Top Tips for Runners: Rundamental 1 – Know Your Fitness

EV Sports | Injury Prevention for Runners

The Rundamentals series is specifically aimed at beginner runners and people who haven’t been running as much as they used to, for whatever reason, such as illness, loss of mojo/routine, or recovering from injury.

However, it is generally good advice for all runners, regardless of experience.

For returning runners, finding someone to run with who knows what it’s like to have run well or regularly before, and how frustrating it is to have to let go of what used to be (at least for now), can be really reassuring.

For complete beginners who have never run before, or returning runners who have lost a significant amount of fitness, the recommendation would be to follow a Couch to 5K (C25K) or beginners training plan.

For more experienced, albeit lapsed, runners or those returning from injury, following the Return to Running Plan is recommended. This plan starts very similar to a C25K plan, with the intention that you’ll progress more quickly than a complete beginner, as your body starts to remember how to run.

In both cases, at the right pace, it is surprising how well the body adapts to running, as long as you allow it the time to do so.

Understand your pace

The most important thing to do is find the right pace for you now. Not the runner you used to be, the one you would like to be, or the one you or anyone else thinks you should be.

Beginner Runners

If you can, and want to, finding someone/a group of people at a similar stage and/or pace of running to you can help motivate and support you.

There are several C25K apps that not only prompt you when to run and walk, but also remind you to keep your breathing steady and provide you with motivation along the way.

Start off slowly and find a pace where you can hold a conversation throughout all of your run sections, as opposed to running as fast as you can until the walk section.

The idea is that, whilst running as fast as you can may work for the first couple of weeks, as you start running for 3 – 5 minutes and beyond, you will not be able to sustain this faster pace. At best you’ll get disheartened and not enjoy your sessions. At worst, you may get injured and/or give up running ‘forever’, believing you’re not cut out to be a runner.

If you don’t run with anyone else, then you can periodically check your pace is conversational by singing out loud to yourself, or saying out loud ‘I can easily say this sentence while running’. Whatever way you choose, you should be able to say a sentence without puffing for breath.

The most important thing to do, at any stage of your running, is find the right pace for you today. Not the runner you used to be, or the one you would like to be, nor the one you or anyone else thinks you should be.

Returning/Experienced Runners

If you haven’t looked at your data and specifically calculated what your pace or heart rate should be for your easy runs, then you are probably running them too fast.

To find a realistic pace for you now, first find the last hard 5k or parkrun you did within the last year. Then add 1.5 – 2 minutes to that pace, which is the pace your long/easy runs should have been at that point.

E.g. If your last hard parkrun was, say 25 minutes, then that is roughly 8mm pace. Add 1.5 – 2 minutes to that and your easy and long runs should have then been between 9.5-10mm pace.

If you are a lapsed runner (not run consistently, i.e. at least 2-3 runs a week, for a minimum of two months), then add at least a minute, if not two to your easy pace to account for your reduced fitness and/or the injury you had.

E.g. If your easy run before you stopped running/got injured should have been 9.5-10mm pace (as per the above calculation), add at least one, if not two minutes to this means your returning easy pace should be no quicker than 10.5-11mm.

Whether a beginner or returning runner, all sessions in the C25K and Return to Running plans should be done at the aforementioned easy/conversational pace.

If you haven’t looked at your data and specifically calculated what your pace or HR should be for your easy runs, then you are probably running them too fast.

Training to heart rate

If you would like to train to heart rate (HR) then it is important to use the correct heart rate readings for you, calculate the right zones to train in, and ensure this is appropriately reflected in the software that you use.

If you use Garmin, this article on How and Why to Use Your Heart Rate When Running, guides you through taking and setting your heart rate correctly.

Throughout all the sessions in the C25K and Return to Running training plans, your easy/conversational running pace should be reflected as being in Zone 2 (Z2) for the vast majority of your running.

If you don’t use a heart rate monitor and/or you take medication that affects your heart rate, such as beta blockers, it is advised you use a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, or use the above ways to determine an easy running pace.

Progressing your running

If you have been consistently running (3-4 sessions a week) for at least two months, and would like to progress your running, you can start to adopt the 80/20 rule when training.

This means that 80% of your running should be in zone 2 or your easy pace, and the remaining 20% in mainly zones 3 and 4 (or respectively harder RPE) in the form of tempo, fartlek, interval or hill sessions.

At this point, and every one to two months, it is a good idea to run a hard 5k or parkrun and recalculate your easy pace/heart rate zones so you are training at the correct pace for your fitness levels.

When too many of your sessions are too intense

If you are unable or don’t allow yourself to run at a conversational pace or in the desired zone for the majority of your sessions, then you risk overloading your body.

A continued period of overload can result in any one or all of the following:

  • Lack of adequate recovery
  • Pain when running
  • New, recurring or consecutive injury
  • Fatigue
  • Illness

All of these lead to skipped or sub-optimal sessions and, if not addressed, can result in abandoned training plans, missed races and giving up running altogether.

If you are experiencing any pain when running then stop immediately and seek the advice of a suitable sports therapy professional.

If you have some understanding of your body, then this article on Muscle Injury vs Muscle Imbalance is a good place to start.

The Conclusion

Be patient!

You may experience to the odd aching if you are new or returning to running, but nothing should be painful when you run, and you shouldn’t feel sore the day afterwards.

Be smart to achieve your own goals, not someone else’s. By all means run with other people, but choose the sessions, efforts, distances, etc that suit you on that day and that support what you want to achieve.

Everyone’s training plan should be different to factor in different goals and experience with running, but ultimately, everyone who is training and racing consistently will go through a similar process.

Have a chat with a runner you admire, ask what their training entails and how long it took for them to be running the way they are – you’ll be surprised!

Happy running!

Next steps

If you get stuck or are confused by what you should be doing, book a Planning & Mentoring Session with me to discuss your running. 

We can discuss your goals, what is realistic, what you are and should be feeling when you are running, as well as reviewing your runs to date and analysing the data to ensure you are choosing the right sessions for you.

If you are experiencing any pain when running, the advice is to get it checked out by a sports therapy professional who has a good understanding of running injuries, postural alignment and muscle activation.

If you are local to Fareham, Hampshire then you can book a Sports Massage with me where I can assess you and provide an appropriate treatment and rehabilitation plan to get you back running again.