Running is a both a sport which can take many forms, and a great way to get in shape.
What does ‘running’ actually mean? Running is defined in sporting terms as a gait in which at some point all feet are off the ground at the same time. This is in contrast to walking, where one foot is always in contact with the ground. The term running can refer to any of a variety of speeds ranging from a slow jog to all-out sprinting.
One of the great aspects of running is that it doesn’t require a large investment in equipment to get started. One area where you shouldn’t skimp though is your running shoes. Good shoes, correctly fitted, will make running more comfortable, and are your most valuable tool in preventing injuries.
Visit a specialist running store, with trained professionals that can help find the right shoes for you. Go dressed to run, as they will want to watch you run, and may have equipment to measure and map your personal running style, and your ‘biomechanics’, or how your foot moves during each running stride.
There are many different shoes for different purposes, but to get started, expect to spend about $100 on a good quality pair of general running shoes. If you can afford it, it’s a good idea to get two pairs, and alternate them between runs. This lets the shoes dry out and the fabrics and materials ‘rest’ and reshape between runs. If you run every day, two pairs are essential. Keep a record of your running, because you will need to replace your shoes at least every 500 miles.
Inside your shoes, you need a good pair of socks. Your running stride will be able to help you find the right socks, but specialist running socks are designed to prevent blisters, reduce heat and sweating, and last frequent washes and hard wear. They may cost more than regular gym socks, but they will last longer, and they will certainly make your running more comfortable.
You don’t need expensive high-tech running clothes to get started, but a good pair of shorts, leggings, or sweat pants that doesn’t chafe is important. There are many ‘technical’ fabrics available today that aren’t expensive, and will keep you dry and chafe free. Find a style that is comfortable and that you like.
Eventually, if you become competitive or really want to increase your running, compression clothing is a good investment. These garments fit very snugly, and help to improve circulation. This gives you more endurance while you run, and prevents injury. Wearing compression clothing after running can speed up recovery too, but it is more expensive than standard running garments, and by its tight-fitting nature, it isn’t always comfortable.
You can run just about anywhere, so you don’t need an expensive gym membership to get started. However, if you really want to run a lot, if you don’t have a lot of time, or you don’t want to run in the dark or in bad weather, a gym can give you some more options. Many gyms have indoor tracks, and pretty much all have treadmills.
Running on a treadmill is different from running on the road. Start slowly, until you get used to the movement, and be careful to change speed and incline slowly. Once you get used to them, treadmills can be very useful. They often have cushioned surfaces to prevent injuries, and although you can set them to run uphill, you don’t ever run downhill, which is where many injuries occur. If you are serious about your running, you may even want to invest in a treadmill at home for the long winter months!
You can get started running by yourself, and there are plenty of places to go for advice. Any bookstore will have a section on running, and there are several magazines devoted to running. Any of these will offer you advice, and most publish training plans for most levels of runners. Use the internet too, to find information on running, equipment, injuries, and training.
Most towns and cities have at least one running club. Check with your local gym to find out of there is one in your area. Most running clubs take runners of all levels, and the company of other runners is great for motivation, enjoyment and safety. Running is great way to meet new friends, and running clubs are a great place to start.
If you’re just beginning, you probably don’t need a specialist coach, but do start with a visit to your family doctor for a checkup and to make sure you are healthy enough to start running. If you get more serious about your running, a coach can be a great help. Many running clubs have coaches to help them with programs to improve form, speed or endurance, and they can be a valuable source of advice and support. If you really want to get fast or run far, a coach is a good investment.
Unlike many sports, running is one you can do year-round. But staying safe and healthy through four seasons of running requires some extra equipment and a few precautions.
In winter, runners need to stay warm, especially for the first ten minutes or so until the muscles have had a chance to get warm. Choose layers that you can easily remove as you get warm, and replace after you run to prevent chills. Gore-tex and other breathable fabrics will keep you warm and dry without overheating. Running draws muscles to the major muscle groups and the body’s torso, so it’s important you keep your extremities warm. A wool beanie hat and gloves are advisable for running in cold temperatures.
Snow and ice can make the running surface slippery, risking falls and injury. Stay on cleared paths or trails and grass to get traction, and avoid running in deep snow. Snow can hide uneven terrain, roots, and potholes that can cause you to fall.
That’s also true for darkness; with early nightfall in winter, be careful to run only in well lit areas. If you run in dusk or dark conditions, wear plenty of reflective clothing, a headlamp, or attach clip on bicycle lights to your clothing to make sure you can see, and be seen, by drivers, cyclists, and other road users.
In summer, heat is your main concern. Make sure you stay well hydrated, not just while you are running. By drinking regularly throughout the day your body will be better prepared form warm-weather running. It is possible to drink too much water, creating a very dangerous, even life threatening condition called hyponatremia. Prevent this and stay hydrated by replacing some of the water you drink with specialist sports drinks containing electrolytes and other ingredients to prevent hyponatremia.
To help protect you from the effects of heat, choose light colored clothing, and protect your head from the sun’s rays with a vented running cap. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, especially if you run on bright surfaces like concrete. Avoid running in the hottest parts of the day, and always wear sunscreen on any exposed areas.