Learn how to run any distance | 7 tips for a beginner | Run your first race

Last year my wife excitedly arrived home one day and announced that she had spontaneously signed up with some friends to do the Nike "She Runs the Night" 10km night race.  

"That's awesome!" I said.  "It looks like a really cool race.  I wish I could run in it.  It'll be a lot of fun".

"No it wont..." she said.  "All the other girls run all the time and I can't run at all.  The last time I ran was in the cross country at high school.  I ran last and was lapped.  I was so embarrassed I have never run since!".

I laughed, which was probably the wrong thing to do, but I followed on to say that everyone can run and perhaps she needed to do a few runs before she just gave in.  A few days past and the weekend was upon us, and to her credit, she headed out on her first run in about a decade.

It didn't go well.

She collapsed in the door red faced and totally out of breath.  "Didn't you only just leave?!" I said laughing, which was again probably the wrong thing to do.  "I told you I can't run!" she said in a huff and stormed off to have a shower. 

A cup of tea and a chat later uncovered the truth.  She could run - she just didn't know how to run.  What she was doing was essentially running almost flat out for as long as she could (about 100 - 200m) then walking and repeating the cycle.  Not surprisingly after 1km of this she was totally exhausted.

"You are a good runner" She stated. "How do you do it then?  You seem to just be able to run forever even when there is a massive hill".

So I put together a simple set of guidelines to help her, a beginner, run any distance and eventually run and finish her first race.

7 tips for a beginner to run any distance and complete their first race:

#1 - Invest in a good pair of running shoes

One thing you will never regret is spending money on a quality pair of running shoes.  I love my ASICS GEL Kayano 22s (mine are red,white and blue) and I'll never change!

 For your first pair I'd recommend going to a store where they will properly fit you and make sure that you have the right pair of shoes for your feet (pronatation).  This will ensure that your feet don't slip in your shoe when you run and that you don't get rubbing or blisters.  Following are some other general tips:

  • If you are new to running avoid barefoot or similar shoes.  They don't have the support and you will probably injure yourself.
  • You want the shoe to be light but still be supportive.  Too much support and they will be too heavy and too light (barefoot) they wont have enough support.

#2 - Get a running app

There are heaps of running apps out there.  I use Record but my wife uses RunKepper.  Ultimately it doesn't matter which one you choose as long as they have the following features:

  • Tracks your running pace and splits
  • Records each of your runs and tracks your progress
  • Allows you to listen to music at the same time (I cant run without music!)

#3 - Set a goal and make a plan

Choose a target distance and a time frame.  Just keep in mind the longer the distance the more time you will need to build up to that distance.  If you are aiming to compete in a specific race then this will make these choices easy!

To improve your running you need to be consistent and run regularly.  Running is very hard on your body, especially early in your training as your body is forced to adjust, so your routine needs to ease you into regular runs and allow enough time to recover in between.  This is vital to minimizing the chances of injury.   Common injuries in beginner runners are shin splints and pulled leg muscles (calves, quads and hamstrings), which can take your out of training for weeks or months depending on the severity.

Following is an example of how you might prepare for a 10km race in two months time:

#4 - Warm up and stretch thoroughly before each run

I can't stress this point enough.  Warm up thoroughly with a light jog or brisk walk before each run and stretch your upper and lower legs, chest, back and arms before every run.  Even the short runs.  This part of your running routine is critical to ensuring that you; minimize your risk of injury, allow you to be more comfortable in your run, and recover quicker afterwards.  No excuses.  No shortcuts.

#5 - Start slow but just run

This is where your running app comes in.  If you are really new to running you need to discover the pace which you can comfortably run at.  Don't worry if this seems only just faster than walking.  The point is that you don't stop running.  Over the course of your program (as above) the distances will increase and so even if your pace doesn't speed up you will get to the point where you can run your goal distance without stopping.  Just run!

#6 - Slowly increase your split time

If you are finding that you are doing the runs easily then this is the time to up your pace, but not too much!  Remember the point is to not stop running.  Unless it is really easy I wouldn't recommend shaving more than 10 -20 secs of your split time.

A good example of this was my wife.  When she started training for the 10km race she was sitting on 7 - 7:30 splits, but by the end of her 2 months training she was able to sit comfortably on 6:30 splits.  In fact this is what her average split time was for the race - an excellent first race performance!

Clever readers will have noticed that in the program above the longest distance is only 8km when the race is actually 10km.  Why is that?  Well funnily enough once you discover your pace you find that you can sit on this for much longer than you think.  In fact, if you can sit on your pace for 8km or even 5km you'll find that you will be able to do this for 10km.  What the program is really doing is conditioning your body over time and the only way to do this is by clocking up the kms week after week.

#7 - Run your own race and run at your own pace

So it is race day.  Don't do anything different to any of your other runs.  Prepare, eat, drink, warm up and stretch the same.  Now is not the time to experiment with your routine! 

Chances are you will be nervous so try to conserve your energy.  Chat with some friends or keep to yourself and listen to your music to pass the time.  You already have plan for the race, you are going to run it like every run you have done in training.  You will sit on your pace and roll through the kms.  Don't get caught up in the excitement of the starting line.  Many inexperienced runners will charge off at the start, but don't worry, when they start walking you'll soon catch them.  If you have trained as I have described you can almost predict the outcome of your race to the second.

Congratulations! You have just completed your first distance event without stopping or walking!  

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