Jess Commons | Deputy Editor | 1,132 day ago

You've Picked A Run To Do (Well Done) Now How The Hell Are You Meant To Start Training?

The Debrief: A fitness trainer spills the beans.

So you freaked out after all the Insta pics of last week's London Marathon and you signed up to do one yourself. Well, maybe not a marathon - let's not go wild. Even committing yourself to the humble 5k deserves recognition though we reckon.

The problem is, how the hell are you supposed to start training for these things? We're assuming most people don't just show up at the start line and start running Forest Gump style for 26 miles.

We spoke to James Harrison who by day is a personal trainer at Virgin Active (and who knows by night) to figure out how best to ward off the impending doom we're starting to feel at the prospect of running for anything other than a bus.


HELP JAMES. We've just signed up to do a marathon/half marathon/10 k/5k. What's the first thing we need to do? 

First, work out what your goal is for the event: is it simply to finish, are you looking to beat a previous time or do you have a particular time in mind? Second, assess your current fitness levels: how fit are you really? What standard to you need to get to in order to achieve your goal?

Oookay. Probably got a way to go fitness-wise if we're completely honest. How do we go about setting up a training programme?

Your training programme needs to match your goal, so keep in mind what you're trying to achieve. When putting this together, consider how long you have before the event, how many days a week you can realistically train and how much time you can dedicate to running. Don’t forget to include recovery days and recovery runs, and to plan what you will eat around your training. Never forget that hydration is key!

 Your focus will be different dependent on what your goal is. So if you're a beginner, just looking to finish then you need to practice running long distances, improve your aerobic fitness and stamina and research the best diet to support your training. If however you're intermediate/advanced and have a time in mind then you need to focus on strengthening your limbs, mainly the lower body and improving your speed and endurance to reduce the time taken at the event. 

What about running clothes – all for show or actually necessary?

With clothing, the most important thing to bear in mind is temperature. It is very worthwhile having different running clothing for different seasons. In the cold, it is a good idea to layer up, so when you start getting hot you can remove a layer so as to not over-heat. In warm weather, protection from the sun is very important. Make sure you use a hat, sunglasses and sun tan cream. 

How many times a week should I be running and how quickly do I need to build it up?

 This really depends on your level of fitness. Beginners should be looking to run around 3 to 4 times per week, including recovery runs. Advanced runners should look at running around 5 to 6 times per week. It will normally take around 10 to 12 weeks to build up to racing the full distance, but allow for this to take a little longer if you are starting from a lower level of fitness. 

What time of day is best to go running? Is there any difference if you go in the morning or evening?

This really depends on the season, for example if you’re running in the summer, try to avoid running in the middle of the day when it’s hottest. For running efficiency, heat removal from the body is generally the limiting factor. Basically, your body will be able to exercise for longer if it starts cooler, so early morning is generally the best time of day for running. It is also worth bearing in mind the time of day your event is taking place – if possible, it is a good idea to train at the same time it is scheduled for, so your body is used to running at that time.      

This can also simply come down to personal preference, whether you are a ‘morning person’ or not!

I missed a run (sorry) is there something I can do quickly instead?

Interval training or sprint training would be the best thing to do. Try a 20 minute high intensity session, mixing sprint intervals with active recovery; running at a slower pace. This is really good for working the cardiovascular system and helps push up your lactate threshold (how long you can run at a high intensity without getting a stitch!)

I've got a pair of old trainers from the school netball team – how important is it that I invest in some more and if so what am I looking for?

The most important piece of clothing is footwear! If you’re planning on getting into running, it’s well worth investing in a good pair of running-specific trainers from a specialised shop – the staff there should be able to correctly size up and fit shoes to your feet, in addition to checking your running posture and recommending shoes that can help avoid injury and provide the correct support for you. 

Definitely avoid shoes with no support if you’re a beginner and don’t be afraid to do some research online before making your purchase – there’s a wealth of information and reviews on running websites from all sorts of runners. Remember that more expensive doesn’t always mean better! Find a pair that you are comfortable running long distances in. 

Is there a foolproof way to ward off the aches and pains the next day every time I go running?

Ensure that you warm up properly - a warm up is one of the main foundations to great training. A proper warm up will first prevent injury and secondly increase your heart rate and blood flow into the muscles. Do a dynamic warm up such as squats and forward lunges to get your muscles and joints limbered up and your heart elevated, which will get your blood pumping.

 Any other tips?

It’s always a good idea to make sure that you’re properly fed and watered before any type of strenuous exercise and running is no different. A healthy snack – such as a cereal bar or a piece of fruit – at least an hour before a run will give you plenty of energy, while drinking water regularly throughout your day will help ensure you avoid dehydration.

Post run is recovery time and either a sports drink, shake (with a balance of carbohydrate and protein) and/or a food source high in vitamins C are usually a good starter. 

Top 5 power snacks for runners

1.Water – most important ingredient for running (not really classed as a snack but must never forget the importance of this!) 

2.Banana or Powerbar – good for both pre and post run for a quick fuel boost or recovery energiser

3.Sports Drink, such as Powerade – aids rehydration post run and helps keep water in the body during it

4.Recovery Shake – designed with a mix of carbohydrate and protein in there so the body can get the best of both muscle recovery and fuel, without the need for eating a full meal 

5.Cherries – most antioxidant rich fruit on earth (though another fruit high in vitamin C will do) to aid recovery.

 Follow Jess on Twitter @jess_commons

Tags: Witness The Fitness