"If you run, you are a runner.
It doesn't matter how fast or how far.
It doesn't matter if today is your first day or if you've been running for twenty years.
There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get.
You just run."
-- John Bingam
Everybody can be a runner. You can do it anywhere, anytime. Maybe you get into it for the physical benefits, particularly weight loss... but it's the mental benefits that will impact you most: focus, freedom, stress relief, mental toughness, purpose, perseverance and patience.
Oh, and you'll look better and improve your sexual performance.
Running is self-expression and self-discovery. So why not share your adventures and learn from others? Your ability, experience and time splits aren't important here... if you run, you're one of us: welcome to the GAF Running Club!
"It's very hard to understand in the beginning that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners.
Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants to quit."
-- George Seehan
Motivation is key. It's different for everyone and it changes over time. Today you're reading this thread. Tomorrow GAF may inspire you to go for a walk or jog or run a marathon. Never run aimlessly: set goals.
Your goal should have personal meaning (don't let others set goals for you) and be challenging yet doable (be honest about your abilities.) Sharing your goal with people who support you, like family, friends, partners and fellow GAFfers builds commitment and holds you accountable. Because of real life, injury and the release of your favorite videogame, you will fail some goals. Don't sweat it... Learn from the experience. Set a new goal. Go run.
Tips for beginners:
- Getting off your butt and out the door is a big step. Don't worry if you can't maintain pace over a significant distance, your first priority is getting used to moving. Even a brisk walk builds the stamina and muscles you need to eventually run properly. A lot of beginner programs alternate walking and jogging for this reason. Be patient: speed will come.
- Couch to 5K is a proven beginner program supported by podcasts, a website and a mobile app to get you in shape.
- Invest in shoes that fit you: get your first pair at a running store where staff can look at your footstrikes and posture. Heed their advice even if the shoes they recommend don't have the color or model you like. Just as boxers don't wail on bags without good gloves, your feet should not be pounding the ground without proper protection. Oh, and don't skimp on the socks... you want those fitting snugly to prevent blisters.
- Go easy because your heart and lungs will improve much faster than your joints and muscles. It's not the distance that kills you, it's pacing. Nothing hurts a beginner's motivation more than injury or the lethargy that follows overtraining. So don't run until exhaustion, there should always be 'gas left in the tank'. Bonus: you'll be in a wonderful mood for the rest of the day.
- Running in bad weather is surprisingly comfortable and even enjoyable. You'll learn to appreciate rain more than heat. Never let the weather deter you from going out the door. People will think you're nuts... just grin like a loon. We understand.
“Running is a mental sport, more than anything else.
You're only as good as your training,
and your training is only as good as your thinking.”
-- Lauren Oliver
Running is a natural motion but that doesn't mean you can't improve your form. Your running form determines how many steps you take per minute (which is called 'turnover' or 'cadence'.) There are whole books written about running form but here are a few pointers to get you going:
- Make sure your feet land under your center of mass. If they land in front of you ('overstriding'), you're braking your momentum with each step. It also heightens the impact which hurts your knees over time. If you do it right, you'll likely land on your midfoot instead of your heel because your hips are above your feet at the moment of impact. To accelerate, lean forward (moving your center of mass) instead of trying to 'reach' further with your strides. Get used to increasing / decreasing your turnover (and pace) by leaning forward or back.
- Swing your arms in the direction you're moving, not across your body. Keep the angle of your elbows at 90 degrees throughout the swing (so you don't waste energy.)
- Keep your head held high (visualization: ears above your shoulders.) This forces you to keep a straight posture and raises your knees higher with each stride, covering more distance without overstriding. Make sure your shoulders don't rise involuntarily, keep them low and back to release unneeded tension.
If you want to look good running, improve your form. Onlookers won't notice your actual speed but they'll definitely notice the quiet strength of a runner dashing past with a straight back and soft, rapid footfalls.
“There are three reasons I failed.
Not enough training.
Not enough training.
And not enough training.”
-- Haruki Murakami,
Obviously your choice of shoes matters... but the options can be overwhelming. Most shoes you see in stores are trainers. They are meant to protect your feet from ground impact and instability due to poor running form. For this reason, they're relatively heavy and rigid in key places. For most runners, this is all ever you need. The advantages of other shoes (light trainers and racing flats) are only a consideration for faster, more experienced athletes as they sacrifice cushioning and stability for less weight.
The biggest consideration when choosing shoes is your running gait, the way your feet move through the cycle of one step to the next. This is hard to judge for yourself which is why we recommend visiting a running store for advice. You will have one of three possible gaits: neutral (foot rolls slightly inward at the strike), over-pronation (exaggerated inward roll which twists your knee and ankle and puts them at risk of injury) or supination (foot rolls outward on impact which doesn't absorb the shock effectively.)
Most runners tend to over-pronate and need shoes that offer extra stability (usually achieved by hardened portions around the ankle.) Supinating runners need extra cushioning and neutral runners get by with just a little arch support. Shoe brands tend to classify their lines as 'Stability' (for over-pronators), 'Neutral' (for neutral runners) and 'Cushioning' (for supinators.)
For rough terrain, there are trail shoes which are essentially modified hiking boots. They offer increased traction, durability and won't get you stuck in deep mud. However, don't underestimate the power of regular trainers - they are perfectly serviceable to cross a few miles of woodland under normal circumstances.
