I had never been good at sports (perhaps with an exception of swimming) and yet it somehow happened and I started to run and have been running for five years. I never ever run more than 15km and I’m sure my technique is terrible, but I’d still like to share a few things that contributed to my preserving the habit of running to this day.
I dedicate this article to my friend Matus who I think is a much better sportsman than I am :) But let it also be an encouragement to any novice runner.
1. Keep your eyes up
The #1 advice that you’ll get from every runner. Keeping your head straight up and looking far ahead at the horizon will help you improve your posture, breathing, and mindfulness. If you don’t take away anything else from this article, make sure you remember this.
2. Focus and learn to ignore the pain
Side stitch? Stiff muscles? Short of breath? Most of the discomfort and pain will usually go away itself. It’s all about your head. Sometimes, it takes five minutes, sometimes fifteen but in the end, the pain always dissolves in your sweat.
If you think you’re out of energy, that the whole body is in pain, and that you can’t take it anymore, focus on one part of your body at one time (legs, lungs, or the core). Your brain will quickly realize that it’s not that bad.
Don’t let your brain get overwhelmed by the overall exhaustion. The brain’s just panicking — give it a space to decompose the problems, explore them one by one, and reevaluate the situation. I usually focus on my legs, their rhythm, their spontaneous movement, and every aspect of this movement.
3. Trust your nose
Try to always inhale with your nose and adjust your pace to it (don’t adjust the breathing to the pace — you’ll run out of juice before you realize it). On a plane surface, you should be able to run comfortably with your mouth closed for as long as you have energy. Try to involve the mouth breathing only when you’re pushing your limits — e.g. trying to improve your time, running in difficult terrain, uphill, etc. First, start with exhaling with your mouth (that’s usually enough), inhale with your mouth only when there is no way around it.
4. Control your pace by regular breathing
I don’t think scientists have agreed on the optimal inhale-exhale length ratio yet. However, there is a general agreement that the inhale should be shorter than the exhale. Proper breathing will help you keep a steady pace, increase your stamina, and it can also help you avoid or reduce some types of pain.
Measure the length of your breathing by counting the number of steps taken between each in-breath and out-breath.
(Some people prefer listening to music as a way of maintaining a regular pace. I think using a fitness tracker or smartwatch is a better, less distracting choice — more on that later.)
5. Don’t go running two days in a row
Not letting your body rest for at least a day between two runs inevitably leads to injuries. Shin splints, sprained ankles, sore knees, arch pain — sooner or later some of it will happen to you too. Try to minimize the risk because overtraining can easily put a stop to your running for three or more weeks. (Especially the shin splints — you’ll be glad that you can walk your dog around the block.)
6. Reduce the distractions
Some people prefer running with headphones. I’d recommend starting without them and see if you can manage without them. Limit the number of things you carry with you — you typically don’t need a backpack, drinks, food, or smartphone for any distance up to 15km (or rather even more). My typical equipment: keys from home, a single paper tissue (+ a headlamp when running at night).
Don’t miss the opportunity to literally RUN away from everything. Think about all or nothing but do it knowingly and mindfully.
7. Stretch at will
There are times when I don’t feel like stretching before running. And I don’t force myself to. But I try not to forget stretching afterward — it helps my body recover faster.
If you expected any advice on the ideal milage, training frequency, running equipment, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you’ll have to hire a personal couch or get yourself a smartwatch. I run 🏃 for fun 😁.