In many ways running is one of the hardest sports to take up. Not because of the cost, but rather because of the adaptation the body has top go through to make the sport enjoyable. This adaptation is not just physical but also mental, you exchange perceptions of running generated by watching other, seeing high profile names on television, or experiences, good and bad, from school days.

The equipment required is minimal – shorts socks, top and shoes. Then it’s simply a case of getting out there and putting one foot in front of the other – right? Wrong!

You see one of the first things that we do when we try taking up running is to use our imagination and we create a vision of us running in some ‘flowing fashion’ around a route at a perceived pace determined by our own perceptions of what is acceptable to us, and more destructively – our perceptions of what we ‘perceive OTHERS’ to deem acceptable!  Armed with these perceptions we go out and try – on our first run to match these visions, forgetting that all our visions have been based on seeing other runners who have already been training for weeks, months or years. It is not surprising that we over-estimate our ability and soon find ourselves forced to hang onto a fence, lamppost or walk in order to ‘grasp’ every bit of oxygen that is within our vicinity!  When we have recovered from this ‘over-extension’ we go off again and once more the heart rate rockets skywards, the lungs burn and the legs tell us that trying to pack years of inactivity into a 20 minute jog is neither reasonable nor fun!  However, pride, ego and shear doggedness normally see the novice completing this introductory venture and all previous perceptions are blown apart, with no great desire to return to the road.  Furthermore any feeling of achievement is often tempered over the next 48 hours as muscles, which have happily been idle and carried along for the ride for years, start to stiffen up and make their presence known. This tends to reach a peak after about two days, where upon the movements of life, such as getting out of – or even into a chair – or climbing stairs, instantly bring back the memories of that ‘first training’ run. This adds to further reinforce those thoughts that it is probably better to postpone the next training run until you are fitter (which of course will never happen without more training).  No taking up running is not for whimps and there needs to be some inner motivation or goal for most people to stick to the task in the early weeks. However the rewards can be remarkable for those who ‘go the distance’.  Often the initial goal is to participate in a company relay event, a fun-run or a mass participation race such as the highly popular Spar Ladies race. Normally these events will be no longer than 10kms and so the first rung on the ladder is seen as being able to complete a distance of 10kms without stopping.

The irony for the novice is that the initial run, stop walk, run stagger that typifies our very first run is exactly the way we should be training even when we have month and years of running behind us. It is this variation of paces from extremely easy (standing recovery or walking) to lung burning hard – that takes the novice to the point where they can run a controlled ‘once around the block’. The variation provides a pendulum that swings between ‘overload’ and ‘recovery’ and with recovery comes the improvement in our ability to perform the task of running. This improvement is not only in the capacity of our heart and lungs but also in the strength and ruggedness of muscles, joints and ligaments. This is exactly the same principles the world top sports people use to reach the top performances – a hard training session followed by an easy session with through recovery, hard running mixed with easy running makes up the basis of the hard training sessions, whereas easy running, walking or rest make up the core of the easy sessions.  It is only when we have achieved the status of being able to run for say 15, 20 or 30 minutes without a stop, that we get into a routine of going out and simply running at one pace. From here we tend not to see the same quick improvements, quite simply because we then spend our training time in the ‘comfort zone’ of doing what we already know we can do. The novice (by accident) and the elite (purposely) by comparison  train at the extremes of their ‘comfort zone and therefore force their body to adapt to new levels of performance.

These are the basic principles to adopt in training for that first 10km. The total novice need only go out 3 times per week on alternate days and mix a combination of walking with 100m or 30 seconds of running. You will be amazed how far you can cover with this approach on the first outing. If 100m is too far for the first run, then use the old boy scout pacing of run the distance to one lamppost, then walk two lampposts spaces. Try to makes the runs at a pace that takes your heartrate up sufficiently to tax you a bit, but you should be ready for the next run / jog by roughly a few metres before the end of the walk.  The alternate days are rest days and perhaps once a week or every 10 days select a slow pace and see how many lamp post spaces you can run before you reach your red-line limit.

