Getting into running can be intimidating. Unlike other forms of exercise, there's often an added mental hurdle with running that can make it extra challenging to start.
So, where do you begin when the hardest part of the process is simply getting out the door? I attempted to run for the first time back when Sydney initially went into lockdown in March 2020. It was my way of attempting to make sense of everything that was happening around us at the time. I'd always wanted to experience the mental clarity, freedom and escapism that comes with running and thought it would be the perfect time to do so — I didn't experience that all right away, but it was a good challenge nevertheless.
In hindsight, I probably should've done a little research as to how to get into it properly. As a result, I ended up with many sore ankles and stitches, leading to demotivation and the inability to push myself further.
To get the insight I wish I had a year-and-a-half ago, we spoke to Nana Owusu-Afriyie. Nana may be a professional runner, but she has plenty of tips (and much-needed words of encouragement) for beginners who have yet to crack the formula — here's what she shared.
Ease into a routine
If you're new to running, it's probably not realistic to attempt a 10km track in your first week of training. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to a lack of motivation when you're not seeing the results you want, ending in an ongoing cycle that leads straight back to the couch.
Nana recommends using a run-walk method to start — which involves breaking up your runs with set times to run and rest.
"If you wanted to run for an hour in total, you might run for 10 minutes, take a two-minute break, and run for another 10 minutes. You don’t need to run for a full hour continuously. It is okay to take breaks," she said.
"Just getting your body to move for an hour, no matter how you get there, is the most important thing."
Preparation is key
Preparing your body for a run with stretching is one thing, but ensuring you've actually fuelled up with nutritious food is equally as important — any exercise on an empty tank is probably going to plummet pretty quickly.
Nana's favourite pre-run snacks include toast with peanut butter, a banana or rice crackers or vegetables. She also noted that hydrating yourself effectively before a run is a must too.
"I’m all for carrying water if you're a beginner runner. When you are starting out with running, you don’t know how far your body can go or what it is capable of, so preparing for the run is the most important thing," she added.
Wearing the right gear is also crucial. Looking back on the start of my running journey last year, I went about it all the wrong way. I don't think I ever once stretched, I'd wear a hand-me-down pair of sneakers from my sister, and I'd pressure myself to run up hills from the start.
After a lot of trial and error (and difficulty), I definitely came to understand the importance of preparation before running. Investing in a good pair of shoes (like the New Balance Fresh Foam 1080s which provide plenty of cushioning making those initial phases of running just that little bit easier), taking 10 minutes after work to decompress any stress or lingering negativity and alleviating the pressure to run a certain distance made it all the more enjoyable.
Alternate between tracks
A great way to do this is by alternating between running on a treadmill and on land.
As a beginner runner, it's important to understand the impact the practice has on your body. At the end of the day, it is a strenuous cardio exercise, so it'll take your body a while to get accustomed to it.
"A treadmill is way easier on your body. I find you can run further on it so it's great to train for distance on before you're confident on land," said Nana.
Believe in yourself
Believing in yourself is probably the hardest tip of them all. Like all tasks in life, negative self-talk is the easiest (and most tempting) way to sabotage an activity. However, believing you can accomplish whatever you set out for — no matter how big or small — is the only way you'll reap all the rewards, both mental and physical from running.
"Running is about escaping into the unknown, hearing your thoughts, self-talk and motivation. It is a form of relaxation," said Nana.
"Take it one step at a time. Running is all about being in the present, and we tend to forget that sometimes in life, so running is a great way to remind ourselves of that."
Nana also said that once you start the run, you're halfway there — it's one of those things that doesn't hinge on an outcome for it to be successful. The success is simply in getting up and doing it — as Nana also added, "Your body will know what to do, so just take it at your own pace."