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Start Running - 20 Steps To A Fitter You

Running is one of the most popular physical activities in the UK today, and with a little thought it can be very beneficial in terms of your health and well-being

Don't cry, it's hard for everyone at first

Everyone who has ever started running tells the same story - the first time is the hardest. Many people who couldn't manage half a mile on their first run go on to complete marathons so don't let the tough intro stop you.

Phone a friend

Lots of people run quite happily on their own, however running with a friend or in a group can be a real motivation on the occasions when you can't really be bothered and the sofa and TV are beckoning. Running with a buddy provides a good discipline - you won't want to let someone else down. And it's good fun to share your struggles and successes with a sympathetic ear.

Buy decent footwear

If you're going to be a runner you need to wear a bona fide pair of running shoes. Once you get into it you may be running 15 or 20 miles a week - that can add up to 1,000 miles a year. Scary! However contemporary running footwear is a journey into leading edge science. Fabulous materials and technology combine to create shoes that are comfortable and will help keep you injury-free.

Book a regular slot

We're all creatures of habit so why not develop a couple of good ones instead of adding to that long list of bad ones. Decide times, twice or three times a week, when you are going to go for a run. Find suitable slots in your working and domestic routine and then stick to them. After a few weeks Tuesday evening and Saturday morning will be your natural running times - you won't even have to think about it.

Get some comfortable clothes

As with footwear, modern sports clothing makes running a much more enjoyable experience. Forget about those old cotton t-shirts which get damp and uncomfortable. Head to your nearest specialist running shop to find a wide range of efficient jackets and tops which wick moisture away from your body keeping you dry and cool.

Visit runABC regularly

runABC is an invaluable resource for runners of all levels. As well as a comprehensive race listing and regular national and international running news we provide race results, features stories, a weekly newsletter and a wealth of running-related tips and articles.

Drink! Drink! Drink!

Running is a much more comfortable activity if you stay well-hydrated. As a general rule drink lots of water on a daily basis - 2 litres a day and drink plenty on the days you go running. Specialist sports drinks before, during and after exercise can provide a good combination of liquid and carbohydrate replacement. Try drinks like Lucozade Sport and find one that suits you.

Before and after

Injury is the bane of all runners. Avoid injury by developing a pre and post race routine of stretching and warm-up. Before exercise, in the warm-up, you want to prepare the muscle for activity. The best time to stretch is just after a short easy jog and to hold each stretch for 10 seconds. After exercise, in the cool-down, you want to reduce or even prevent post exercise muscle stiffness. You are now trying to lengthen and loosen the muscle back to its pre-exercise level. Hold the stretch for a longer period, say 30 seconds. Check out our articles on stretching for some inspiration.

Think about what you eat

Running can be the start of a virtuous circle. It is a tough cardiovascular work out and running for say one hour can use up around 700 or 800 calories. Eating and snacking at the right time and on the right foods can really help your overall running strategy. Try to eat something light (a sandwich or a banana) an hour before exercise and make sure you eat shortly after a hard run to help with your recovery. Check out our nutrition advice for some helpful tips!

Give yourself a pat on the back

Running can be challenging but it's very rewarding - there's no better workout. However it requires determination and application. If, after a month or so, you are heading out a couple of times a week and running for more than 30 minutes you are well on your way to becoming a genuine runner!

Run a race

parkrun is the perfect introduction to a timed event. It's free and friendly and the 5k distance is perfect for wannabe racers. After parkrun it's time for real race action- there's nothing quite like it. Running a couple of times a week - check. Building stamina - check. It's time to enter a race. Don't go overboard, there will be plenty of 5k or 10k events near you and those are nice distances for beginners. Remember start slowly don't let the adrenaline at the start of the race carry you off too quickly.

Do some fancy training

If you do run in a race you'll find out the level you're at. Next you'll want to get faster. You don't just need to train more, you need to train smarter. Vary the lengths of runs you do - make some long and slow and others shorter but faster. Find out about interval training where you run fast for short periods, recover and run fast again. This helps build up your ability to maintain a race pace and it's fun to vary your running.

Have a rest

Running can be addictive and a frequent problem for new runners is that they pick up an injury. Try to avoid this by building in regular periods of rest into your programme. Take a week off every couple of months, plan a break for a longer period say when you go on holiday and generally break up your routine and give your body a chance to recover from all the hard work it is doing.

Join a club

Lots of people have taken up recreational running in recent years and that's meant the emergence of a new breed of running club which has more of an emphasis on participation than elite performance. Check out your local running clubs.

Get some really fancy gear

If by now you are training regularly and running in races you will want to make sure that you are kitted out properly to feel comfortable and to enjoy yourself as much as possible. Visit your nearest specialist running shop and they will advise you about different types of shoes (trail, performance, spikes for cross-country), wind and water proof jackets, high performance socks, compression clothing, energy drinks and heart rate monitors and lots of other products that will help you get the best out of your running.

Run up a hill

Under the heading of even fancier training comes hill training. Most running clubs will do sessions which consist of hill repetitions - running up a steep street or a series of steep streets near their club house. For runners who enjoy the countryside then there is the option of trail runs or runs up gentle hills. The latter is a great way of developing both strength and stamina. So if you have a nice little hill near your house, you know what to do!

Build up your training

As we've mentioned running has this habit of getting under your skin and it is rewarding to slowly build up the number of miles you do. The long slow run is a traditional part of the routine of experienced runners - this will usually be 10 miles or further if you are training for a half marathon or beyond. You can include a steady run, a tempo run (pace just below your target race pace), and speed-work to vary your programme. Soon you'll be pulling on your trainers 4 or 5 days a week.

Do something different

An excellent piece of advice for runners is to cross train. Cross training is simply doing other types of physical activity like swimming or cycling to vary the stresses that you are placing on your body. Weights at the gym are good for building all-round body strength and activities like yoga and Pilates are brilliant for flexibility. Building these other activities into your programme will definitely make you a better runner.

Have a massage

Many runners swear by sports massage particularly after a big race. Massage provides stimulation to the tissues and promotes better circulation that flushes out toxins. As scar tissue builds up in a runner from either injury or intense training, massage can help break up this tissue and move it along. It can help realign muscles. restore drained energy, and help ease soreness after a tough race or workout. Another benefit - it makes you feel great!

Admire the view

OK, by now you've spent a small fortune on shoes, a fancy breathable jacket, steaks and energy gels. Not to mention entry fees for races, and 35 quid on a massage. Why? Well, now you feel great. You've got much more energy than you had before, and a more positive attitude to life. And best of all - you look great. The flab is melting away and that extra chin has disappeared. So go look in the mirror and admire the view.

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