Progress is made in two fashions. Firstly by marinating your running pace between the lampposts and reducing the length of the walks and on other occasions by increasing your pace in the run, but maintaining the same walk distance.  By mixing these two methods you add variety to your training and your body adapts to different stresses.  By now you are developing a 3 or 4 speed gear box in your running – the fast one lamp post 2 space walk pace, the slightly slower one lamppost run, shorter walk recovery pace, and then the non-stop round the block run.

Gradually you will find the non stop distance increases and soon you will also have determined your ‘comfort zone pace’ – This is the pace that you would use for recovery or longer runs as you develop your programme. The common mistake now is to drop the walk / run sessions. Keep the pace variation sessions and commence by creating more variations – try running two lamp posts at a pace and only allowing yourself one lamp post space walk – on other occasions simply use one lamppost space and run hard across it, then walk back before repeating it. You can add variation by selecting a lamp post space on a gradual uphill which will assist in developing leg strength. Or try the same on a very gradual downhill which will develop leg speed and running efficiency as you roll downhill, and walk the recovery on the up.  All thee variation will bring in different paces and different ‘gears’ to you gearbox. They also keep the training interesting and varied. However each of these pace variation sessions should be followed by a day of inactivity and recovery. Each no stop run will be able to be increased in length in about 6 weeks you can expect to develop a desire to add additional days to your training. This normally happens after you go for a training session on a day when your mind is pre-occupied with other matters – a stressful day at work, a great new opportunity, an argument, or something else that takes your focus. – suddenly you look at your watch and you find you have been out running much longer than you normally do and you feel as though you could continue for much longer- you are in a rhythm – a ‘zone’ and your feel capable of taking on the world – furthermore how you are going to approach that mind absorbing problem or opportunity is now  in crystal clear perspective. This is the runners high, – the holy grail of running.  This is the endorphin rush that keeps runners on the road. The first time it happens it consumes us and we expect it to return with every outing. Unfortunately it is not to be. However we continue our search by increasing our training and just when we feel there is no hope of repeating the experience, it come back to haunt us. Gradually s we get fitter and more efficient these euphoric runs get closer and closer, but sooner or later we get to know that it is not something we can depend on for every session, but something we look forward to and are willing to put up with the other sessions in order to experience that ‘high’ again.

By the time you experience the first high you should be ready to put in a 5 day training week and typically this would mean mixing the following sessions:
1)       a run where you see how far you can go up to a maximum of 50 – 60 minutes at a slow easy pace
2)       two sessions where you mix faster running with walking or standing and the length of the faster runs and the recovery walks or waits are varied from session to session
3)       two sessions at an easy pace but lasting between 20 and 30 minutes

Reaching this level may take 6 or 8 weeks or even more and much will depend on your previous sports background, your chronological age, the number of years of inactivity your type of work and hence normal daily activity, and a host of other factors. There is no magic formula, but adopting the above principles will definitely lead to you progressing. Furthermore, contrary to many ‘magazine myths’ this varied pace training, (which taxes your system with more intense running), will result in a faster loss of weight than the slow easy running in the so-called ‘fat burning zone’.

When you have spent three weeks or more at the level described above, then you are ready to see what you can do over the 5, 8 or 10km distance. Take a week where you reduce your training to one varied pace session, and two of the easy paced 20-30 minute runs and have two rest days before the event .On the day of the event go down early enough to run and walk for 10 minutes and then to have 5 to 10 minutes recovery before start. Now start off slightly slower than your normal long run pace and after you have gone through the half way see if you can gradually increase your pace. If at any time you find your heart rate is too high or you are reaching your upper limit, simply put in a 1-minute walk and commence again. Some of the best runners in the world have paced their races with short walks, – including American Frank Shorter who won gold in the Munich Olympic marathon by walking at every water point. Walking is purely a way to extend your distance and control the level of your effort.

While running seems like a non technical sport, it needs to be recognised as a hard sport to get into, but reaching your goal of a first fun run, or first competitive race all begins with taking the first step – without that step you can never move on to the next level.

For more information and a full schedule of how to begin running read – “Every Beginners Guide to Walking Jogging and Running” this is obtainable from or

Caution: As with any exercise programme it is important for anyone who is not currently active, or has a family or personal poor medical history, to get clearance from their doctor before commencing the programme.

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