It's September. Already.
Go check your calendar if you don't believe me.
See, what did I tell you?!
A new school year
But that's not a bad thing. January is always seen as the month to start afresh, to change old habits and give something new a try. But making New Year's resolutions can be setting yourself up for a fall. All that overindulgence and hungover regret - hardly a good mindset with which to make positive lifestyle changes.
September, on the other hand, is the month of new stationery, crisp mornings and fresh possibilities. Even though we may have been out of the education system for years (or even decades), many of us will still see September as the start of the school year. A new term with the option to join new after-school clubs. So why not try a different kind of club this September?
Welcome to run club
Now, I fully appreciate that running isn't for everyone. Some find it boring (granted, on a treadmill, it can be tedious), others would rather get their cardio benefits by other means. However, if you've been thinking about donning your trainers and going for a trot, I've pulled together a few tips for those starting out.
Sounds simple, but when something is unknown and perhaps a bit scary, it's easy to find reasons to delay getting on with it.
Presuming you've checked with your GP that there's no reason you shouldn't start running, put on your trainers and walk out of the door. Those two steps over your front porch will be the hardest two steps of the entire run, I promise you.
Start with a gentle warm-up for at least five minutes. Alternate one minute each of walking briskly with marching on the spot and climbing steps (if you can find some). By the end of the warm-up your heart should be beating a bit quicker, your muscles feeling warmer and you're starting to sweat.
2. Listen to your body
No one knows your body better than you. Only you know exactly how you're feeling on any given day, so change your run accordingly.
Give yourself the opportunity to continue for little longer by taking walking breaks every so often
Decide in advance to run for one minute then walk for one, for however long you plan to be out
Power walk to a spot X miles away and then run back, or vice versa
There are lots of ways to play around with your runs when you first start out, to avoid feeling demoralised if you're not able to run consistently for a set period. Not that there's anything wrong with that - everyone has to start somewhere. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and all that jazz.
Start small and build up. You might start with a run of 15 minutes and add 1 minute every time you head out. If you run twice a week, every week, you'll be running for half an hour straight in less than two months! That's a massive achievement.
Initially, don't worry about how fast you're going - a mile is still a mile, whether it's run at the pace of Mo Farah or a garden snail.
With that said, running isn't a walk in the park... it's a run. As you speed up and/or push yourself to go that bit further, it will feel uncomfortable (although you shouldn't feel any acute pain - stop immediately if you do and get it checked out). The key is to get comfortable with that discomfort, which will come with practice. Honestly, the feeling you get after a run will eclipse any tough feelings you may have experienced during it.
3. Drink up
Water is your life blood. It makes up between 50% and 75% of your total body weight and is required for so many of the body's key functions that you can't afford to start a run when you're dehydrated. Why would you make life so much harder for yourself?!
If you're heading out first thing in the morning, drink a pint of water at room temperature as soon as you
wake up and a further half a pint about 10 minutes before you start your run.
If it's the evening, make sure you've been topping up your levels throughout the day. Whilst requirements vary for each person, a rough guide is to drink 30ml of water per kilo of body weight each day, plus an extra 500ml on the days that you exercise.
4. Put that new September stationery to use
Keep a diary of your runs. This could include information on:
How far you ran
How long it took
The route you chose
If you noticed anything particular about your body during the run - any niggles, tightness, Bolt-like bursts of speed
What you ate or drank before your run (if anything) and how it made you feel - energised, sluggish, bloated, sick
How you felt in yourself - calm, happy determined, stressed, distracted, demotivated - and what might have been responsible for those feelings i.e. the run itself, or something else that happened during the day
If you don't still live in the early 20th century and want to use 'stationery' to record all this, there are loads of great running apps that will make life much easier. Runkeeper and Nike Run Club are two of my favourites.
When you have a few more runs under your belt, use the information to make adjustments to your routine, to make your runs more effective and feel better. For example, by concentrating your warm ups and stretches on any areas that feel consistently tight, or using the food that always makes you feel energised as your go-to run fuel.
5. Get Social
One of the best things about running is that it can be a wonderfully solo or fantastically social activity. Which one, is entirely up to you. Some days, all you want to do is ram your headphone earbuds deep into your ears, block out the world and run. Other days, you might want a few friends to join you for the ride.
Parkrun is a fantastic concept - a free, timed, 5km run that takes place in parks and open spaces across the UK every Saturday morning at 9am. It's friendly and open to everyone, from elite athletes, to people running with dogs and those pushing buggies. (Having been overtaken on more than one occasion by a buggy-pusher, I can safely say that having young kids does not appear to be a hindrance to running!)
I'm lucky enough to live down the road from where the original Parkrun was born in Bushy Park, SW London, and it is a brilliantly sociable, welcoming event that relies on incredible volunteers. If you don't fancy running one weekend, why not volunteer to be a marshall so that you can still soak up the atmosphere? They've recently started a junior 2km event on Sundays, so you can get the little'uns involved too.
If your idea of social is a bit more virtual, there's an app for that. Strava is essentially a social network for exercisers. It lets you connect with friends, follow their progress, set group challenges and motivate each other, whilst also recording your progress. It started life as a cycling app but works well for runners and is compatible with devices such as Fitbits and Garmin watches.
6. Mix it up
Even elite runners don't only run. They'll incorporate strength work and conditioning as well as cross-training into their routines, to ensure that their bodies function well overall.
Take a leaf out of the pros' books. Intersperse your running with swimming, cycling, strength training, dancing, sky diving, cheese rolling (just checking you're still paying attention) or anything else you fancy.
Running is fantastic for cardiovascular health, strengthening bones and muscles, and keeping blood pressure under control... but only if you actually do it. Mixing up your movement gives you variety, helps maintain motivation and could make your next run feel even better.
Not in a way that makes the runner behind you do an involuntary leapfrog. But, if you're on your own, take a few breaths to look at everything happening around you, whether you're in the middle of the countryside or a bustling city.
Running gives you the freedom to explore your surroundings and gain a different perspective on them.
Take a detour down the country lane or run over to that park you've always wanted to check out when you passed in the car. Run through the backstreets of the city, down cobbled alleys (don't twist an ankle!) and through secret passageways.
Or just keep standing still, looking around, and taking it all in.
When you do ultimately stop, don't do so suddenly. Take a few minutes to walk and slow your heart rate down, and be sure to do some stretches to ease those muscles. I'll put together a guide soon, but here are some options for the gurus at Runner's World in the mean time.
You're a runner
Running, jogging, sprinting; it's all the same. Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not a runner because you don't take part in races or wear a branded vest.
You run, therefore you're a runner.
Welcome to the club :-)