Running: Good for the Body and Mind

What better way to start your weekend with a running event? There is something so invigorating about gathering early on a Saturday or Sunday morning with a group of fellow runners and gearing up to race. The first run I completed was the Innovation Sports Half Marathon in Clapham Common. Since then, I have run a couple of 10K races in Battersea and Hyde Park with Innovation Sports and Runthrough UK. These clubs are so fantastic at organizing really fun, inclusive events. You pay anywhere between £15-20 depending on the race and the distance. For this fee, you receive a timing chip, medal, bag storage, restroom facilities, professional photographs, water and a snack at the finish line. Plus, you have loads of volunteers clapping and cheering you on all the way to the finish line. As a regular runner, participating in these events is the only way I truly push myself and improve. Knowing I have a race coming up is a great motivation to train harder and increase my stamina too. The atmosphere, the adrenaline and the competition is the fuel to my fire! I’m hooked.

But how much running is too much? It completely depends on your personal fitness level and biology. Some people are built to be runners and others are more well-suited to Crossfit or Swimming, Cycling or Rowing, or Yoga. Do what you love, what makes you feel good and what your body responds well to. Be sensible. If you are new to running, take it slow and build up distance gradually. I’ve been an avid runner for a few years but I have never looked into the science behind it. I can only speak from personal experience. It is important to get your joints and muscles used to running; break them in. This is especially important if you will be running on concrete or tarmac. Start small and build it up week by week, including rest days to let your muscles recover. If you are serious about running as a sport or want to start competing in half marathons and beyond, hire a coach. I haven’t ever done this but I have spent a lot of time doing my research and speaking to athlete friends who do have training coaches.

Nutrition is important. When you are running, your diet can be slightly higher in carbohydrates. If you don’t eat enough carbs, your body will start to burn muscle once it has burned through your fat stores. You’ll be left a scrawny, injury-prone wreck. Don’t do this! Embrace carbs. My favorite post-running breakfast is a big bowl of overnight oats with flaxseed, berries and almond milk (chocolate chips: optional). Running burns calories and absolutely charges through glycogen stores. Calories and glycogen are different ways of describing energy. If you don’t eat enough calories to replace the ones you’ve burned, you won’t have energy. If you don’t eat foods that allow your body to replenish its glycogen stores, you will feel very very tired. Simple!

Running is one of my true loves, especially in sunshine and daylight! I started from scratch when I was an overweight 19 year old. I could barely make it around the block. Today, I run 10K races and half marathons. There was a lot of work in-between on building up my fitness level and training, and I have learned a lot along the way. I feel everyone should give running a try so I’m sharing my top tips for aspiring runners.

  • Invest in Good Running Shoes. My recommendation is Asics because I have used them for years and never suffer from shin splints or stress fractures. Friends have also recommended Brooks. If you’re doing sprints or short distances, try Nike but please don’t scrimp on a cheap shoe. I spend between £100-150 on running shoes and change them annually. This is an investment and will help minimise the risk of injury, as well as enhancing your performance. Go all in.
  • Start Small. Start with 1-3 miles and build up. You need to gradually train and build your muscles, but giving them time to recover. Don’t over-exert.
  • Set Weekly Goals. To this day, I have a physical calendar on my wall so I can track my runs and distances. This helps me keep goal-setting and progressing my training. You can also set goals within the Strava app on iOS.
  • Treadmill Training. Give your knees a rest from the concrete and do some treadmill training. Use the treadmill for sprints, uphills and intervals. It may feel monotonous but your training will improve if you use the treadmill properly.
  • Eat Oily Fish or Supplement Omega-3. Keep your joints happy and healthy. Get your Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats in and if you’re really serious, try gelatine sups.
  • Uphills. Find a few different running routes near where you live; a mixture of flat routes, hilly routes and trails. This is how you’ll improve your ankle stability and ensure your runs work your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. Mix it up.
  • Sprints. When I started doing sprints and treadmill training, my average times per Km or Mile increased dramatically. This was how I improved my speed and agility. Today, I make sure to get sprints in at least 2-3 times a week and often do it as part of my warm-up before leg day.

Running is good for the body and the soul. In fact, a recent article in the New York Times highlighted that runners may lead longer lives. Many runners, including myself, find it an incredible mechanism for stress-relief. So give it a try but with any new form of exercise, take it slowly, educate yourself and make sure to stretch afterwards to minimize the risk of injury. And remember, have fun with your fitness!