Anyone For A Run?

It’s Spring in Adelaide and with the hint of warmer weather, those who have been hibernating during the winter months are emerging from under the winter woollies and thinking about being active again.
One of the first activities that springs to mind is running, whether you love it or hate it. Now, if I had $1 for every time someone said to me “I Hate Running”, I’d be very wealthy indeed, and yet running is one of the most portable, easy-to-prepare-for activities I know. Put your workout gear on, runners on, head out the door and run.
Running (and I’m not talking about on a treadmill) is a great overall workout providing both cardiovascular and resistance benefits (in the form of running surface and terrain) along with an opportunity to get out into nature, breathe in fresh air and explore your neighbourhood. And it’s a great activity to take on the road with you if you are away from home and want to maintain your fitness levels or exercise regime.
So could it be then that a large majority of people dislike running because they set themselves up for failure from the outset?
The Run
Many “Beginner” programs being published these days are still quite aggressive for week 1 of the “Beginner” program. Admittedly, these programs generally run for only 6-8 weeks in preparation for a “Fun Run” or similar, but they do seem rather aggressive for the new runner who, one would assume, has not run before or not run for a very long time. For an absolute beginner, running 2 minutes continuously, let alone 5 minutes for your first session is not as easy as it sounds…. especially if your reason for starting is that you’re overweight or haven’t exercised for quite some time.
When starting a running program your goal is to ensure you succeed with your first session so you’ll want to do it again. If your first session goal is to run 5km or 10km and you’ve never run before, chances are you won’t make it, you’ll be so exhausted at the end of it that you spend the rest of the day on the couch or you’ll be so sore for the rest of the week that you won’t want to repeat the activity anytime soon.
If you’ve never run before, make your first session reasonably easy like “Run 30 seconds, walk/jog 2 minutes and repeat 10 times”. Do this twice or three times in the first week and then having successfully achieved this, you can gradually increase the time that you run to 1 minute, 1 minute 30 seconds, 2 minutes etc. each week and then start to reduce the recovery (walk/jog) time. If you already have some level of running fitness you can increase your starting run time in relation to your fitness level.
The key is to make each session achievable and gradually increase the time that you run until you’re running consistently for 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes etc. Sure it may take longer to reach your goal but you are more likely to stick to it if you take a slower approach.
Some soreness and tight muscles are to be expected following your initial runs even with a gentler approach. The best way to alleviate this is to do some gentle stretching and go for a walk (walking in the water at the beach is a great way to soothe sore muscles). Sure you’ll probably be a bit stiff as you start but as soon as your muscles warm up you’ll find it easier to move and your body will thank you for it next day.
There are many different approaches to stretching and you need to find what works best for you. One option is to stretch before your walk/run and hold each stretch for 5 seconds then release for 5 seconds and do this 5 times for each stretch.
In this way you gradually stretch the muscles without creating unnecessary laxity in them prior to your activity.
As always, you need to listen to your body. If you’re experiencing more than general soreness in your muscles, take an extra day or two of rest before your next run. If acute or persistent soreness is present you may need to refer to your health professional.
Being a weight bearing activity, running places additional stress on your joints so whilst it is a great activity for health and fitness, for best results, ensure you have at least one rest day or try a different activity between each running day to allow your body time to recover from the impact on your joints and bones.
Where to Run?
Whilst treadmills have their place and are useful when the weather turns inclement or as the daylight hours wane, I am not a fan of running on treadmills. If a treadmill is your only option they are a better option than not running at all but if your goal is to run a “Fun Run” or similar, I would recommend doing at least 2 sessions each week outdoors. When running outdoors, your body needs to pull its own weight across the ground, against gravity as opposed to on a treadmill where the moving belt means you are effectively running on the spot. Yes it’s a harder workout outdoors but experience has shown that running 5 to 10km on a treadmill is not the same as running 5 to 10km outdoors.
Bitumen and Footpaths
As long as the path is well lit and free of debris, running on bitumen (cycle paths) or footpaths provide a smooth, even and consistent surface with minimal slippage and maximum traction during foot placement. The challenge with these surfaces is adjusting to the hardness of the bitumen and concrete which can contribute to muscle and joint soreness over the longer term.
Grass and Dirt Paths
My personal favourites are running on grass and dirt paths. Softer than bitumen and concrete footpaths, grass and dirt paths are kinder on the joints and also provide an additional level of “work” for the muscles due to the uneven terrain – firm or spongy grass, uneven paths or tracks, compacted or soft dirt all provide reduced traction which means your body works harder throughout your run.
Variety is the Key
Like any new activity, over time, running can become predictable so the key is to mix things up a bit. Choose different surfaces, hard and soft, to keep your body guessing. Choose different locations – explore your neighbourhood, local parks, the beach, run some hills or find an oval and run some reps around the oval. Mix up your distances – run some sprints with a short recovery between each run, try a longer run or halve your usual distance for a bit of extra recovery.
So if you haven’t been a big fan in the past, consider taking a slower approach and set yourself up for a successful start to making running part of your physical activity program.

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