If your kids are starting school for the first time or you want to get a bit fitter when they go back, you could do a lot worse than taking up running. I started running 24 years ago. I eased off a bit when I was pregnant and had newborn babies, but I’ve never given up. Since my kids have been at school, I’ve had the time to take it a bit more seriously and have seen my strength (and my times) really improve.
But running isn’t all about times. It’s about feeling better about yourself, mentally and physically, and about having some time to get away from things. If you take up running, you really won’t regret it!
I’m not an expert, but I do have a lot of experience of just getting out there and running. And I thought maybe it would be useful for me to share what I know. I’m calling this running tips for mums, but it should be just as useful for dads or people without kids too.
There’s a lot of stuff here, just read the bits that are relevant to you!
Weight loss and calorie stuff
I don’t run to lose weight, but I know a lot of people do. Running is good exercise. Combined with a decent diet, if you run regularly, you will lose weight. Running a mile burns off 100 calories, regardless of speed.
But don’t fall into the trap of ‘treating yourself’ after a run or you could end up gaining weight. A 5k (three mile) run burns off 300 calories, a chocolate muffin contains 500 calories.
The right kit
It seems obvious, but you will need to wear trainers to run, right from the very first time you go out. A cheap pair is OK at the start, but if you’re planning to run 10k or more or if you can afford it, getting fitted with a decent pair is sensible. Sports shops and specialist running shops, like Up and Running, can test the way you run and fit you with the best trainers for your style. This will give maximum comfort and reduce your chance of injury.
A good sports shop will recommend you go half a size to a size bigger than you normally wear – this is because your toes get bashed against the front of your trainers as you run. Look after your toenails and keep them trimmed. Who knew toenails could ache? They can and they do. You may lose toenails after a half marathon. I certainly have! You are likely to pay between £80 and £120 for a decent pair of trainers. Sadly, the brands that look cool are not usually the best brands for running. But that’s OK, because running isn’t a fashion show! I always wear Mizuno, as they best suit my running style.
You can run in pretty much any shorts or jogging bottoms and Tshirt. It’s not necessary to have running gear. But so many supermarkets and chains like Primark do running gear these days, that you can pick up running shorts, leggings, vests etc which help regulate your temperature and are more comfortable to run in, very cheaply.
If you’re big-breasted, you will definitely need a sports bra. I’m quite the opposite of big breasted, but still find a sports bra far more comfortable to run in – the straps don’t keep falling down and there’s no wires digging in!
I don’t warm up before a run. This is probably a bad idea. If you go to an aerobics class, the warm up is often a gentle jog, so I see the running as a warm up in itself. If you’re new to running, it’s sensible to warm up. There is plenty of advice online.
A lot of people stretch before a run, but opinions on this are mixed. I was advised by a physio to always stretch after a run and not before. Having had a number of injuries over the years, I always stretch my most injury-prone areas after a run. It’s really a case of finding out what works for you.
Find a route
Think about how far you want to run and work out a route. This is so much easier with apps on your phone (like Runkeeper or Strava) and fitness watches, as they tell you how far you’re running. Vary your route if you get easily bored, you don’t want anything to become an excuse not to run.
It is not necessary to run with tech of course, but lots of people do. If it helps to motivate you, then use it! A lot of people also enjoy sharing their achievements and progress on social media, which is another great motivation.
Couch to 5k
Couch to 5k (or C25k) is a great way to start running for the absolute beginner. It is a nine week programme, using an app, which builds up gradually and can get pretty much anyone running. The first 5k is the toughest and, after completing C25k, you may feel inspired to build up further. Or you can stick at 5k, which is a very good distance for staying fit, as long as you run regularly.
Set yourself targets and build up gradually. The first time you run, you will probably think, ‘I can’t run!’. You will be out of breath early on, but that’s the worst part. You may thinkyou can’t run on your second and third time too, but you will quickly build up strength and stamina. Plan to run a mile first time. Maybe you will walk half of it. By your fourth time you may be able to run the lot. So build it up to a mile and half. And so on.
If you are already running long distances, you will be able to build up your distance in bigger chunks – I jump from four miles to six to eight, then to 10 and 12. Theoretically, if you can comfortably run eight miles, you can do a half marathon. I put this theory to the test in 1995 and it worked. But now I build up properly and make sure I really can do the distance before taking part in a half marathon.
