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Running (A Guide for Non-Runners)

Running gets a bad rap across much of the fitness industry. However, as the most human-appropriate CV exercise, you should reconsider it.

Introduction

Everybody should run.

But not everyone should lace up their shoes and run straight away.

Although running is a fundamental human activity and one which many people argue actually made us human, our lifestyles have moved us away from the physical attributes needed to allow us to run injury-free in the way our ancestors did.

That’s the purpose of the article: to help those of us who should run but have some work to do before we do so.

There are at least two key arguments that are presented against running. Both have some merit, but only in the context of our modern lifestyles and a misunderstanding of how the human body is made.

Here are the arguments and why they are fundamentally wrong.

Commonly advanced by people who believe that humans are meant to be big and muscular (many of these folks are good friends of mine), this argument misses the fact that we didn’t evolve to be enormous.

It seems that the modern measure of physical fitness is what you look like. When I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, the measure was what you could do.

I still choose the latter.

What do special forces soldiers, fighters of all kinds and rugby players have in common?

They all run. And they run a lot.

There can be little argument that these are some of the toughest, most capable people anyone will ever meet. They need to be in great shape to survive and be effective in what they do.

Why do they run 

Because it works, and if there’s one thing it doesn’t do is make them weak. That’s unless your only measure of strength versus weakness is how much you can bench press, of course: a measure of very little if we’re honest.

“Running hurts my knees!”

In fact, how YOU run hurts your knees.

Assuming you don’t have existing orthopaedic damage, like an ankle that’s been screwed back together, osteoarthritis in a joint or excessive hypermobility of the joints (e.g. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), it’s perfectly possible to learn to run pain-free, just like you did when you were a child.

The problem for most of us is that it will take a significant amount of patience to rebuild that ability to run; it’s not going to happen overnight.

Like so many other things in the physical training world, running is blue collar activity; we earn it through consistent hard work.

What’s more, regaining this ability can be humbling, especially for those who’re good at other things, like lifting heavy implements in the gym. Running slowly for a short stretch and then slowing to a walk before running another slow, short stretch can be really hard on the ego.

The good news is something my first triathlon coach told me when he prescribed running and riding below a certain intensity and I complained that it was embarrassing to go that slowly: “Nobody cares, most people don’t even notice you’re there.” 

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Humans are uniquely adapted for distance running. These adaptations are found nowhere else in the ape family. Watch a human run and watch a chimpanzee run, and it’s patently obvious that we’re runners and they aren’t.

Here are just a few of those remarkable adaptations, which I published as a series of tweets and then as a tweet thread in October 2020.

Your Achilles tendon generates significant elastic rebound, greatly reducing the amount of energy required to produce each stride.

Chimps and gorillas don’t have this adaptation. Ever seen them try to run? They don’t last long.

This energy return mechanism is so effective that the energy cost of running a kilometre is close to the same no matter how fast you run.

The Nuchal ligament allows you to keep your head balanced and facing forward whilst your upper body counter-rotates to balance your leg movement.

Chimps and gorillas don’t have this ligament and can’t dissociate the head from the upper body in the same way.

The ability to dissociate breathing from the gait cycle allows us to run at a wide variety of paces. This means we can speed up if we need to catch something or slow down if we need to catch our breath, all whilst continuing to run.

Animals that run on four legs can only breathe in time with their gait, limiting them to shorter efforts, a limited pace range and the need for regular rest.

Sweating allows us to regulate our body temperature at times of day when other animals need shade. This helps us to stave off heat exhaustion, and allowed persistence hunting, by simply running an animal that can’t sweat to death from heat exhaustion.

Bipedalism means that in the heat of the day, less of our body is exposed to the heat of the sun. This also means that we’re able to tolerate generating more heat from running because the heat burden from the sun is not as great as for those on four legs.

This allowed us to cover large distances and hunt in the heat of the day when other predators and prey animals need to seek out shade.

Our legs and arms are longer in comparison to other apes, allowing a more efficient stride.

