The great thing about running is its simplicity. You don’t need to learn how to do it, find a team or venue or invest in specialist equipment – you can start right now. But you need to begin slowly and build gradually.
If you’re a beginner, or starting again after a long break, consider having a medical check-up to ensure that it is safe to increase your level of physical activity.
George Gandy says the most important thing to begin with is to get into a routine: “Just get out there and run regularly, staying well within your comfort zone.” At first, this may entail mixing walking and running, but as you get fitter, you will be able to shorten the walking and lengthen the running, until you’re able to run continuously for 20-30 minutes at a time. Then start to gradually add different elements of training to progress further.
Gandy’s career has spanned four decades, during which he has coached the likes of Sebastian Coe, Jon Brown and Lisa Dobriskey, who came fourth in the 1500m at the Beijing Olympics. Here are his top tips for getting fitter, faster:
Lengthen one of your weekly runs by five to 10 minutes. Keep the pace slow and easy. The only objective of this run is to make it longer.
Take another of your runs and aim to run some of it at a faster pace. For example, run comfortably out to a particular point, and then run back harder. Or divide the run into three segments, running the first part easy, the second part brisk and the final part at a pace somewhere in between.
Get the balance right
If you’re running three times a week, keep your final session as an easy run. If you’re running five times a week or more, include an additional harder session. But no matter how frequently you run, two to three harder sessions (including the long run) is plenty. Any additional runs you do beyond that should be easy.
Mix it up
You ideally want a mix in the nature of the surfaces you run on. If you’re running four to five times per week, one or two sessions on roads is plenty .
Stay in good condition
A worthwhile addition to your routine is some kind of conditioning exercise. Core stability training, yoga and Pilates all help with body awareness, posture and core strength, which you need to be able to maintain without thinking about when you’re running.
Listen to your body
I get my athletes to mark themselves out of 10 on how they are feeling on a Monday morning. Are they physically/mentally in a position to benefit from the training that is ahead? If not, the plan needs to be modified and we need to look back over what they’ve done previously to see what might be causing the problem. That’s why it’s so important to keep track of your training and how your body is responding to it. You need to learn to back off where necessary.
Follow in Paula’s footsteps and join a running club
So you think you’re ready to give it ago? First things first: “Get some support,” says Paula Radcliffe. “Get your family on board and make sure they know that your running is your time. Join a local running club or find a group of like-minded people to run with. If there are a few of you meeting, there’ll always be someone up for it, so it helps with motivation – and it’s safer, too.”