Eating and drinking
It is possible to run before breakfast if you intend to do no more than three miles, but generally I would recommend eating before you run. Always give yourself time afterwards for the food to go down – a minimum of an hour.
If you suffer from IBS or similar problems, or there are foods which you know lie heavily in your stomach, avoid them before running! Anything which feels uncomfortable normally will feel a lot more uncomfortable when running.
Make sure you have a drink before you run and if you are running a reasonable distance, take a drink with you. You can use a special hand-held bottle or carry it on a running belt.
Again, if you suffer with your stomach, test yourself! Don’t just drink the free drink provided on a big race if you’ve never tried it before – you will be kicking yourself if it gives you stomach pain when you are running.
Always go to the toilet before you set off – both sorts.
Running can make you need a number 2 and while it is less likely to make you need a wee, running on a bladder which is already partially full can make you very uncomfortable.
If you’re running a long distance, make a mental note of the public toilets and if they’re not always well-stocked, carry some antibacterial hand gel and a few tissues in your pocket/ running belt.
If you’re the sort of person who needs a challenge (not everyone does and isn’t necessary!), why not train for a race? If you’re new to running, you could sign sign up for a 5k run or a charity run in 4-6 months’ time. If you want to step up your game, try a 10k or even a half marathon. A half marathon or marathon is a big commitment and you will need to run long distances regularly to prepare. Think about how this will fit into your life. If you can’t do it now, consider it for when the kids are all at school.
Regular readers will know I write about parkrun A LOT. Parkuns are 5k runs held all over the UK and the world at 9am on a Saturday. Parkrun is the perfect place to start your challenges. You don’t have to be a fast runner, in fact you don’t have to be a runner at all. Plenty of people walk parkrun and nobody looks down on them or judges them. Wherever you do parkrun, you will find a very welcoming and supportive community. Sign up online, get a barcode and give it a go!
Running with friends
If you lack motivation, you can try running with a friend. This is something I’ve never done, because I like the freedom of just being able to go when it suits me and my family. A friend can help motivate you, help you stay safe and can also relieve the boredom with a chat as you run (if you’re talking 19 to the dozen and laughing hysterically, you’re probably not working hard enough). But choose the right friend – if your friend is always busy, always tired, always got a headache, it could mean you’re not going out to run because of her.
You could also try running with very small friends of the human or canine variety. Running with the right sort of buggy (eg Phil & Ted’s) will provide you with a good workout, give you the flexibility to run without worrying about childcare and could even get your child to sleep (result!). Dogs are great motivators. They can help you stay safe and it also means you don’t need to find more time to walk the dog later.
You may also be able to find a running club nearby. A lot of towns have clubs for beginners or women only. This is good for motivation and a great way to make friends with like-minded people. I’ve never joined a club, because the timings don’t work for me. I am definitely a morning runner and the early evenings (when clubs take place) are when I’m driving my kids round to ballet and Explorers. If you are serious about your fitness, you will also need to run at other times, in addition to your club nights.
In all my years of running, I have never felt threatened or at risk. But you still need to think about your safety. Think about where you are running and when. The local park is great in the day time, but is it still great at 6am or 11pm? Does your run take you through any ‘bad areas’? Is it possible to avoid them?
Always run with your phone – you can get an armband or belt to carry it. This is important in case you get injured en route.
Aches and pains
You will ache after a run, probably the first few times, then your body will adjust. When you increase your distance, it will ache again, before adjusting again. If anything aches particularly badly after three or four days, rest it. If it’s still hurting, see your GP or a private physiotherapist.
Other activities can affect your running. If you’re used to cycling, swimming or aerobics, your running shouldn’t be affected by them. But if you suddenly introduce something new into your routine, that can affect your legs and therefore your running for a few days.
Once you get used to running, you shouldn’t feel tired. In fact, you should feel the complete opposite. You will feel more motivated, more awake, more alert and happier. For this reason, my favourite distance to run is between about four and six miles. I feel my absolute best after this distance.
Once I get up to eight or 10 miles, I do feel more tired (and a lot more hungry), but I never nap. I just get on with my day and whatever that throws at me.
Running is fun, relaxing, cheap and easy. You can do it any time, anywhere, so just get out there and enjoy it!
These running tips should work for anyone of a healthy weight in reasonable fitness. If you have just had a baby, haven’t exercised for a very long time or are very overweight, it’s best to speak to a doctor before starting to run.