How to start running

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Running is having a bit of a moment as people look for new ways of staying active during lockdown. With gyms closed, access to outdoor spaces limited and stress levels rising, it’s not hard to see why people are taking to pounding the pavements.

If you’ve never done more than a begrudging jog for the bus, the thought of running any distance can feel like a daunting task, but you’d be surprised at what you can achieve. So why is running so good for you, and how do you start running when you’ve never done it before?!

The benefits of running

Running has a whole host of health benefits – even if you do it slowly. It can help to reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, increase your muscle and bone strength and will improve your lung capacity.

Running also has a huge impact on our mental health and general wellbeing, as Paul, 43, found out when he started running just after lockdown started. “My gym was closed and I needed to get out of the house” he said, “so I started off walking which then turned into running. It clears my head and I don’t know how I’d have coped with the stress of lockdown without my running sessions”.

And the ‘runner’s high’ is a proven phenomenon, which can make you feel calmer, more productive and happier.

start running

The disadvantages of running

Although running has a lot of advantages, there are some disadvantages to bear in mind. There’s a high chance of injury, higher than many other types of cardio activities. Running can be tough on your joints, and you’ve probably heard of many injuries that runners contend with – ‘runner’s knee’, Achilles pain, shin splints, heel pain, muscle strains, etc., and that can definitely be off-putting.

However, you can do a lot to decrease your chances of getting injured. Making sure to warm up and cool down properly, building up your distance, pace and time spent running slowly and making sure you’re wearing good running shoes are all ways you can help your body stay injury-free.

Above all, listen to your body. If you’re in pain or something feels wrong, don’t push through it. 

How to start running

One of the most popular ways to start running is the Couch to 5k program, where you alternate jogging with walking and build up your stamina and time spent running over a period of 9 weeks. It’s endorsed by the NHS and is a fantastic way of starting to run if you’ve never done it before.

There are loads of different ways to access the program. You can get an overview of each week on the NHS website here, where you will also find links to download the NHS Couch to 5k weekly podcasts and the One You Couch to 5k app.

There’s also the Couch to 5K app by Active Network (£2.99 iOS/£2.79 Android), which gives you different options for trainers, allows you to play your own music and works with Apple Watch. Get it on iOS here or Android here.

There’s also the C25K running trainer by Zen Labs, which you can find here for iOS or here for Android, both for free.

If you don’t fancy doing Couch to 5K (although why you wouldn’t I don’t know), there are other beginner’s guides available online. Runner’s World has various plans here, including a 7 week walking plan that will get your body ready to start running.

Popular running app MapMyRun also has a 4 week beginner’s plan here.

start running

The Couch to 5K plan

Paul started off with Couch to 5K and has now successfully completed it. He says: “I never thought I’d be a runner and to be honest even when I was a few weeks into C25K I didn’t think of myself as being able to run. Then you’ll have a session where you enjoy it and you think ‘oh yeah, I’m a runner now’”.

Almost a million people have downloaded the Couch to 5K app since March, which is a whopping 92% increase on the same period from last year. People who have completed the program rave about its ability to turn even the biggest couch potato into a runner, and a quick search of the #couchto5k hashtag on Twitter shows people grinning as they undertake their final 5k run, with Tim tweeting “Originally one minute was tough, but 5k is now achievable”.

It’s definitely a great place to start if you’re interested in running. Get support by joining in with the #couchto5k hashtags on Twitter and Instagram, and join the r/C25K subreddit if you’re on Reddit.

Equipment needed

As with walking, you don’t need much to start running. The most important thing you need is a good pair of trainers, as going out for a run in a pair of unsupportive shoes is a recipe for disaster for your poor feet.

There’s a comprehensive guide to the basics of choosing a running shoes here, but you don’t have to spend loads to get a good pair. RunRepeat has a guide to the best budget running shoes here.

You don’t really need much else, although we’d recommend taking a water bottle and wearing suitable clothing (something sweat-wicking, preferably). Decathalon is a good place to find cheap exercise gear. 

Get out there

If you’re looking to get started with the so-called king of cardio, download the Couch to 5K app, lace up your trainers and get out there and give it a go. At worst, you’ll decide it’s not for you, but you might find that you actually really enjoy running, opening up a whole new world of activity.


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