As a running coach, I hear the words, "I’m not a runner” more often than you might think. In fact, it is one of the most common phrases that I hear amongst people getting back into their running or getting started on their running journey for the first time.
As far as I’m concerned, if you run, you are a runner. Whether you are fast or slow, whether you run one minute, once around the block, or one hundred kilometre ultra marathons, you are still a runner.
This belief that “I’m not a runner" comes from comparing to other people who you see as “real” runners. You know, the super skinny ones that run hundreds of kilometres per week and glide effortlessly around the streets and parks. They wear real running clothes and have a fancy watch. They make it all look so easy.
When you are starting out, it certainly doesn’t feel easy at times. Everything hurts, your mind and legs play tricks on you and your confidence is fragile. You have a couple of good days, then miss a few days and struggle to get back into it. As a coach of recreational runners, this is where I often come in. These frustrations and niggles are real and the main focus of my work is to break through these, to give people the confidence that they are in fact “real" runners.
So where can you start?
Concentrate on consistency
Rather than concentrating on all the numbers that your watch can spit out at you, or beating the next persons Strava segment, focus on being consistent in your training. That means running, regularly. Thankfully that doesn’t mean every day of the week for all 12 months of the year. It means heading out perhaps three times per week, with one ‘rest day’ between each run. Keep ticking these off each week and the improvements will come.
Use the run / walk strategy
When you are starting out, your three runs should all use the run-walk strategy. This means taking regular breaks from running to get your breathing and heart rate back under control, then you can run again. A good starting point might be to run slowly for 2 minutes and then walk for 1 minute. Do that five times and you have done fifteen minutes! Breaking your run down in to planned chunks is easier mentally and also easier on your muscles, allowing you the chance to recover on the go. It also allows a simple progression, making the next week 3 minutes run / 1 minute walk for 16 minutes, for example.
Learn to run easy.
This is a big one. The number one mistake that runners make is running too fast, too far and too often. If you are running three times per week, using the run-walk technique and making sure that your run sections are ‘easy’, then you are dramatically reduce your risk of injury. By ‘easy’ running, I mean that you are in control of your breathing and your heart rate. If you can think straight and your breathing is under control whilst running, then you are probably running easy. If not, you have my permission to slow down until things are back under control.
Don’t forget recovery!
If you add in 3 runs to your weekly routine, this may be a slight shock to your body! In order to help your body deal with this new stimulus, we want to help it recover well. This means a couple of simple things like drinking a little bit more water and also taking care of your muscles with a massage or foam rolling. In particular if there are sore spots, focus around them and on the bigger muscles in your legs. Alternatively a regular stretch, yoga or pilates class can help with this. Keeping your legs loose will reduce the risk of injury and keep you running consistently each week.
By doing even just these 4 things, you would be streets ahead of most people who rush head long into running too far and too fast. Unfortunately, their road will be frustratingly rocky and filled with expensive trips to the physiotherapist, whilst yours will progress smoothly and steadily. Of course the odd issue will come up as you add in more running, but overall by following these 4 tips will see you training more consistently and getting fitter, faster. Enjoy!