Knowing what your goal is and keeping it in mind is the best kind of motivation. Importantly, your goal should be yours and yours alone (your friend might have her sights set on a half marathon, but if this isn’t something that excites you, it’s not going to inspire you to train and may well leave you feeling so daunted you start skipping runs altogether). It should also be achievable, so you don’t lose heart, and not so far in the future that you lose sight of it. A great example of a new-runner goal is to enter a 5K race that’s roughly 12 weeks away (achievable? Tick. Realistic time frame? Tick).
Lacking a little self-belief? Before you head out for your run, close your eyes and picture yourself achieving your goal. See yourself running just that little bit further to the next lamppost, or imagine the crowds of people clapping and cheering as you cross the finish line of your first race. Your mind is a powerful tool, so think positive and believe in yourself.
Struggling on a tough run? Repeating a mantra (a simple word or phrase) in your head can help to keep you going. Simple suggestions include, ‘Easy’ or ‘Breathe’, but choose whatever works for you. A mantra will help to focus your mind, steady your running rhythm and can also help to regulate your breathing – powerful and effective. What ever mantra you choose, be concious that it should be positive. Often when first starting out, self doubt can really sabotage progress. You may find yourself repeating a negative word or phrase like “I can’t do this” or “I’m too slow” – try to replace this with a positive outlook such as “I can do this” or “I’m making progress”.
Finding a training plan that will build your running up slowly and progressively is key. The correct training plan for your ability will help to give you something to aim for each run, will keep you on track and will help prevent you doing too much too soon. Check out www.womensrunninguk.co.uk for some great beginner training plans.
The most common mistake made by new runners is to head out the door brimming with enthusiasm and start running at full pelt. This will only result in you feeling out of breath and thoroughly disheartened within about 30 seconds. When you first start out, a slow jog is all that’s needed. Aim to run at a pace at which you could still hold a conversation.
Trying to push yourself too far too soon will leave you feeling at best, disheartened, and at worst, injured. You may have heard of the ten per cent rule – you should never increase your weekly mileage by more that ten per cent. So, if you currently run five miles a week, the most you should increase to the following week is five and a half miles. It may sound like slow progress, but it will help prevent you having to take time out from running completely due to injury.
Even if weight loss is one of your running goals, you still need to eat well in order to fuel your runs. Remember, carbohydrate is your friend! To keep your energy levels high, ensure you eat lots of good-quality carbohydrates, such as porridge oats, wholemeal bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta and rice. You’ll probably need to eat some quick-release carbohydrate half an hour before your run, too – try a banana, a cereal bar or a handful of dried fruit.
Remember, you only need to take an isotonic sports drink or gel with you if you’re going to be out running for more than a hour. If this is the case, try out a few different brands to see which works well for you (never try a new gel on race day as it might upset your tummy). For short runs of less than an hour, you don’t need to worry about these – water will suffice.
Aim to eat a snack containing both protein and carbohydrate within half an hour of finishing your run – this will help to top up your depleted glycogen stores, giving you energy, and will help your body recover and repair. Good options include a glass of milk and a banana, yogurt topped with granola or a fruit-and-yogurt smoothie. Been for a long run? Then aim to eat a balanced meal within a couple of hours of finishing.
After a run, keep moving! If you stop suddenly, blood can pool in your legs, which can lead to feelings of dizziness or fainting. Your best bet is to cool down by slowing to a gentle jog for a few minutes, followed by five to ten minutes of walking. And then…
Yes, the often-neglected section of the runner’s repertoire! There has been much debate about how important it is to stretch, but the general consensus is that following a run and your cool down, you should stretch the major muscles in your legs to help prevent injury. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, but ideally a minute. (Note that before a run, static stretches such as these aren’t beneficial – instead do some dynamic [moving] stretches, including leg swings, lunges and skipping.)
While it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting a new running regime, remember rest days are very important. Aim to have at least two days off from running each week, to help your body recover and repair. Crucially, it is during these rest days that your body will adapt to the training you have been doing, helping you to get stronger.