Welcome to Learn to Run! This guide will help you with everything you need to get started and hopefully answer most of the questions you might have along the way. It will also look at some of the common issues that face new (and returning) runners so that you can make the most of your program. If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org as well!
Make sure you have some comfortable shoes to run in! One thing you might like to consider before we start or in the first few weeks is going to a specialist running store and being assessed. But that isn’t necessary, just be sure to let me know if you are having any pain related to your current shoes. There are two main things to be aware of when shoe shopping – one is that there are neutral shoes and stability shoes. If your feet don’t roll in or out while you run then you are neutral and if they do, it’s likely you will be more comfortable in stability shoes. And the other thing is heel to toe drop. That’s the difference in height between the heel and the toe. If you are making a change, you want to do it gradually. Knowing those two things about your current shoes will help narrow down on what other shoes you might like to try, because there is so much to choose from and it can be overwhelming! If you can, go somewhere that will let you return the shoes if they aren’t quite right. For example, RunningWarehouse will allow you to exchange your used running shoes within 30 days, which is very handy!
Sports bras are right up there with shoes as one of the best investments you can make in your running! There are some fantastic supportive and comfortable running bras out there for pretty much every shape and size. If you aren’t sure where to start. Brands that you can check out include: Moving Comfort, Lululemon, Oiselle and Shock Absorber. Runners World also has this review of sports bras which might give you some ideas too! And much like the shoes, if you have an option of being fitted, take it! A well fitting bra is going to make all your activities a whole lot more enjoyable.
The participant guide will help you to see how the program is structured, how to get the most out of it and what you can expect week to week. You can download it here.
Apps and Running Watches
Our Learn to Run program uses walk/run intervals and this is so much easier when you are getting audio cues for when to run and when to walk! You can do this on a free app like RunKeeper if you have an iPhone or Android phone, on RunMeter if you have an Apple Watch and through Garmin Connect if you have a Garmin Watch. Here are some guides on getting started with setting up your intervals. It can be a bit of a learning curve, but once you get going your sessions will be so much easier.
All About Running
Warming Up and Cooling Down
When to Stretch
The golden rule of stretching is you are going to get the most value of it when you are warm. So that might mean you warm up at home and do a stretch there or you jog for a bit and you stretch while you are out on your run. It’s also great to get into the habit of stretching as part of your cool down. You don’t need to warm up for that, because you are already warm. And if you are incorporating stretching at another time during the day you can use the roller to warm up your muscles a bit and then stretch.
Warm Up Routine at Home
This is a great yoga based warm up and stretching routine for runners. It takes about fifteen minutes and you can do it before you leave the house.
Cool Down Routine at Home
Similar to our warm up routine, this is a yoga based routine which will help you with your cool down and post-run stretching and you can do it when you get home. It also takes about fifteen
For most of your runs that is all you need. But for quality sessions involving tempo pace or intervals or hill sprints you want to do a bit more as well.
Warm Up for Quality Sessions
If you have time you can do the yoga warm up at home, but you can skip it if you like
Walk or run at a really easy pace for 5-10 minutes
Calf Stretches (15 Seconds Each Leg, Repeat Twice)
Quad Stretches (10 Times Each Leg)
Walking Knee Pulls (10 Times Each Leg)
Glute Stretches (Hold for 15 Seconds Each Side, Repeat Twice)
A Stride is about 30 seconds. You spend 10 seconds speeding up, 10 seconds holding that pace, and 10 seconds slowing back down. It starts to get your body ready to go faster.
Do four strides. The first stride do at 75% effort, the second at 85%, the third at 95% and the fourth at 100%
Repeat the stretches!
It seems like a lot of extra work but it is going to do a couple of things. One it’s going to protect you from injury and two, it’s going to prepare your body so that when you move into a faster pace, it’s not going to be as much of a shock to the system.
In the beginning it only feels like there is one pace, so don’t let pacing worry you too much in the beginning but here is a guide to some of the paces you will come across in the program that you will get some practice with.
For easy runs there is no such thing as too slow! In fact it’s very easy to run easy runs too fast and miss out on the benefits of aerobic training. Over time you are aiming for your easy pace to be one which you could hold a full conversation with. It’s about 60-70% effort (and heart rate).
Your steady pace is at the top of your aerobic capability and it should still feel easy, but it is an increased effort. This is about 75-80% effort (and heart rate).
This pace is known as ‘comfortably hard’ and it is the threshold between your aerobic system and your high intensity system. You can still speak in short sentences if you had to! It’s about 85-90% effort (and heart rate).
This is a hard effort and would be about 90-95% effort (and heart rate) but you could still blurt out a word or two if you needed too.
This is your maximum effort!
If you’d like a better sense of paces, this is a guide for what your paces would be based on a 5km race time to give you min/km paces. But this is just a guide, and going on effort is the best policy because there are so many variables with pacing like weather, how well you slept, what you’ve eaten, what course you are running on and a myriad of other things too! But the guide can help you see what the differences are between the training zones.
Core activation is about engaging the deep core (the abdominal muscles underneath your six pack abs – also known as the transverse abdominals). These muscles are also known as postural muscles and are like a belt that go around and connect to your back. If these muscles aren’t being used – the other major muscle groups have to take over and this puts a lot more pressure on you legs and back and is a common cause of injury.
