Yes, that most often hated form of exercise that most people avoid at all costs – unless they’re late for something.
But should running really be such a horrible thing? I think not.
Running is actually a great form of fitness for the human body simply because we are designed to run by Nature. Early humans were persistence hunters, if you couldn’t run your prey down then you didn’t eat. This form of hunting is still practised by some hunter gatherer groups in the world today, such as the San people…
And i’ve also read that the Tarahumara still persistence hunt on occasion…
So where to start if one wishes to run for fitness?
I see plenty of overweight people going out running to try to lose weight. Guess what? They don’t last very long.
Running is an activity that if done incorrectly will seriously damage every joint in your body from the toes up to your neck. And running with too much weight is running incorrectly. Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone was not designed for you to add four stone of loose body fat to it and pound down concrete pavements.
Running is a great thing for keeping weight off, once you’ve lost it, but i do not recommend anyone running who is overweight at all. Do so at your own peril – you will damage yourself.
Get a bicycle and peddle hard for at least an hour a day. Go swimming for at least an hour a day. Go for a 90 – 120 minute walk every day. Lose weight in a nice low impact way before you start running.
Find a place to run…
Obviously if you live in the urban sprawl your options may be a little limited, but even in London there are large parks and running tracks that one can use. I would certainly not suggest pounding tarmac and pavement as the shock to the joints and muscles running on these surfaces will, over time, take a huge toll on your body. Stick to natural surfaces or proper running tracks where possible.
If you are near a beach then that is without doubt the best place to run, in my opinion, as the sand cushions your footfalls far greater than any other surface but also gives when you push off making the whole experience much harder giving the runner far better levels of fitness. The other thing with sand running is that it’s best done barefoot and this allows your feet to really work in their most natural way giving all the muscles of the lower legs into the feet a full range of strength and motion that you just cannot get when wearing shoes. And as the sand is continuously changing as you run over it your feet are having to continuously adjust to the different angles and density of the surface. There really is no better running than running barefoot down a sandy beach, not just how it feels physically, but also how it feels mentally. Grass is another good surface for barefoot running also, and most of us live near parks or playing fields that we could run on. Again, the surface is not always perfectly flat and this makes ones feet continuously adjust working out all the lower leg muscles in the way they’re supposed to work naturally.
Find a time to run…
There’s nothing worse than starting out with a new fitness thing with tons of people watching you. You are going to feel totally self-conscious and this can be quite detrimental to your fitness development. If you’re running in a place at a time that is really busy with lots of other people then you are more likely to over work yourself and push yourself beyond what your body is capable of. This is a fast track to injury and pain and will enventually lead to you giving up on your new running escapade.
I suggest going to bed early and getting up early. You don’t find many people down the park, the running track, the local countryside trails, or the beach at 5am. And you can just take your time and not worry about how you look.
Get fit to run…
Once you’ve found a place and time to run your next task is to get fit to run.
But isn’t the point of running to get fit? You may ask.
Yes, it is, but unless you’re fit enough to begin to run in the first place, running is only going to damage you.
I run a 1.545 mile stretch of sandy beach both ways – a total of 3.09 miles.
I didn’t just go down there and start pounding it with my feet in some silly hope that i would become a good runner.
I began running that beach by walking it. I walked it every day. And i kept walking it until i could walk it briskly without feeling tired and with a perfect head up, back straight posture.
If you can’t walk your chosen running route briskly, with perfect posture all the way without feeling tired then you really aren’t fit enough to begin to run any of it.
There’s no short cut to this. If you don’t bother with perfect posture and perfect walking form and from there develop that into perfect posture in perfect running form then you will damage your body and it will have all been for nothing.
No pain no gain mantra just results in pain without any gains. You shouldn’t be doing this to hurt yourself, you should be enjoying every step, not suffering.
There’s some good points on running form in the following video…
You can also look around Youtube and the internet for other videos on running form. THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! So don’t just go running until you can get your form perfect.
Cadence is the amount of steps you take per minute. Why’s this important? Well, if your cadence is too slow more weight is being placed down into the ground losing more energy into ground shock and that shock travels up your body creating joint problems and injury. Too fast a cadence will have your muscles working too fast and that ain’t good either.
So what’s correct? Well there is a school of thought that states about 180bpm is perfect for the human form, and having experiemented with this cadence i can truly say that it has improved my running a lot. I run faster, farther and with less effort running at 180bpm.
If i were to run at 150bpm cadence to get the same speed i would have to take longer strides, this would result in more heel strike as my legs would have to over extend. That heel strike inevitably takes energy out of my running and changes it into ground shock which as stated above, travels up the body creating injuries. By running at 180 bpm i use shorter strides, keeping my foot falls more under my pelvis and thus minimising ground shock and injuries from that.
If i were to run at 210 bpm, my strides would be far too short to be efficient with my muscles flexing far too often and far too quickly for the given return of effort to maintain the same speed.
So i looked around Youtube and found the following piece of music. I can’t imagine running without it now. I just zone out and let my legs work at 180bpm and i run better than i’ve ever ran in my life. Even on stoney trails i find my feet are putting a lot less ground pressure down than compared to lower cadences, especially walking. And being barefoot i am very aware of how much ground pressure and therefore ground shock i am creating with my feet…
Yo can also find a lot of fixed tempo mixes at Podrunner. Just click on ‘PREVIOUS MIXES’ and you’ll get a list of ever increasing bpm mixes for you to download and try. Experiment with different cadences and see how it does affect your running, but keep in mind through it all that you must maintain good form. There’s no point in running at any given cadence if your form is suffering. So find a cadence at which you can maintain good form, and once you’re happy and comfortable with that then increase it by a couple of bpm and see how that feels.
Once you have a good cadence going, then you can monitor your heart rate while you run.
If you do a google search for heart rate zone training you’ll find many schools of thought on the subject for you to experiment with. Pick one and see how it affects your running and fitness.
By keeping a consistent cadence you vary your heart rate by lengthening or shortening your strides. With a wrist monitor on you can keep an eye on your heart rate as you run and vary your stride length to keep your heart rate within a chosen zone. If you’re new to running then keep it low and just get used to running leisurely and build up stamina by keeping your heart rate low and running for distance.
Once you can run 5 miles every day with good form at your chosen heart rate zone then you can think about either upping the heart rate zone or adding interval training to your running. Or you can just keep it where it is and enjoy a nice leisurely run every day without over doing things.
That’s the beauty of heart rate monitors. They keep you focused on the reality of your own body and what it’s capable of. There’s no point in over doing it, you’ll only injure yourself. Keep it low and work on distance to begin. Speed is something that you work on once you have got your distance sorted out. It’s the distance work that creates your muscles ability to deal with the lactic acid that will build up when you run at speed. If you don’t get a good grounding in distance then your muscles will just cramp up with lactic acid when you try to run at speed.
So no interval/speed training until you can run several miles in a low heart rate zone at a steady speed every day.
Enjoy running! Running on two feet is a gift that Nature gave to us humans. It is a joy to celebrate our bodies in this way. So keep good form and don’t overdo things and have fun and explore some great trails and great new places while out enjoying Nature’s gift to our species.