Longer legs and arms are also lighter, which reduces the energy cost of this lengthened gait cycle when running.

We have larger joint surfaces than other animals.

This greater area supplies a shock absorption benefit; important because of the large forces we deal with on every foot strike.

Our taller, slimmer bodies give us a larger surface area relative to our mass, which makes the evaporative cooling effect of our sweating even more effective.

This is further enhanced by the lack of a thick coat of fur, which allows the air flow generated when running to cool us even further.

The design of the skull and the blood circulation system around our head and neck facilitate the exchange of heat between blood to and from the brain, keeping the brain temperature under control.

We have extraordinarily large gluteal muscles. These help to keep us upright when running.

Other apes, by comparison, have very small, under-developed gluteal muscles, meaning they must run on all fours to maintain balance. Try doing that for 5 kilometres!

The Plantar Arch of your foot is yet another elastic mechanism that, along with other adaptations allows us to run at various paces at almost the same level of energy expenditure.

Faster running, therefore, relies on more elastic recoil and not more effort.

We have very short toes compared to other apes.

This means we need to do less work and use less energy per stride to overcome inertia and can rely more on elastic recoil.

Because so much weight is supported on the toes when running (not walking), longer toes would be more vulnerable to damage.

Think about how much easier it is to damage your fingers. Imagine fingers where your toes are.

Your IT band is a strip of connective tissue that runs down the outside of your thigh.

This provides elastic recoil, saving a lot of energy when running. Your IT band stores 15-20x more elastic energy than that of a chimp.

The semi-circular canals in your inner ear are larger than other primates, significantly improving the ability to balance without having to rely on vision.

This means you can look around whilst running and not fall over.

We have the ability to tolerate fairly high levels of dehydration and to do so voluntarily.

There are no regular water stations in the KarooKalahari or any similar environment.

The ability to drink when possible and tolerate dehydration is a huge advantage to an animal running large distances.

The ability to visualise an unseen result in the future helps us to be able to maintain effort in extended periods in pursuit of an uncertain goal.

We don’t know to what extent other animals can do this, but it appears limited in most.

Our central nervous system has an inbuilt pacing system that automatically chooses an appropriate pace for the distance to be covered, based on our experience. It does this regardless of our desire to cover the distance faster.

 

Humans aren’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest animals. We never were these things.

Instead, we developed the ability to run for extended periods in the heat, something no other animal can do nearly as well.

Running allowed us to access more protein and develop bigger brains.

From those bigger brains came the ability to develop tools, plan, and work together in groups.

Being able to run long distances in the heat made humans the most successful species on Earth.

Before discussing how to get started with running, I thought I’d write a few words about equipment.

Like every other sport and physical activity out there, there is now a plethora of kit that you can buy. Much of it is marketed as something “you can’t do without”, but little if any of this is true, it’s just very clever advertising.

Here’s what you need to know.

Whilst you don’t need special footwear to go running - I ran a lot as a child in Dunlop Green Flash (remember those?) - a reasonable pair of shoes will improve your experience.

So, what constitutes a “reasonable pair of shoes”?

About this we could argue for hours, but here’s my take on the matter, based on thousands of hours of running and much experimentation.

A reasonable pair of running shoes is a pair of shoes that…

  • Fit well
  • Provide some cushioning, but not a lot
  • Do not have a lot of difference in height between the back and front of the shoe (referred to as “drop”)
  • Are flexible
  • Are comfortable for YOU
  • Do NOT cost an arm and a leg to buy

My top tip is that when you find such a pair, look for the best price and buy a few pairs. 

Unfortunately, running shoe manufacturers are as tied to the fashion industry as any other clothing manufacturer and they change designs constantly, to get you to buy the latest thing. A shoe with the same name can be a completely different shoe when worn from one year to the next.

Here are a few things that you’ll find in shoes that you probably want to consider avoiding.

