Below are a number of tips that I have learnt whilst getting back into running. I have to stay, at this point, that I am no professional, just a runner who has picked up things along the way because of the many things I have done wrong. If you have any doubts about your ability to run or do physical exercise, are doing your first couch to 5k or park run, always check with your doctor if you have any doubts and get the advice of a trained professional PT or instructor at your gym. There’s a reason professionals learn this stuff, and their support is invaluable. I got a full health check before I started and have had PT sessions and sought the advice of those around me with experience.

1. Start easy - Before you even start running ease into some general core and strength building work. This is particularly important if you have not been actively doing any sports for a while. A good start is a gym or an exercise class (be honest, join the introduction class, don’t go charging into intermediate or top level). When you’re ready start with some quick paced walking, then move into some interval runs where you will jog slowly for 100m and then walk for 100m. The key is to build up slowly and not injure yourself or feel so stiff the next day you swear you’ll never run again.

2. Get some good footwear - I can’t stress how important this is. Of all the clothing you can buy to do any keep fit your footwear is of paramount importance. Your feet and legs take a hell of a lot of punishment when you partake of any sport, let alone when you’re trying to build a level of fitness from scratch. Most of us will end up running mostly on pavements and in urban environments which increases the impact on joints. When I got back into getting fit the first thing my bootcamp trainer said to me was, ‘You’ve got to bin those old trainers and get some descent new ones.” He pointed me in the direction of a couple of different sports shops that he said always gave great advice for the fitness training you are doing. For me it was trail shoes, which gave me all round good use for general running, some trail/park running and particularly for bootcamps in the park.

3.  Warm up, stretch, run, warm down, stretch - The hardest lesson and routine to learn is that your warm up, stretches and warm down are probably more important than the actual exercise. Having gone through multiple injuries including, shin splints, knee issues, piriformis, calf and achilles problems, on my road back to fitness, and I can tell you, the only way to treat and avoid these injuries is to prepare properly. I know in hindsight that half my injuries were down to not doing this well enough. Now I spend a lot of  time doing stretches and warm up/down routines, I even do them during the day when I’m not about to exercise. I do some basic warm up and activation exercises before I stretch as well as doing some resistance stretches with resistance bands. Doing things like squats lunges, walk downs and mountain climbers as part of your pre run routine wakes your muscles unto the fact they are about to be called into action. -

4. Take time to listen to your body - It’s easy to not listen to what our bodies are telling us. From that little niggle of slight discomfort to being dehydrated or under fuelled. I’ve done them all and have learnt to spend some time allowing myself to identify and rectify these issues early on. On those days when I go for a run now and really struggle with stamina or energy I can usually trace it back to not hydrating properly during a busy day at work as well as probably not eating properly. You can’t then ask your body too perform wonders. -

5. Get a good sports physiology - These people will literally save you from pain and misery. My first visit to a good sports physio corrected so many issues in one session alone. I had told myself for years that I had weak knees. Turns out it was just tight muscles running up the inside of my thigh. Given some stretches and specific leg exercises by the physiology it was gone literally in days and has never been a problem since. I now have a sports massage once a month and occasionally see an osteopath and physiology if I have any other issues.

6. Supports, compression gear and other clothing - I am, it has to be said, one of those people that investigates things to the nth degree when I get into it. I have over the last couple of years sought out advice and read countless blogs on clothing and items for running in, supporting my body through injuries and improving my performance. There are countless resources out there and you can spend as much or as little as you want. I started out wearing some old shorts and a variety of old band t’s and hoodies. I have since moved on to compression leggings (particularly in winter) and various thin layered sports tops. Basically varying amounts of thin layers works so you can remove them as needed to keep an even body temperature. Waterproof tops are more tricky as there is a balance to get with how wet you’ll get from just sweating in the thing. But, having said that, I have been caught out in heavy rain without one in the winter and once you get wet and cold it’s almost impossible to keep your body moving. -

7. Vary your route - I currently have 5 different run routes and I will be expanding on that over the summer months. I don’t have a car, so it’s difficult to get further afield without using my bike or public transport to offer even more variety. Whilst regular routes can be good for gauging progression, it can get damn boring running down the same streets. So, why not dd the odd diversion, explore some areas you wouldn’t normally go. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbourhood even better.

