RA Fitness Blog, Training Help

23 Things I’ve Learnt About Running

This week I turned 23 and started thinking that this past year has been the one where I would start I would start classing myself as a runner. Somewhere between leaving school, graduating university and becoming a freelance dance teacher, I’ve found time to add running to my list of hobbies. I’m still in the phase of learning things about running, as I’m sure most people are, and thought I would share some things that I’ve learnt about running with you in the hope it will spark conversation or help someone out. My views are obviously quite objective so some of these things may not help you.

My 23rd Birthday Cake

1. I’ve learnt that; You should start slowly, as a beginner and when coming back from an injury or a break. Starting slowly for me means that I’m not disappointed with any loss of performance or distance when I’ve had a little break. As a beginner it’s key not to go straight in and run major distances, you’re body won’t be prepared and so the experience will not be sustainable in any way.

2. I’ve learnt that; Having someone to push you or compete with can help boost your performance. This might just be that they’re pushing you to actually go out and run on a Wednesday evening when is drizzling and windy. Or could be that you’re both about the same pace and are helping each other to push that extra bit harder. Whatever way it is, having someone there running with you for a run every so often can help with morale and in turn re-motivate your running experience. Don’t get me wrong though, running is definitely great solo most of the time.

3. I’ve learnt that; Sometimes getting out the door is the hardest part. When you can see out the windows, as the sun’s not up yet or has tucked itself away too early, it can be hard to actually get out there. On these day’s I’ve learnt that having the motivation to go is the toughest part of the activity. Once you’re out, it’s like any other run, be it that you might need a headtorch with you.

4. I’ve learnt that; Milestones, however small, should be celebrated. You finally got to 10km? Celebrate. You beat your friend on the local segment again? Celebrate. Even just little celebration like watching a film that night will give you the sense of accomplishment. At the end of the day if you’ve found the stat it means something to you and celebrating will help reinforce progress.

5. I’ve learnt that; You need to know your limits. I know that eating meals before a run isn’t great for me, it limits my body, ie, I get cramp very quickly into the run and can barely complete 4km. I’m also discovering that certain parts of my body need to be warmed up and cooled down more that others, my left IT Band for example needs rolling both before and after if not my knee will become painful. You might also know that there’s no way you can run x distance, that is something to be respected. You may never want to do that distance, if you did you would know that you’d need to build up to it. By knowing what your body is capable of now can help you understand what to do in the future to get to certain milestones.

6. I’ve learnt that; You needn’t be fast to be a runner. The term ‘runner’ can be banded around here, there, and everywhere, I’ve only just started really using it to describe myself. This is because I thought runners were people who went to win races and were always thinking about increasing their speed. This just isn’t true. If you’re getting out there and enjoying time on your feet, you’re a runner. It doesn’t and shouldn’t matter the speed or the distance.

7. I’ve learnt that; Without pushing yourself you won’t improve. If you are wanting to improve your times or distances, you won’t get any better by running in the same way you were before. You’ll need to run further or faster, for one or two training sessions a week to help so a benefit in your overall performance. For example, one of my goals right now is to increase my 10km time. During this training, each week I’m doing one tempo session, either a faster 5km tempo or a tempo 10km to try and push myself to get faster, and one interval session this is either a hill repeat session or a sprint interval session, to help strengthen my legs and get them used to running a little bit faster.

8. I’ve learnt that; Hill training is good for you. Honestly I think many readers might disagree here and just hate on the hills. But for me, I’d rather jog up a hill than bang out sprints. I’m not really built for speed, as much as I try. At least with a hill it’s a sustained effort, it gets my calves working, you may be doing the same hill 3 times but you learn it’s gradient, the dips and hard sections and can visually see, this time I got a bit further before I needed to break. For me sprinting doesn’t have the same appeal, I don’t immediately know how fast it was, whether I’ve declined. They both have a place, I’d just rather do hill repeated than a crazy track like session, to much my legs a bit harder.

9. I’ve learnt that; Negative splits are important. This should be taken with a pinch of salt, negative splits are important for flat races, and are more important the further the distance, in my opinion. Negative splits is where you section the race or run up into a certain amount of sections, and speed up with each section. This helps to reserve your energy at the start of the activity, by ensuring you don’t go off at a pace you can’t sustain and push way too hard risking not being able to complete. The issues with this are courses where you’ve got hills only in the second half, and you struggle to stick to the allotted pace. They should be used in the right situations, but can definitely help with training. For example a really nice session on a there and back course could simply be to beat the time back that you did out, giving you an extra bit of motivation to keep going.

10. I’ve learnt that; You don’t need a goal. Throughout this post I’ve been talking about goal after race, after something you want to improve. This doesn’t have to be the case. You don’t need to be constantly getting better or pushing yourself. Having a goal, gives you something to work towards which can help with motivation or organising your sessions. But no one should feel like they have to be working towards something, if you’re happy with your 30 minute 5km on a Saturday, there’s no need to do anything extra. There’s no set amount of times you should be running a week or distance to be covered every week. Everyone is different and should be respected for what they can and want to do.

11. I’ve learnt that; You should have different paces. As someone who does a lot of different mid distances each week, I’m slowly starting to discover that I should be running a 10km at the same pace as a 5km. This wouldn’t be sustainable. I’m currently struggling actually be able to pace myself at all, but that’s another story. 10km speeds are supposed to be a little slower than two 5km distances. The closer the two the better, but for many of us this is unachievable and may just signal that we’re not running 5km’s hard enough. Each distance should be hard because of the distance, not because we’re making it harder by running faster than needed. Gently does is, going back to number 9, if near the end you are feeling good about the pace, try increasing it and doing a little negative split, ending with more energy is better than finishing with no energy.

