Eight Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Running

My one and only flying feet
picture. Basildon parkrun 2017
I've been running for about three years. As an overweight middle-aged woman, I'm often asked why I started. Quite simply, I don't know. I think I just woke up one morning and decided I wanted to be a runner. I do remember asking my super-fit neighbour for tips for a beginner, and she didn't have any to suggest. So, a few years down the line, here's what I wish I'd known when I started.

1. You don't need lots of expensive equipment, but you do need the right equipment. You can run in anything comfortable, light, and weather-appropriate, but a good sports bra (if you're a girl!) and a decent pair of trainers are essential. Trainers have to be replaced regularly according to how many miles they've done. I did not know this when I started, and only found out when I started having serious pain in my foot--pain which put paid to my running--and a sports shop assistant showed me that the cushioning on one of my trainers (the one corresponding to the bad foot) was broken.

2. You don't need water or special food. If you're running 5k or less you don't need to take a bottle of water with you. Provided you're well hydrated before you start, and there's a drink waiting for you when you finish, there's no need to figure out how to carry a drink around. Similarly, there's no need to carb-load, or add extra protein, or anything. Just don't run when you're full or starving, and you'll be fine. (If you're running more than 5k then you may need to think about taking water.)

3. Run slowly. You’re not trying to break any records, here. If it’s hard work, don’t stop or give up, just slow down. Even if you’re jogging at a pace barely faster than you can walk, you’re still running. Even if you’re walking, you’re still moving. Don’t stop, just slow down. (Oh, and having to slow to a walk every once in a while to recover isn't called failing at running, it’s called interval training.)

4. Running outdoors feels completely different from running on a treadmill. I find the treadmill much harder, and somewhat boring, but it is measurable, only has hills where you want them, is safer than running alone at night and is handy on cold, rainy or icy days. Or hot days, apparently, not that I remember what those are. The treadmill has its place, but running outside will give you better times and feel more fun.

5. Don’t expect it to get easier quickly. Getting fit is a very long, slow process. Don’t get discouraged if improvement is a long time in coming. It will come, but not overnight. It may also come in unexpected ways. The first improvement I noticed when I started running wasn't my times getting faster, but my lung capacity getting bigger. I have always suffered with asthma, but the lessening of my symptoms was one of the first benefits I found to running. A little bit later I noticed how much quicker I was recovering after each run. To start with it would often take over fifteen minutes before I was no longer beetroot-red, panting, sweating and gasping for a drink. Within two months I was feeling back to normal within three minutes of finishing my run.

6. There's more than one way to learn. I've done two different Couch25k programmes. The first was the NHS one, and the second was Zombies, Run! which worked better for me and was a lot of fun. My problem is that I tend to run less in the winter (because it's cold so I'm restricted to the boring treadmill) so often have to restart my training in the spring by doing a programme again. If Couch25k isn't for you, try just running for an extra minute each time you go out. That's worked for me too.

7. Get support. It's really great to be able to compare notes and tips with other runners, and know that others are experiencing exactly what you are. The running community is incredibly supportive and friendly, and there isn't any judgement or comparing of times. I belong to a running club, the fabulous Castle Point Joggers, have a running buddy, and I enjoy parkrun too.

8. You will eventually come to enjoy it. When I started running I didn't enjoy it - in fact, I was so apprehensive I'd get the "running runs" before going out. (TMI?) Others assured me that I would one day come to love it, and they were right. It was once something I dreaded, then it became something I was ambivalent about, and now it's something I look forward to. I'm not sure whether it's the sense of achievement, the endorphins, or simply the fact that when all your effort and energy is put into just keeping moving all the day's other worries fade away.

I'm still very much a beginner (5k PB 37:10) but I'm a runner, and I'm really seeing the benefits.


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