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Why you will love running too

running woman photo

It Makes You Feel GreatThe first one may be blatantly obvious but I can’t overstate how true it is.   Let’s look at some of the science behind this statement.  Running, like other cardiovascular exercises e.g. swimming and cycling, helps to stimulate your body to release endorphins, which are one of the brain’s chemicals known as neurotransmitters; they send electrical messages to the nervous system and tend to relieve stress and also pain.  They can make you feel energized and often euphoric during and after your training and the effect is usually referred to as ‘runner’s high’.  It’s a guilt-free pick-me-up!

Lose FatOne of the most common reasons that women turn to running is often the knowledge that it helps to burn fat.  But what are the figures behind it?  This question is a little like ‘how long is a piece of string’?  The number of calories that you burn will depend on your weight, how long you run for, your fitness levels and the speed that you’re running at.  But as a very general rule of thumb you will burn an average of 100 calories per 10 minutes of running at about 6 miles per hour (which is about 9.65km per hour).  So, if you run for 30 minutes you’re burning the equivalent of a small Mars Bar.  Not bad!

I Heart RunningYour heart is a muscle and, like any muscle it gets stronger when it’s used.  Engaging in cardiovascular exercise, will help to strengthen your heart and improve your circulation, which can lead to a decreased risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

It’s (almost) Free!What’s the saying?  The best things in life are free!  Well, running comes under that heading.  To become a runner, you won’t need to pay hefty gym membership fees or invest in expensive gear.  Aside from a good pair of trainers and, for the ladies out there, a supportive sports bra you won’t need much more to kick-start your running.

Running BuddiesRunning can be a way of socializing as well as a great way of getting fit.  There are running clubs all over the world that accept new members; you can meet new people while you improve your health and well-being.  It’s win-win!  Running is also a great way to catch up with friends or to spend some quality time with your partner.  You’ll be surprised how fast the miles go when you’re chatting and enjoying the company of others.

Be Kind to Your Bones You may think that running damages your bones but it’s actually the reverse that is now believed to be the case.  It has been demonstrated that engaging in moderate running can actually increase bone density.  This is particularly important for women as bone density starts to decrease after the age of 40, especially in menopausal or post-menopausal women.  So how does it work?  When you run you put more strain on your bones than you do when you’re walking, your bones notice this difference and respond to it by activating reactions to increase in strength.  Clever bones!

No SAD for YouWe all need Vitamin D; it helps our body to absorb essential minerals e.g. calcium, iron and zinc.  We can ingest it from our food (from oily fish, eggs etc.) and our body also makes Vitamin D from sunlight, but many of us don’t get enough of it.  This can cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a form of depression, some common symptoms include: lack of energy, moodiness, sleeping too much, change in appetite.  By running outside, even for only 20 minutes a couple of times a week you can top up your Vitamin D levels, avoiding SAD and keeping your bones and teeth healthy in the process.

Keep Cancer at BayThere are many kinds of cancer that experts agree can be reduced by taking part in regular exercise, some of these include: breast, lung and colon cancer.  So, in short, running regularly can help you to steer clear of cancer, sounds like a pretty good reason to get those trainers on to me!

Enjoy Some ‘You’ TimeRunning is a great way to spend time with others, but it’s also a fantastic way to get some peace and quiet.  Lacing up those shoes and going for a run, no matter how short or how slow, can give you some much-needed head space and time away from the problems of the day.  It’s amazing how a run can help to clear your head and give you some time to reset your brain, ready to take on the next challenge. 

Remember when…?Running can help to give your memory a (sometimes) much needed boost.  Being physically active, especially while you age will help to keep your mind sharp as a tack.  It’s been demonstrated that regular exercise can completely halt the decline in the part of our brains that deals mostly with learning and memory, called the hippocampus, which is also one of the first parts of the brain to be damaged in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

Cooling Down and Stretching

Cooling Down It’s important to go through a warm down routine after you have completed a training run so that you don’t just come to an abrupt stop.  Your body should reduce its movements gradually, allowing a slow decrease in body temperature, in heart rate and in your breathing rate.  If you stop abruptly without a warm-down, especially as a beginner, you may find that you experience feelings of light-headedness as a result of your heart rate and therefore your blood pressure decreasing too quickly.  Think of the cool down as doing exactly the opposite of the warm up, it is providing a bridge between a period of high-intensity activity and rest, it also aids recovery.  Performing a good cool down may well be the last thing that you feel like doing after having finished your training run, but your body will thank you for it.

