8 tips to get started with running

For those who don’t know from my obnoxious Instagram posts, I have taken up running. In the past half-year, I’ve gone from being incapable of continuously running one kilometre to someone who runs 10k at least three times per week. Running has always been something I wanted to ‘get into’, but struggled to find the motivation. I still struggle much of the time!

At risk of sounding like an influencer, people (read: two of my friends) have been asking me for tips on getting started with running – so I thought I’d write them down, borrowing the listicle formula loved by the ever-inspiring Buzzfeed.

God knows there’s plenty of similar content out there, but if this helps one person lace up their trainers, I’ll be happy.

1. Go for it

My first tip echoes that of a certain exercise brand – just do it. All of the below is well and good, but at its core, it doesn’t take much more than a path and a pair of trainers to get going.

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The view from the 2km long Putney Bridge – oh wait…

I started off by half-running-half-walking what I thought was a 5k route from Fulham to Wandsworth and back. It turns out that I was only clocking about 3.5k – and still struggling (on the plus side, the gratification I got from thinking that I was running 5k probably helped to keep me going). I moved on within weeks to what I thought was 9k between Fulham and Hammersmith – it was actually about 7.6k but at least the gulf between this and reality had lessened.

2. Plot a route

I can’t stand the treadmill; I can imagine nothing worse than running 10k on one. Much of the joy I get from running is from being in nature – this is also why I love hiking so much. 

I also hate uncertainty (imagine how much I love Brexit), so I’m not the type to go for a spontaneous run and see where it takes me. I thus plot all my routes on the creatively-named plotaroute.com – this way I know exactly where I’m heading and how far I’m going.

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Beautiful Hammersmith

It’s super easy to use and exploring places nearby that I wouldn’t otherwise visit is very interesting – for example, Barnes, Richmond and Kew aren’t convenient by public transport but are surprisingly nearby as the crow flies. Seeing new things distracts from the pain!

3. Kit yourself out

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If Lululemon could sponsor me that would be GREAT!!

I love shopping. I love clothes. Indeed, one of my motivations to get running was my well-appointed but under-utilised exercise wardrobe – and there’s nothing I hate more than waste (and apparently nothing I love more than Lululemon leggings). I literally needed to sweat my existing assets. 

It seems ironic given my above statement that all you need is trainers and a path, but it definitely helps to be kitted out when you start running. There are the typical items you likely already possess such as leggings, shorts (these are even necessary for London every so often), sports bras, and socks, but I’ve found that a number of less typical items can make a big difference.

My running belt has been a game-changer. I even had to get one for my boss. When I first started running, one of my biggest pain points (other than my iliotibial band) was where to keep my stuff – particularly as I like to end my runs with coffee or a shop. Now, instead of having my phone, keys and a folded up bag for life awkwardly bulge from my skintight leggings (detailed above for your entertainment), I can store them in a neat little bumbag that nips my waist in a flattering manner. I can’t be without it now.

Wireless headphones (earphones?) are another key part of my running inventory. Having long been reluctant to adopt the wireless headphone trend (what use are airpods when you drop your phone on the tube!?), I am a recent convert after ruining several pairs of wired ones by tugging the wire too much while running. I like music but I’m no connoisseur, so if you’re looking for recommendations on the best bass emphasising top-end headphones you’re in the wrong place.

Nonetheless, given my ‘track record’ (pun not intended) of breaking and losing headphones, I’ve managed to find some good cheap and cheerful options that may interest you. Check out these and these – I own both as I accidentally left one pair at the office and went to Scotland for a week (thanks for saving me, Amazon). Both have been pretty good but I’ve used the latter more heavily so can vouch for them more reliably.

On a final note, sunscreen, hats, compression sleeves and painkillers are all useful!

4. Reward yourself

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Pavilion Café in Victoria Park is a great reward spot for East London runners

I do it with trips to big supermarkets (very cool, I know) or coffee shops and the papers. You can probably think of more interesting rewards, but those work for me.

Perhaps less of a ‘reward’, but I similarly will marry essential tasks with my run – for instance ending my run in Hammersmith to collect my mum’s latest random M&S order. It gives the run a more purposeful flavour and gives you that satisfying two birds one stone feeling – if I’m going to spend an hour getting to and from Hammersmith, I may as well be getting some exercise.

If you can run to or from work this is a great way to do this and avoid the rush hour tube. I can’t as I live West and work East, though I am lucky enough to have a boss who is highly supportive of any fitness-related endeavours (hence my lunchtime runs).

5. Think about the endorphins

I loved this FT piece on “Why bankers can’t stop running”, wherein the author declares that she doesn’t straightforwardly love running as much as she loves “having run”. The actual act of running can be extremely enjoyable, but it can also be painful and physically draining. It’s not easy to get yourself out there when it’s rainy outside, when you’re tired and want nothing more than to curl up in bed after a long day at work. Nonetheless, the author echoes my sentiment in saying she can’t recall a run which didn’t make her feel at least marginally better.

