10 Physio Tips for Novice Runners

December 07, 2023

This article looks at the simple demands of long-distance running and provides 10 easy
tips to help you start running for the first time, or dust off them runners again and get going!

1. What are you aiming to achieve?

Everyone has their own reasons for getting back out on the road or on the
track running, whether it be to improve their overall health, increase fitness
levels, to help lose weight or even to socially interact with friends. Whatever it
may be, it’s good to have an aim to help you strive through as you set out
again or for the very first time.

2. Set small goals

In addition to having an overall target, it helps to set some goals as milestones
to keep you motivated and encourage you to get out as often as you can. Some
goals that spring to mind could be to run a certain distance, e.g. 5km in a
certain time, or even something as simple as starting out going for two small
runs a week and building that to two or three bigger runs weekly. The main
piece of advice that this piece can provide is to be realistic. It’s better to set
smaller goals rather than having loads of big ambitions and maybe only hitting
one. It’s great to have aspirations but it’s good to be realistic and just keep
building on what you are doing currently. Before you know it, the small goals
you started out with will look miniscule.

3. Wear Proper Footwear

It goes without saying that in any sport, you should have adequate equipment.
Luckily for runners, the only real piece of gear you need is a good pair of
runners, especially if you are deciding to run on the road. Purchasing a good
pair of running runners with an extra cushion in the sole will help with shock
absorption and provide an extra form of protection to your joints. Runners
such as those by Hoka, Asics, New Balance or On clouds, are some that would
be recommended. You don’t need to buy a pair worth hundreds but buying a
pair that you are both comfortable and secure in, will add to your enjoyment
as your body won’t feel as sore post runs.

4. Don’t push it, build small

This links back to having more small and realistic goals. It’s important to slowly
build-up your fitness level. Starting off with two small weekly runs or even
brisk walking is a brilliant starter. You are already ahead of the millions that are
sitting on their couch watching television (which is perfectly fine in moderation
by the way, but not every minute of every day). Gradually increasing your
training load by 5-10% every week or two weeks rather than jumping up 20-
30% a week will reduce the risk of injury along with keep your training more
planned out. As you start out your muscles in your legs may ache in the hours
post run, but ease as you gently move around. This is known as DOMS
(Delayed onset muscle soreness). This is completely normal and is simply just
your body adapting to the new demands you are placing on your muscles.
However, if you feel any sharp pain or dull pain that is a lot worse on one leg or
one part of the body it would be worth resting it for a few days. And if the pain
persists, it may be worth checking in with your local physio. Also, taking
walking or standing breaks while running aren’t cheating or giving up,
remember, you are out running to better yourself rather than sitting at home.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Keep a nice controlled pace that you can
maintain for a good distance and look to build on it. Remember “Rome wasn’t
built in a day”.

5. Warm-Up

Vital part of any exercise. Warm-ups are designed to prepare our muscles for
exercise to reduce the risk of injury. Increasing your body temperature,
increasing blood flow and increasing oxygen productivity via light jogging on
the spot, jumping jacks or stationary cycling would be the first step followed by
dynamic stretching. Dynamic means constant ‘change’ or ‘moving’. Performing
high knees, heel flicks, side-stepping, leg swings and rolling your ankles are
some useful ways of stretching prior to training.

6. Cooldown

With regards to cooldown, its important to go for a small light jog just to
prevent the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. It’s normal for this to be
elevated post exercise but flushing these toxins out by drinking fluids and
cooling down properly is essential. A good cool down with aid in reducing
those dreaded muscle aches over the next few hours and following day. Static
stretching muscles and foam rolling after running are good ways of loosening
and relaxing tense muscle which will aid in recovery and in injury prevention.

7. Nutrition and Hydration

To keep this as simple as possible, everyone has different metabolisms and
eating habits. Personally I like to run on a light stomach so I have a light
carbohydrate based snack 2 hours prior to running. Some foods which I tend to
eat include oatcakes, almond butter, bananas or a small bowl of porridge with
honey. I’d consume a more dense meal after a run, incorporating more
carbohydrates like rice, potatoes or pasta with a light protein (white
meat/eggs/lean red meat) and a small intake of unsaturated fat based foots
such as those from an avocado, almond butter, or oily fish. Having small
sugary/carb based snacks like jelly beans or plain Haribos while running can
also be useful. Drinking enough water is vital daily. The recommended daily
intake for men is 3,000ml and 2,200ml for women. Drinking between 300-
500mls water in the four hours prior to you run is important along with a form
of electrolytes to maintain bodily functions and increase salt retention,
maintain fluid balance and to allow your muscles to function properly.

8. Do what suits you best.

This simply means wear what you want, map your own route, pick the time of
day you want to run and run with who you want or by yourself. This is literally
how you customise your workout. Some people like variety and change things
up while others prefer a more simple approach and consistently keep routes
and the time of day the same with each run.

9. Rest and recovery

As much as people don’t believe it, yes, it is good to have a day off. As was
already mentioned, it’s important to build slowly. Running is demanding on the
body, especially on harder surfaces so your joints, soft tissue and muscles need
time to rest and recover after each session. As weeks pass, your body will
begin to adapt and you can increase your training load or the volume you are
running. Running every 2 to 3 days is a good way to start out.

10. Track your runs

Keeping a record of what you are doing and when you are doing it will help you
in progressing your training. Simple thing like noting how far you ran, the time
it took and how you felt before, during and after your run. As the days go by
and the list of runs gets longer, you will also feel a greater sense of
achievement and be able to set yourself new goals the more you know.

featured image: a couple running in a snowy park. Image credit: The-Tor, Getty Images Signature 

Gavin Smith
Health & Performance Scientist
UCD final year physiotherapy student

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