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For those starting out on a long-term running programme, it's important to check one's initial level of ability. Complete a run on flat safe terrain (if possible away from vehicle traffic). Get the correct kit – with trainers that are suited to your physical requirements – and run at a moderate pace.
You should not feel too breathless (if you find it hard to speak a full sentence, your pace is too fast).
Don't panic if you feel that you cannot run for more than a few minutes without stopping.
Try to remain as physically and mentally flexible as you can and go for another two or three preliminary runs within the next 10 days (this may result in aching muscles, etc.) Evaluate your average level. You have completed your initial assessment.
The most sensible and safe way to improve is to lengthen your running time.
Don't try any "interval training", i.e. include fast sequences in your runs. Your aim is to gradually increase your endurance. You are not yet seeking to run faster.
Force yourself to walk every so often, even if it seems unnecessary. For example, one minute for every five minutes of running. Make the most of this break to relax: let your arms hang loose, check that your neck is loose and that the muscles of your legs are not painful.
By alternating between walking and running (or jogging at a slow pace), you will be able to exercise for longer more easily. Over time – several weeks probably – you will be able to reduce the frequency of the walking periods. But never forget that it's better to walk to give yourself some time to recover than to cut short the scheduled training run.
This is the oft-repeated – sometimes ad nauseam – advice given by all the doctors specialised in sports traumatology: do not skip any steps in the schedule when it comes to the mileage you run.
The main reason for this is: the risk of causing injuries (particularly to the tendons) increases significantly if the body has not been properly prepared to withstand the stresses involved in running.
How? Gradually increase the exercise time. If you run for half an hour, do not jump to a one-hour run the following day. The fatigue generated will be too much (and could "discourage" you from running again). Above all, it is highly likely that you will feel the painful effects of tendon and/or muscle problems which could lead to an injury. Even if it seems unnecessary, force yourself to increase your running time in steps of 15%. To do this, get hold of a simple stopwatch. 30 minutes, then 35, then 40 and so on.
The same is true – even more so – regarding the number of times you run per week. Only add an additional session once you have established a solid base.
Patience and ambition are not incompatible. Set yourself an objective. Taking part in a timed 10 km run at the end of your first year of running is a good way of motivating yourself and checking your progress in an objective way. And don't forget: putting on your first race number often leads to many other races.
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