Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Running.

This post is inspired by a lovely blogger Melissa, from sugercoatit.com
She was asking about breathing while running.

I have been running intermittently for the last 5 years, and ran the London Marathon last year which was the best thing I have done till now (and I have done some cool things).
I took up running because it is something that I will never, ever be the best at, to teach me to not compare myself to anybody else. And to lose weight. Well, 5 years  and a few injuries later, I still weigh the same, but I have a deep love of running, and a reasonably good working knowledge of it. I have learned by talking to fellow runners, sports medicine professionals and listening to my body.

All of the plugs I give here are my own personal recommendation and I received no money or perks whatsoever. I am not important enough for perks. Yet.

This is general information and what worked for me. You may find something different works for you. That is fine, different strokes for different folks.

So, you have decided to run (I do a little wiggle and twirl). Go. You. That's awesome!

Starting off:

Talk to your doctor/physio. That is a no-brainer disclaimer. Especially if you have any history of breathing issues or heart issues. Asthma is a common thing and can be bought out by running. Any old injuries, like dodgy knees, bad backs, flat feet or dicky ankles, go and get them seen to by a physio, podiatrist or a sports doctor. They might teach you some exercises. Do them.


Shoes, socks and bra, people. These are the things you must not skimp on - skimp at your peril.

Shoes: The right pair of shoes for you is essential for injury avoidance. There is much talk about minimalistic shoes, like five fingers or Nike Free, but leave them for when you are a bit stronger. Do not go with fads or Brands. Lots of runners wear Asics and people plug them, but they are not for everybody. I wear and swear by Mizuno Wave Nirvana, am now on my 3rd pair, bought pairs no. 2 and 3 on the internet at a significant discount. Running shoes do not need to be broken in, if they are not immediately comfortable do not buy them. Unfortunately running shoes are expensive in Australia. Deal with it - you cannot get a proper fitting over the internet. If you find a good pair of shoes, you can buy the same model over the internet a bit cheaper.
Where to buy: Stay away from Rebel Sport. Athletes foot is OKAYYYY.... A specialist running store staffed by podiatrists is far better. Some of them watch and video you running on a treadmill and it is very interesting to watch - some foot issues are only apparent in motion. I can recommend Shoe Logic, near the Melbourne City Baths, for the Melbournites.

Socks: These are really important as blisters are a real pain.Again you will have to try a few and see what you like. Go for synthetic, seamless and with left and right socks for perfect fit. Anything dri-fit or coolmax is good. I like Skyrun socks, and I have a few Thorlo brand. You can stock up on the internet once you find a good pair for you.

Bras: I confess to not knowing a great deal about bras, but little makes me cringe more than a pair of boobs flapping about on a lady (or man) runner, and it is just as common in average boobed girls as big boobed girls. I am a B/C cup, so I go for Lululemon Ta Ta tamer. The bigger lasses go for Enell which incidentally is Oprah's favourite brand. Ask around. Again specialty running shops are the go.

Apparel: Can be expensive. Go for sales or factory outlets, a lot of sports shops do brands at a good discount. Kmart actually does quite a good line in sports gear at a much better price and I always wear my kmart gear. Look for sweat wicking polyester, with flat seams. Chafing is nobody's friend. Avoidance of blistering and chafing is another post entirely.

When to run:

Short answer: any time you can! Whenever you feel like it! By preference I like a morning run, as I have got it over with and can feel virtuous during the day. Some think that running before food is better for fat burning, that may be true but the difference is probably minimal. Just run when you can.

Where to run:

I recommend running at the park rather than on streets - usually they have gravel/sandy paths which are a bit easier on the joints. There is also less traffic and maybe some hot people to perve on and often drinking taps. For safety, go where there are people around and it is well lit at night. Safety first, people. Princes Park in Parkville is my homeground.
There is also the old treadmill vs outside argument. It is reasonable to start on the tready, but you will never look back once you get outside. It will feel weird and jiggly at first, as it is harder, but the freedom you will feel is amazing.
With whom? Best to start by yourself - it is something you have to do at your own pace. It helps to look inward, to check in on all the sensations in your body, and get used to them. Run with music (but be safe) but sometimes the sound of your breath, feet and the birds in the trees can be amazing.

The nitty gritty.
  • A lot of people get demoralised when they first start running. They find it hard. The main reason why: they start out too fast. They try and keep up with the other people on the track. 
  • My tip is when starting out, run as slow as you can. That's right. Slow. You might find that you can do a couple of minutes. There you go! You can run for 2 minutes!Generally endurance should come before speed, trying to get faster is something you should really only attempt once you can run for more than about 20 minutes continually. It will come. Trust me.
  • The other thing is to run-walk. Warm up with a walk for 10 minutes. Try jogging for 1 minute, then walking for 2, and do that 4 or 5 times. Then gradually increase the jog component. Take a watch with you to time. 
  • A lot of folks do Couch to 5km. This is good but a few people find it a bit hard to focus. My mate Shauna Reid and her run coach pal Julia Jones run an online running course. All people start and finish together. It costs money but it is not much and is money well spent. You are less likely to shirk if you have paid a little.


