Sunday, 1 April 2012

Learning to Run, Step 3: A Time and A Place

Weeks 11 to 14

The first two phases were long and, if you're anything like I was, you'll be right at the end of your motivation and patience.  Don't worry.  Here is where you can expect to both make a real effort and, for the first time, see some pretty quick results.

This is where you finally get to put on some running clothes and get out the door.  I put this off for almost a week before I finally plucked up the courage.  I felt like everyone was looking at me, that fat boy in the running shoes.  What a joke...  Actually, nobody cared and people only noticed me if I was in danger of getting in their way.  Oh, I'm sure there were more than a few pitying looks but I didn't see them.  Quite deliberately.

In this phase, we replace those extra walking sessions with Walk-Jog-Walk.  Feel free to continue with any and all of your walking.  I did for six months or so by which time my circumstances (and, therefore, routine) had changed and I was getting enough exercise from my running sessions.

There's a lot to cover here so please bear with me...

The Time
Once again, you should aim for two to three times a week and at a time of day that suits your routine.  You may want to give a little consideration to the light, particularly in the winter) and also to your own security.  If you're a night runner, perhaps a well lit local park or, perhaps, invest in a head torch.  And running in company is its own reward.  I wish I got to do it more often...

The Place
Runners are rarely targets for bad stuff but it does happen.  And it's a sad fact of life that women running alone need to take particular care when choosing places to run. Don't get too stressed about it but be aware that, as with the rest of life, there are risks to be managed.

Ideally, you want to choose somewhere fairly flat with forgiving surfaces, perhaps worn dirt paths.  If possible you should avoid 100% paved or asphalt as that brings its own stresses from the hardness of the surface.  A nice-to-have is some way of marking distances such as fence posts or regular crossroads.  (I'll explain later.)

Where I started was pretty much ideal.  A public park, well lit until midnight.  A dirt path ran around the edge, just outside a paved one (which was handy if it got muddy) and there were gates into the park every 75 metres or so.

Warm up
Now is the time to get into the habit of warm up and cool down (of which more later).  I haven't had many injuries during my training and I honestly believe that all but one of them could have been avoided if I had done this from the start.  This is one of those bits of experience I really want to share.  It may seem like overkill at this point but you won't regret it.

You should walk at a decent pace (3.5-4 mph, 5-6 kph) for around 10 minutes before you get to the "main event." This might be walking to the park where you'll run or, if you're already close by, walking round it for 10 minutes.  Either way, you'll be ready to get started when you're done.

So we're here and we're warmed up.  Time to let rip and run to the hills, right?  Well, no.  Just gently start to jog until you get out of breath.  It won't take long, trust me.  Then, without stopping, walk at a reasonable pace (3-3.5 mph, 4-5 kph) until you are breathing easily again.  And repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.  Keep this section at around 15-20 minutes to start with, giving you just around 35 minutes total for the activity when you include the warm up and cool down.

Over the weeks, you'll have good days and bad days.  Try not to get too carried away when it's going well or too upset when it isn't.  The jogging distance will build out gently over time and the walks will reduce.  Don't increase the jog pace yet, that's for later.  What we want to eventually achieve is being able to jog for the full 15-20 minutes and this should happen almost as a matter of course by Week 14.  Of all the goals I have attained in running, the one I took the greatest pleasure in was the first uninterrupted 15 minute jog that I did.

Cool down
Another walk of around 10 minutes at the same, gentle pace you used in the Walk-Jog-Walk section.  Take the time to look around you as you finish up.

You'll want to so some of this after cooling down.  It's at least as important as a warm up and cool down but that's enough for this post.  I'll do a Part 3a covering my own stretching routine.