But it can be hard to pinpoint what core activation feels like because we are used to the idea of core exercises being like planks or crunches which engage the major muscle groups and the upper abs but it’s usually too intense for us to get our deep muscles working if they have been inactive.
Here’s an exercise to start with
Begin this core exercise lying on your back with your knees bent. Slowly pull your belly button in, “away from your belt line”, and breathe normally. Your rib cage should remain relaxed and should not elevate during this process. You should be able to feel the muscle contracting if you press deeply 2cm in from the bony prominence at the front of your pelvis . Practise holding this muscle at one third of a maximal contraction for as long as possible during everyday activities (like walking) provided it is pain free. Repeat this core exercise 3 times daily. You can build up to doing this while you are running too. You will find it takes a huge amount of pressure off your back and legs, once the deep core is doing what it’s supposed to do.
Once you’ve got that down, these are some great exercises to develop your activation:
Knee Drop Outs – Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe in. As you breathe out, activate the transverse abdominals using above cues and let one knee drop out to the side with control. Breathe in and bring the knee back to the centre. Repeat with the other knee. Repeat 10 times.
Straightening Your Leg – Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe in. As you breathe out, activate the transverse abdominals using above cues and let one knee straighten out with control. Breathe in and bend the knee back up so that your foot is again flat on the floor. Repeat with the other knee. Repeat 10 times.
Raising Your Arm Over Your Head – Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Breathe in. As you breathe out, activate the transverse abdominals using above cues and raise your arm over your head (you may use a weight or can in your hand) in a controlled manner. Breathe in and bring your arm back to your side. Repeat with the other arm. Repeat 10 times.
Often, when people have knee pain, the culprit is weak hips, not the actual knee – so if you’d like to work on strengthening the area – here are some exercises to start with
Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of one another. Lift your top leg to about 45 degrees and then lower it back down. Repeat 15 to 20 times per leg.
Bird Dog: Get on all fours on the ground. Focusing on balance, lift your right arm and extend it straight out in front of your body. Simultaneously, lift your left leg and extend it out behind your body. Bring your extended arm and bent knee back to center under your body, and then extend them both out again. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.
Hip Hikes: Standing on one foot, drop the right side of your pelvis a few inches downwards while keeping the left side in a neutral position. Activate your left hip muscles and lift your right side back to the starting position. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.
Single-Leg Bridge: Lie on your back with both legs bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your left leg off the ground and extend it while you raise your lower back and butt. Hold the position for two seconds and lower back downwards in a controlled manner. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.
Donkey Kicks: Get on all fours again, but this time you will only be lifting and extending your legs, keeping your hands on the ground. Instead of extending the leg backwards like you did during Bird Dogs, keep the knee slightly bent and kick upwards, with the bottom of your shoe facing the sky. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side.
Breathing will mostly improve with fitness, but you can give it a bit of a kick along by practicing breathing deep into your stomach when you are at home. You can also use it as a relaxation technique before bed. Start with counting three to breathe in and three to breathe out and then work up until you are counting up to 7 to breathe in and 7 to breathe out and are doing that for at least three consecutive breaths. Runners World also has some tips on exercises to help breathing by strengthening the diaphragm.
Video guides for strength exercises
There are a whole range of strength exercises in your optional strength sessions, so I’ve put together a list of YouTube links to help you with any movements that you aren’t familiar with.
Guide to Rolling
Runners World has a great introductory guide to rolling here. A foam roller is a great way to use self massage to release muscles, because stretching alone isn’t enough. It’s something that you might resist, but the more you do it, the more your body will thank you for it.
Guide to Shin Splints
Shin splints are a really common issue with new runners because the muscles need to be developed. I’ve written a full guide on how to get proactive with shin splints here. And Mobility Mastery has a great rolling technique for shins, calves and ankles too.
This is something to experiment with. Some people will prefer to run on an empty stomach, while others will prefer to have their carbohydrate levels topped up before they go. If you are going to eat here are some tips:
1) Try to eat an hour before you are planning to go
2) Aim for foods that are high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat.
3) Experiment! It’s the only way to figure out what your body likes!
Ideas could include: coffee (the milk has a good mix of carbohydrates and protein), a smoothie, oat porridge and honey, yoghurt and fruit.
Eating within fifteen minutes of finishing your session is going to do great things for your recovery, so even though it can be the last thing you feel like doing after a run, don’t skip it! You want to aim for something that has high amounts of carbohydrate and moderate amounts of protein. Also think about having some magnesium (either in food, in a supplement or in an epsom salt bath) to help with your recovery too.
Fuelling on the Run
For the most part your muscles have enough energy stores for about 60 minutes of exercise. But if you are feeling depeleted mid-run it might be time to consider some extra fuel on the go. Which is all about getting carbohydrates and minerals into the body! And a good thing to keep in mind that if you need to fuel a run, you need to start early. Because by the time you are feeling depeleted, it’s almost too late.
Options for run fuelling can include: Dried fruit, jelly beans, energy bars or muesli bars. There are also sports specific gels and chews but in general that wouldn’t be necessary unless you were needing to fuel longer runs.