Breathing is a natural thing that most of us give little thought to most of the time. Running or any fast movement works the muscles, increasing the body's demand for oxygen. This increases drive to breathe. An increased drive to breathe can make you anxious and bad anxiety can increase drive to breathe. It is entirely normal to feel breathless and breathe more quickly when running, and this improves as you get fitter. Do not even try to talk at the beginning, you have too much to focus on. When I try and up my speed, I get a bit anxious, but am familiar with it. You do not need to "manage" it by controlling your breathing, or breathing every x steps, you just need to go with it and breathe as you need. Your breathing will find rhythm with your foot fall. This is very meditative but do not expect this to come straight away. When running, just push till you feel that mild to moderate breathless feeling, try and stick with it for a little while, 30 seconds or as long as you can, then go back to a walk. Managing discomfort and new sensations is part and parcel of running. Do not run till you are really breathless or feeling sick. Plenty of time for that later.


You will see many different types of running forms. You will see the tall blonde who bounds gracefully. You will see the old shuffler. You will hear the clomp of the footy boys. You will see the duck-waddlers (my brother used to call me ducky, after he saw me run). A lot of people get hung up on form, and try and change yours. I had a run coach who made me take bigger steps which just ended up hurting my feet. Once you have started out and are running a little bit, you can go out with a run coach, who can give you pointers, but a lot of experienced coaches don't give much mind to run form. Case in point is Paula Radcliffe, who holds the female world record for the marathon, whose running form can only be described as bizarre. Check it out on youtube.

A few pointers though - Keep your stride shortish, you can increase your speed by increasing your turnover later. Focus your energy forward rather than in the up and down bounce. Try and land on your midfoot or on the ball of your foot rather than your heel. Arms relaxed and bent by your side. But most importantly just run and don't worry too much about this - it will come.

How to train

At the start, I would recommend running 2 non-consecutive days per week, 3 max. Running is quite a big stress on the body, and it takes time for the body to adjust. You will feel sore after a run - relish it (nothing like a good sore) and rest up. Get into the pool! I would thoroughly recommend some non-impact cross training, like the bike or elliptical. Do some spurts to get some extra conditioning in.

A lot of running injuries come from weakness about the smaller muscles around the hips and butt. A strong core is essential and will protect your back. Strong arms help get you around. I really recommend pilates as a good complement to running.


John "The Penguin" said "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start"

Damn right it takes a lot of courage to start. Perhaps, like me, you were the last picked in teams at school and that traumatised you. Perhaps you carry a bit of extra weight. Perhaps you have a big inner-bully. Perhaps you are taking up running to conquer demons. Maybe it's something else. I get it. 

The best thing you can do is give yourself a big pat on the back. For starting. For trying something that is hard. For every time you got out there even when you didn't feel like it (always get out the door - that is the hardest hurdle). Forgive yourself the times you skipped or weren't as sprightly as you wanted to be. Congratulate yourself on the small wins. 

A short word on nutrition.

This is really a post or book in and of itself.
There are a lot of people out there who take up running to lose weight. This may or may not be you. Indeed, it is one of the heavier calorie burners.

HOWEVER, most people overestimate the importance of exercise in weight loss, and quite a few people overestimate how many calories their running actually burns, and overeat to compensate. As  a rule, 90% of weight loss is what goes in the cake-hole. The whole approximate calories in vs calories out rule remains.

As a ballpark figure, most women need about 2000 calories per day to maintain their weight - this depends on height, weight and age. 10 minutes of light jogging will burn approximately 100 calories, which is about equivalent to 1 freddo frog. I love freddo frogs. Could somebody fetch me one now?
Seriously though, you can see how it is easy to overshoot, especially in the beginning when you are not up to much distance. Have your treats, by all means, but work them into a routine and know that your running routine may very well not cancel them out.

What is very important is that your nutrition is adequate, especially in terms of protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. If you want to tackle weight issues, I would strongly recommend getting some personalised advice from an accredited dietitian.

What next?

You can run 10 or 15 minutes? Congratulations! You rock. Here are some things you can do:
1. Join a running group - there are many run groups in most cities, they may even cater to absolute beginners.
2. Enter a fun run. What's the difference between a jogger and a runner? The race number. Seriously, you will never look back. So what if you are at the back of the pack? More supporters at the finish line. The Sri Chinmoy runs are particularly friendly for newcomers - check out http://au.srichinmoyraces.org/. They do a pancake breakfast after. Even volunteer as a race marshall if you are not sure, you will likely be chomping at the bit to do the next one.
3. Who knows? A triathlon? Marathon? A trail or adventure run? Just don't give up. And try not to get injured.
4. Buy a running book or magazine...check out runners world, look around your local bookshop. Go 


  1. I will have to bookmark this for the wonderful day in the distant future when I get to work up a sweat :)
    I 10000% swear by enell bras

  2. This is rad! I'm a massive runner/walker. I generally do five minutes at 10km per hour and drop to 6 km per hour for 1 minute and then back up again. I'm an interval bitch! Gotta burn more of those sweet sweet calories.