Never believe what your body tells you in the first 5 minutes of your run. If you do, you will convince yourself that you are not made for running. The negative voices in our head complain, our breathing can feel laboured, our leg muscles can feel tight and joints might ache as we start running. This is normal. Thankfully it does pass very quickly and when it does you will feel amazing. Accept that your body just needs a little bit of time to adjust and wake up.
You are not the only one who struggles at the start of a run. I know how it feels. In these first 5 minutes of a run I can list at least 10 reasons as to why I should go home. I vow this will be my last run as I carry my body along the road feeling heavy and lethargic. Then suddenly I feel great. After 5 minutes there is a switch and I feel like a new person. Running is not that bad after all. The blood is flowing, the body feels looser, the brain relaxes and running actually becomes comfortable.
Getting past those first 5 minutes can be tough and many people never get beyond this 5 minute barrier as they have convinced themselves that running is meant to be hard work all the time. They start too fast, set unrealistic pace targets and jump straight into a run on a body that is not warmed up. Remember that we are often running after a full day spent sitting down. Take at least 5 minutes to walk before you run and keep the pace really slow. This will help you hit that positive phase of the run so much sooner.
Tips for Lapsed Runners
It’s never easy for a lapsed runner or walker to get going again. The trick is to get out the door and accept that the first 5 minutes are going to be a challenge. Silence the negative voices in your head by taking the pressure off the run and give yourself the option of going home if you don’t start to feel better after 5 minutes. Believe me, if you start slowly and relaxed, once you pass that 5 minute barrier you won’t want to stop. Take the time to warm up and loosen out before you pick up pace. Settle into your run and just aim to enjoy it. Give yourself the option to walk as much as you wish. If you can return home knowing you have enjoyed a run/walk you are much more likely to go again. This is how habits are made. Make it easy on yourself. Choose to enjoy it. By keeping positive and relaxed you might even have a little sprint finish left in you for the final minute.
The thought of exercise is often much worse than the reality. Exercise does not have to be intensive, breathless or uncomfortable. Don’t put any speed pressure or any unrealistic challenge on your shoulders. Instead, set aside a 30 minute window to get outdoors. It doesn’t matter if you walk or run the distance, you will have benefited from 30 minutes of fresh air and re-established a routine of getting out the door. Each session will get easier from there. The first one is always the hardest.
Need a helping hand?
If you would like to start running, but you struggle to stay motivated, let us help you along the way. You can start any of our Free Get Running programmes whenever it suits you. We are there to support you each week with emails, videos, hints and tips to keep you on track. The Get Running beginners’ programme will take you right from your armchair up to 30 minutes running in just eight weeks. If you are already running 5k, but need a goal or focus for the autumn, why not consider our Get Running 10k programme? This will take you from 30 minutes running up to 10k. Our Get Running: Stay on Track programme is suitable for anyone who can run slowly for about 25 minutes, or who is restarting their running and wants to get back comfortable over 5k.
The first step of course is to get yourself back up off the couch.
This article was first published in The Irish Times in Sept 2015.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary trains beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free.