Learning to run.

Do you remember learning to run? I don’t mean as a kiddie, but as a sport, hobby or pastime? Was taking up running a purposeful effort for you, rather than a continuation of a lifetime habit? If so you will probably be, like me familiar with couch to 5k or various beginners running guides.

It is 4 years now since I started out, and although I don’t remember the date I do remember the day. Sunday morning, lashing with rain. My plan was something like 2minutes run 3minutes walk, repeat 4 times total 20minutes. I’d cut the plan out of a Sunday newspaper. I set off in the rain, my old trainers were leaking. I found that I couldn’t run for 2 minutes. My wristwatch told me that I’d done 20seconds. So instead I (very sensibly and I give myself a pat on the back for this) just did what I could – 10 minutes out, 10minutes back.

Since then I have read a lot about running. Guides written by coaches, guides written for beginners, biographies written by ordinary people who took up running and ran marathons, ultras, lost weight or whatever. I enjoyed them all. But there was stuff that I didn’t understand until now.

Now I have a treadmill. Now I can run in ‘standard conditions’. As both the scientist and the subject in an experiment where n=1 it’s a dream.

There are lots of common themes in advice given to new runners. To take walking breaks. To run ‘at a comfortable pace’. You should be running fast enough to break a little sweat and breathe a little heavier, you should be running slow enough to have a conversation at the same time.

No one explained that you might not be able to do that. Run and talk at the same time. Or explained that if you can’t walk uphill and talk at the same time you should probably just stick to walking. Well OK, actually I found 2 books that did explain that but I didn’t find either until I had been running for over a year.

One was a book called ‘run fat bitch run’. To be honest, I didn’t really like the book because of the negative self talk, but on reflection it actually had some of the best advice. The author recommends setting yourself a 5k route and walking it every day. And when you can walk it at a fair lick without getting breathless, add in a little jogging. She’s also tough on the nutrition, rightly pointing out that you know what crap is- so just don’t eat it!

The other book was ‘the non runners marathon trainer’ by David Whitsett. At the beginning it explains that if you can’t run without stopping for 20 minutes you need to start with a walking programme and it gives a walking programme.

I read about heartrate training bands, and bought a heartrate monitor. I found that I couldn’t run in the zone 2 or 3,running always pushed me into zone 4, so I did most of my running in that, anaerobic, zone. Running groups and parkruns didn’t help either, with people pushing you to ‘keep going, you can do a bit more’.

After becoming completely exhausted and still a slow runner I chanced upon the maffetone method. Yes it’s still heartrate training but this time I have taken it more seriously trying to give it space to work. There’s a lot of walking involved for me to keep my HR in that low zone and as my average mileage is only a mile per day progress is slow. After 5months though I now understand what an easy run is and have reached the stage where I can jog and talk or sing at the same time,well for about a minute.

Watching the clock on my treadmill I have observed that now, I can run for 40 to 60 seconds at MAF pace before my HR goes too high and I have to walk. If I allow my HR to go a bit higher I can run for 2 minutes and feel comfortable.

So yes, after 4 years of trying my fitness has improved -I’m now at the entry level for C25k. Yes , that was written with a heavy sense of irony.

Setting my cynicism aside though, I think that I am genuinely fitter than I used to be and that’s a good thing. Only after switching to the slow running. Low heartrate (and accompanying low junk diet) have I lost weight and body fat. I don’t think that I realised when I started out, just how unfit I was and actually I don’t think that the people who wrote the NHS C25k app realise how unfit ordinary people can be and that ‘start with a walk and keep doing it until you aren’t heavy breathing’ is probably a much better starting point.

what advice would you give to someone newly starting out running?

do you think that you could have done it better yourself?


About mawil1

Hi my name is julie and I took up running at the age of 46! Hence 'mawil' Middle Aged Woman In Lycra. I did it at first because someone asked me to do a charity run with them. I couldn't run at all, but pride wouldn't let me be seen to be unable to run so I started a walk run programme. I stuck with it and to my surprise I found that I liked it- after a couple of weeks of progress I was hooked! My blog is about my progress in running and how I fit it in with the rest of my life.
This entry was posted in balance, blogging, book reviews, fear, fitness, fun, garmin, habits, healthy diet, heartrate, Inspiration, low intensity, maffetone methid, Motivation, Nutrition, reading, running, slow run, time management, training plan, treadmill, Uncategorized, walking, weight loss, work life balence, working mum. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Learning to run.

