Running requires little specialist equipment, can be social and highly enjoyable. It is also a highly effective way of losing weight and increasing fitness levels. This article will detail how you can get started, improve and enjoy running. You can discuss running on The Student Room in the running thread or get motivation for beginning your journey in the couch 2 5k thread.

Getting Started

If you are new running there are a number of programmes that can help ease you into it. If you take part in a lot of sport or have good cardiovascular endurance you may already be able to do this and wish to skip this step. One of the most prominent of these is called Couch to 5K and is provided by the NHS to encourage people to get into a healthy lifestyle. This is particularly useful as it starts off with short bursts of jogging between longer recovery walks and by the end of 10 weeks, running three times per week, you will be able to run 5km (just over 3 miles).

What To Wear

The most important thing to get right with running is footwear. It is imperative you wear sports shoes to reduce risk of injury. There are many different styles of running shoes and different things suit different people. A key thing that many specialist running shops offer is gait analysis. This is done by recording a runner on a treadmill and slowing down the footage to see how the foot moves through each stride. Your running technique can put stress on different parts of your feet or ankles and using shoes that suit your running style will be more comfortable as well as reducing the risk of injury.

In terms of clothing, make sure what you wear you are comfortable to run in. Dress appropriately for the weather so what you wear will probably depend on the time of year. If you are planning to run at night or early morning it helps to wear bright clothing so you can be seen easily. Reflective material can also be useful to help you be seen in the dark and if where you are running is not well lit you may consider using a head-torch.

Where To Run

  • Treadmill: If you have access to a treadmill this can be a good option when the conditions aren't good you are still able to run and the surface of the treadmill is slightly springier than concrete so can be less jarring on joints. Bear in mind that running on a treadmill for extended periods can become tedious.
  • Pavements: Pavements are traffic-free and one of the most obvious places to run for people in cities. The concrete is quite unforgiving on your legs.
  • Paths: Cycle tracks, bridleways, canal towpaths and footpaths can be excellent ways to explore an area and continue running. These are all traffic-free but it's worth noting that they might not be particularly even underfoot meaning it can be more challenging to run in these conditions.
  • Grass: Running on grass is excellent as it's a more comfortable surface to run on but isn't significantly more difficult than running on pavements. If you live near a park or playing field you can enjoy some excellent running on the grass.
  • Roads: Many roads are simply inappropriate due to traffic. However, by carefully selecting quiet, safe roads you can open up huge areas of countryside for new routes. Choose wisely and stay visible.

There are many forms of plotting software to map out a route to run before you set off common examples can be found at mapometer or map my run but there are many to choose from. Planning your route in advance can be important for safety, knowing your way and the distance you are from your finishing point. You will soon build up favourite routes that you can repeat and adapt to suit your needs. Running can also be a great way to explore an area and be very scenic.

Tips to avoid injury

  • Wear suitable clothing particularly sensible footwear
  • Don't run in worn-out shoes. They will not support your feet and can lead to injuries
  • Always warm up with some jogging to raise the heart rate and dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare you.
  • Listen to your body. If you are in pain (not just out of breath) slow down or stop
  • Run within your limits. It's good to push yourself but trying to improve too quickly can lead to injury and will be much slower
  • If you do get injured take some time off
  • If worried you are losing fitness when injured do a low impact sport such as cycling or swimming (aquajogging can be very effective)
  • Don't overtrain and build in rest days to allow your body to recover
  • Seek specialist advice if injured (doctor and/or physiotherapist)

I can run 5K but I want to improve

Firstly congratulations you are now a good runner and ready to develop. One of the first things you may want to do is join a local running club. You can find local running clubs through the UKA website This can be good due to the social running as well as focussed sessions to help you improve your running ability. To improve you will be wanting to run at least three times a week but focussed sessions are more important than the amount of time you spend on your feet.

The following are commonly used sessions to increase speed and the strength of your legs to help you run faster:

  • High intensity interval training: This is used to increase your speed, ability to recover from exercise and run at high speeds for longer. It can be performed with a range of distances or times but the essentials are that you run a shortish distance 200m to 1 mile depending on your ability and what you want to work on at a high intensity (you wouldn't be able to hold a conversation easily at this pace). This is then interjected with recovery periods at a much lower intensity usually walking or jogging slowly. The aim is to keep a consistent high intensity in each interval and you can repeat this a number of times, suitable for your ability and related to the distance of each interval.
  • Hill repetitions: This is used to increase the strength of your legs, which in turn can make you last longer at a fast pace or go at a harder pace over difficult terrain such as mud. Your legs will also get fatigued less quickly so you can run further. In essence this technique is very similar to interval training but on an incline. By running up the hill you are putting in much more effort than you would on the flat and forcing your legs to work harder to drive you up.

Other types of sessions can focus on other aspects of your running performance:

  • Long runs: A weekly longer run can help improve both your muscular and cardiovascular endurance as well as how long you last on your feet. This is essential if you are wanting to run longer distances but it also improves your performance over all distances. Speed doesn't really matter with a long run.
  • Tempo Session: Tempo sessions can both improve your pacing and improve your speed over a significant period. The main focus of a tempo session is to run at the goal pace you wish to run at in the future, for a race or otherwise. By running at the goal pace but for a shorter distance it helps you feel what speed you need to run at in the future and trains your muscles to know what to expect.

All of these are useful ways to improve and you are likely to make significant improvement by following these. As ever, it is important to listen to your body - if you are unsure it is better to avoid injury rather than pushing yourself beyond your limits.

I want to race

Racing is a great way to enjoy running as well as giving you the motivation to keep running, whether running a mile for charity or attempting a marathon there are similar things that are useful to remember. To find out about races near you, you can look at the links in More Info.

  • Don't set off too fast. When starting a race it's always tempting to sprint towards the front but conserving your energy for when you need it is best. The aim is to run at a virtually even speed the entire way (or slightly faster towards the end)
  • There is only one person you are racing in any race and that's yourself, you know how much effort you're putting in and so long as you're happy with how you did that is key.
  • HAVE FUN. Racing can be really enjoyable, challenging yourself as well as making friends with a team.

More Info

Here is a non exhaustive list of useful sources of information about running.

NHS Couch to 5K is a ten week program aimed at getting you from a complete beginner to running over three miles.

Parkrun is a set of free community-organised runs that take place every week. You turn up with a barcode, run 5K and receive a time.

Runbritain is a website made by UKA, the governing body of running, it links to all affilliated races though there may be fun runs and "unofficial" races that are not mentioned.

Runner's World is a magazine about running. It has extensive forums, articles about running and information about races.