The theory behind very cushioned shoes is that they absorb and significantly decrease the impact forces from running. Thus, they tell us, you’re less likely to become injured.

There are at least three issues with this, however.

First, by cushioning the landing forces too much, the shoes remove much of the elastic recoil on which efficient running relies. 

Second, excessive cushioning removes any sense of what is happening on the ground beneath the feet, allowing the foot to stop working as it’s meant to and effectively go to sleep or come along as a passenger. Your feet are meant to provide feedback to your legs and the rest of your kinetic chain about what’s going on. Excessive cushioning hinders this feedback.

Lastly, shoes that provide too much cushioning remove the need for other structures to play their part in shock absorption during the running gait cycle. Many people end up running with a similar gait to that they use when walking, landing on a straight leg, effectively braking on every stride, and magnifying the forces they experience instead of reducing them.

At some point, manufacturers of running shoes decided that they needed to control the motion of the runner’s heel during the gait cycle. Their solution was thermoplastic heel cups that are meant to lock the heel in place.

Unfortunately, your heel is not meant to be locked in place and these also seem to contribute to running injuries.

Have you ever looked at the midsole of a running shoe and noticed a section of the EVA foam that is a different colour and density to the rest (usually grey as opposed to white)?

This is the manufacturers’ attempt at what they term “motion control”. The idea is that some people pronate (their feet roll inwards) too much and that movement needs to be controlled. They call this over-pronation.

Pronation is actually a perfectly normal part of the gait cycle and if your feet are strong and healthy, probably aids with some elastic recoil from the Plantar Fascia (the strip of connective tissue that runs lengthwise along the sole of your foot).

Different people pronate different amounts and even the same person may have different pronation patterns in each foot.

Whilst there are a small number of people with collapsed arches who probably need some of this kind of support in their shoes, the majority of us would do far better to spend some time strengthening our feet, so that the arches have the integrity to deal with the forces imposed by running (and by life).

The other end of the spectrum is minimalist or barefoot shoes, which exploded onto the scene in the mid to late 2000’s.

The idea seems to be that running barefoot is best, but that the modern built environment doesn’t allow this. So, why not make a shoe that mimics being barefoot?

It’s hard to argue with the logic and I ran in such shoes for a few years. Some folks get on very well with minimalist shoes, others find them disastrous.

For the vast majority of us, there are a number of reasons why these shoes don’t work.

  • The lack of a heel to toe drop is a big change from the shoes we wear all day every day. The adaptive shortening caused to our Achilles tendons by life doesn’t like being thrust into shoes where they must stretch an extra 6mm or more when we run. Lots of people struggle with very tight calves when running in minimalist shoes.
  • Most of us are far bigger than the scrawny creatures that humans evolved from. We’ve also spent far more time living relatively sedentary lives, wearing shoes. It’s a bit of a big step to believe that we should just head out the door and start running effectively when barefoot.
  • It is possible to adapt to barefoot shoes but doing so requires the average person to spend a long time running very little. If you’re out to get the most from running, mileage is important. That being the case, a little cushioning in your shoes is a help, not a hindrance.

Do you need special clothing for running?

Not in the least. But some garments can make the experience a better one.

  • Running tights are generally better than fleecy trackpants in winter.
  • Lightweight shorts or short tights for summer.
  • Wicking t-shirts
  • Lightweight, windproof, water resistant coat
  • High quality socks - if you skimp on everything else, don’t skimp on socks!

The main point on clothing isn’t about specific items, but rather a principle on which to base what you’re wearing on a particular day.

If you step out of the house, dressed to go running, and you’re already warm, you’re wearing too much clothing! This is something we always applied to winter runs, but applies equally to running in the summer, although only to a point; you must wear something after all.

A heart rate monitor can be a useful addition for controlling your intensity initially and learning what the right intensity feels like. However, it’s important that it doesn’t become a crutch without which you cannot run.

In a world of far too much data, it’s possible to buy a heart rate monitor that will do everything except wash your dishes. I suggest finding the simplest, most data poor version you can and stick to that. The idea is to run, not to obsess about data.

