The Realistic Guide to Learning How to Run

By Reader Magicguppy on at

Step 1 -- Go running. The astute reader might've noticed that, in contrast with the established rules of guide-writing, I have effectively started at the end. Well done; pat yourself on the back, astute reader. The best possible advice for a new runner is to try and run a mile, then two...then run a 5k, throw up and don't run again for two weeks. Congratulations, you are now a runner.

Special tip:

How do you know if you're running and not jogging? If, during the course of your workout, you come across a dead body or intentionally expose your genitals to a member of the public, you are a jogger. Everything else is running. Yes, even that shuffle you've perfected so beautifully by now.

Step 2 -- Get injured

Having recovered your trainers from the back of the shoe cupboard and started Step 1 all over again, you should find that your technique will quickly improve and the muscles in your calves and thighs will develop. This type of muscular development is characterised by a warm, sometimes hot feeling that runs the entire length of your limb and is known by doctors as "acute pain". You will know you are mastering Step 2 when the pain occurs during running and also during not-running.

Tightened tendons in the middle of the night, creaking knees when you sit in a chair, and shin splints when you're driving are all signs that you have truly mastered Step 2, so be sure to keep going until the pain is what doctors call "chronic".

If you have managed to lose any weight or enjoy any of your running, you haven't fully mastered Step 2 yet.

Running jargon for step 2:

Plantar fasciitis, medial tibial tendonitis, shin splints -- you don't need to know what these mean, only that you have them all.

Step 3 -- Buy new shoes

Providing Step 1 and 2 have gone well, you should be feeling around 10 years older whenever you climb a flight of stairs, and completely incapable of making it to the toilet for a pee in the middle of the night without a great deal of noise. You should not be approaching running with a kind of cheerless sense of duty and purpose, which means it is now time to buy new running shoes.

Buying new running shoes is not as complicated as people make out; in order to choose the right shoe for you, it is simply a matter of finding one that has colours you like and, if possible, go with the t-shirt and shorts you already own. Generally speaking, the more height you gain when you have put on a new pair of shoes, the better the shoes.

If you manage to find a pair of shoes that look like a melted bag of marshmallows but don't go with any of your running clothes, don't worry, there is a solution for that too -- buy new clothes.

Again, the market is saturated with a variety of technical materials (polyester) and styles (tight) so it can be a bewildering experience, however, it doesn't need to be. The single most important aspect of choosing running-wear is: visibility. Being visible at night is relatively easy since anything other than black will stand out in car headlights; being visible in the day is much harder. I recommend going shopping with a Geiger Counter to be absolutely sure. Your clothes ought to be so bright that they make cars slow down and young children cry.

Running jargon for step 3:

Motion control -- some shoes are designed to injure you in the same way that a vaccine is designed to make you immune by infecting you. Motion-controlled shoes ensure that you are strengthened through injury and bad technique.

Moisture-wicking -- Moisture-wicking materials draw sweat from your pores, even when it is reluctant to make an appearance. Moisture-wicking explains why, even in sub-zero temperatures, you still smell like the underside of a cow's tongue.

Step 4 -- Stop running

Running sucks. Who runs anyway? Shoplifters and purse-snatchers, that's who. Winter is closing in, the days are getting shorter, the air colder, the streets wetter and slippier. You convince yourself that time off the running is all you need to cure the aches and you're looking kind of trim just now anyway; maybe you achieved what you set out to achieve. Only fitness freaks and barefoot-hippies are still out there running the streets.

Running jargon for Step 4:

Barefoot-hippy: a runner who has read Born to Run

Step 5 -- Read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Someone told Auntie Jean that you're into running. She hasn't seen you for two years -- if she had, she'd know that there was a bit of a problem with her intel, but fuelled with this knowledge, she buys you a running book for Christmas. And what a running book! You learn that Nike is a shadowy cabal which has knowingly taken our money and served us running injuries with a side order of conspiracy. You learn that sandals can cure cancer. Most importantly, you discover that the right running technique is all it takes to improve the running of a man who is already quite an accomplished runner. It's time to put your learning into practice.

Step 6 -- Run barefoot

Take your shoes off, discard the headphones, straighten your back and start running.

Stop, almost immediately. Walk home.

Step 7 -- Buy minimalist shoes

Zero drop, light as a feather, no cushioning, no support, they promote the natural biomechanics of your foot, and they change your foot strike and cadence to that of an elite Kenyan Olympian. Despite having less material than a contact lens, they cost £100 a pair.

