If there’s one good thing to come out of this pandemic, it’s that it looks as though more people have taken up running than ever before.
But for every one of us who has successfully found their running rhythm, I’m going to hazard a guess that there are at least twice as many people who just couldn’t figure it out, felt disheartened, and gave up.
You never regret going for a run in my books – it just gives you such a massive physical and mental boost. But I know we all have our different quirks, niggles, concerns, and things that might be holding us back: so here are a few things I’ve learned about building sustainable running habits.
First off, remember that nobody else cares how fast (or slow!) you’re running or what you look like, and neither should you. Start off at by finding a good rhythm, focus on controlled, even breathing, then find a pace that works for you.
Warm up into your run, and build up into a comfortable pace. Focus on the amount of time you spend running, rather than how far you go.
Activate your glutes and core by doing a dynamic warm up – save your deep stretching for your warm-down. Before your run, try some leg swings, knee hugs, table hops, hamstring scoops, quad holds or step ups. Post-run, walk for a few minutes then stretch out your quads, calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and anywhere else that feels like it could do with a stretch.
It’s good to focus on some strength and activation exercises for your glutes and core. These muscles help stabilisation and help strengthen your run. These can be done at home, and you can alternate days with running and activation exercises when starting out.
If you can, invest in a good pair of running shoes. They’ll feel comfortable and stable as well as help support your body while you run, and help reduce the risk of an injury. At the same time, try and focus on running on grass or soft gravel – pavements and tarmac can be especially hard on joints and legs if you’re new to running.
Focus on your breathing. Establish a regular, flowing breath as you run. Breathe through your mouth so you get more air into your lungs. If you get a stitch, ease off the pace and focus on deep, slow and steady breathing until it passes.
Feel free to start out with some walking and running intervals if that’s what makes sense for you – you’ll still be building your running endurance and overall fitness.
Gradually build up the time you spend running, not how fast you run. Speed and fitness comes gradually from building endurance, which comes from more time spent running. Don’t rush it.
Don’t focus on data. While smart watches can be great for motivation and keeping you accountable, at the same time, it’s important to not get too obsessed with pace, distance and all of the data – just focus on time spent on your feet, and logging those regular runs.
Run with a buddy. Or run solo. Some people might prefer the company of running with friends, and others might prefer to run alone. Some people might like to listen to a podcast or music, others might prefer silence. Find a way that works for you – there’s no right or wrong.
Take it week-by-week. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling as though you’re not doing enough, you’re not fast enough, you’re not going far enough. As long as you’re getting out 2-3 times a week, you’ll be making progress. Focus on logging those weekly runs, being consistent with the time on your feet, and getting to a point where you begin feeling more comfortable in your running.
Finally, set goals and be SMART. That means:
- Specific. For example, 3 x 20 minute runs per week.
- Measurable. Use a smart watch to record your activity. It not only keeps you accountable, but helps with motivation too (and AIA Vitality members have the extra motivation of knowing if they track their daily steps with their fitness device, reaching their activity target for the week, they can unlock a range of rewards, like vouchers for Woolworths, iTunes or Google Play).
- Attainable. For example, build up to running longer or faster by starting out with achievable smaller goals, and gradually raise the bar. Don’t set the bar too high at the start that makes attainment harder to reach.
- Relevant. Set goals that make sense for you, not just what everyone else is doing.
- Time-bound. Make sure your goals fit within the time you have available. You’ll get more from running 20 minutes a day a few times a week, than an hour once a month.
Ultimately, running should be enjoyable. It can certainly be difficult and challenging too, but a big part of finding the enjoyment in running is finding a way of running that works for you, makes sense for your body, and fits into your life. If you can find the enjoyment in it, you’ll be more motivated to run, more consistent, and more likely to reap those great physical and mental health benefits.