It’s easy to forget this when making hedonic calculations – as humans we are hardwired to seek short-term pleasure. Just think of how good you’ll feel after – it’s probably only an hour of your time, which you’d otherwise spend doing what? Watching Netflix? Mindlessly scrolling through Twitter? Curing cancer?

On a serious note, don’t guilt yourself too heavily for not running when you don’t feel like it. We all need to take breaks and not every activity has to be straightforwardly productive. 

If committing to time or distance scares you, don’t. Give yourself an exit opportunity. When running my Barnes 14k, I always give myself the option to finish in Hammersmith at 10k or just do my usual loop of 7.5k. Once you’ve got some momentum you’re unlikely to opt for these easy exits, but when you’re low on motivation it can make it easier to get going.

6. Track yourself

For a long time, I was averse to the idea of tracking my activity. As someone with a history of obsessive dieting and exercising, I worried that this would be a trigger of unhealthy behaviours. If this is the case for you, perhaps avoid it; do whatever you think is healthiest for you. Nonetheless, it’s been super motivating for me to compare distances run on different weeks, like keeping a fitness diary without the effort.

I’m also somewhat paranoid about sharing and saving data on my everyday movements, but I’m not naive enough to think that those evil tech companies won’t be getting it one way or another if I’m participating in modern capitalist society.

For tracking, I just use my iPhone health app (I’m waiting for Black Friday to get a fitness watch). Bear in mind that this isn’t wholly accurate – the gulf between distances tracked on my work and personal phones can be as much as 2km at times. It’s probably better to go by plotaroute.com calculations.

My personal phone always tracks less. It really doesn’t back me like my work phone…

7. Set up a playlist

When I started on my running journey, I was actually somewhat averse to listening to music as I thought for some bizarre reason I’d perform better if I tuned in and appreciated the sounds of nature. Turns out that when running in London one is more likely to hear traffic, men in vans hollering, and angry geese than any melodic birdsong.

This is where having a good running playlist comes in handy. Music tastes vary, so I’m not going to prescribe any one kind, but I’m personally partial to some 2011 club music. There’s simply nothing like a throwback to clubbing in Wanchai at age 16 to get you fired up. You can check out my Spotify @alic3irwin if you promise not to judge me.

On a side note, be careful when plugging in and running outside. For reasons of politeness to passers-by alone it’s good to remain somewhat attuned to your surroundings, but most of all it’s paramount for safety.

8. Mix it up

Running is hard on your body. I learned this the hard way, by overdoing it and suffering from a stunning combination of iliotibial band syndrome and shin splints as a result. Luckily the iliotibial band issues have been resolved (fingers crossed) – unfortunately, the shin splints remain, but I’ll report back after a week using my new compression sleeves.

My personal experience has taught me that the best way to overcome these is firstly to rest, and secondly to inject some variety into your training. I am the least coordinated person I know, so you won’t catch me doing team sports or dancing (without 6 drinks down my gullet). No, I prefer to remain consistent with my Chelsea Housewife style aesthetic and dabble in yoga and pilates. These are great complements to running, enabling you to stretch your tired limbs and strengthen your core – I won’t bore you with their legion other benefits.

Unfortunately, yoga and pilates are also not the cheapest forms of exercise. Me being me (aka a Stingy Legend™), I can offer some guidance here.

One common method of fellow Stingy Legends™ is to rinse the hell out of trial periods. Most studios offer preferential rates for newbies as a way to entice them. Depending on where you’re based, there’s bound to be such studios nearby. Make sure you read the Ts&Cs and perhaps check out the studio before signing up. I paid £35 for a trial month at a hot yoga studio and had to leave my first and only class early because the place smelled so disgusting – learn from my mistakes.

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PYC in Parsons Green – my happy place

The trouble with trial periods is that sometimes they work how they’re supposed to and you fall in love with a specific studio. This is what happened to me with The Power Yoga Co. in Parsons Green. Fortunately, many studios (including this one) offer decent package deals – monthly unlimited ones can be great if you commit to using them. Given how I haemorrhage money day-to-day in London, I think of this as a good investment for my health – and the monthly fee is cheaper than paying for a chiropractor / physio / masseuse from screwing up my limbs and not varying my practice.

If you’re already the member of a gym (I’m a rarely-spotted member of Pure), it may offer Yoga and Pilates classes already, although it does help to practice with the real pros in the less crowded atmosphere of a dedicated studio sometimes.

Enjoy!

It may not feel like it at times, but running is super rewarding and worthwhile. It’s been a godsend for my mental and physical health, an excellent coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of London working life. It’s enabled me to accept my body more than ever before. It’s given me a new appreciation for the areas in which I live and work.

I wholeheartedly recommend that you give it a go. 

– Alice

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