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Running in the right direction
Colm Fitzpatrick offers 10 tips for taking up running

Sport and exercise have become increasingly popular in Ireland, with people having a greater focus on getting into shape and staying healthy. A 2016 report revealed that over 45% of the adult population participate regularly in sport, equating to approximately 1.6 million people, and of these, 8.2% run.

However, beginning a new sport like running isn’t as simple as it looks, and requires knowledge and preparation so that injuries can be avoided. Here are 10 tips on how to take up running in a safe way:

Stretch, stretch, stretch

One of the most important parts of running is what you actually do before it. It is vital that you do “plenty of stretching and leg strengthening” says Tómas O’Connell, Chairperson for the Irish Chartered Physiotherapists Sports and Exercise Medicine Committee. This keeps the body flexible, makes your legs stronger, and will also prevent injuries. Most doctors also recommend that you warm up before stretching which can be as simple as a 5-10 minute walk.

Footcare requires footwear

Being kitted in the correct clothing for running makes all the difference, especially when it comes to what you put on your feet. Tómas says that bad footwear can lead to many injuries that can affect, for example, the back of the heels. There is however no one shoe that will suit everyone in combating this, as everybody’s situation is “completely individualistic”. In order to determine the best fit, you can get your gait tested at a footwear shop, get terrain specific shoes, or sneakers appropriate for either racing or training.

Surface safety

Running, especially over an extended period of time, can put pressure on the bottom of the foot, which will vary in intensity depending on the running surface. Tómas recommends that you should mix the surfaces that you’re running on as too much running on one surface can lead to repetitive strain injuries. 

If you’re a beginner you should avoid steep inclines and declines such as hills, and focus running on grass as the soft surface will keep your pain to a minimum as well as strengthen your legs and ankles.

Water matters

Drinking water before, during and after a run will offset the chances of dehydration, keep you alert and improve your recovery time. Although there is no one-size-fits-all answer for deciding how much water you should drink because of different body shapes and sizes, it is generally recommended that you should be drinking 18 to 24 ounces of water per hour during a run, but any longer than this, the water should be replaced with a sports drink. 

Fuel with food

What you eat before and after running can affect your overall performance by giving you a boost of energy and help you to recover faster. If you’re going for a relaxed workout, around one hour or less, then going without food won’t do any harm. However, a longer and more intense run requires pre-workout fuel such as carbs and food that is low in fibre and fat like a peanut and banana sandwich on wholegrain bread. Give your stomach time to digest your food too, so eat at least 30 minutes in advance of a run.

No train, no gain

Although intuitively it may seem like preparing for a marathon simply entails running for long periods of time, it is much better to plan your training for the coming months. Tómas says that when it comes to marathons you shouldn’t “go without experience”, and that most people should be aiming for a training programme of around 18-22 weeks. Although no plan is perfect for everyone, running about four days a week is practical.

Poor form

Good running form is essential for running performance, and failure to do so can lead to serious injuries in your knees and ankle joints. Run with your chest and head facing forward, and make sure your arms don’t cross in front of your body. If you are running correctly, your feet should land directly underneath your body with each step.

Remember to rest

One of the biggest mistakes that new runners make is not taking enough downtime between long training sessions or marathons. 

Rest allows the body to recuperate, and reduce the possibility of inflammation and muscle fibre necrosis. However, rest doesn’t mean a three-day plateau, but entails activities such as a 5-10-minute walk after your run followed by sitting down and elevating your legs for up to 10 minutes, massaging your legs, or going for a walk the next day.

Physiotherapists are your friends

If your experiencing excruciating pain, or if it’s getting in the way of your running, your best bet is to go to a physiotherapist. 

Tómas says that injuries are a “big problem in Ireland”, especially because of the multisport environment where people take up many different sports at the one time. At his clinic, around one fifth of his workload concerns injuries or discomfort sustained by people who have never ran before.  

Ask for a helping hand 

Above all, before you start running or sustain any injuries, it is imperative that you seek advice and information, be it from a physiotherapist, a friend or even the internet. 

Tómas says if anything is interfering with your running, “you’ve got to do something about it”. Knowledge about running, and all of its facets, will improve your performance and teach you how best to deal with a difficult situation.