The months of January and February are packed with runs and marathons; there is The 9 Dragons at the end of January, the King of the Hills in early February, the highly popular Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon on 9 February, and lots more to come. If you’re looking to get fit, running is a great place to start. It’s free, convenient, and you don’t need any equipment to get started. But if you’re completely new to running, taking those first steps can feel daunting. We consulted Declan Leonard, physiotherapist at BUPA UK, for top tips to help you get started on your running journey.
Choose comfortable clothing that fits you well. The last thing you want when you’re just getting into your stride is to worry about your shorts falling down or your t-shirt chafing. Your workout gear doesn’t have to be expensive, as long as it’s suitable for the current season.
For running during the colder months, our best tips would be to wear long-sleeved layers, a wind- and water-proof jacket, with woollen hat and gloves to keep you warm if necessary. If you’re running early in the morning or in the evening when it’s dark, wear reflective clothing so you can be clearly seen by vehicles.
When running in the heat, wear loose-fitted clothing made from breathable fabrics to help you stay cool. It’s a good idea to wear a cap, sunscreen, and sunglasses on sunny days.
It’s also important to make sure you get fitted for a good quality pair of running shoes. Visit a dedicated shop where they’ll assess your running style and recommend a pair of shoes to suit you personally. These will help to protect your joints and reduce your risk of injury.
Following a training programme is a great idea for beginners, as it gives you something to work from. Ticking off each of your runs as you go can be really satisfying and motivating. You could also try using a running app, such as Couch to 5k, which talks you through each run as you go and helps you build up your distance each week. Click here to view BUPA’s 5km walk to run programme plan in full.
One of our best tips is to set yourself small goals and track your running progress by measuring your time, distance, or speed. Whenever your motivation is flagging, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve improved. Remember that you can always alternate walking and running at first before building up to constant running. Maybe your first goal is to make it to the end of the street, or to the next lamp post. Whatever your goal is, remember to celebrate those small wins.
To help prepare your body for exercise, take the time to gently warm up before your run. Do some movements such as lunges, squats, high knees, and heel touches to get your muscles and joints moving.
Similarly, remember to cool down after your run with some light stretching. On top of this, it’s a good idea to dedicate another 10 to 20 minutes to stretching at least once a week. You may not feel the benefit right away, but with time, these stretching sessions can reduce muscle tightness and keep you flexible.
Your body needs to adapt to your new training load, so start slowly. Doing too much too soon will be difficult to maintain, and you’re at greater risk of getting an injury. Increase the number of miles you’re running each week gradually, as long as you feel comfortable. Running two to three times a week should improve your fitness but make sure you also get enough rest and recovery. It’s normal for your muscles to feel sore after exercise, particularly in the days after your run—things should feel easier as your body adapts and you become fitter. In the meantime, have plenty of rest days in between your runs to allow your body time to recover.
Listen to your body and don’t run through pain. If you don’t feel 100 percent or think there’s a reason why you shouldn’t run, then don’t. It’s better to wait until you’re fully fit than to cause yourself an injury. Get advice from a professional who can help put your mind at ease, or put you on the path to recovery.
It’s important to fill your body with the nutrients it needs to help you perform at your best when it comes to exercise. Good nutrition and hydration will fuel your body for a run, as well as support your recovery afterwards. In the hours leading up to a run, eat a meal that’s high in carbohydrates, contains some protein, and is low in fat and fibre. This could be a banana smoothie made with low-fat milk, a bowl of porridge with fruit, or a jacket potato topped with tuna.
Remember to stay hydrated by drinking fluids consistently throughout the day. Water is enough for a short workout. You shouldn’t need a sports drink unless you’re doing very long runs or high-intensity exercise that lasts more than an hour.
For more detailed information on fuelling for exercise, read our ultimate runner’s guide to eating.
Staying motivated when you start any new exercise regime can be a challenge, so it’s a good idea to have a few tactics up your sleeve to help stay on track. Here are a few of Declan’s favourites:
Joining a running club is a great way to meet like-minded people, stay motivated, and share tips with other runners. The running community is friendly and supportive and welcomes people of all abilities. Get on social media, find out what’s on near you, lace up your trainers, and get involved.
Finally, if you’re brand new to running, remember there’s an element of trial and error when you first start. For example, some people like to run wearing a woollen hat during the winter to stop their ears from hurting; for others, this makes their head sweat and they may find it itchy and irritating. Some people like to listen to music while they run, while others prefer to take in the sounds that surround them. You might find that having a snack in the hour before your run doesn’t quite sit right in your stomach, while someone else may feel better taking on some fuel before they run. Everyone’s different, so see what works best for you. Remember, even the best athletes in the world were once beginners!