Every year it’s the same. After the Christmas celebrations and excesses, the New Year looms, guilt sets in and we start to think about making New Year’s resolutions. As you are reading this article, we’ll assume that running is part of your New Year health kick.
Congratulations! Running is one of the best ways to get fit, become stronger and, when combined with sensible nutrition, is great for managing weight. It is relatively cheap in terms of equipment and once you have the kit, the roads, as they say, are always open.
However, problems can arise when you set goals (or even worse, fail to set any goals) and then jump in too quickly as you may pick up an injury or lose focus, fall back into old routines and stop running. I want to share what I’ve learnt from my experiences both as an athlete and a physio working with runners so you can get the most out of your training and stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
The first thing is to work out what you want to achieve; what’s your ultimate running goal? It is worth sitting down and having a good think about what is going to inspire you to work hard over the next year. Often, when committing to exercise, part of the goal will involve weight management and then, of course, there are the performance-related targets.
Perhaps the ultimate goal could be a reward for all the hard work and reaching short term targets through the course of the year, like a trip to race in an exotic destination.
Many people will be looking to run their first Big Half, while others will be looking to run faster times. Whatever you decide, make it ambitious but also work out achievable short-term goals and consider the following points…
Runners will often set grand targets, usually time-focused, and naturally want to see quick results but often they don’t know how to plan towards a goal or how to structure a programme to chip away at the bigger target. Even the obvious planning required to fit training sessions into your daily schedule can be a difficult problem to overcome.
Planning a whole training schedule in a way that will allow your body to become stronger and adapt to handling progressively harder sessions and larger volumes of training requires a good understanding of what different sessions target and how the body responds to exercise. You often need to be flexible and ready to adjust the schedule depending on how you react. This isn’t always predictable so getting good quality advice is priceless.
If you’re training for The Big Half, check out top running coach Martin Yelling's training schedules for beginner and intermediate runners, or head to runnersworld.co.uk where you’ll find structured and safe programmes to help you to reach your goal. You can also tap into the knowledge of members of your local running club, where there will be runners of varying levels of experience, or qualified coaches who can work with you directly or by correspondence, writing and continually adjusting programmes based on your feedback. The experience of a coach can help to make sure you don’t push too hard, too fast but also that you aren’t being too soft.
Finally, plan your recovery. Recovery should be written into your programme as rest or easy sessions but also includes nutrition, stretching, trigger pointing or massage and it is just as important as going for your runs. Think of it as giving your body a chance to soak up the training and an opportunity to deal with the negative effects of training such as excessive tightness, which can lead to injury.
The early stages of your programme are important for getting into a routine and, while fairly light in terms of running, they are an opportunity to focus on conditioning exercises to prepare you for what is to come. Conditioning work should include strength, mobility, stability and technical exercises to develop good running form.
For new runners, it is important to work on developing general strength but if you have a history of injury then you should also target the areas you’ve had trouble with in the past. This becomes a little more complicated so it’s important to get advice from a physiotherapist who understands running and conditioning or a conditioning coach who has experience in running and rehabilitation.
As the amount of running increases you may have less time to spend on conditioning but try hard to devote some of your schedule to it and you will be rewarded with better movement, faster progression and reduced risk of injury.
The importance of consistency can’t be overstated. It really is the holy grail of running. Avoiding injury and progressing through a whole programme without interruption is what everyone works towards. It is better to have a modest schedule that allows you to slowly develop as a runner rather than an intense programme that leads to excessive overload and injury.
The time spent on the treatment table means we start to lose the gains made from training, we fall out of the habit of training, our goals start to look less achievable and motivation suffers. Of course, we advise runners to cross-train while doing the specific rehab work to recover from an injury, but the break in routine can be a massive test of conviction.
Motivation can come from different places. We will be motivated by reaching small goals, seeing improvements in speed or the distances we run and we can give ourselves rewards for achieving short-term goals. We can also be motivated by training partners or clubs, which help us to push that little bit harder or just get us out to train in the cold, dark and wet when we could just as easily head to the pub.
Running is an individual sport but, like boot camps, it motivates people to get out in the rain or at the crack of dawn and being a member of a group means that even if you don't particularly feel like training, you will not want to let your mates down so you’ll be there regardless. Looking for clubs near you is easy on the Run England or British Athletics websites.
When you are starting out, improvements will often occur rapidly. The problem is that the rate of improvement can also become slower as you progress, which can be demoralising, but it can also tempt you to push harder to maintain the rate of progression. The obvious result is overuse injury. It’s at these times when the returns start to drop that motivation will be tested and you will need to work steadily, be consistent and patient.
The resolutions you make need to be based around your long-term goals and need to be sustainable changes in behaviour that you can fit into your life and help to motivate you to carry on. Whatever your running goals may be, good luck!
Scott Mitchell is a physiotherapist and founder of Move Clinics.