Carrying out a slow jog for 3 to 5 minutes after you have completed your run will also help to condition your body to run when tired, this is handy for races and also for increasing your distances as you will be doing some runs on continuous days. Once you’ve completed the slow jog I would recommend a similar amount of time walking, you should start briskly and then slow your pace down to an easier rhythm.  Once you’ve completed these two important exercises you’re ready to stretch.

Stretching Many blogs, articles and training books that you will read will suggest stretching as part of your warm-up routine.  This isn’t something that I, personally, would advise.  Stretching should take place when your muscles are already warm, not when they’re cold as they would be during your warm-up routine.  Stretches help to prevent injury and also to improve your body’s flexibility.  As you run the muscles in your leg shorten and stretching helps to lengthen them out again.  Getting into the habit of performing a range of stretches on your legs, your back, neck and shoulders will also help to speed recovery and increase blood-flow to the parts of your body that have been working so hard during your training. 

Key Techniques to Remember when Stretching – Stretching should always be a gentle movement, you don’t want to force yourself into a position that’s uncomfortable and could cause an injury. –  You should try to hold your stretches for a minimum of 20 seconds and 30 seconds is ideal. –  Listen to your body, if it hurts then you’re stretching too far. –  If you have any pre-existing injuries speak to your doctor, you don’t want to hurt yourself!

Now, on to the stretches themselves:

Quadriceps Stretch Take hold of your right foot behind you with your right hand and bend your knee as you pull your foot towards your bottom.  Make sure that you keep your knees together; you shouldn’t be twisting your knee at all.  You should feel the stretch along the front of your thigh, your quadriceps muscle.  If you’re having problems balancing you can place your hand on a wall to keep you from rocking.  Repeat the stretch on the left leg.

Calf Stretch Stand opposite a wall, approximately an arm’s length away and place your left foot one stride’s length behind your right.  Slowly bend your leading leg (in this case your right) forward making sure to keep your back (left) heel flat on the floor and your back knee straight.  Keep both feet facing forward and you should feel the stretch in the calf of your back leg.    Repeat the stretch using the other leg.

Hamstring Stretch Lift your right heel onto a bench, ledge or other surface (the surface should be slightly lower than hip level).  Flex your right foot by pointing your toes up to the sky and bend forward at the hips towards the flexed foot.  Repeat the stretch on your left leg.

Groin Stretch Take a seat on the floor with the soles of your feet touching each other and gently push your knees towards the floor.  Keep your back straight and your core strong.  It’s important not to over-extend on this stretch and push too hard, you don’t want to strain your groin!  Push gently and breathe through the stretch but stop before you feel any pain.

Back Stretch Lie on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent, keeping your body straight.  Try to push your lower back down in to the floor, in order to do this you will need to tighten your abdominal muscles.  Hold this pose for a count of 10 and then return to the starting position and repeat 5 times.

Neck Stretch To perform a chin to chest stretch, stand up straight, feet slightly apart and bend your head forward very slowly until your chin touches your chest.  Hold this stretch for a count of 10 and repeat 3 times.  Then you can move on to the neck extension stretch.  Stay in the same position and move your head back to look up at the ceiling, or as far as is comfortable for you, hold this stretch for the same amount of time.   Next turn your head from side to side, turn your head to the right until you feel your neck muscles tighten, hold for 10 seconds and repeat the stretch on the other side.  This stretch should also be repeated 3 times on each side.

Before we move forward, I’d just like to have a word about treadmills.  Running on a treadmill is often a convenient way to get your training run in, especially if the weather is inclement.  However you will find that running outside, in conditions, is very different to pounding the treadmill.  For one thing, when you’re running outside the ground doesn’t generally move!  Running outside is more difficult as you have to keep pushing your body forward, whereas in the gym, the treadmill is doing some of the work.