8. Run for timed sessions not distance - The greatest lesson I have learnt is to set out to run for a specific amount of time rather than a distance. Allied to making these runs either slow, mid or hard paced along with adding progression runs and interval runs it has improved my stamina and speed massively. Before this I just ran a set distance course and tried to get a better time each time I ran, this got me nowhere.

9. Cadence with shorter stride and quicker steps works wonders - I was given this advice by IT Games Clubs PT Vanessa Elliott. We were talking about pace and the fact that I was picking up injuries, in particular three bouts of piriformis. she told me to shorten my stride and take quicker steps. It may seem counter intuitive, but focussing on my cadence improved my Kilometre splits massively in the first couple of weeks.

10. Forefoot running - This is something that I worked on right from the get go. It’s not easy, and is why you need to start of easy (see point 1). Getting your technique right from the start is oh so important. Leaning slightly forward, keeping knees slightly bent, landing on your fore foot, so that your whole leg is engaged and giving you, in effect, a suspension as you move forward will help you more and more as you get into running regularly. Check out our post here on running form -

11. If you’re not feeling it stop - Plain and simple this, If I’m out for a run and I’m not feeling it after 2 or 3k of putting it down to needing to dust of the cobwebs I simply stop and take an easy walk home. There’s nothing more demotivating that a truly bad run. Don’t beat yourself up over it, just accept that sometimes it isn’t a good day, try and think what you’ve done differently or what factors have got in the way. Then come out next time and smash it. -

12. Hydrate, fuel and electrolytes - This one I’ve had to train for. With a busy work schedule I often forget to drink water through the day, and often skip meals. This I have noticed, shock, impacts on my running immensely. Hydrate and fuel properly and my running feels so easy and I can go longer and faster. When I don’t, I crash and burn (see last point). I have also tried out Isotonic drinks and energy gels. Getting past the obvious placebo effect, having regularly tried these I feel they do have a general positive effect on my running and recovery. But to be honest just hydrating with water correctly makes a massive difference.

13. Are you an evening runner or morning - This always causes debates, I have friends who prefer to run in the morning, and there are benefits in that it really sets you for the day. The down side is that you need to get up some time well before you run so you can get some fluid in you and some fuel, usually a banana (or the aforementioned energy gel) as your body has just been on shutdown whilst you sleep, you’ve effectively fasted for 6 to 8 hours and you’ll be dehydrated. Personally I struggle with morning runs, and so do most of my running in the evenings, this always helps me unwind after a hectic day, I always feel I have more energy and after being indoors all day just want to be outside. The downside can be, that in elevating your heart rate with an hours running it’ll take some time for that to come down to a level where it’s easy to get to sleep.

14. Heal - If you injure yourself give yourself ample time to heal and get strong again. In 2017 I spent 8 weeks being unable to walk properly, let alone train because I didn’t listen to my body and give myself proper time to get over my first bout of piriformis. Lesson learnt.

15. Set goals that are for you, not for anyone else - In a recent post I talked about being honest with yourself about your goals. It’s obviously key to have some goals, but you always need to be prepared to amend or completely change them. Remember they are there to inspire you, not to fit; you with dread and too much pressure. Enjoy your running, don’t make it a trial. This goes for any other fitness activity you undertake.

Written by Mark Wrangham - Founder of IT Games Club

IT Games Club is supported by a growing number of global IT companies, and aims to bring sport and fitness to the forefront of the IT industry. Challenging and motivating the industry to get fitter and healthier. If you are a senior IT professional who would like motivation and free entry into events around the world, then join up today, membership is free (and always will be). As we grow we will be opening up membership to a wider audience in the industry and across more sports and pastimes.