Congratulations! I see from your Twitter updates that you’ve decided to take up running! Have to say, I didn’t really think you were the sporty type, but I guess you don’t need to be. God knows I was never sporty. I thought I’d take the liberty of writing you this letter, as I have four months experience of running behind me – thus making me an expert – and I feel you can only benefit from some pearls of wisdom to help you along. It’s essentially a list of dos and don’ts. Do try and keep up, I know you have trouble with big words so I’ll try and keep it simple.
First off, know your limitations. Most inspirational sports quotes will say you have no limitations, but you do. Everyone does. It’s all well and good sitting on your arse watching the Olympics, thinking “I could do that” as you watch Mo Farah leisurely stride his way through 10,000 metres; but it’s doubtful that you could. For example, I could base my running ambition on Paula Radcliffe’s stunning career, but it would be pointless. For a start, I would need to have began training before my early teens, but I chose to spend those years eating sweets and listening to boy bands. Also, Paula is 5ft 8in tall. Her limbs are long and lithe, she hasn’t an ounce of fat on her, and she weighs in at 120lbs (8.5 stone). I, on the other hand, am almost four stone heavier. I’m also four inches shorter. My limbs are short and thick, and I have significant deposits of fat all over the place. When I think about it, nobody in my family has a typical ‘runners body’, or even the potential for one, so rather than bust a gut trying to achieve it – I have to accept that it’s not for me. I can try my best of course, but there’s not much point huffing when it doesn’t go to plan. Realistically, I’m not built for it, and not many of us are.
Secondly, I see you got yourself a pair of running shoes after having your gait analysed. Sorry to piss on your parade, but most stores offering gait analysis are merely doing so in order to sell you shoes. I’m not saying they aren’t accurate, but I think it’s better to go to a physio or podiatrist and get them to tell you what they think. At the end of the day, they don’t have sales targets to meet! Don’t feel obliged to buy the trainers the sales person suggests, just because they say you need them. If they don’t feel right when you try them on, they’re not going to get much better when you’re running in them. Try on as many different types as you can til you get the ones that suit you best. Don’t get blinded by science – this goes for all running gear. If it feels comfortable, wear it. If it doesn’t, don’t. Simple as that.
I hope you’re taking things easy at first. One sure way to poison your enthusiasm for running is by starting out at a crazy pace. Never be ashamed to walk. Walking at the start will warm you up and break you gently into the workout. Trot along at a comfortable pace, try and get yourself into a nice rhythm and enjoy it once you’ve found it. Don’t worry about what you look like, what your arms are doing or what your legs are doing – just keep your head up and look straight ahead. If you drop your head, you’ll drop your shoulders and you’ll get uncomfortable; so maintain a strong posture and the rest will follow suit. Do cast your eyes downwards from time to time, as nothing ruins a confident running stance like standing on dogs shit and emitting a stream of profanity/squeals.
One thing I still have to be aware of is climate. Never underestimate the effect the weather has on a run. Most people think that a sunny day is perfect for running because it’s dry. In reality, it’s torturous. Remember that you’re in constant motion, even if you’re just walking, so your thermostat is already higher than normal. Add a constant blast of midday sunshine, and things get very sweaty very quickly. Having said all that, as a fellow ginger, you know the risks posed by the sun. But the sun doesn’t have to be out for you to boil. Still, humid, breathless conditions are almost as bad. Wear as little clothing as is decent and legal. If it’s raining, you don’t necessarily need a waterproof jacket. These things are like wearable saunas – approach with caution. Running in the rain is great fun – once you’re wet! You can’t drown, so just enjoy it!
Being a tech nerd, I’m sure you’ve got yourself an app to track your progress. I use Nike Plus, as it works seamlessly with the iPhone, but there are tonnes of other GPS apps that measure distance, time, pace, calories etc. These are all great when it comes to monitoring progress, but don’t get bogged down in statistics. No two runs are the same. There are so many things that can affect your run (time of day/night, weather, how well rested you are, how well fed you are, your mental attitude, the clothes you wear etc etc), so it’s counter productive to rely on the stats alone as an indication of how well you’re doing in general. This last fortnight has been hell for me in terms of training – a great run followed by a terrible one, a comfortable run one day and then having to abandon the next one halfway through. If I was to become a beginner again, I think I’d just use my watch and nothing else. Bear in mind that Kenyan runners don’t even use watches, let alone Garmins or iPhones – they just run.
So on that note, I shall leave you to it. I hope these few tips give you something to think about. I look forward to seeing your tweets about how you’re getting on! Which reminds me – my final tip: don’t become a running bore. Nobody will ever care as much as you do about how many miles you ran today, yesterday, and what you’re going to do tomorrow. Updates for milestones – yes, but keep social networking social. Remember there will always be a fat person watching, feeling guilty.