Getting Started

One of the great benefits of running is that it isn’t a sport that requires you to spend your entire month’s salary on ‘gear’.  But there are two items that I would advise the ladies out there not to compromise on and that is a good pair of running shoes and a supportive sports bra. 

It doesn’t matter what size bra cup you wear, if you don’t have good support while you’re running you will find that gravity will start to let you down.  In case you’re not sold yet on the importance of a solid sports bra I should tell you that the effects of not using one are irreversible – once the damage is done it’s done.  The reason for this is that once the ligaments around the breasts have been stretched, there is no way to shorten them again.   So, to avoid this kind of stretching you need a bra that will restrict the movement of your breasts when you’re doing high-impact sports such as running.  Most normal bras for everyday use will only restrict movement by approximately 35% but a good sports bra should reduce the movement by around the 60% mark.

There are a few different kinds of model of Sports Bras and depending on your size and preferences you can decide which style suits you best.

Compression– these push the breasts against the chest wall.  These kinds of bras are usually more suited to women with smaller breasts.  They don’t tend to offer any adjustments, such as hooks, adjustable straps etc. but they can be comfortable and are good for minimum impact work-outs.

Encapsulation – these looks more like normal, everyday bras, they lift and separate and hold each breast in place.  They often include an underwire and adjustable strap which are helpful to offer flexibility to the wearer depending on your specific breast shape.  This kind of bra generally offers a good level of support.

Combination– these bras work using a combination of compression and encapsulation.  They’re usually more supportive than a bra that is purely compression.  These kinds of bras are often a good choice for women with larger breasts or those that want a little more flexibility as they generally include some room for adjustment.

If you find yourself lost in the minefield that is the world of sports bras then have no fear – we are here to help!  You may have already taken a look in your local sports shop or online and you’ll have noticed that there are a huge number of sports bras to choose from and ultimately your choice will be based on what’s best for your size and your own personal style.  However, for running, which is classified as a high impact sport, I would suggest going for the highest level of support possible with straps that offer some flexibility.  You will also want a bra that will wick away moisture so that you don’t suffer from rashes or uncomfortable chafing as a result of having moisture trapped in your bra while you’re running.  That is no-one’s idea of a good time!

Shock Absorber is a great brand of sports bra and they’re hugely popular.  They’re not only comfortable and cater for a range of sizes, but they also provide a really high level of support.  Check out their RUN line which will stand you in good stead.  Nike and Triumph also offer great variety that caters to a wide range of runners of all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Of course, there are a huge number of other brands available and these are only personal preferences that I am expressing.  The best thing you can do when buying a sports bra for the first time is to try a few on and do the bounce test: jump up and down and see if your breasts move and how comfortable you feel.  Simple, yet effective!

What about my feet? Running shoes are obviously a key ingredient when starting your new running regime.  But sometimes it can prove a bit of an ordeal to decipher which shoes you should be using.  With so many different makes and models to choose from, it can seem like the more you read the less you know.  Here, I’ll be giving you my own recommendations and advice on how to find the best running shoe for you.

Knowing what kind of feet, you have and the way that you place your foot on the floor when you move will be very helpful in finding the right shoe for you.  If you go to any well-regarded running store you will be able to undergo an assessment of your gait, which allows a trained professional to assess the way that you run and how you land on your feet.  Once you have this information you can start navigating the, sometimes baffling, world of the running shoe…

There are three main different types of feet: flat, high-arched and neutral.  Along with these there are three main types of pronation: overpronation, underpronation and neutral.  But what is pronation?  I hear you ask!  This is the way in which the foot rolls inward when it hits the ground, the moment known as initial contact.  It’s a natural movement that helps your foot and leg to deal with the shock of impact

So back to the types of feet.  You will be able to tell if you have flat feet if you can’t see any arch at all.  The base of your foot from toes to heel will be more or less level with the ground.  If you have this kind of foot then it’s very important to choose a running shoe that will give you extra stability in order to keep your foot in the right position when you’re running as you’re likely to overpronate.  This is when your foot moves beyond its natural range of motion, rolling too far inward when you hit the ground, which will in turn exert too much force on your foot as well as your ankle and knee joints.   With this in mind ‘stability’ is the key word that you’re looking for in running shoe descriptions if your feet fit this bill.

