Cool mornings and sunny days, the best time to train outdoors. Improving your overall fitness is perhaps the best thing you can do to improve your spinal health, cardiovascular health, mental health, sleep and just about any part of your health you can think of. For the majority of people, unless you have severe hip and knee issues, a good walk or run is the easiest, cheapest, most time effective way to get fit. For those unable to walk without pain, consider an exercise bike and spin ! keep a high cadence (greater than 90RPM) and don’t push a big gear, this will help minimise the stress on your knees and lower back.
Why is it that some people can’t go a day without running when most non-runners find it a struggle to get out the door. Passionate runners fall in love with the “purity” of the sport. No gadgets, no fancy gear, no 20 year old trainer shouting instructions, no membership, no reliance on the weather, ocean swell, road surface, no special anything… Just you and a good pair of shoes. Runners are self-motivated, they can run in a group or run alone, they fall in love with the journey, not the destination ! Your health, your weight and all the social, mental and emotional benefits that come from being outside are all pleasant by-products of being a runner.
Working with athletes on a daily basis and through my own personal endeavours to stay fit, I’ve summarised a few of the strategies to help you get going and keep going on your journey.
Don’t pick up from where you left off. Whether its been weeks, months or years start off slow and build up. If all goes well and you stay injury free, you’ll be back to your former self in no time. Doesn’t matter how far or fast you used to be, start off with slow runs or a walk-run-walk and build up, 30mins is a pretty good base for most.
Don’t run every day. You’ve found your Mojo and you want to hit it hard, don’t ! It will take weeks and months to build toughness into your joints and ligaments but it will only take a few weeks of daily running to make your knee sore or get your achilles tendon inflamed. Start with 2-3 runs per week, you can walk on your days off.
Maintain your consistency by running at least 2 days a week and no more than 3-4 days. Any less than that and you’ll miss out on building and maintaining your fitness and toughness in your joints.
Vary the pace and length of your runs. As a guide I have a long, slow run, Tempo run and Intervals/Speed session. Go slow on your slow runs, keep your heart rate down and focus on a good cadence and technique. Your tempo run should be just below threshold – you should be working hard and able to sustain the intensity throughout your run. Your speed session is there to develop, humm… SPEED. Developing leg speed can be done with intervals varying from 100m to 1 Km, allow proper recovery and make sure you get those legs moving. Althernatively short, sharp hill repeats build strength and leg speed.
Hydrate before and after your run. Most people fail to drink adequate amounts of water following their recovery. Eating proteins within 30 mins of your run will also help build healthy muscles. Electrolytes and electrolyte drinks become a necessity in the warmer weather, adding salt to your food might even be a consideration.
Try to run on natural surface as much as is practical. Grass, Limestone and compacted sand will help prevent a lot of lower limb injuries. Avoid concrete footpaths when possible, your knees and feet will benefit greatly.
Wear good running shoes. You’re not going to need many gadgets as a runner so at least invest in a good pair of shoes. Technology is changing rapidly, Nike, HOKA ONE and ASICS are just some of the leading brands that are experimenting with new foams, sole thickness, shoe width, lacing patterns, curved soles and arch support. As a rule, if your shoe is more than 2 years old its probably time to visit your local shoe shop.
Stretch and become a stretching guru. Your sessions should look a little like this: Warm up…Stretch…Running session…Cool down…Stretch. Your muscles will stiffen up as your body cools down so stretching after your session and in the evening will help minimise the “gelling” which happens overnight. The use of heat and massage is also beneficial. Yoga and Tai Chi will both help your running greatly.
Heat rubs aren’t hot ! Heat rubs feel good, but don’t rely on them to warm your muscles up. A bit like Chillies, they taste hot but their not hot, there is no temperature difference when you use a heat rub.
Warm up. Especially as you get older and while the weather is cool, give your muscles a chance to warm up before you start pushing the pace. Your muscles will take longer to warm up when the weather is cold and when as you get fitter and more efficient. The use of wheat bag can also help with muscle pain.
Explore and try different trails. Aim to run on different surfaces and different scenery. Its fun to explore and this will reduce your risk of injury. Of course time may not always allow and we all have our favourites, but there may just be an amazing trail just around the corner for you to explore.
The better you get the more you will enjoy it. Give yourself time to develop as an athlete, regardless of your age and make sure you enjoy the journey.