A few days ago, I was running in Regents Park when a guy walking in the opposite direction chuckled and said to his companion, “New Year’s runners” just as I passed by. Had I not been mid-hill interval and thus physically incapable of speaking, I would’ve been tempted to respond. Yeah? And what do you call the two marathons I ran last year? It was a snippet out of context, but the way he said it was obnoxious, implying that running was only something I was doing because it just so happened to be January 2nd.

But then as I was walking home from work last night, I noticed that there WERE tons of runners out and about, way more than usual. I wasn’t exactly surprised, especially given running’s recent surge in popularity, but it was as if half the City had resolved to start running home – Tower Bridge was packed! Nevertheless, it was great to see so many new runners hitting the pavement with the regulars – I particularly enjoyed observing the many different running styles and types of gear that passed me by.

By the time I got home, I had revised my opinion of that guy’s comment – Yeah! We’re New Year’s runners – what’s it to you? Okay, so running isn’t new to me, but if a New Year’s resolution is the motivation you need to get you started with or back into running, who cares? The fact that you’re doing something healthy for yourself, physically and mentally, and that you stick with it is what’s important!

If you’re thinking about running but haven’t yet started, if you’ve started and are wondering how you can stick with it, or if you’re a regular runner and are looking for some tried and tested running tips, then read ahead!

Pick a goal…or several

Your goal(s) will of course depend on  your fitness level and whether or not you have run before:

  • If you do not exercise regularly and have never run before, a good goal might be to run 30 minutes without stopping by a certain date. Play around with what feels right for you, but make sure the build-up is gradual.
  • If you are physically fit but new to running, you probably can already run for at least 10 minutes without stopping. Why don’t you aim to run a certain number of times per week, and then gradually build up your weekly mileage (a 10% increase per week is generally the recommended amount), perhaps with the eventual aim of running a 5K race?
  • If you have taken a break from running and would like to make it a regular part of your exercise regime again, think about entering a race in the near future. Using a training program might help motivate you to get back into your training.

The trick to setting your first running goal, especially if you are a beginner, is to start small. Set realistic goals for yourself – and why not set sub-goals too, for each week – so that you can feel the satisfaction of achieving them! Slowly build up to more challenging goals as your confidence grows, along with your abilities.

I obviously didn’t jump right into regular racing and distance running – over a period of roughly one and a half years, I slowly progressed from an easy run once a week to racing my first half-marathon in 1:37! And six months later, I ran my first marathon. The beauty of these early days is that you just keep improving – it’s hard NOT to feel motivated when you set new PRs in every race!

Maybe you won’t become a marathon runner, but if you stick with it, I guarantee that you’ll look back on your early days and laugh about how tough those first runs were for you!

Achieving your goal(s)

Here are some ideas to keep you motivated, based on what has worked well for me in the past:

1. Find a friend to support your efforts:

You often hear that having a running buddy will help you achieve your goals, whatever they may be. I 100% agree with that statement. As you may have already read in my running story, a friend introduced me to running 15 years ago, and another friend encouraged me to start running again two and a half years ago. It really does make a difference knowing that someone is waiting for you in the cold at 7:30am, when you hear the alarm go off bright and early and debate whether or not to hit the snooze button! Once you’re out there, having someone to chat with makes the miles fly by, or if you’re doing a tough session, having a buddy might push you to train harder than you would on your own. I’m a very self-motivated person, but even I need support to get through certain runs!

2. Enter a race to give your training more purpose:

My running buddy also encouraged me to enter my first 10K and half marathon. I was terrified, but knowing that I would have support throughout training and before/after the race gave me the courage to get on with it. Now that races no longer freak me out quite so much, I race regularly to give my training structure, as well as a greater purpose (ie improving my best times and keeping fit). It helps me stay as motivated as I am.

Even if you don’t care about times and structured training as I do, having a race scheduled will still help you keep your momentum well into 2011. Tell your friends, family and colleagues about your race and your training so far. If I did that, I couldn’t bear the thought of quitting – I would be so embarrassed if I had to tell everyone that I backed out, not because of injury, but because I simply stopped trying.

