The shorter, gloomy days of autumn and winter may not seem an obvious time to take up running.
But marathon record-breaker Paula Radcliffe believes there has never been a better time to start.
With the country facing increasing lockdown restrictions, and Covid cases growing, the long-distance athlete is on a mission to get the UK moving.
“Many people turn to running for the physical benefits, but running is also good for mental health,” says Paula, 46.
“It helps you cope when the world’s turned on its head.”
She adds that running is also the perfect antidote to that winter slump when cold, dark evenings mean you’re more likely to want to stay at home tucked up on the sofa eating comfort food.
Running regularly can help boost the immune system, aid weight loss and combat stress.
Paula says: “There are the endorphins you get, as well as the benefits of leaving the house – getting fresh air and extra blood flowing around your body to your head.
“But it’s also meditative. You can let your mind flow and relax as you put one foot after another.”
You don’t have to be a three-time London Marathon winner to get the benefits of running.
Here are Paula’s top tips for starting out:
Build up gradually
Start off by running for a minute, then walking for a minute, and repeating.
Build up from there and see what your body is capable of doing.
Don’t jump in and run for five miles straight off – you won’t enjoy it and chances are you won’t try it again.
Organise a run with a friend or someone in your bubble, or find someone else who has started running recently so you can compare notes and support each other remotely.
Always warm up
You do have to be more careful about warming up in winter.
I go out and jog slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up, then I come back to the house to stretch before I start running properly.
This is especially important in the chillier months when your muscles are colder.
Make it work for you
The fitter and healthier you are, the better your immune system will be able to fight off bugs, including Covid, so use this as your motivation.
Pick a time of day when the weather’s good – it’s not much fun in the pouring rain. I love running in the dark – you can use the street lights to measure sprints and motivate yourself to keep going to the next lamp post.
Make sure you have some nutritious food waiting for you when you get home.
Eating within 20 minutes of finishing your run will help with the body’s recovery.
If it’s not the right time for a meal, then a healthy snack is good too. Try a handful of nuts, or I often make flapjacks with fresh fruit and raisins thrown in.
Keeping vitamin and omega-3 and 6 levels topped up will boost your immune system.
It’s easy to forget about staying hydrated in winter because it’s not as hot, but chances are you’ll be wearing more layers than usual, and still sweating when you run. So drink water throughout the day.
Wear the right kit
If you’re running in the dark, make sure you wear something reflective. Treat yourself to some nice new running kit, something you’ll feel good in when you go out.
For women, it’s also important to wear a well-fitting sports bra. Order a couple of different sizes to be sure you have one that is comfortable and supportive. When buying running shorts or tights, make sure they’ve got a zip pocket so you have somewhere to put your keys and phone.
Find the right trainers
If you’re just starting out, you won’t know what your gait (the way your foot lands on the ground) is like, so it’s best to choose a good neutral shoe that isn’t built up on the sole with any special support.
As the trainer wears out, look to see where there is wear and tear on the soles. If it’s at the back of the heel, that could mean you’re a pronator – meaning your foot rolls inwards as it hits the ground.
Look for a bit more heel support in the next pair of trainers you buy.
If you find you’re wearing out the outside edge of your shoe, then you’re a supinator, meaning your foot rolls out as it lands and you need more support there.
The best place to get advice and well-fitting trainers is a running shop.
There are lots of beginner running apps, such as the NHS Couch To 5k, which give you advice and guidance on getting started and help you build up safely. Then there are apps such as Strava and RunKeeper, which help motivate you and encourage you to discover things such as different running trails near you that people have recommended.
They are also a good way of tracking progress, and you get medals and awards for different achievements, which is motivating.
- Flora has launched Get Towns Active to encourage the nation to get happier and healthier. It has teamed up with Paula Radcliffe to offer exclusive training and nutrition advice.