  1. Hi, I’m probably the last person to give you advice because, as a child, I ran around all day and played all the usual sports that you would expect – football, cricket, tennis and rugby. I got into ‘running’ as part of my rugby training and have been doing it ever since. I never took to all this mumbo jumbo about Heart Rate and anaerobic zones. We used to run just to beat the other guys – even in training. Eyeballs out, and none of this “less than marathon pace”. At one point in my life, my Max HR was (allegedly) 184 but I found my HR monitor saying I was doing 185 half way through a marathon. (OK I ‘died’ in that marathon, but I never trusted Heart Rate monitors after that).
    I could (but really can’t) imagine how you must feel. My so called friends used to say ‘run as you feel’ and I think this is possibly the best advice I can give. If I were advising someone, I’d say start off with a jog/walk, for maybe 2 or 3k (2 miles) until you feel comfortable doing more jogging than walking. Don’t feel bad about walking, as that is part of the plan. After all, the whole point of ‘running’ is to get out into the fresh air, to see the world and to think. ‘Fitness’ is just a by-product.
    Once you have established a base (of 2 or 3k/2 miles) you will know, indeed want, to increase the distance. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you’ve conquered 2 miles, you’ll want to do 3 then 5 then 10 then a Half and then a full marathon (maybe). Some will go further than that. But don’t feel embarassed or a failure if you stop at 5k or 10k or 10 miles. Be glad you got out to do even that 2 miles. πŸ™‚

    • mawil1 says:

      Lol! That’s what I did for the first year and I ‘ran’ a half marathon, but it wasnt really healthy. All the time I ran I was gasping, I was hungry and tired and despite the miles I didn’t lose weight! Going back to the start and doing the slower aerobic method has been much better for me😊

      • Yes, one ‘size’ or fitness programme doesn’t suit all. The main thing is to enjoy it so that you go out (or on the treadmill) again and again. Good luck with your training. πŸ™‚

  2. Hey! I strongly believe that the most important thing to do is to make sure you’re strengthening your hips & glutes & core. A lot of runners have muscle imbalances due to a lot of running and not enough strengthening. I had to go to a physical therapist bc of weak muscles and doing too much other activity. And i still feel that injury years later so it’s definitely a big deal :))

  3. So... says:

    Nice post, Julie. In my running, I learnt that too much, too soon is a recipe for disaster. It’s best to take as much time as required to build a strong 5k base and then progress slowly. Cutting back to starting all over again is another way to keep injuries at bay. I went back to zero when I switched to barefoot earlier this year. That was one of the best things as I worked on form and have been injury free. I suppose not having any time goals takes the pressure off and keeps the focus on running well.

  4. Great post Julie! Things that the experts fail to tell us when we are just starting out. I really like that advice about walking the 5K and then running here and there, because yes, we are out of shape and need to be conditioned, especially the “older” people just beginning. Running doesn’t come naturally for everyone. But at the end of the day, no matter how bad I suck at it, it’s a confidence and mood booster like none other, even if I do have to walk! Good job to you for the consistency and perseverance!

  5. Love your advice!!! I couldn’t agree more. It took me over 8 years and 4 times to get this point into my head. Wish someone told me in a way that I had understood it. Only when I started with walking it enabled me to keep it up and improve.

    • mawil1 says:

      Thank you! If only one of those books had said ‘you may be really normal in many ways but too unfit to actually run’! You need to start like this…. it would have been helpful! Anyway at least I think I’m on the right track now. Good for you that you didn’t give up- 4th time lucky!

  6. I would advise new runners to try to find a new runner’s group. I’m really sorry I didn’t.

    Yes, you can always do it differently, do it better, but that’s life, right? We learn the most from our mistakes, usually!

  7. Gareth says:

    Set small small small goals and work up. And dont give a …… about what anyone else thinks. And buy some cool stuff. And its ok to walk when youre tired … and up hills.