With high-arched feet your arch is more raised than normal; essentially, it’s the opposite of flat feet.  If you have high arches then you will probably underpronate when you run, so your feet will roll outwards when they hit the ground.  For this kind of foot your best bet are running shoes that will offer an especially cushioned mid-sole to protect your arch. 

With neutral feet, your feet are neither flat nor do they have a high arch.   If you have this kind of feet then you have a really wide range of shoes to choose from.  It’s likely that you will only roll inwards slightly to absorb shock.  For these people, increased cushioning in your shoes is helpful for more effective shock absorption.

Some of my personal favorite brands are: Asics, Brooks and New Balance.  But whatever kind of feet you have and whichever running shoes you buy, your trainers should be replaced around every 300 – 400 miles depending on the surfaces that you run on, your weight and the way that you pronate.  Replacing shoes at around this distance will help to avoid muscle fatigue and injuries such as shin splints which I’ll go into in more depth in Chapter 5.


More benefits of Running

Strong CoreRunning will contribute to developing a strong core.  Your core muscles (obliques, rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus and erector spinea) all have to work together in order to keep your spine straight and aligned while you’re running, especially when you’re jogging on mixed terrains rather than just pounding the pavements.  So, run – your spine will thank you!

Sleep TightThe more active you are during the day, the likelier you are to have a good night’s sleep.  By indulging in regular aerobic (or cardio) exercise it has been shown that the quality of your sleep can improve.  So instead of rushing to the medicine cabinet the next time you go through a bout of insomnia, try to go for a run the next day and enjoy a restful night.

Live LongerResearch completed by the Stanford University School of Medicine on two groups – one of healthy non-runners and the other of healthy runners – over a period of 21 years found that, as time went on the levels of disability were much lower in the group of runners than in the non-runners.  It also found that, at the end of the study, a higher percentage of runners were still alive than the non-runners.  So, running really can help you to live a longer and more active life!

Run Your Way to Better SkinIf you have chronic skin conditions (e.g. acne, psoriasis) then you should take steps to protect your skin when you’re working out.  But generally speaking, working up a sweat can assist in removing the dirt and grime that clogs pores and causes break-outs.   When you exercise you also increase blood flow which will help to give your skin cells all the nutrients and oxygen that help to keep your skin healthy.  As well as bringing all that great stuff into your skin, increased blood flow also transports waste products away from your cells.  So, sweat it out and enjoy that post-work out glow!

Be the Change I’m sure you will have received an endless number of emails from friends, relatives, colleagues, even people you haven’t heard from in years, to ask you to sponsor them for running a 5km / 10km / marathon or completing a triathlon.  Well now it’s your turn.  Taking part in a race is an excellent way of raising money for a cause that’s important to you.  It’s also a great incentive to keep on running when you’re hitting that metaphorical wall; knowing that what you’re doing will change people’s lives will spur you on for those final kilometers.

Explore Your Local Area Running outdoors is an excellent way to get to know your surroundings.  On your runs you will discover places that you never even knew existed and changing up your routes will also help alleviate boredom.

And finally, It’s Fun!  I Promise The paramount reason that you should run and the reason that once you have started you won’t be able to stop is because it is fun!  You will have a great time running, challenging yourself and doing things that you never thought you would be able to. 

As you’ve probably guessed, I could go on and on about all the reasons to run, but we only have a limited amount of time!  Suffice it to say that the benefits of running are dramatic and can be long-term and the sense of achievement that you will get from reaching your goal (even if it’s just about getting to the next lamp-post) cannot be underestimated.  That said, it’s very easy for me to give you all the reasons why you should lace up those shoes and head out, but you probably won’t be sold until you see for yourself.  So, what are you waiting for?  Let’s get started!