We consulted experts for a realistic, comfortable exercise regime to help you prepare for your first running event.
Summer is in the air, and suddenly more and more people are exercising. They’re out on the roads running or cycling, or arrive at work lugging their gym bags.
But for those of us who’ve been vegetating on the couch, the thought of that kind of activity is daunting – even if we know we really should do some form of exercise.
The good news is you don’t have to tackle marathons to reap the benefits of exercise.
Even running for as little as five to 10 minutes a day can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease and increase longevity, according to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. What’s more, you can run on your own or as part of a group.
“Running is free,” says Ndyebo Mapekula, captain of Adidas Running Club in Cape Town. “It’s a great way to keep your cholesterol in check and to relieve stress. Many people run to clear their heads, especially if they do it outside where they can enjoy the environment.”
What if you want to get started but are concerned because you can barely walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for breath? Adopting a realistic programme is a good way to start, says Steve Att well, a coach with fitness organisation Embark.
“This will help you to improve faster, instead of just taking it as it comes.”
Attwell and Mapekula also suggest finding an exercise partner or someone to run with you.
“Join a club, or get someone to keep you accountable,” Mapekula says. “It helps when someone knows you haven’t pitched for training – otherwise it’s just too easy to stay on the couch!”
With Attwell’s help we’ve compiled a training programme to get you going, even if you’re a couch potato who hasn’t done any exercise in years.
“It requires nothing more than some willpower,” Attwell says. “In just 10 weeks this programme can turn you from someone who’s puffed before they reach the first lamppost into someone who can run 5km uninterrupted.”
This programme also ensures you don’t push your unconditioned body too hard too soon, but instead gradually acclimatises you to manage a 5km distance.
If you have any health problems or injuries, it’s best to talk to your doctor first to ensure the programme is suitable for you.
Your training programme
The schedule doesn’t dictate on which days you have to do what, so it’s pretty flexible. But it’s best to plan your week so you have at least one rest day between training days if possible.
“The rest is as important as the training days, as it gives the body time to recover and adapt to the load of exercise,” says
Steve Attwell, a coach at fitness organisation Embark.
“Also remember during training sessions to listen to your body: don’t overdo it.”
Week 1 & 2
20 minutes, three times a week
In the first two weeks you’ll only walk: 20 minutes of easy walking, three times a week. It’s not ambling, like a stroll in the mall, but walking with a purpose – like you’re on your way to a sale and want to be first in line!
Week 3 & 4
30 minutes, three exercise sessions a week
During the next two weeks of the programme, you gradually incorporate running. You still train three times a week, and each training session starts with a five-minute warm-up of brisk walking. In Week 3 you train for 30 minutes a day, alternating walking and running. Run for one minute and walk for one minute, repeating this for as much of the 30 minutes as you can. Don’t overexert yourself; if towards the end of the time you can’t run anymore, just keep walking to the end of the 30 minutes.
Week 5 & 6
3km, three exercise sessions a week
Work out a 3km route – you can measure the distance with your car if you like. Stick to the walk-and-run combination of the previous weeks, but every day you should try to extend the running and reduce the walking. Only do what you can manage: if to begin with you’d like to stick with walking for one minute and running for one minute, that’s also fine, as long as you go the distance.
Week 7 & 8
4km, three exercise sessions a week
Increase your 3km route by a kilometre. Try to run further than you walk in each session. Do it gradually: for example, on the first day increase your running from 60 seconds to 70 seconds, and shorten your walking time from 60 to 50 seconds. In your second session try changing a few more seconds of walking into running, and so on. Take a water bottle with you if it’s going to take you longer than 45 minutes. By the end of Week 8 this new distance shouldn’t feel that far.
4,5km, three exercise sessions as week
Add 500m, and stick to the run-walk routine – while trying to reduce your walking time.
Take an extra rest day or two to complete a 5km run. See for how much of the distance you can run.
Tips for a new runner
1. Stretch your leg muscles beforehand
“It’s important to stretch and warm up your muscles, especially if you’re unfit or sit in an office from nine to five,” says Adidas Running Club captain Ndyebo Mapekula.
2. Get good running shoes with the necessary support
These shoes might seem expensive but they’re essential if you want to avoid injuries – especially if you’re going to run on a tarred road. Visit a professional sports outlet where an expert can help you find the right shoes for you.
3. Run in a group
“Running is a universal language. Wherever you go, people go through the challenges with you – like struggling to make it up a hill. Group dynamics can make the training fun,” Mapekula says. What’s more, the other members of the group will help to hold you accountable.
4. Make sure you don’t start your session too fast
“Your pace should increase gradually at a rate your body can handle,” Mapekula says.
5. Decide on a goal
If you think you won’t stick to the programme, register for a 5km run in 10 weeks’ time – it could be just the motivation you need!
6. Drink enough water
Exercise dehydrates you and in turn your body can’t function at its best. The longer you exercise, the more water you must drink.
7. Wear comfortable, light clothing
Wear gear that allows your body to “breathe” – preferably not cotton or wool, Mapekula says.
8. Carb up
Before you go running, eat something light that contains lots of carbohydrates. Try to eat about 1½-2 hours before you set out.
9. Be safe
Choose a route and time when there are many other runners on the road, or train in the gym.
10. Enjoy it!
Remember: You’re a beginner; your aim isn’t to win, but to complete a 5km run and feel healthier.