10 key points to a successful and enjoyable running journey

I recently attended a workshop for Kent run leaders during which a gentleman named Alan Newman gave a talk on the 10 golden rules of running training and this led me to consider what I believe are the 10 golden rules to running training. Now, Alan is a seasoned runner and was himself coached by the legendary Bruce Tulloh (European gold medallist at the 1962 5,000 metres and in 1969 ran 2,876 miles from Los angeles to New York in 64 days). Alan is a UKA performance coach level 3 and has been running for 50 years. He is still extremely fit and will be embarking on his next cross country season in the coming weeks.

I, on the other hand have been running for a little over 4 years and so despite my relative lack of experience when compared with Alan, I believe that I can provide good advice to those taking their first steps into running as well as to those who have been running for many years.

And so, here are my ten key points to a successful and enjoyable running journey:

1. Patience is key – it’s a run, not a race: As in life, you don’t get anywhere fast by diving in at the deep end (especially if you can’t swim) and the same too goes with running. Unlesss you have been running regularly for a number of years if you want to achieve success in running then you have to build a solid foundation first before you can build your running home. Don’t try to increase your mileage by too much, too soon. A good guide would be to increase your mileage or total time on your feet by no more than 10% per week.

2. Keep a running diary: This does not have to be an expensive running journal, a normal A5 diary will do just fine. After you have been for a run, note down a few points e.g. the weather, how you felt, any niggles or injuries, if there are any improvements you could make. There is no need to go into too much detail (e.g. time, pace, distance etc) as you will eventually find it to become tedious and a chore when it should be enjoyable and a good point of reference for the future.

3. Use technology, but don’t become a slave to it: A basic running watch which shows time, distance and pace is more than enough. There are far too many facts and figures that can distract you both on the run and afterwards (e.g. cadence, elevation, segments that you have crossed etc) and this is true of running apps like Strava for example. You may eventually want to look into heart rate training in order to perfect your training, but this will come with time. If you do decide to wear a watch or use a running app don’t rely on it to tell you what pace you should be running at, your body will tell you that.

4. Listen to your body: Run how you feel. I have recently begun to go out running without a watch and it is amazing the difference that it makes listening to your body and going with the flow. It is also quite fun not worrying about your mile splits or (I’m sure) competing with yourself on a previous segment on Strava – not every run should be a competition. If you feel a niggle or develop an injury during a run then end the run early, write it down in your diary, fuel up, take a bath and rest. This is often a sign that your body wants to rest, so listen to it and respect it – you only get one.

5. Control the controllable: There are only certain aspects that you can control when it comes to running and racing. These would be how much running/training you have done prior to today; your diet and what food/drink you have consumed before the run; your clothing choices; time management and assessing the route beforehand. All other aspects which are outside of your control need not be worried about e.g. the weather conditions or the people you are running with or racing against.

6. You are what you eat: This I feel, is one of the most important aspects for anyone, regardless of whether they decide to run or not. Steer clear of processed foods with added sugar or salt that have no health benefits e.g. crisps, milk chocolate & fast food. Your body will feel so much better if you consume food which contains natural ingredients. My weekly diet consists of oats, eggs, nuts, dark chocolate (in moderation), loose leaf tea, home-made flapjacks, fruit (apples, red grapes, bananas, satsumas), fish, chicken and vegetables. The endurance running hypothesis suggests that, “endurance running played an important role for early hominins in obtaining food. Researchers have proposed that endurance running began as an adaptation for scavenging and later for persistence hunting.” So why should we be ordering take-aways?!

7. If you look good, you feel good: I always try to look my best, particulary when racing as I feel more confident in myself. You will feel more relaxed and this will help with your running style and posture which are both very important. Have a haircut, wear your favourite trainers or running top, whatever it may be that makes you feel good whilst you are out there performing!

8. Learn from previous experience: A very valuable tool. If you don’t make mistakes then you will never learn. I have made many mistakes, particularly during races and although they may have affected my performance on that particular day they have allowed me to be a wiser runner today. Some personal examples include, knowing to double knot my shoes, arriving at races in plenty of time in order to warm-up and studying the route beforehand.

9. Challenge yourself – but find the right balance: If you want to improve then you will need to vary the pace at which you do your runs. If you do all of your runs at a comfortable, easy pace then you will not improve your times by very much. However, if you do all of your runs at a high intensity then this will lead to fatigue, injury and burn out. A good balance would be to apportion your weekly distance or time accordingly: 80% easy (long runs & recovery runs) and 20% hard (high intensity interval training e.g. fartlek, rep sessions, hills) as a rough guide. It is important not to put too much emphasis on distance as a paramater. It is perfectly reasonable to use time as your base, so if you do 2 hours a week at an easy pace and 30 minutes per week at a hard pace then this is just as fine as saying that you will cover 12 miles at an easy pace and 3 miles at a hard pace. Go with whichever method works best for you.

10. Have fun, socialise and run with others: Most importantly, enjoy what you do. If you are finding it hard to motivate yourself then run with others at your local parkrun or go along to your local RunTogether group (like RTW runners) or athletics club. Run with other like-minded people and share your thoughts and experiences. Socialise with your friends and tell them about your latest pair of running shoes or what time you completed your last 5km in.

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