run. So I’ve been looking at running compilation albums (the.worst.music.ever) and workout podcasts, before settling on Spotify – quite frankly, nothing is a simple and convenient to use. Below is a sample running playlist I’ve made, full of embarrassingly cheesy pop songs I’d never admit to listening to. But I 100% believe my switch in music has played a huge role in my recent progress.
FYI nothing beats singing along to Kelly Clarkson’s Since You’ve Been Gone whilst running. But don’t tell anyone I said that.
8. Eat healthy
“You can’t out-train a bad diet” – it’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. Run all you want, but if you’re going to be eating crap all day long, it won’t make a difference. To run to your optimal ability, you need a runner’s diet: you need protein, you need carbs, you need plenty of hydration. Here’s a great little overview of what novice runners should be eating.
9. Stretch Stretch Stretch
It shouldn’t have to be said, but stretching before and after can make a world of difference. Not only does it help avoid injuries, but if you’re sore and in pain for days after your last run, you probably won’t be very excited to get ready for the next one – and this post is all about eliminating reasons not to go running. These are some great stretching exercises you should be doing.
10. Learn to give yourself a break
Look: sometimes, for no apparent reason at all, it just doesn’t work. One day you’ll be setting personal bests, the next day you can hardly get a 100m out the door without gasping for air. It happens. It can be frustrating and disheartening when it does, and although I suggest you try to power through a little longer, some days it’s ok to hold your hands up and admit defeat. Give yourself a break, it should be fun, not a punishment – better next time!
None of my little tips can help you unless you put on those trainers and run, run, run! Even a marathon starts with 1 step, so whether you’re running 1k or a marathon, remember that everyone’s got to start somewhere. Work at your own pace and your own ability and you’ll get there in the end. And remember, it may be working out, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be fun.