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How to get better at (and maybe even fall in love with) running as a novice

I’m a self professed non-runner. I’ve always favored weightlifting and varied, high intensity workouts over heading out for a run. As recently as a year and a half ago I’d have been the person to be utterly disgusted at the idea of running for longer than 5K, firm in the belief that I couldn’t do it and/or that I’d hate every second. So, why on earth did I just run a half marathon at 5 months postpartum, and how did I get to a place where I actually enjoyed it?

To be totally transparent, the initial motivation to start running more often and to get better at it was simply that I’m *maybe just a little* competitive. CrossFit is my main form of movement; defined as constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity, if you want to be really good at crossFit you need to be somewhat good at everything… including running. Sigh. I didn’t like feeling like I had such a weak spot, and dreading it so much whenever running came up in workouts. As such, I set myself a goal to start running once a week and to build up to being able to run 10K, crucially, without hating it. And thus my running journey began.

For that first run I didn’t concern myself about time or distance, and set out with the intention of running only as far and as fast (or slow) as felt comfortable and enjoyable. It needed to be a steady plod, so I could tune out from the fact I was running and just let my mind wonder as I would if I was heading out for a nice walk. That day I believe I got to 6K, and that felt plenty far enough. Every week from there my goal was to build on the distance, still not concerning myself with speed other than maintaining one that felt comfortable. I added 1K a week, unless it felt really tough in which case I stuck at the same distance for a couple of weeks. Soon, I was ready to test my 10K. In June 2022 I ran 10K for only the second time in my life and - don’t get me wrong - it wasn’t easy... but by taking the pressure off speed and allowing myself to build up distance gradually over time I enjoyed it a hell of a lot more than I had done a couple years prior. From that point onwards I guess I caught the running bug (though if I had to choose I’d definitely still take lifting weights over running, but at least I don't hate the latter anymore!)

As I became more confident with running 10K distances, I started running with a friend (@steph_keeps_running - a far superior runner to myself!) most weeks. She was running a half marathon every month just for fun so is accustomed to running for longer distances. Tagging along with her allowed me to start building up the miles with the pleasant distraction of having a good old natter whilst we did it. By September 2022 I’d let her talk me into joining her for one of her half marathon runs, having built up to being able to run around 15K prior to that. Again…whilst it was hard, I really enjoyed the challenge. A couple of weeks later I found out I was pregnant (surprise!) so naturally my runs tapered off in length as my pregnancy progressed.

I carried on running up until 32 weeks pregnant - it stopped feeling good for me at this point. I knew I wanted to get back to it after having Rudy, though, so I set myself a goal of running an official race at the end of 2023 provided all went smoothly with my postnatal recovery. After getting clearance for running at 12 weeks postpartum, I followed a programme to rebuild my running strength and endurance and last weekend ran the Bath Half Marathon. I finished in 2hrs 12 seconds which was 11 minutes faster than I completed the distance just over a year ago!

Now that my running biography is out of the way (thanks for sticking with me), here are my key takeaways for any novice looking to start their running journey, or those who are doing a bit of running and want to increase their distance without absolutely loathing every second.

Don’t worry about speed

The super runners out there might disagree with me entirely, but for me, this was crucial to motivating me to carry on with running and eventually getting better. I didn’t look at my pace or even distance at first, focussing purely on keeping things comfortable so I could enjoy my surroundings and getting some headspace. The time for building speed came further down the line when I felt much more proficient with the movement and I was able to enjoy the challenge a bit more.

Build distance gradually

You’d be surprised how many people want to dive straight in from nothing to a 5K or from a 5K up to a 10K. To avoid injury, and just having a very unpleasant experience, make sure you’re building your distances up incrementally in a way that feels manageable for you. Ideally, the intensity should actually stay the same even though you’re running further, because your endurance and the distances you’re running increase simultaneously.

Try running with a friend

Not essential, but something I found really helpful - especially running with someone who was both much better than me and extremely encouraging. The long runs pass by so much more quickly and easily when they’re chatty miles!

Once you've established a base, work towards a goal or running event

Particularly if your ultimate goal with running is to build endurance and speed, then having a *concrete* goal can be really helpful to keep you motivated. I’d recommend following a programme for this (I used the Runna app which I got along very well with) or getting a coach (my friend and running superstar @amyrosannacoaching is the lady for the job) to keep you on track and help you to perform your best.

If you are looking at introducing or increasing your running, it's important that you support your running with some form of strength and/or cross training. Running is a high impact exercise that requires a good level of general - but especially glute and core - strength to support you and help prevent injury. This is especially true if you're starting or returning to running postnatally. If you need guidance with this side of things I have some availability for personal training in Bristol opening up in New Year, so get in touch to enquire about reserving a slot! I have availability for one new client for personal training in Weston-super-Mare, and plenty of capacity for online coaching.

Happy running!

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