A recent trend is barefoot or natural running, which has popularized the minimalist shoes. The original brand is Vibram but all major manufacturers offer this type now. These are meant to simulate the effect of running with the bare sole in direct ground contact while still providing protection against cuts. Many people swear by it and proponents claim increased performance and less injuries. However the scientific evidence of these claims is still inconclusive and they're not the best choice for beginners.
You probably want to keep track of your goals, performance and training schedule with the use of an app or website. Since most modern phones have on-board GPS, you don't need specialized fitness trackers or runner watches if you're willing to carry your phone with you (which is recommended for personal safety.) Popular phone apps with GPS tracking and performance measurement include:
Endomondo: Versatile and lets you log other activities. (IOS / Android)
Strava: Lets you challenge activities of people on your friends list. (IOS / Android)
Runtastic: Swiss army knife of apps with sleek interface (IOS / Android)
Nike+ Running: Integrates with Facebook for live encouragement (IOS / Android)
RunKeeper: Good training plans for all levels (IOS / Android)
MapMyRun: Integrated navigation, lets you trace routes made my other runners (IOS / Android)
These apps all have the same key features so it comes down to your preference and which is popular in your social circles.
The best place to secure a phone is at the small of your back close to your center of mass but not all running clothes have this option. If you carry your phone on your arm in a special sleeve or in your pants pocket, make sure you alternate sides between runs - otherwise the asymmetric weight will negatively influence your running form.
Of course runner watches are the superior option for weight, ease of access and accuracy. This market is rapidly changing with the rise of smart watches so we'll stay away from recommendations in this OP. Brands you want to look into are Garmin, Polar, TomTom, and Suunto.
Heart rate monitors can be useful tools to tweak the intensity of your training. Many runners fall into a rhythm and don't add enough variation from run to run; heart rate monitors can help you with that. However, it's preferable to learn how to read your own body without the help of gadgets. Experienced athletes can tell their pace by feel alone. On a related note: music and audio books can make runs more fun and push your performance... but they're also distractions from body awareness. Try to run 'unplugged' every so often to hear your own footfalls and experience your body's effort and fatigue.
"We were designed to move.
Our bodies are bodies that have walked across vast continents.
Our bodies are bodies that have carried objects of art and war over great distances.
We are no less mobile than our ancestors.
We are athletes.
We are warriors.
We are human.”
-- John Bingham
For many runners, their goal is to finish or perform in a race whether it's a local 5K run or a classic marathon. You will find many suitable training plans to help you work towards race day. However before you dive into a training plan, make sure you have a good training base: are you physically and mentally capable of performing at the level of the training plan? If you're a beginner, you could go straight into a marathon program and even finish... but doing so without a training base is considerably less fun and puts you at risk of injury and burn-out. So be patient and use smaller goals as stepping stones to your big goals: if you want to run a marathon, work towards a few shorter races first. Focus on finishing before you start worrying about personal records and time splits. Beginner programs are all about building the base: long walks alternating with short jogs. After a few weeks of that, you may get impatient and itch to just run... but hang in there. Your training base will sustain you when the program finally cuts you loose. No need to rush: you're a runner and have a lifetime of challenges ahead of you.
Before any run, you want to elevate your body temperature and prepare mentally. Warm muscles and good focus (=no stress) make your body more flexible which lets your perform better with less chance of injury. How you achieve this is up to you: a 5 minute walk works just as well as a set of lunges, body weight exercises, a jumping rope or some dynamic stretching. Whatever you do, it should elevate your heart rate slightly and make you feel comfortably warm outside. Make your warm-up a consistent ritual so your brains knows it can relax as soon as you start the motions.
A good training program consists of different types of runs. Variation is fun and leads to huge performance gains. The basic building blocks of runner training are:
- Long runs: steady tempo with good breathing over long distance, for endurance gain.
- Intervals: timed bouts of high speed (not sprints) alternating with jogging/walking, for speed gains
- Fartlek: unpredictable and varying bouts of high speed (not sprints), alternating with jogging/walking, for speed and pace gains.
- Easy runs: slow tempo with easy, comfortable breathing, for recovery
- Hill training: repetitions of running against elevation, for strength gains
Not every program will incorporate all building blocks but most will have at least three of them. There is one more crucial building block for runners: rest days. You MUST give your body time to rest and harden itself between periods of high effort. You won't get stronger and faster on training days: the gains will happen in the downtime, as your muscles recover and grow. Whatever your goal, you'll want a training program with variation and sufficient rest.
At the end of your run, you want to help your muscles recover and flush the metabolic by-products from your body. So don't stop dead: keep moving, gradually decreasing the effort. If you don't, you'll be punished with soreness and stiffness as soon as you sit down for a while. Cooling down is a good time to incorporate form-improving drills and flexiblity-enhancing stretches.
Many runners only cross-train when they are forced to: because a training program demands it or because an injury prevents regular training. Beginners find the prospect of even more activity daunting. But regular cross-training sessions can have surprisingly large effects on your running performance and overall fitness. When choosing a supplemental sport, the biggest consideration is whether the cross-training impacts your joints: your ankles and knees are already under a lot stress from running, so explosive sports like tennis, basketball, martial arts etc. increase your risk of injury and hamper your recovery. Swimming is the classic cross-training of choice because it's a highly anaerobic full-body exercise with no joint impact. Don't disregard strength training either: better body symmetry lets you run faster and more efficiently. Also, FitGAF is full of cool people.
“I don't run to add days to my life,
I run to add life to my days.”
-- Ronald Rook
Log off. Shut down. Go run. The road is a good listener and we'll be here when you get back.