New to running? Start your routine on the right foot with our expert guide.
Hit your stride
Running sounds simple enough: you lace up your shoes, connect your headphones and go get those endorphins, right?
But what if you run out of breath five minutes after leaving home, or your shins start to hurt?
“If you’re new to running or you’re stepping up your regular jogging, you need to do a bit of planning before you step out the door,” says Pete Green, head physiotherapist with the Penrith Panthers. His number-one piece of advice: start slowly and build up. “The most common issues I see are overuse injuries such as shin splints or Achilles tendinopathy because you ramp up your mileage or intensity too quickly.” Regardless of whether you’re brand new or want to push yourself further, take these expert tips into account before you take your first stride.
Invest in good running shoes
Your beat-up old sneakers from 2014 won’t cut it. “Believe it or not, some of the best scientific research for finding the right running footwear is based on comfort. If it’s comfortable, it’s a great starting point,” says Joe Brooks, podiatrist and Australian Podiatry Association director. He has a few pointers for shoe shopping:
“Get shoes that are fitted correctly, are comfortable and come from a reputable brand. The correct fit will take into account the length, width and depth of the shoes and feet and whether your feet will swell on longer runs. A shoe should never have to be broken in for comfort or fit.”
“Wear socks made of natural fibres or, if blisters are an ongoing concern, consider moisture-wicking socks or technical running socks.”
“If you’re a serious runner or doing a lot of kilometres as well as gym work, then you might need to have multiple pairs of shoes.”
Do a 5-minute active warm-up first
“Rather than static stretches [like standing hamstring stretches], the evidence now says your warm-up should be a low-intensity form of the exercise you’re about to do.
So, spend five minutes doing some leg swings, jogging on the spot and some crab walks to the left and right to warm up your hammies, glutes and calves,” says Pete.
Cool down afterwards
“Doing a proper cool-down after a run can reduce the lactic acid build-up in your muscles which causes that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in the following days,” says Pete.
If you’re near the beach, he recommends getting waist-deep in the water and walking up and down. Or, if you’ve finished a five-kilometre run on an oval, walk a lap of the oval and stretch a different part of your body (calves, hamstrings, lower back, hips) at each of the four corners.
Don’t try to run every day at the beginning
“Plan some rest days or other activities like swimming, bike riding or strength training at the gym to help spread the stress of exercising around your body,” says Joe.
How to increase your speed and distance
Caught the running bug and now you want to train for your first race? These three key elements should feature in your running training each week, says Australian long-distance runner and Olympian Eloise Wellings.
Interval session. “Run hard for a short period, followed by a period of rest. For example, try 10 x one-minute sprints, with a 90-second rest or easy jog in-between.”
Tempo run. “This is a run that is slower than race pace but faster than an easy run. It’s a consistent effort but not flat out. When training for a 5- or 10-kilometre race, part of our training is a 35-minute tempo run at a slightly slower pace than the half-marathon race.”
Long run. “My coach Nic Bideau regards this as the most important run of a distance runner’s week. The long run teaches the body efficiency, improves running economy and increases the strength of your heart. For a beginner, a long run is considered anything over one hour when training for a 10-kilometre race.”
How to start
Try the couch-to-5km style of training (a program for running novices)
“If you haven’t run for a long time, consider a walk/run pattern as a starting point and slowly transition to running,” says Joe.
Run more slowly than you think you need to
“For your first few runs, try to keep the intensity of the run to around four out of 10. One measure of this is that you can still talk in sentences with someone you’re running with,” says Joe.
Don’t be deterred by previous injuries
“If you’ve had injuries before, having a podiatrist assess your shoes and your training plan may be of benefit,” says Joe.
Schedule your runs
“If you’re a beginner runner, committing to three runs a week would be a great start. Build from there, depending on your schedule, energy and goals,” says Eloise.
Play the long game
“When you begin, it’s best to run on smooth surfaces to avoid injury. Slowly build up your endurance by adding no more than 10-15 per cent distance each week, and avoid increasing both intensity and distance at the same time,” says Eloise.
Stretch and hydrate
“Stay hydrated to avoid muscle cramps. I usually aim for 2.5-3 litres of water per day. A foam roller can be a useful tool – I use one before each run to roll out tightness in my legs or back,” says Eloise.