On a Spring Sunday morning in mid-October, more than 25,000 runners participated in events, from 5.7kms to the full 42km distance, at the 2016 Medibank Melbourne Marathon festival. In August each year, more than 67,000 complete the 14km course from Sydney’s CBD to the beach at Bondi in the annual City2Surf.
While these events draw the big crowds, there are also countless community events across Australia throughout the year, where runners of all ages, speeds and levels of preparation, participate in recreational events with their fellow humans.
Running, jogging and walking your way from start to finish at such events, can help improve fitness or serve as motivation for improving fitness. It can come from an intrinsic desire to achieve a goal time or distance, or as a result of a bet. It can raise funds or awareness for a particular cause and is often a great way to enjoy being active with friends and family. The sense of community engendered by these mass-participation, recreational running events is wonderfully inspiring. There is fun to be had, no doubt about it!
But how to survive, indeed thrive, when the running bug bites and avoid being bitten on the bum?
Running is a natural activity for humans. Once walking has been mastered, inevitably, running soon follows, with little-to-no encouragement or advice. Dare we say, it’s seen as enjoyable! As adults however, our carefree and spontaneous running has usually gone the way of footy-card collecting and coco pops for breakfast. Unless you happen to have been in that small percentage of performers who were regular ribbon-collectors at the school cross country and athletics (with the physical capacity, regular training, opportunities for further competition or coaching advice that often came with that dubious honor) and even less likely, kept it up – running is now something to be ‘endured’. But why not enjoyed?
Regular running – for the physical and mental health benefits as well as social opportunities such exercise brings – can be wonderfully rewarding.
A capable, responsive body that can be encouraged towards exertion is a gift to be nurtured and appreciated. So how do you get the benefits of such an experience?
First, a basic understanding of the organism that you’re driving is important. Our bodies respond well to exercise stimulus (training stress) IF it is applied appropriately and is accompanied by a corresponding application of rest to promote recovery. If you repeat this pattern often enough, for long enough, you will dramatically improve your fitness for running longer distances, faster. It sounds simple enough, so how do so many get it wrong?
Impatience. We humans aren’t very good at slowing down, enjoying the process, taking care and above all – appreciating the journey. We want outcomes and we want them now.
But what if we just took our time, sought satisfaction in the physical act of moving freely and efficiently, and did it with like-minded souls? What if we accepted the limitations of our current capacity, and sought to develop and manipulate it to achieve things that would serve as greater motivation for further development? Even better, what if we allowed ourselves – or indeed our children, in preparation for a lifetime of enjoyable and productive physical activity – to appropriately develop the skills and movement patterns needed for injury-free running?
There are no guarantees, and even the most experienced and circumspect make mistakes or suffer setbacks, but there are some things we should pay particular attention to, to give us the greatest likelihood of fulfilling our potential. At whatever age and stage we are.
“The human body is a living structure that is always in a constant state of change to adapt to the environments in which it is placed. Achieving a long-term consistent moderate-high volume of run training is therefore not a catalyst for injury, but is preventative through adapting the body’s tissues to the stressors placed upon it. What is most important is the pathway you take to get there.”
Kevin Craigie, APA Sports Physiotherapist
Athletics Australia Physiotherapist – Junior Program
At Run Ready, our recreational running groups, complimented by our strength programs, focus on enjoyment and long-term participation, while encouraging our runners to identify and prepare for their own challenges, goals and targets. Let’s look at what we focus on.
- Loading. Training needs to reflect the chronological and training age of ‘the runner’. A novice runner will require more gradual loading than a runner with previous exposure to training.
Loading, or training stimulus – the type, volume, intensity and frequency of exercise – is critical to maximizing your potential and staying healthy, so must be understood and managed as well as progressively and incrementally applied. Variety of training stimulus is important for maintaining engagement and improvement over time.
