Running is the basis of all fitness. It is a vital part of many sports and games and, as part of a fitness programme, has no equal.
Let us set the record straight. There is a big difference between running and jogging. You could jog until your legs ached and your feet blistered and still not gain any real long-term benefit.
In contrast, running conditions the heart and lungs for speed and endurance. It requires no special equipment, it can be done at any time of the day and it is absolutely free.
Choose a route that is quiet and avoids major roads. In particular, avoid heavy traffic since the danger from pollution outweighs the benefits gained from the exercise. Running can be boring, so a scenic route is best; looking at stimulating countryside helps pass the time. When the route starts to resemble an old television film, run in the reverse direction or choose a number of different routes. Try to include some hills in the run, since these will enable you to develop strength and stamina more rapidly.
By following a few simple rules, the disadvantages of running can be minimised. Blisters are easily avoidable as long as we take care of our feet and select the right socks and running shoes (or boots!). You do not need fancy, expensive trainers. In the military, we ran and trained in boots. There were no ‘go faster’ shoes available for the deserts and jungles in which we operated. Heavy footwear gives a harder work-out and also protects feet from heavy pounding on hard surfaces.
Damage to muscles and tendons, and the more serious stress fractures of the leg bones, can all be avoided by following a gradual programme. Such damage is usually due to over-training – doing too much too soon.
Running is a natural activity which everyone can enjoy. It is an excellent way of clearing the mind of all your daily woes and should be regarded as a treat rather than a chore. The secret is to relax. Avoid tension in your arms and shoulders, lean forward slightly and choose a long, comfortable stride. Keep your arms relaxed with hands slightly clenched, thumbs uppermost. An easy rhythmic arm motion helps to maintain momentum and balance. Do not flex the knee more than is necessary. Sprinters need to raise their knees to gain speed but a low, wide stride is more useful for covering long distances.
Try to control your breathing. Avoid enormous, deep breaths. Aim instead to hold a steady, regular rate.
We are going to introduce different running programmes for specific training requirements. The intensity of the run is more important than the distance. Generally, speed is built up by short, fast runs, while long-distance runs develop endurance.
Find a time of day when you have a spare 30 minutes. Evenings and early mornings may offer the best window in a busy schedule. Select a 5-km (3- mile) circuit and jog for as long as possible. When you can jog no longer, cover the ground with a fast walk. Use the walking phases to allow your body to recover and then move back into a jogging pace. Time yourself at the end of the run and keep a record of your personal times.
Run on alternate days and soon the 5-km (3-mile) circuit will offer no more challenges. Once you find this happening, try to run the circuit in a faster time. A cheap stop-watch will help you keep track of your personal times. Break the run with short, fast sprints, followed by an easy jog to recover. Practice exaggerating your stride and knee-lift; you are looking for an even pace of about 10 kmph (6 miles per hour). This easy pace will enable you to cover quite long distances quickly. Heavily laden soldiers in some regiments use this technique to cover ground. In the Second World War, it was known as the ‘Commando Trot’.
The next step is to cover a fairly flat, 5-km (3-mile) circuit in 30 minutes. Sprint the last 100 m (100 yds).
This should last for an hour and cover about 8.5 km (5 miles). Include a few hills as a hedge against boredom. Again, sprint the last 100 m (100 yds).
Run the 5-km (3-mile) circuit as fast as you can manage. Set yourself the task of beating your best personal time.
Now you are ready for the long run: a 16-km (10-mile) route in 90 minutes. Choose a scenic route with plenty of gradients. Start slowly and finish strongly. Sprint the last 100 m (100 yds).
Some Useful Advice
Some dogs like chasing runners. They are just playing, but they can be a nuisance. If the runner becomes aggressive or obviously shows fear, the encounter can turn nasty. Stand still, protect the area of your groin, avoid eye contact with the animal and, speaking gently but firmly, command him to ‘sit’ or ‘stay’. Finally, walk away calmly. Ensure that you are some distance away from the animal before continuing your run. Never wear a personal stereo! The earphones effectively cut you off from the rest of the world. You will not be aware of approaching traffic or other types of danger.