On Running

This post started as a somewhat long-winded reply to a simple question in the Buffer Improvements HipChat room. As such it's quite informal and peppered with smileys! :)

As always, I am grateful for all the amazing comments that this generated. I have tried to mix the original email up a bit to make it a bit more blog-friendly. But at its heart this is simply an out-pouring of all my thoughts about running at the time!

First time

For me, getting out there and going for my first run was the worst - showing off my legs to the world and panting my way along, looking decidedly unfit! So, to make it as painless as possible I would plan a route before you set out so that you know where you are going to go.

Start slowly

When I started running, I would run about a mile along the river, where it's pretty quiet and few people could see me. After that mile I would stop, stretch a bit, catch my breath and then run back. This was all done at a pretty easy pace - probably more than 10mins per mile. I did this route for a few weeks, going out probably two or three times a week. I felt that this got my body used to the idea of running - I hadn't been running for many many years until I started this again, so it needed some reminding! At first after each run I would be really stiff the next day, but as time went on, this gradually went away, and that's when I started to feel that I was making good progress and started considering longer runs.

Blisters

Be prepared for them - maybe it's just me, but it took me a long time to stop getting blisters. Good fitting shoes and appropriate socks can help prevent them, but sometimes there is nothing you can do and so it's good to be prepared :) I find that sticking a plaster on them usually works and if you can have a day off between runs that is usually enough to let your feet recover.

Breathing

Brian made some great points about this. To be honest I don't focus as much as that, but I do have a rhythm to my breathing such that I breathe in for two steps and then breathe out for two steps, always starting on the right foot. I think I read somewhere that doing this prevents getting a stitch (something to do with the liver being on that side) and I don't know if it's true but I very rarely get a stitch now :) Sometimes if I find that I am struggling a bit, I do a few deep breaths - in through the nose and out through the mouth as I run along to try and "re-fuel" a bit as I run along. This seems to give me a bit of a boost that lets me carry on!

Kit

I started running in ludicrous swimming shorts, completely inappropriate trainers and whatever t-shirt was nearest. And they worked pretty well. As time has gone on, I have slowly acquired more "proper" kit although to be honest it doesn't make all that much difference. The main thing is that it is lighter and doesn't hold as much sweat - which is nice since I have an uncanny ability to sweat buckets at the slightest opportunity :D So, I wouldn't worry about that too much - wear something you are comfortable in, that doesn't chafe - there is nothing worse than chafing... Oh, and don't wear too much either - I see a lot of people that seem to be vastly over-dressed for running at times, and I don't understand why they wear so much! Regardless of the weather I always wear t-shirt and shorts and no head-gear - I soon warm up once I have been running for a few minutes.

Tracking

I didn't track my runs at all at the beginning which is something I now regret. Having a history of how you are doing is really useful and helps you set little mini-targets that you want to achieve. I strap my iPhone to my arm with some cheap arm-band and am currently using Endomondo although I have used Runkeeper in the past. Neither is really ideal and I may try out a few more until I find one that does what I want nice and simply. Would love to hear any experience you have with this side of things :) Oh - and it's a great way to give your UP steps a boost - my 50min runs usually give me about 9000 steps, so even a 20min run will give you a great help in getting to your step target for the day.

Ear-candy

I never used to listen to anything when I ran and I did enjoy it, but sometimes it could get a little boring if I didn't find something to think about as I ran along. It is nice to have something to take your mind off the running (especially if it is a route you have run many times before). I started listening to audiobooks which worked surprisingly well - although I did crank up the pace of the narration to try and make it match my tempo a bit better. More recently I have also started listening to music when I do my longer runs because I think it helps me to keep up a good pace. I listen to he World's Greatest Rock Running Tracks but anything with a good solid beat should work I think :)

Routes

I found it was good to have a variety of routes to run in order to keep things fresh (possibly related to me not listening to things). One of the fun parts was having a rough idea of where I wanted to go and then just going out and running semi-randomly to see where I ended up. I like to have loops to run so that I don't ever re-trace my steps and I eventually settled on four nice circular routes all of which were about 5.5 miles. I would then run these in rotation. Saying that, I now have a single route which I run which I can extend easily with an extra section. This hasn't got boring yet, perhaps due to the audiobooks/music.

