In praise of running

In praise of running

I have run on and off most of my life.  As a schoolboy, I ran the annual cross country at the beginning of summer. I soon found that I preferred sprinting and ran the 100 and 200-metre races even competing at a semi-provincial level.

Then came the army with its 2,4 km fitness test and long daily fitness runs in a platoon. If it was PT you ran in the delightful khaki takkies the army issued you with, if it was a fitness test it was in full gear with webbing, rifle and your boots. One soon learnt to be in the first 10 finishing. This allowed you to catch your breath and meant that you were not made to repeat the run. This was often the fate meted out to the stragglers.

After all of this, I continued running and then as the popularity grew I started at a well known local gym where I could also swim. Eventually, I ended up doing kettlebell workouts at home which provided strength training as well as cardio benefits.

Motivation to exercise is key, yet it is a personal thing. A few years ago I started to dabble with speed walking and entered a few of the bigger 10 km races to assist a local club in getting points for entrants. Lockdown has put an end to mass races. I no longer put my feet up and relax. Running and fast walking unlocks a form of adventure and the fitness gained is great for many sports.

There are no barriers to entry all you need is access to good routes and they can be on-road, a trail or even a combination of both. The kit is as simple as a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, socks and running shoes. The shoes can be ultra-expensive or you can select a good budget brand. It helps to test shoes before you find the ultimate pair. You can become a “runner” overnight. When I started I would run a block length of 200 metres then walk 200 metres alternating every block. I am no “marathon man” but I am enjoying myself on the road. A great run is easily accessible, we are surrounded by green spaces which allow you to enjoy nature and interact with other runners as well. And yes the runners”high” does exist, it generally kicks in after 30 minutes and it’s free and healthy. It’s a great stress reducer and takes away anxiety.

Your shoes should be comfortable and you may find you will need more than one pair especially if you are hitting trails;

  • Cushioning is important, if you are aiming for speed and efficiency you may opt for a lighter shoe. Not entirely minimalist yet I have seen people running in light running sandals and a rubber “glove” style shoe. I need more support, especially when off-road. If you are not aiming for speed then you will enjoy a bit more comfort via additional cushioning. A thin cushion is more responsive whilst a thicker cushion delivers a slower yet plusher feel.
  • Heel drop is the difference between the thickness of the foam in the heel and the forefoot. This is important for your stride and something you will establish over time!
  • The response is key, some shoes feel like they just want to jump out of the blocks and race away. Others feel soft and plush but here the trade-off is a sluggish shoe. For speed, a thinner midsole is critical, with just enough foam to let you move at full pace. Without the need to baby your pace. You should have your shoes fitted and discuss your type of terrain with a professional. Down the line, once you are comfortable you can then select your shoes.
  • Weight is important when looking for speed, the average shoe can weigh around 300 grams. A bit of additional weight can mean the difference between a shoe that flies and one that is sluggish. Yet a heavier shoe will give more protection and support so be careful of the trade-off when sacrificing weight.
  • All of this translates into the design and structure of your shoe which can be a blessing for heavier runners on long runs. I advocate starting with a slightly bulky less flexible shoe and over time liberating yourself with a lighter shoe. A thick upper (tongue) will prevent the laces from biting and reducing blood flow. A good heel cup paired with a decent midsole and padding adds to the comfort and takes the sting out of each stride. This comes back to the importance of fitting the shoes professionally, you do not want excess side to side or front to rear movement. You have got it when you lace up, forget the shoes and enjoy the run.

When starting its good to run with an app, I used “Map my Run” to establish time and distance. However, due to the safety of running with a phone strapped to my arm, I dropped this and now simply run set distances and time myself.

The beauty of a run is the “cleansing” effect, the de-stressing and the fact that it is free. Lockdown has its negatives and is hard on us, running sets you free. After a run a shower resets you and you can then happily put your feet up and relax, happy with the feeling of achievement.

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