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Becoming a pro: Running

A comprehensive beginner’s guide to getting started in your favourite sport.

Every pro athlete started out as a novice, but with the right approach to training and technique development, they soon mastered their craft and rose to the top of their game. This beginner’s guide will help you get started in your sport of choice, ensuring you tick all the boxes on your way to sporting success.

Beginner’s guide: Running

According to Kathleen Mc Quaide-Little, a sports scientist at the Sports Science Institute of SA (SSISA), running offers an amazing range of benefits, from improved health and fitness, stress relief, and anxiety management, to increased vigour and effective weight management. This makes it one of the most popular sporting disciplines in the world. “It’s also a wonderful way of meeting other like-minded, health-conscious individuals who love the outdoors,” she adds.

Step 1: Visit a physio or biokineticist for an assessment to identify any underlying biomechanical issues or weaknesses that may be made worse by running. If any are identified, it’s advisable to complete a rehabilitation programme before engaging in any form of running. “It’s also advisable to visit your GP before starting, especially if you’ve been living an inactive or sedentary lifestyle, you are/were a smoker, have a family history of heart disease, or have high cholesterol or high blood pressure,” adds Kathleen.

Step 2: Establish a solid foundation that promotes optimal running form by ensuring you have the requisite flexibility and mobility, in addition to adequate core and glute strength. As little as 10 minutes a day of core and glute strength exercises and a variety of mobility drills, particularly those that target the feet, ankles, knees and hips, will help to reduce your chances of injury.

Step 3: Select the correct running shoes. Whenever possible, and where old injuries or biomechanical issues don’t preclude you, opt for neutral shoes with normal cushioning (avoid motion control stability shoes if possible) with a low heel-to-toe drop. Choose a quality brand and get expert advice when selecting the brand and model. Biokineticists and podiatrists are your best bet for this advice. Don’t just rely on shop assistants who have a rudimentary understanding of human biomechanics.

Try this 5k Running program

Other equipment you might need includes:

  • Comfortable running socks.
  • Running shorts or tights and a T-shirt or vest. You might want to try running tops made from wicking fabrics so they don’t become water-logged when you sweat profusely.
  • A stopwatch. This is particularly useful when training alone.
  • A waterproof running top. An inexpensive brightly coloured, but breathable waterproof top will be available at most sports stores.
  • A reflector belt is essential if you plan to run at dawn, dusk or at night.
  • A GPS-enabled running watch and heart rate monitor to track your progress and fitness levels.

Step 4: Kathleen suggests finding a friend, partner, group or running club to train with. “Start with a walk-run strategy, heading out at least three times per week, with a day’s break between each session. Start every session with a brisk 5-10 minute walk and complete it with a five minute cool down walk.” Every week, gradually increase the running component of each session, until you are able to run non-stop for the entire session.

“On rest days, cross-train (swimming/stationary cycling), but give your body adequate recovery time and include one or two rest days each week,” adds Kathleen. Continue with your mobility work on a daily basis, and add sport-specific strength training once or twice a week to strengthen the muscles involved in running, working your way up to unilateral exercises.

Running not your thing? How about getting on a mountain bike? 

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Author: Tanja Schmitz

Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.

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