The simple joy of running
I have been asked for a few tips about running. I have run quite a lot, so I have fairly extensive experience, and I have suffered numerous running injuries, so there is a lot I could write about.
1: Start with this: The best possible book ever for MOTIVATION – Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ultramarathon-Man-Confessions-All-Night-Runner/dp/1585424803
2: The best book for understanding body mechanics and not getting injuries, in my opinion: Born To Run by Christopher McDougall: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Born-Run-Hidden-Ultra-Runners-Greatest/dp/1861978774
3: I strongly recommend BOTH books if you are even remotely serious about clocking up any real mileage.
4: Don’t even start getting ‘hooked’ on road running. Pounding the pavements, aiming to achieve fast times in road 10k, half-mara and mara is a recipe for body damage, in my opinion.
5: Sure, man evolved to run, humans are great natural middle and long distance runners, but the kind of running we do when tracking an animal, or hunting a herd, is very different from running road marathons. Tracking animals in ‘the bush’ involves a lot of stopping and starting, bending over, inspecting the ground, varied pace, sometimes little more than a walk, sometimes close to a full-out sprint, varied terrain, but mostly grass, scrub, sand, dust and dirt – never concrete or tarmac, which are man-made surfaces. Running non-stop on tarmac for 3 or 4 or 5 hours is not how humans evolved to run long distances, and in my opinion, excessive running this way causes repetitive strain injuries.
6: Take your running off road. Embrace and enjoy nature. Run in fields and woodland, run on hills, forcing you to vary the pace…a brisk walk on the steep uphill sections, a steady pace on the flat sections, and then ‘controlled mayhem’ running downhill. Such running completely varies the forces on your joints and muscles – you use your entire lower body in different ways in each scenario, so running up and down over hilly countryside means that in reality, your body moves through a variety of different short ‘workouts’ all strung together, rather than just pounding out the same repetitive motion non-stop for hours.
7: Running off-road is just nicer! Embrace nature! Run coastal cliff-top paths, run by rivers and canals, run over hills and in the mountains, enjoy far reaching views.
8: Try running at night in woodland wearing a headtorch – that adds a completely new dimension to your running. Shadows play tricks on you, you have to watch out for trip hazards such as tree roots and uneven ground, you have to watch your face and arms for low branches and spiky twigs, all your sense tune in and although you run slower, your heart will be racing, it’s quite exhilarating.
9: If you want to run on streets and through towns, do it early, like 5 or 6 in the morning, when the cars are all parked, the air is fresh, the streets quiet, look for foxes, birds, squirrels and rabbits, nosing around the deserted streets.
10: Running using a barefoot running technique will minimize injuries.
11: Barefoot running means shortening your stride a little, leaning your bodyweight forward a little, landing on your mid-foot, and pushing off with your toes, engaging the calf muscles. Anyone who does not understand this – go run the way you normally do, standing upright, tall, chest out, and using your long stride, landing on your heel. Do this with no shoes on. Run. I guarantee that within 10 paces, you will stop, probably much sooner. It hurts, you cannot land all your bodyweight on your heels, it hurts like hell. [people only run with a heel strike since Nike and others put soft gel padding under their feet – but for tens of thousands of years, humans had to run barefoot, and this meant no heel strike.
12: But many people tell me ‘I live in town, there is no place to run barefoot’. If you want to learn to run with a barefoot running style, find a park. If you live in a small town, the countryside can’t be far away, and if you live in a big town or city, there will be parks, so stop making excuses and go somewhere grassy. Walk there in your running shoes or trainers (sneakers), then take them off, put your socks inside the shoes, and tuck the shoes under a hedge or bush so no one can see them. Then run laps of the park on soft grass, learning to run using a barefoot technique.
13: If you don’t have grass, do you have sand, do you live near a beach?
14: people say ‘oh but what about dog poops, broken glass, stones?’ I say open your eyes and stay alert! I say, leave the iPod at home, turn the music off and tune in to Mother Nature…look at the ground, look where you are putting your feet, tune in, pay attention and avoid the hazards. Really, it’s not difficult. Don’t make excuses.
15: Once you have mastered the barefoot technique, then you can run wearing almost any footwear you like – minimalist running shoes, regular running shoes, nothing at all, whatever – if your technique is right, just maintain the technique whatever you wear.
16: If you are running in training for an event, like a marathon, then do your homework first and learn about how to train high-mileage without getting injuries.
17: Marathon training should involve 1 or 2 ‘regular’ short runs each week, 1 speed session each week (sprint training is good for this), 1 long session each week, 1 mid-length stamina session each week and ideally 1 cross-training session each week. If you want me to post a sample marathon training plan – please let me know!
18: Never build up your aggregate weekly mileage too fast – never more than 10% increase week-after-week. Every few weeks, slip in an easy week.
19: Try to enjoy your running, don’t take it too seriously, don’t worry about speed or distance (it’s all very addictive and competitive! I know!) and just enjoy the freedom of running, the simplicity of the most basic form of exercise there is – sometimes I am happiest just slipping on a pair of beaten up old running shoes, a pair of shorts and off I go in the sunshine – no watch, no GPS, no iPhone, no music, no timer, no map, no plan, no shirt, no hi-tech lycra gear, no electronics, no real idea of how long or how far…just me and the sunshine and the countryside and my thirst to tell me when it’s time to get back home for a drink. That’s the essence of it all, pure joy.