So you've eaten a little too much over the festive period, been a little bit lazy the past year or two, or maybe you're just looking to mix things up and run a little more. Wherever your start-point, and whatever your reasons, there are some things to consider to keep you safe, and help you get the most from your resolution this coming January.
It's important to conduct an honest assessment of your current situation before you lace up your trainers and set off. Are you injured? Do you get pain when you walk or come down the stairs? Do you get breathless easily doing normal daily tasks? These, and many more variables, should be considered before you start. Seek advice from your doctor, and potentially from a fitness professional before you start.
Do you want to be competitive? Break records? Achieve bucket list items? Just get fitter and healthier? Your goals will determine the kind of plan you need, how much time you should devote to your training, how you should measure progress, how much money to invest in reaching your goals, and several other variables.
So assuming you're injury-free, medically safe to begin, and you've set some goals for yourself, what else should you consider? I've laid out some key topics for you to think about, and some suggestions within those topics to help you set off on the right foot!
All over social media are examples of people deriding soft soles for running trainers, heel to toe drops and built up arches, and advocating barefoot, or minimal, running footwear. While this is great in theory, if you have spent the majority of your life in cushioned footwear, it needs to be a considered transition, which will likely take quite some time. The first area I would consider is a shoe with a wider toe box. Spend time when not running barefoot, to gradually build strength, and the wider toe box when you do run will mean your foot can get used to more naturally absorbing impact again. Then, once you feel comfortable with this, aim to lessen the drop of your trainers gradually towards 0mm. This will take time, and going too quickly may result in calf problems. The final step would be to reduce cushioning to a bare minimum.
When you considered your goals earlier, you will probably have created an image in your head of the runner you would like to be in 6 or 12 months time, possibly thought about times you would like to run, and maybe pictured yourself crossing a finish line. All of this is achievable, but only if you stay injury-free, consistent, and continue to enjoy the process. Strength training is essential, whatever your level or ability, for several reasons; it reduces injury risk, plugs the fitness gaps that running alone can't, and addresses imbalances and problem areas to help you run better. Find or follow a programme that underpins running workouts with strength training, and you'll be on the right path!
This is a big subject, and detailed discussion is outside the scope of this article, however, I'd like to cover a few key points to help you get started. Firstly, form follows function. This means that your body will naturally run at the intersection created by the way it has been, or not been, trained, and the task at hand. In other words, it will meet the task at hand to the best of its ability. This ability, and subsequently your form, will change as you improve. It's also worth considering that if you plan on losing weight, this will impact your natural form too! I'm not saying to not consider form at all when starting out, but rather focus on a few key basics, and let your form evolve as a result of your strength training and running improvements. Try to 'run light' landing with your foot under your body, and try to avoid landing on your heel. If you're just getting started, this is a great focus, to begin with. More complex form cues might be necessary over time. These may be from a running coach, or a strength coach who helps you resolve any physiological limitations you may be dealing with.
I've written quite a bit about breathing before here: https://www.tomhunttraining.com/post/breathing but for this article, let's keep it really basic. Limit mouth breathing as much as you are able, and try to reduce this further with practice. Also, try to return to nasal only breathing as quickly as possible after hard efforts or bursts that cause you to breathe through your mouth. Breathing is a great intensity modulator, and for many is a better tool than an external cue; such as a heart rate monitor, or a stopwatch.
This is another broad field, often dominated by commercialized methods with only small benefits. There are broadly three categories we can file recovery under, which combined probably account for 95% of your recovery as a whole. Firstly, nutrition and hydration will help your body behave as it should at rest, during training, and throughout anything else you choose to do. Make sure you get adequate protein, hydrate to thirst, and consume a broad variety of vitamins and minerals. Secondly, sleep is when the majority of muscle repair and recovery takes place. Get a solid 7+ hours per night, or a little more if you're able. The 3rd pillar I advocate is active recovery. This doesn't need to be planned exercise, often it's better when it's not, rather just a conscious choice to move without intensity, but plenty, during non-training days. A walk, a light bike ride, or even just an active day around the house or at work, can all stimulate increased blood flow and speed up recovery.
If you've been through this list and taken a little time to get things in order, then get started! Set yourself goals, but make them achievable and relevant to you, don't get sucked into someone else's ideals. Be happy with the progress, but don't worry if it stalls from time to time, and above all, find a way to train that you enjoy!
If you get started in 2022, good luck, and see you on the trails!