10 commandments of running
With no gym membership or expensive equipment needed, jogging is one of the most accessible forms of exercise to take up. David Flanagan outlines some essential rules to keep you on track
With Christmas slowly receding in the rear mirror it's time to flick the switch from excess to exercise. Every year in early January, vast numbers of people turn to running to get fit and stay in shape. A huge part of running's appeal is its accessibility - it's easy to get started, there is no gym membership or expensive equipment required. It's just a matter of throwing on a tracksuit and a pair of runners and heading out the door.
The following tips should prove useful whether you're a regular runner who has fallen off the wagon or a keen first timer looking to get fit in 2018.
1. Pace yourself
Finding the right pace is difficult and it's all too common for beginners, full of enthusiasm, to set off far too fast only to have to stop minutes later with lungs heaving and legs burning. Even elite runners do a large amount of their training at a very gentle pace, so don't be afraid to adopt a similar strategy. Once you have a few runs under your belt, you can start to gradually increase your speed until you find the pace that works best for you.
2. Wear the right kit
Midwinter probably isn't the ideal time to embark on an outdoor exercise programme, but once you get kitted out with the appropriate clothing, it isn't too bad. The key is to wear enough to stay warm once you get moving without overheating. This can take a bit of trial and error. There is no need to spend a fortune - keep an eye on the German discount retailers as they regularly sell excellent value running gear.
3. Set a goal and make a plan
Some people struggle after a few weeks when their initial enthusiasm has waned. A great way to stay motivated is to set a realistic goal. It doesn't even need to be a race - Park Run organise free timed 5k runs every week across Ireland (see parkrun.ie for details). Once you have decided on a goal, you need to devise a plan that lays out what you need to do and when. The Athletics Ireland website (athleticsireland.ie) has a beginner to 5k training plan that is ideal for those new to running.
4. Increase your mileage gradually
The beauty of starting from a low base of fitness is that the initial gains come very easily. However, don't get carried away with this early success by increasing your mileage too quickly as this is a very common cause of burnout and injuries. Runners follow the 10pc rule, which states that you should increase your mileage by no more than 10pc a week.
5. Get off the roads
Concrete roads and paths can be very hard on the body, so consider running on more forgiving surfaces. Trail running is a great workout and it doesn't have to be brutally hard - it can be as simple as going for a run through your local forest or along the nearest beach. There are hundreds of trails across the country that are ideally suited for running. Check out irishtrails.ie for ideas.
6. Plan your route
It's all well and good setting off Forrest Gump-style without a route in mind, but it's probably more sensible to plan it in advance. If you use Google Maps or a running app such as Strava or MapMyRun to plot your route, then you will know the exact distance and height gain involved so there won't be any nasty surprises.
7. Plan when you eat
Fitting in your meals around your run can be tricky. On one hand, you want to make sure you have enough fuel on board and on the other, you don't want to be too full when setting off. The key is to plan ahead - experts say you should allow two hours for a large meal to digest before running. Of course you could have a small snack up to 30 minutes beforehand - you just need to experiment and figure out what works best for you.
8. Make sure you are visible
Thanks to the short days in early January, you are probably going to end up doing a lot of your running in the dark, so it's vital to ensure you are visible to others. Don't be one of those ninja runners dressed head to toe in black. A bright yellow running jacket is a good start and make sure your trousers and runners have reflective strips. If you are running in an area without street lights, you should use a head torch and a blinking red light.
9. Don't forget to warm up and cool down
Heading straight out the door at full speed is a recipe for injury. Warming up gives your body a chance to prepare for exertion by gradually raising your body temperate and heart rate. Start out at a very gentle pace, walking if necessary, for the first five minutes. Likewise, at the end of the run, ease down to a walk or slow jog for the last five minutes to allow your breathing and heart rate to return to normal levels.
10. Listen to your body
Yes, running is hard and it should be challenging, but if you are in serious pain, then your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong. Ignoring the pain could lead to serious injury, so if it hasn't gone away after a few days' rest then you should consult a professional. Likewise, if you are feeling really drained, then you might be better off taking a rest day - don't be a slave to your training plan.