5 tips to start running

14 March 2018

If the London Marathon coming up isn't already inspiring you to take up running, Charlotte Bradley shares her running story and 5 tips to help you get started!

Two people running on a bridge

Every year on the day of the London Marathon, my mum would turn the TV on, stare at it wistfully for a few minutes, and then say, “One year, I’ll do it.” I grew up always thinking it would be something I’d do, too, despite the fact that I struggled to finish the egg and spoon race on my school sports day. When I was a student and when I started my first job, I used to go out for the occasional jog, but I wouldn’t in any way have called myself a “runner”.

A few years ago, my mum turned 60, and I suggested we enter the marathon together. She looked at me sadly and told me her knees just wouldn’t cope with the training or with running the marathon itself. I realised that I wasn’t getting any younger either, and that I shouldn’t put it off any longer – so once I had got a place, I had no choice but to start running! That was when I fell in love with it. There are incredible highs to be had: a beautiful view in a frosty park on a winter morning; finishing a race or running a time you never thought you would be capable of; having more energy and getting better quality sleep. And I won’t lie, there can be lows too: the searing side stitch that just won’t go away; the occasional injury; the race you know you could have run faster. But the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks; it’s often the case that I drag myself out for a run feeling tired and stressed, and come back with a clear head and far more energy than I went out with. I can’t recommend it enough!

If you’re not sure where to start, here’s a few tips to get going:

1. Focus on how you will feel after your run 

The hardest part really is getting out of bed and/or out of the door, especially when it’s cold and dark, and the thought of staying on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate seems much more inviting. But it’s very rare that you’ll come back from a run and think, “I wish I had stayed in and watched TV instead.”

2. Find a running community to motivate you

If you struggle to motivate yourself to go running alone, there are a several things to try. Firstly, you can use one of the many running apps or programmes, like the NHS “Couch to 5k” 10 week plan. Or, if you want company while you run, join a club. There are lots of running clubs in London and all over the UK which organise everything from social jogging to sprinting sessions to improve your fitness. And of course there is the Students' Union UCL's very own Running & Athletics (RAX) Club. Even though ‘Give It A Go’ fortnight is over, they’d be happy for you to come and join them for a run to see if you enjoy it; they do social runs, athletics sessions and women-only runs on Saturday mornings.  The trick is to find the method of running that you enjoy, be that alone with music, or with other people, on pavements or in parks – if you enjoy it, you’re much more likely to want to go again.

3. Sign up to a race

Another way to motivate yourself is to sign up to a race. If you know you’re going to be running an ‘official’ race in a few weeks’ or months’ time, you’re much more likely to get out and do some training because you know you have to! I would really recommend Park Run as a first race – it’s a free, 5k race that takes place every Saturday morning at 9am, in parks all over the country, including many in London. Your time gets recorded, so if you do several over the course of a few months, you can track your progress. After that, the world really is your oyster – I’ve never done it but one of my ambitions is to run the Midnight Sun Marathon which takes place in June in Norway. The race starts at 8pm and whatever time you finish it will still be broad daylight because it’s in the Arctic Circle. There are races of all distances in every climate and terrain all over the world, and lots in London and the UK too.

4. Be patient and kind to your body!

Don’t be surprised and/or resign yourself to the fact you aren’t made to be a runner if you find the first few runs difficult. Feeling like your heart is going to burst out through your ears, or not being able to run for more than a minute without needing to stop and walk, is very common when you’re not used to running. Your body will take a while to get used to it – and if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed how quickly your fitness will improve, and you’ll be able to run speeds and distances that you would never have been able to complete a few months ago.

5. Think of all the money you will save from not having to go to the gym!

Unlike lots of sports, running isn’t (or doesn’t need to be) an expensive hobby. All you need to go running is a decent pair of trainers and some clothes to run in. Of course there are lots of fancy gadgets and expensive gear you can spend money on, but you don’t have to have it to go running, especially when you’re getting started.  Running is a very budget-friendly sport!

By Charlotte Bradley, Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser to UCL