This is a blog post that I started typing in June last year, but never got the time to finish it. Fortunately I was able to complete it on this chilly and windy Dubai evening.
I get asked by friends every now and then for tips and advice on how to start running and how to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pro, and I am definitely not a fast runner (I’m actually amongst the slowest runners at the running club that I train with), but it would be safe to say that I have a passion for running and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Just to give a bit of a background, I have been running casually for a long time, but never really took it more seriously until a couple of years ago for a variety of reasons (wrote more about it here: https://omarabuomar.com/2012/12/27/why-i-run/).
I was encouraged back in the summer of 2011 by a good friend to run the 10k run at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon (Thanks Sami Arafeh) and since then, I’ve thankfully been able to complete several other runs including two full marathons last year.
The common questions that I get: “I want to be able to run for long distances, how can I do that?” Or “I’m planning to take part in a 5k/10k/whatever distance run, how do I prepare?”. The tips I give for these targets are similar and are based on my personal experience and opinion. I advise anyone reading this to keep in mind that various training techniques and strategies work differently for each person, and what may work well for me could be useless for someone else. Also once you start getting into the habit of running you may realize that your body responds better to different exercises and levels of stress/pressure etc. This is not intended to be the perfect guide or anything, just sharing some things I picked up along the way 🙂
1. Distance OR time
This is the main tip I have: When you are starting off you should choose to focus on distance OR time when you run NOT both together at the same time (which is pace/speed). If you put your energy into increasing the distance or the time that you cover in every run you will get better results over time. Following this will reduce your stress, as it will give you one objective to focus on.
With time, and after you start running longer and farther, you will be able to challenge yourself on pace and try to beat your personal best time when covering the same distance.
2. Recovery time:
It is easy to get carried away and excited with running and starting to run too often. You have to ease into it and not push yourself too soon. If you are completely new to running you will likely have sore muscles (calves, shins and/or hamstrings are the common ones) after the first few runs, which is completely normal. Just make sure you give your body enough recovery time between exercises (Recovery time varies from one person to another).
The golden rule of thumb here is to listen to your body, don’t strain it. If you feel you cannot go on that run and that you are tired or strained then just rest it out, sleep, or just do something else not physically demanding (Take the day off from running in other words). This applies even when you become a regular runner (A strong note to myself there, as I’ve suffered from some setbacks due to overtraining in recent times).
3. Solo or in a group?
Try running alone a couple of times and try running in a group. You might like one more than the other. Both options obviously have their advantages, but at the same time each has some drawbacks. If you’re running solo you control your pace, the route (If you’re running outdoors), the distance and the music (If you opt to listen to something). You are in full control basically. Pros of running with a group (Can be as small as two people, you don’t need a running club :)) include having more motivation and encouragement when and if you start tiring, you can also be pushed farther and harder by having a group to support and encourage you. It can also be safer if you’re running on pavements and crossing roads. In the UAE, there are several running clubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, visit their social media pages and their websites, perhaps go on a couple of runs with them to decide whether they are for you or not. Even if you are simply starting out and you do not feel confident about your ability, just get in touch with the people running the clubs (Lame pun intended). The running community here is quite big and it is very friendly (especially with new runners). You wouldn’t be judged for not doing 10k in under an hour, nobody will make fun of you if you cramp up or if you pull out of a run. People are there to support each other and to encourage, not to make them feel worse or inferior about themselves.
4. Forefoot or heelstrike?
Whatever floats your boat. There is no definite answer to which running style is the best. Just like running solo or in a group, both have their advantages and disadvantages. Most people heelstrike while some do midfoot and others are forefoot runners. It’s not easy to change from one style to another and it may take a week or two (or much more) to get used to a new running style. What is important is that you actually get off your behind and start getting active.
5. But running is bad for the joints…
Unfortunately running has this stigma associated to it that it is bad for your joints, although in all honesty sitting on one’s bum the whole day is bad for our health yet we do it every single day. Staring at screens (PCs, TVs, tablets and mobile phones) does horrible things to our eye sight yet we are hooked to them. Point is that yes, it can be harmful to your joints, but that is a risk associated with ANY physical activity. Unless you suffer from extreme obesity or chronic knee/ankle issues (or other muscular injuries in your lower body that prevent you from running), then I personally find such comments as excuses.
Having said that, even if you are unable to run due to muscle strains/injuries/etc. then the above tips can apply to cycling and/or swimming.
6. Sign up to a race!
Some people would not feel the urge to run and train if there was no target to aim for. If that’s the case, why not sign up to an upcoming race? Consider your fitness level and consider races coming up in your area or nearby, see the distance(s) available and consider the time you have to train and prepare for it (varies from one person to another and depends on the distance as well). If you are not sure what distance to go for, try a shorter distance (4k or 5k) before going on to 10k, 16k or a half marathon. Whatever distance you aim for, you will be able to finish it as long as you are physically and mentally prepared. When I completed my first full marathon (of two so far) I did not believe that I would finish it, not even after crossing the half way mark, not even when I had a few more kilometers to go. I did not believe it until I finished the whole damn thing somehow, but that sense of achievement, that sense of fulfilment, that sense of having accomplished something I couldn’t even imagine doing a few years ago was overwhelming. Overwhelmingly beautiful that is.
You are likely to experience those emotions after your first race, and after that you may be hooked. It’s a beautiful feeling, after you finish the first 5k you’d want to test yourself with a longer distance, or challenge yourself to run the same distance in less time, and then the medal collection will grow over time and before you know it you may be doing your first 10k, half marathon, full marathon and perhaps even an ultra marathon!
That’s it from me for now. Just to reiterate, I am not a professional runner, I do it for fun and to test my limits and for a variety of other reasons. I would love to see more of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances running more often or at least taking up a more active lifestyle.