Schedule

Definitely important not to push too much too soon - while you can run while all stiff and sore, it's nowhere near as pleasant as when you feel you are gliding along :) I definitely wouldn't run two days in a row at first. Wait till you no longer get sore after a run and then maybe move on to two days in a row. After that, do what makes sense. I went through a phase of running four days in a row and then having two days off. This worked quite well, but the fourth day was always a killer! Plus, the whole routine didn't really fit into the 7 day week all that well, so it was difficult to fit it into my other plans. Now I have a routine that fits into a week. Starting off with a couple a week I have worked up to four a week, running on Mon,Tue,Wed and Fri. I run my regular route for the first three, then rest then run my longer route on Friday. This has been working well - and if for some reason I do miss a day, I don't stress about it because I can always fit a run in to Saturday as the weekend acts as a nice buffer.

When to run

I used to run at the end of the day but have had a lot more success running in the morning as the first thing I do upon getting up. Running at the end of the day is great because you are awake already and I always felt that my muscles were nicely warmed up. However, I often felt drained at the end of a day which made it a struggle to push myself out the door. Now that I go out first thing in the morning it takes me a few minutes to wake up properly, but the fresh air helps. And after a few minutes, my muscles are nicely warmed up anyway.

Weather

One of my favourite times to run is when it is pouring down with rain, which rather oddly doesn't actually happen that often for me! There is something very satisfying about running through heavy rain when the streets are clear because no-one else wants to be out in such awful weather. You get to feel very hard-core :) Also, the rain helps you to keep cool, which is an added bonus. The only down-side is that my trainers take a while to dry out fully so that if I go running the next day, it can be a bit squelchy! Another advantage of morning runs is that I avoid running when it is too hot. Although it seems like a nice thing to do to run in the warmth of the sun, it can soon become rather unpleasant in my experience. So I stick to my cooler mornings.

Warming up

I don't do any. I don't know if this is good or bad, it seems to divide opinion :) I figure that running itself is a good warm up so I just get out the door and start running. Any initial stiffness soon disappears after a few steps I find. However, I have started doing some stretches after my runs, initially just to give me something to do as I cooled down so that I wouldn't drip sweat all over the house! I maybe spend just 5 or 6 minutes stretching various muscles, completely unscientific, but I haven't injured myself yet, so I can't be doing it too wrong!

Partners

Maybe I'm just an anti-social so-and-so but I like running on my own rather than with someone else. I enjoy having the time to myself and being able to think about whatever I want. I did run with someone else once (just a random running stranger) and he was clearly faster than me - so it became quite the effort for me to keep up and I didn't enjoy it. Of course if you are at the same sort of level, this might work, especially if you actually know them and have things to talk about :)

Losing weight

Running is definitely a great way to lose weight for me. Over the past few months I am now approaching a loss of 50 pounds - which is kind of crazy. Losing weight has the added advantage of making running a lot easier - not having to carry all that extra baggage makes a huge difference to how fast and how long you can run for! This then means you can run longer distances in the same time which helps lose more weight... and the virtuous circle continues :)

Races

I have done two half-marathons and one "about-a-mile" run as part of a race. These are pretty amazing - it is so different running when there are people lining the course of the race cheering you on and gives a great buzz. If you begin to enjoy running I can thoroughly recommend entering something - I know there is the Park Run movement in the UK (http://www.parkrun.org.uk/) which organise 5K runs every week although there aren't any crowds. I haven't been, but I am tempted :) There are usually plenty of 5K and 10K runs about too if you don't feel comfortable about signing up for a marathon or half-marathon. I just signed up for my first 10k (http://www.bonfireburn10k.co.uk/event/) so I have a couple of months to prepare for it - although I'm not too worried as it's the length of my usual runs so I am more concerned with trying to get to the 45min time which is what they are classing as "Elite" - have my doubts about that, but I can at least try!

Enjoy it

Even though it can feel bad at times during the run, I always feel great once it is over and pleased I have done it. It can be tough for the first few weeks as you get used to the idea of running, but if you can make it part of your routine, I think it does become a very enjoyable activity - it certainly has for me.