How To Get A Running Habit
Running is often touted as the ultimate democratic exercise. It’s free, simple and doesn’t require a lot of equipment. But getting started can seem daunting, with concerns about fitness levels, injury and technique halting a lot of beginners before they even hit the track.
There are some simple things you can do to develop a healthy, sustainable running habit, whether you’re adding it into an existing exercise routine or kick starting a more active lifestyle.
#1 Understand technique to avoid injury
While it might seem counterintuitive, your “natural” running technique might not be the best way to run long term. Striking the ground hard heel first, running with feet turned in or out, overreaching in stride or leaning too far forwards are all common technique mistakes beginner runners make that can lead to injury.
There are a lot of theories about what makes the best running technique and just as many YouTube videos to match them. New runners should focus on the basics: concentrating on landing on the ball of the foot rather than the heel to lessen impact, landing with the foot under the body rather than stretched out in front, and kicking the heel up behind on each stride to increase leverage.
Try some drills to teach your body the correct positions to be in when running and strengthen the muscles that will allow you to run safely. Remember to listen to your body and differentiate between the pain that comes from working your muscles and the pain of injury. If you experience lasting pain in joints or muscles, or any sharp pains, consult a medical professional who can work with you to help you understand your body’s individual needs.
#2 Stretch it out
Stretching pre and post run is a very important but oh-so-easy to skip step. When you look after your muscles, ligaments and tendons, you’ll be able to continue building on your running practice without causing injury.
Get started by doing some yoga for runners or create your own stretching routine. Loosening up your body before going for a run will allow you to move more freely, shake off any aches from previous exercise and focus your mind for the run ahead.
Cooling down properly will help with recovery, saving you from feeling stiff and sore the next day. Repeated exercise builds up muscle in particular areas that may hamper flexibility, so a good post-run stretch will make sure you don’t run into problems with overly tight hamstrings and glutes down the track.
#3 Set achievable goals
For beginners, running for more than a few minutes at a time may seem like an impossible dream. Burning lungs and jelly legs might set in after only a minute or two, making it hard to set a steady rhythm and not want to fall down on the ground and roll your way home.
Setting small goals will help you to gradually build up your stamina and keep your focus off physical discomfort. Start by setting your sights on a landmark and running that distance, then pick a new marker to head to. Keep track of how far you run, and each day attempt to go just a few hundred metres further. Celebrate the days that you make your goal, or even beat it.
See what happens when you spend your run focusing just on your breathing, trying to maintain a steady, deep breath. Breathing properly allows your heart and muscles to do their job and will help you to not panic and stop your run the minute things get challenging. One day you might even be able to be one of those runners holding a casual chat as they glide along the footpath.
#4 Variety is the spice of life, and of running
Not all running has to be done at a steady pace in a straight line. Hill runs, stair climbs, mini boot camps and interval training are great ways to increase your fitness, improving your overall running ability, and keep things challenging and fun. I mean, the latest craze you can even incorporate in your routine is crawling.
High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT describes repeated bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest. Interval training can increase your fitness and endurance, and helps promote a healthy metabolism and heart (and is great if you want to trim down).
You can also target different muscle groups during your run by designing your own boot camp. At intervals during your run, stop to do a set of push ups, calf raises, squats or lunges. Don’t forget to start and end your boot camp run with a good stretch.
#5 Technology and groups can help you stay motivated
Using a tracking app or fitness watch can be a great way to track your running progress and keep up your motivation, but you don’t need to go high tech. Join or start a running group, enter fun runs, create playlists that make you look forward to heading out for a jog. Listening to your favourite podcast when running actually improves your brain function.
#6 Source some equipment
The best thing about running is that there isn’t any complicated equipment needed. The most important piece of equipment for running is footwear, and the right kind of footwear will vary runner to runner. Some runners swear by “toe shoes”, while many find a supportive, well-fitting running shoe will do the job.
After getting footwear right, it’s really up to personal choice and what makes you feel great about heading out for a run. Ladies might want to invest in a good sports bra that helps them feel comfortable and supported while running. There’s all manner of activewear on the market these days, and some find that a new flash exercise outfit motivates them to get out of the house. But really, any old t-shirt and pair of shorts will suit, and you’ll soon realise that the last thing runners are focusing on while they exercise are other runners’ outfits.
Like all new things, you’ll need to give yourself time to settle in before you see the benefits of a dedicated running practice. Stick to a routine that allows you to track your progress and after a month or two, take time to reflect on the changes you’ve been able to make to your technique, fitness and mindset.
Lauren Sherritt is a playwright and freelance writer based in Brisbane. Lauren’s work has been featured online at Junkee, The Financial Diet, Birdee, LifeMusicMedia, lip magazine and Australian Stage.