Not sure which race to run? There are so many races of all distances going on each week; I guarantee that you can easily find one in your area. For instance, Running in the USA is a great race search site.

3. Consider working with a running coach:

If your goal is particularly daunting or you just want some one-on-one guidance, you should consider working with a coach. There are tons of great coaches out there, who can provide a wide range of services to runners of all levels, varying from one-to-one coaching to online advice such as training schedules. Personal sessions can be pricey (comparable to personal training), but online coaching is quite affordable.

For my first marathon, I had two personal sessions and four months of online coaching, and it was worth every penny. So much so, that I did the same for my second marathon! I have no doubt that coaching helped me prevent injury and perform well in each race. More importantly, I acquired a vast amount of knowledge and experience that left me equipped to not only train better on my own, but also share this knowledge with other runners.

4. Join a running club:

I don’t currently belong to a club, but I know many people who do and love it. It’s not only an opportunity to get some free coaching and to run with others at your level, but most clubs are quite social and will lead you to new friends who share your enthusiasm to get fit through running. Clubs also often host races, which are fabulous for training and low-key enough that you don’t have to sign up too far in advance.

5. Use a training schedule, log and/or other tools:

Being a planner, I’m a huge fan of using training schedules and tracking my runs in various training logs. Read my post on using training logs and other tools here.

6. Focus more on what you eat and drink:

If you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t have to change your diet too much in terms of consuming more calories, but you will need to start paying more attention to the quality and timing of what you eat, if you wish to maximize the results of your efforts.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

~If you’re doing an easy run of under an hour early in the morning, you probably don’t need to eat beforehand, especially if you ate well the night before.  I always just have a big glass of water, but you may prefer otherwise.

~If you are running later in the day, have a small snack an hour or two before you run. Something like a banana, or a piece of toast with nut butter, for example.

~Within 30 minutes of finishing your run, try to eat something with carbs and protein to aid your recovery.

~Carbohydrates are necessary for runners – but aim to eat complex ones, ie wholegrain breads and pastas, and no need to go crazy on portions. Be sure to get enough fresh produce, leafy greens, lean protein, and healthy fats (fish, nuts, olive oil, avocado etc).

~Hydrate! Keep a big bottle of water on your desk at work or in your bag – if you sip little and often it won’t seem like a chore.  No need to carry water with you during a run unless you are running for over an hour, unless you prefer otherwise.

7. Get the appropriate gear:

Having good quality running gear that fits you well and protects you from the elements is CRUCIAL, especially if you are training in winter. Many people ask how I get myself to run in extreme weather conditions – it’s all in the gear! Okay, the desire to run has to be present as well, but who doesn’t want to go running when fully kitted out in awesome clothing and accessories? In the right kit, you become unstoppable!

Firstly, you need to ensure you are wearing the right shoes. Get an assessment at your local running shop – it only takes a few minutes!

For very cold weather, it’s all about layering – I always wear a good sports bra and/or running tank, fitted long sleeve top and then a light but wind/water-resistant jacket, as well as long running tights, gloves, and hat or headband. This is usually enough even in the coldest conditions.

For racing/long runs, I wear long compression tights, which may or may not actually make you run faster, but they certainly aid in recovery. I love 2XU tights – they served me well in both the Paris and NYC marathons!

For sunny days and most races, I can’t run without my sunglasses – they help me stay focused and make me feel hardcore, which is exactly what I need to really push myself.  I am obsessed with Sunwise‘s Breakout Black sunglasses – not only are they cheap, but they’re light as a feather and super durable. I can’t even feel them on my face – didn’t budge an inch during two marathons.

And lastly, if you’re running to/from work, make sure you’re using a proper running backpack so that it doesn’t mess with your form. I’ve seen too many runners recently with massive backpacks bouncing up and down – best to get something made for running, with waist and chest straps. I’m currently using the OMM Ultra 15Lt running backpack and find it very comfortable.

So if you’ve been thinking about running in the New Year, what’s stopping you now?!

Any questions? Leave a comment or email me at thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com.