- Adaptation & Recovery. Being mindful of how running feels is crucial to gaining steady improvement. Ignoring good advice, a well-structured training plan, or the signals your body is giving you, will be unlikely to allow you to gain the improvement or outcomes you seek in the long term. Focusing predominantly on relaxed running, at a comfortable rhythm, rather than at a pre-determined speed is a good way to start, as is feeling like you could, at any time, run a little bit further, faster or more than the plan you have for that day and week. Sure, you need to maximize effort levels at times, but all in moderation. Mostly, it’s relaxation and easy running over a gradually longer period of time that will produce the best and longest-lasting effect. Greater speed will come from this. When you’re using oxygen to fuel the body you are helping to regenerate the system that moves you. You can’t be too uncomfortable, too frequently, or for too long and expect to still be running in the years ahead.
Allowing adequate periods of rest between exercise bouts is crucial to relaxed running. Sleep, appropriate hydration and nutrition, massage, alternate exercise modalities (cross-training or strength and mobility training) all help to reduce stress and maximize the ability of your mind and body to be ready for the next run.
- Run strong. A balanced, coordinated, stable, supple body, provides a platform for more efficient and more effective movement. What makes elite performers look so smooth and stress-free is their ability to transfer just the right amount of power in exactly the right direction, when they need to. Strengthening our bodies, with a suitable resistance and conditioning training program and/ or the implementation of appropriate training, including hills, relaxed runs on variable terrain and gradually increasing distance, is an essential tool to maximize your performance and your years of running.
- Be consistent. Routine is important to any exercise regime, in the same way it is important to being productive in our personal and professional lives. First, identify what is both practical and preferable for you. Hopefully these two things align, but you might have to compromise a little bit and flexibility is always part of plan B. If you prefer mornings, lunchtimes or evenings, then establish the routine that is going to help you adhere to the program. It will never be perfect, but don’t give up when you slip up. Just return to the routine as quickly as you can, or adjust to reflect changes in your motivation, time or energy levels.
- Simple & Fun. Enjoying the environment you exercise in, with the people you do it with, and being guided by a program or person you have confidence in, is the best way to stay involved. Running is popular and effective as a form of exercise, because of its simplicity. A coach or run group leader should be able to help you simplify things, rationalize and explain what you’re feeling and educate you about what’s metaphorically around the corner.
Having a running buddy or a group is, for most people, the best way to stay consistent and maintain enjoyment. It doesn’t mean you never run alone – this can be gratifying and liberating also, and can help you ‘check in’ on your body, by paying more attention to pace, feel and rhythm – but having support, encouragement and laughter alongside you when you’re on the paths, trails and tracks is a huge boost.
- Be you. Everyone’s capacity, motivation, routines, emotions and energy levels are different. Accept this and remain true to yourself. Avoid copying exactly what others do or thinking that anyone has found the secret formula. Don’t be afraid to adopt a ‘seasonal’ approach to your running commitment, utilizing other forms of exercise at times throughout the year. This provides a physical and mental break, and reminds you how much you miss running! Of course, when returning, you need to adopt a similar, patient and progressive approach to returning to your ideal running load that you did to start with, but if done well, this can be a pathway to consistent and continued improvement in the longer term.
This is also important for setting goals with your running. Whether they be purely around your own fitness and wellbeing, focused on the consistency of activity, or you have decided on a particular event or performance to aim at, having both longer and interim targets to help guide you and motivate you is super important. These goals will invariably change over time, but if you’ve made good decisions early on around the training and environment that works for you, you will be in the best position to let your running journey evolve over (a very long) time.
Stay tuned for our next blog piece that will explore in greater detail, our advice for event selection and preparation, including the choice of suitable exercises that best promote strength, balance, stability, mobility and coordination for runners. We will also explore the key elements of a well-planned, balanced training program for beginners, returning runners and those wanting to set themselves a new challenge.
“I have been coached by Nick for the past five years. He has a supportive, encouraging and committed approach that works for everyday athletes who enjoy a group milieu. His support is provided equally to tortoises and hares, no matter what their personal goals.”
Beth, veteran runner and group inspiration.