  8. shazruns says:

    Def not in the market for giving advice. I went from non runner to 5k to marathon in a year and had no idea what I was doing just followed the plan in that second book u mention. In fact whenever someone asks about training for a marathon I either buy if for them or send them to it. It is invaluable because reading it makes you believe you can do it which is half the battle.
    Sounds like the maffetone method is working for you and I have enjoyed learning about it.

    • mawil1 says:

      It’s not that I’m looking to give advice so much as to share my expereience- a lot of the advice out there suits people like you who get fit quick! Many of the published biographical stories are similar😊There’s much less that really suits the less fit people, and I differentiate here between fat and fit. Some very overweight people have great cardiac and muscle reserve and improve quite quickly whilst even though I was a little overweight I struggled to improve. I’m glad you find the maffetone method interesting because I do go on about it quite a bit!!! One day I’ll catch up with you πŸ˜†πŸ˜†πŸ˜Š or maybe not!

      • shazruns says:

        Hey it’s all about finding what works for you. With weight loss I have always thought as we are all so different not every diet will work and beginning to think this is the same with running which makes sense I think. Keep going x

      • mawil1 says:

        True and some really interesting information coming out from genetic research which explains some of the differences. I suppose that it would be good to know at the outset what method will work best for you!

      • shazruns says:

        God yes save all that trial and error for sure! But how much does the mind factor in this?

      • mawil1 says:

        Well if your mind is telling you that ‘it’s supposed to hurt keep going’ and you do, you get injured! And I definitely believe as a scientist that ther is a difference between anaerobic and aerobic metabolism and that which one you use has different knock on effects On your body’s other metabolic systems. Mind and body are inseparable what affects one will affect the other!

  9. oscardiamond says:

    I started running 35 years ago, aged 30, in response to my father’s severely deteriorating health. Before this, i had no interest in sport or any kind of physical acivity. I started running around the block, slowly, for 5 minutes, repeated this for several days then upped the time, repeated it and so on. I was unfit but not overweight. Over a period of months I was able to run 10k, not fast, but comfortably. I’m lucky. I usually get injured only through my stupidity rather than any physical deficits, if I’m anxious or depressed my appetite reduces so no comfort eating and running has always been a consistent priority over the years.
    I think it’s harder for a beginner runner these days because of the focus on speed and the “you can do it” culture which gives a false impression of what people can achieve in a given time. And it’s still not generally acceptable to walk/run. The “helpful” comments tend to make you feel you are failing. I think parkrun is a wonderful thing overall but they still maintain the fiction that it’s a run not a race. If it was a social run without the times, placing, PBs etc a whole new cohort of people would take part.
    Apart from parkrun and races, I’m a solitary runner. Which is probably a good thing because I eat a lot of Brussels sprouts!

    • mawil1 says:

      Brussels! The ultimate low carb fuel!!! It sounds like you started out very gently, which is a good way I think. I agree about the unhelpfulness of the ‘anyone can do it’ culture. If I was to suggest that people who haven’t got a PhD just haven’t stuck to it or tried hard enough I would be told off for my arrogance lack of empathy and intellectual snobbery! Also there is a publication bias I suspect towards happy ending success stories, people who got fit,lost weight and ran a marathon/ultra within a couple of years. Who wants to read about someone who stuck it out for 5 years, knocked 10minutes off their 5k PB but still takes more than half an hour?πŸ˜†πŸ˜† parkrun works for lots of people though. The element of competition spurs them on, there is a lot of support for newbies and actually the average person will improve if they get out 3x per week. I’m all for the average person being fitter! One thing that I did find when I started to run was that generally runners are nice people 😊

      • oscardiamond says:

        Agree, agree, agree! There is a huge amount of encouragement and support for all runners at Cambridge parkrun. Suffice to say I’ve learnt to be more demonstrative. So many older runners, and particularly women, feel judged and wanting. It can take real courage for some people to run publicly and they’re lifted by positive acknowlegement.

      • mawil1 says:

        I don’t think I’ve been to parkrun for a year! I bought a nice little wristband with my barcode on it as a Christmas present for myself last year and I’ve only used it once…..but it’s good, so I should try again!

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