You put on your new minimalist shoes and go running; a simple couple of miles and it feels amazing. You go running again two days later, then again and again. Five runs in and you don't have any injuries, not one -- apart from Plantar Fasciitis -- but all runners have that. You also have a touch of medial tibial tendonitis and occasionally apply gel to your foot to stave off the peroneal tendon swelling. Other than that, you are injury-free. Oh, you also might have a bit of a tibial stress fracture, but it'll heal.

The main difference between these injuries and the ones you sustained in Step 2 are that they're real running injuries, because you're a real runner now and that means you know your way round NSAIDs, cold compresses and stretching regimes. Had you been alive during the Civil War, there would've been a guy with a rusty saw and a bloody apron swithering over whether to amputate.

Running jargon for Step 7:

Zero-drop: A marketing term that describes the inverse relationship between the amount of material in a shoe and its cost; e.g the closer to zero it gets, the more money you have to drop.

NSAIDS -- Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories: street-legal performance-enhancing drugs.

Stretching regime: the act of striking various poses in order to stretch limbs. Do this on the street, since it's the only part of your run where you look like you know what you're doing.

Step 8 -- Download Strava

If there's one thing that singles out elite runners from recreational joggers, it's graphs.

Having Lance Armstrong insincerely tell you that you did some "great work out there" is all very well, but Nike Plus is limited. Likewise, it's good that RunKeeper pesters you to create a goal to run more often every single time you use the app, but you don't need motivation, you need graphs.

You download Strava and go running. On returning to the house you discover you're faster than ever before, so you feel a warm glow.

Then you realise Strava is only counting the times you were moving and not the rest you had at the top of the hill. Oh, and that hill, that segment belongs to BigBillyMcBiglegs and you are at the bottom of a leaderboard that includes women, children and fatties. Something is wrong, you can't be the slowest guy in your area, you're an elite runner! Something needs to change, there's a vital component missing...

Running jargon for Step 8:

Nike Plus: A running app that is particularly good for runners looking to improve their brand-immersion and social-commoditisation.

RunKeeper: A running app perfect for the multi-activity runner who wants to track their running and downhill skiing with the same app.

Strava Segment: a strip of street or trail that is precious to some local runner who wants you to know their name.

Step 9 -- Properly nutritiate

First off, nutritiate isn't a word, but it probably should be. Now that you're a runner, nutrition is more important than ever before. Luckily, as with everything in the running world, nutrition is easy. There are two basic foods that fuel runners -- beer and pizza.

Beer contains carbohydrates, and pizza contains them too, so that takes care of what to eat after running, but what about during runs?

Carrying bottles or cans of beer obviously isn't an option. Instead, you should invest in a camelbak-style hydration system to fill with beer; your sweaty back will give the beer a pleasant warmth.

For short runs, you can carry pizza still in its box as long as you keep it upright. For longer runs, carrying pizza isn't really an option, so you should probably use Carb Gel instead which is a kind of pizza, in fruity liquid form. Caution -- the first time you use carb gel on a long run, you may well get the run -- if you know what I mean (aka, you'll shit your pants).

Running jargon for Step 9:

Nutritiate: the act of nutritioning.

Carbohydrates: Bread or anything made from bread -- e.g pasta.

Carb Gel: A liquid high in carbohydrate that comes in three flavours: Agent Orange, Tropical Fever and Magic Tree.

Step 10 -- Compete

The experience of competing in a race is virtually no different to your training runs, with the notable exception that adrenaline and ego will cause you to naturally adopt a knife-hand pose, in turn making you run faster and causing your nipples to bleed. Don't be alarmed by this; it's the reason most of the spectators are nearer the finish line than the start, they want this, they are here for this. Bleed for them.

You will also discover that your running has elevated to a level that apparently is worthy of cheers and shouts from ordinary members of the public. Take this, and high five a few.

Make sure that a friend or family member is at the finish line with a camera. The end of a race is usually where you will look your best since you will have a warm glow in your cheeks and a sparkle in your eye as you make your final leisurely approach. Don't forget the knife-hands.

So there it is. It's been a tough 4 weeks, but you made it. Better get home and upload that finishing line picture to Facebook -- do crop out the bleeding nipples though and don't forget to tune in for the next ten steps which start with "Step 11 -- buy Vaseline".

Magicguppy is a former amateur outdoor photographer and adventure film-maker based in Scotland. Having now had a baby, he is mostly an indoor baby photographer and domestic film-maker based at home. He still makes grisly videos for a medical school and occasionally finds time to go running.

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Image Credit: Running from Shutterstock