As simple as running may be, it certainly isn’t easy. Especially when you’re a beginner. ‘You have to start where you are, not where you think you should be,’ says running coach and exercise physiologist Janet Hamilton. ‘If you go further or faster than you’re ready for, your body can’t adapt quickly enough and you’ll get injured.’ That’s why, with plans designed by highly experienced coach Sam Murphy, we’ve developed a five-part programme to take you from your very first steps to stepping up for your first race. So, are you ready?
1.Your goal is to: get motivated
‘Once it’s a habit, exercise feels easier and doesn’t take as much willpower when you don’t feel like it,’ says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.
Make a plan: Duhigg says every habit is made up of a group of cues (time, place, music, other people); a reward (chocolate, massage, smoothie); and a routine (the workout). Write down your cues and rewards and post your plan somewhere you can see it.
Keep it regular: Run at the same time of day and listen to the same pre-workout music. ‘The cues have to be consistent,’ says Duhigg. ‘You’re creating neural pathways that make the activity a habit.’
Reward yourself: Treat yourself to something you enjoy straight after you exercise, so your brain associates exercise with an immediate reward. ‘You have to teach the brain through experience,’ says Duhigg.
Build a support system: Equip your routine with things that will make you feel good, says Duhigg. Run with friends or go to a parkrun, and track your miles so you can see your progress.
2. Your goal is to: just get moving
Before your first run, get in the regular exercise habit by walking. This should be a brisk walk – ‘not a race walk, but not a window-shopping walk either’, says Steven Blair, professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, US. You can also use a stationary bike or elliptical trainer, but walking is an excellent foundation for running and holds the convenience trump card. ‘The best exercise is the one you will do consistently,’ says Blair.
3. Your goal is: to start running
You’re ready to run. And here’s the good news: because you’ll be moving faster, you’ll cover longer distances without adding workout time to your schedule. At the end of this seven-week plan, you’ll be able to complete 175 minutes of exercise per week, running for approximately twice as long as you walk.
4. Your goal is to: run non-stop
Want to build your endurance and eliminate the walk breaks? This plan takes you from run/walking up to continuous running. Each run should be done at a conversational pace. If you’re gasping, slow down.
5. Your goal is to: run longer
You’ve run a non-stop 5K, now you want to run further. This plan will help you develop the endurance you need to run a 10K, and build the strength to race a 5K. It includes some hills and loosely structured speedwork (fartleks) to build that strength.
6. Your goal is to: get faster
This eight-week plan is for those who can already run five or six miles and want to boost their speed. It will develop endurance, introduce you to speedwork to boost your leg and lung power, and develop ‘pace awareness’ to help you avoid going out too fast.