12. I’ve learnt that; To run far, you must run far. Realistically, you can’t just wake up and run 20km if the furthest you’ve ever run is 5km. The best way is through practice and gradually increasing your distance. One longer run a week can start to increase your aerobic capacity and as such allow you to run a little bit further without as much fatigue. This is also true of someone who once did a marathon, if that was 12 months ago and you haven’t done much distance training since, it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and run it again without increasing your distance once again. If you’re training for a race, you needn’t cover the set distance before the day, just close to it 1-2 weeks before should help prepare you for the challenge.

A shot of a run in Leigh Woods, Bristol.

13. I’ve learnt that; You shouldn’t be ashamed of walking. Yes you’re a runner, but so what? If you need to have a little rest don’t worry about it. If you’re not dead set on becoming an elite athlete, what’s the harm a little walking break can do? You’re running for yourself, not anyone else, and so enjoy it. If your body wants to rest let it. I’ve done plenty of races where most of us have walked up the hills, don’t be ashamed of that, it might even help you out a little later when you’ve got fresh legs.

14. I’ve learnt that; A decent running backpack is much better for running than a regular one. Since getting a purpose built running backpack, carrying things on my runs hasn’t been a concern. Gone are the days of trying to hold the backpack in place as it didn’t quite fit me. No more wondering if I’ll need the waterproof, just shove it in and it’s there should I need it. Many of these backpacks are made from good fabric too, so they’re less likely to chaff and cut your skin should it become irritated.

15. I’ve learnt that; Planning your routes can stop you getting lost. When you know you’re area you can probably get around no problem. I moved recently and didn’t know anywhere, slowly I’m building up my map but by planning routes I can find new areas that maybe I haven’t need to travel to yet. I also like to switch up my routes every season or so, meaning at the start of the season I may not really remember the route, so having it recorded somewhere can help me stay on track. I’ve also never been great at navigating myself too well around unknown points, once I’ve done something once or twice, I can pretty much remember every turn when needed but until that point I’m pretty poor at visualising a decent route.

16. I’ve learnt that; I need to drink fluids before and after a run. This is probably a very personal preference, but I’ve never really been able to drink when on the run. I recently did a long run where I did find myself taking swigs from my soft flasks, but on a regular basis I can’t drink much when running. I can usually do my longer 12km run without any fluids, so to make up for this I make sure I take on at least 500ml before the run and to hydrate straight after too.

17. I’ve learnt that; Layers are your friend. Taking off a layer is a lot easier than having to suffer in the freezing cold, or when it’s too hot in your long sleeved running top.

18. I’ve learnt that; Running somewhere you enjoy makes a huge difference. If for you running is to escape, then escape somewhere that you enjoy. If I had a choice I would never run near a road or cross any traffic lights, I just don’t particularly enjoy it. When you are trying to run for fitness, it might be the most convenient, I get it, but just be sure to get out to a place you like running every so often to remind yourself that this is why you run. Even if it’s just through the park or a slightly nicer way to work, to give yourself a little more headspace.

19. I’ve learnt that; You can do too many races. I’m just getting to the point now where I’m starting to question whether I need to be doing as many events as I am. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the experience, etc. I just feel like there’s a simplicity in running simply just to run, and that perhaps I’ve taken away a little bit of running’s value by needing to get a medal at the end of the race. I still enjoy them (I have about one every month until September), but do think that for me this is too much, and next time I need to dial it back a little and just choose a few that I really want to do and try and do my best at them.

20. I’ve learnt that; You should practice your ‘race’ strategy. This is especially for longer races where you may want food or drinks during the race. Recently I did a 10 mile event and planned to have snacks throughout, I bought some little energy gels, some jelly cube things, and some energy jelly beans. A week before I tried a few of the jelly cubes on a 10km run, about 1km in. At 4km I developed the worst cramps I had for a long time, and could only complete 5km. After this I knew that I couldn’t take them with me really to rely on them during the run, instead I ate them about 30 minutes before the run (mainly because they needed finishing), the other bits went uneaten and are still in my stack of running stuff.

Coming into the finish of Wild Night Run’s, Wild Night Run (10 Miles in Dartmoor at night).

21. I’ve learnt that; At an event, you should leave plenty of time for the toilet. The queue is always long, and it’s going to take you at least 10 minutes before you can get in there and use it. So don’t try and get in there 5 minutes before hand. The bigger the race the more people (hopefully the more loos), and the longer it will take, so just be aware that while at home you can run straight after going at a race you just need to get to the loo and get to the start line on time.

22. I’ve learnt that; Shoes aren’t the be-all-end-all. I’m a little on the fence about this nugget of information. I’m not a big believer in the kind of consumer world where everything needs to be sold at a premium price as it’s do x, y, and z for you. Because is it really? We’ve not really much way of knowing, without buying the products, that it is. Having a shoe that is comfortable should be the priority to help prevent injury from ill-fitting shoes.

23. I’ve learnt that; Self-Motivation is key. Does this need explaining? Going back to item 3, you need to be able to motivate yourself to get yourself out and running. Whether that’s a goal, a race, or a great route, that helps you do that find what it is and hang onto that when it gets a little hard.

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