With today’s announcement of the imminent closure of the UK’s gyms, many people will flock to other forms of exercise, from home workouts to yoga, to running. It might not be for everyone, but with limited alternative options, there’s a strong likelihood more people will be giving it a go.
First off: Do it! In terms of stress-busting ability, a good cardio session is unbeatable. Running is hard, and certainly not always pleasant, but the feeling of achievement afterwards is incredible, and while we’re putting our whole lives on hold, a sense of achievement can be hard to come by. So far, it’s still being allowed (and even recommended) by the government, so long as certain precautions are made.
However, there are some things to think about before getting started, not least because if you injure yourself, seeing a doctor or physio may be harder than usual, and there aren’t many alternative exercises you’ll be able to try instead!
- Start with a programme
If you’re new to running, don’t jump straight in there. In a moment of extreme motivation (or madness, or stress), it can be tempting to lace up your shoes and try to run 10km. Some people may be able to, but most won’t. Trying a couch to 5k, or if you have some experience already, a 5k to 10k, will ensure you progress at a pace that is less likely to put too much strain on your joints and muscles. It’ll also ensure you get out regularly, which is important for mental health.
2. Wear the right shoes
If you only have metcons because you’re a cross fitter, or converses, please don’t run in these! Your chance of injury will be greatly increased – Emma Kirk Odunubi has some great information on this, so if you’re not sure, ask her! Usually I would recommend getting a gait analysis to find the right shoes for you, but this is unlikely to be possible right now. Since the postal service is still up and running, buy yourself a pair of running shoes that you think will work (I like Asics, Adidas, Nike and Hoka) and run in those. They might not be perfect, but they’re likely to be better than your lifting shoes!
3. Take rest days
If you’re doing a couch to 5k or similar plan, this will be built into your schedule, but if you’re just taking yourself for runs, make sure to allow yourself time to recover! No matter how fit you are, running places strain on the muscles, ligaments and joints, as well as your body’s energy systems. Allowing at least 2 rest days a week if important for recovery.
4. Don’t always go long
Long distance running is one of the only sports that can temporarily weaken the immune system. While exercise of 30-45 minutes a day is beneficial to your immune system, the energy systems required for long runs, and the amount of cortisol (stress hormone produced) can temporarily reduce your immune defence. Pair this with cold weather and a global pandemic, and long runs might not be in your best interest. Of course, the definition of what a ‘long run’ is varies from person to person, but bear in mind that shorter and faster may be better, at least for now.
I get asked a lot why, when training for a marathon or half marathon, I include fast paced, short intervals. Intervals may make you a better runner, quicker, but also have the power to make your longer runs feel easier. It’s also just a variant of your normal long runs. Having a varied training schedule means you’re likely to work muscles (and your brain) slightly differently each time, building strength and keeping yourself interested.
OK, so the gyms are shut and the average person doesn’t have tonnes of equipment at home, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in other forms of training. More running doesn’t no necessarily make you a better runner, and fitting in cross training twice a week, with 3 runs a week is a great way to build strength and stave off injury. Try bodyweight exercises and physio exercises (prevention is better than cure!). Here are some great people to follow for online workouts. I also did a vlog with my physio where she talks about ways to avoid injury that’s worth a watch!
7. Eat well
This should go without saying, and most people don’t find it too hard once they start running! However, it’s easy to forget that new exercises (even if you exercised before) can be extremely energetically demanding for the body, and you need to eat to replace lost calories. Ensure your plate has plenty of colour (I don’t mean smarties) and dietary fibre, focussing on vegetables and wholegrains, and don’t forget your healthy fats (olive oil is a staple of my diet)! I don’t frequently take protein powder, but if you feel like you’re really struggling to fit in enough calories, this may be good to look into.
With the start of any new exercise regime, the body can feel tired and sluggish, thanks to a combination of having to learn a new skill and using up lots of physical energy. Getting adequate rest is vital for performance, but also your long-term health. You may need to sleep more if you are not used to exercising, so try to get to bed earlier and reduce caffeine intake if possible. Not being able to sleep is a symptom of overtraining, so if you’re feeling exhausted but unable to sleep after throwing yourself headfirst into a new running regime, maybe take a step back for a couple of weeks.
9. Keep away from people
It’s within the governmental guidelines (within the UK at least) that running while avoiding people is absolutely fine – recommended even! The benefits are notable, and will be a great thing to keep most people mentally sound. However, as mentioned above, you’re most vulnerable to getting sick for up to 72 hours after a long, hard run due to elevated cortisol levels. Combined with the inevitable bodily fluids from running, especially in the cold (spittle, sweat, snot – you name it, you’ll have it), it’s a really sensible idea to stay away from people as much as possible on your runs, for your own safety and theirs.
10. Enjoy it!
Running is a love it or hate it sport, but if you’re in the latter camp, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. I used to HATE running, but I forced myself to do it because it was my alone time (and because I wanted to lose weight). Now, however, I am quite obsessed. I’m not even that good, but the sense of achievement and satisfaction I get after each run is unparalleled. I like to share my runs to Strava (a run tracking app) to get a sense of community spirit, even when I’m not running with others. Even in quarantine, we’re in this together!
I hope you found these tips useful! If you’d like to share them, please tag my Instagram and encourage everyone you know to take this up! Who knows, we could all come out of this epidemic in far better shape (mentally and physically) than when we went in.