So, you’ve decided to take up running. Good choice. It’s probably the most student-friendly form of exercise there is, because there’s nothing to organise and no-one else you need to rely on, so you can get up and do it whenever it suits you.
As well as the obvious physical benefits, running is also fantastic for your mental health. It gets the endorphins flowing and lets you blow off steam, resulting in a much happier and more chilled-out you. As a student, there will naturally be times when you feel stressed and frustrated, so having an outlet like running will allow you to keep everything in check.
As straightforward as the hobby of running becomes after a while, it does help to know where to start. So here’s our advice for all students who are new to running:
Buy some proper running trainers and shorts
First the really important bit: trainers. Running is a ‘high-impact’ exercise that puts strain on the joints in your legs, so wearing the right footwear is key to preventing damage. This means you won’t get away with using an old pair of Converse All Stars, Vans or anything of that ilk. But you won’t have to spend loads of money to get a good pair of running shoes. Even the big brands do affordable models, and if you fish around online you might find a sale bargain.
The best thing to do, though, is go into a good sports shop and ask for advice, then try a few pairs on to see how they feel on your feet. You’ll need a bit more toe-room than usual, so experiment with sizing – many specialist running shops stock half-sizes, which is very handy!
Now the other important bit: shorts.
Your legs need room to do their thing without restriction when you’re running, which is why they design shorts specifically for it. Now, it’s up to you whether you go for some short-shorts or a slightly longer pair, but just make sure they are actually made for running. If you don’t fancy getting your pins out, maybe go for a pair of running leggings/tights instead (and, if you want, wear shorts over the top of them – a strong look that definitely suits winter).
Buy some sports socks too. They’ll soak up sweat, prevent blisters and won’t wear through on the heels and the balls of your feet!
As for your torso, a roomy T-shirt will do just fine. You don’t need to buy one of those technical what-d’you-call-’ems just yet – although you can if it’ll make you feel more like a pro.
If you do buy any of your gear in a real-life shop, don’t forget to ask about student discount at the till – you never know, it could save you a fiver.
Stay hydrated and fuelled
Running will most likely make you sweat a great deal even if you’re no stranger to exercise, so get into the habit of hydrating yourself before each workout. If you don’t, you might encounter trouble – namely dizziness and muscle cramps, neither of which are ideal at the best of times, never mind mid-exercise. Drink plenty of water an hour or so before you set out – not immediately before, because that can cause the liquid to swish around in your belly and may also give you a stitch.
The same goes for food. Try to make sure you’ve got something in your stomach to fuel your run, but don’t eat right before you go. Leave a good hour or so for it to digest.
Be patient and take it easy at first
Don’t expect to suddenly become Forrest Gump the first time you go for a serious run, because in reality you’ll probably start to feel tired pretty quickly. This might happen the second time you go too. And the third. But stick with it; your heart and lungs just need to get used to the idea of continuous running. If you’re a party animal, running will be your way of atoning for the drinking – that’s definitely one way of looking at it!
Even if you don’t feel that tired during your first run, you’ll likely wake up the next day with aches all over your body. And the day after that one is usually even worse. They call this ‘delayed-onset muscle soreness’ (AKA DOMS), and it’s basically where your muscles go into emergency-repair mode. There’s no avoiding it, even if you stretch properly before and after you run. In an odd way it’s quite satisfying, because it makes you appreciate how hard you’ve pushed yourself.
Try not to go on any more runs while you’re experiencing (suffering) DOMS. Just leave your muscles to sulk it out; stretch them out and massage them if you want – that can reduce the soreness and stiffness a bit.
Focus on your technique and work on it
We’ve all seen the Friends episode where Phoebe runs through Central Park, haven’t we? Yeah – you don’t want to do it like that. And not just because it looks ridiculous. Good technique is everything in running; it helps you run more efficiently and stops you from doing unnecessary damage to your muscles and joints.
But correct technique doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Here are the basic points to bear in mind while you’re striding away:
- Look straight ahead of you
- Keep your back straight yet relaxed
- Keep your shoulders back yet loose, so that they allow your arms to swing back and forth
- Have your elbows bent at 90° or less
- Keep your hands pretty loose – no fists – and don’t let them swing above your chest at any point
You’re probably best off watching a few YouTube videos – we could be here all day listing all the different aspects of technique.
That’s it, really. Just try to enjoy yourself – it does become bearable after the first few times, and – believe it or not – you might even start craving the exercise. Sign up to the Great South Run today to give yourself a nice challenge and something to work towards.