GPS watches can be useful if your running is in training for a race and you want to use something like Daniel’s VDot for your training because that method relies on pace as opposed to heart rate.

And, yes, it is nice to know how far you’ve run and to compare yourself to your friends, but I’d suggest that the joy of running is in running, not staring at a computer screen working through numbers.

Once upon a time, I was very focused on all the latest tech, what it could tell me and how accurate it was. Can you tell that I’ve changed mind?

So, you’ve decided that humans really are built to run and that this includes you.

Well done! That really is a great decision, one which will only improve your life.

But for heaven’s sake, don’t just lace up a pair of shoes and head out the door, especially if you haven’t run since you were a youngster.

“But it’s only running. Anyone can run.”

Although, strictly speaking that’s true, simply pounding up and down the road risks you developing an injury that will stop you running yet again 

Here’s what to do instead.

When I was a teenager, there was a raft of heart attacks in our city among middle aged men on the squash court.

The saying that did the rounds, although almost certainly not original was: “You don’t play squash to get fit; you get fit to play squash.”

This holds equally well for running and weight loss. You shouldn’t run to lose weight; you should lose weight to run. 

OK, not completely true because running is a great way to lose excess body fat but only once you’re in good enough shape to run without hurting yourself.

Keep in mind that the ground reaction forces experienced with every step you take when running are equivalent to between three and four times your body weight. It makes no sense to run whilst carrying an extra 50lbs because the extra 150-200lbs per step on untrained legs is a recipe for disaster.

How do you lose the weight then?

Contrary to the government messaging that promotes exercise as the solution to obesity, it’s actually a very poor way to lose weight.

The solution is to focus on your nutrition. Low carbohydrate nutrition is an approach that works and won’t leave you hungry all the time. Depending on how much extra bodyfat you’re carrying, the results on body composition can be quite dramatic.

As a guide, once your BMI is below about 28, you’re probably OK to start running. In the meantime, build up your time on your feet by walking briskly as much as possible; a good hour a day as a minimum will work wonders. 

Humans didn’t evolve to wear shoes. Neither were you born with shoes on your feet.

When you first learned to walk and run, you did so barefoot. Like so many things, the human developmental pathway provides us with a clue about the best way to relearn how to run.

Barefoot running was all the rage in the mid-2000’s, and some hardcore fans still run barefoot and swear that everyone should run barefoot. The potential issues with this approach are similar to those experienced by most people when they try minimalist running shoes. As a result, I’m not suggesting that you head out and try to become a barefoot runner.

Instead, aim to spend as much time as possible being barefoot when you’re not running. Walking barefoot around the house and garden is superb therapy for your feet, ankles, knees and all the way up your kinetic chain. 

What’s more, a little bit of time spent running barefoot on grass can help you to learn a more natural way of running, one in which you don’t land heavily on your heel and use your inbuilt shock-absorption system.

One of the biggest mistakes I see when people start running for the first time or after a long absence, is lacing up their running shoes and heading out the door for an hour’s run. 

The first day, they feel great.

Two days later, they’re a bit sore.

Give it a week or two and they’re often no longer running because they’re injured.

A better approach is to use a walk/run programme that looks something like this…

Three sessions per week

After a thorough mobility warm up…

Week 1: Run 1 minute / Walk 4 minutes - Repeat 6 time 

Week 2: Run 2 minutes / Walk 3 minutes - Repeat 6 times

Week 3: Run 3 minutes / Walk 2 minutes - Repeat 6 times

Week 4: Run 4 minutes / Walk 1 minute - Repeat 6 times

Week 5: Run 5 minutes / Walk 1 minute - Repeat 5 times

Week 6: Run 7 minutes / Walk 1 minute / Run 6 minutes / Walk 1 minute - Repeat twice

Week 7: Run 20 minutes

Any time you feel sore after a session, or you find the session unusually hard, you should repeat that week. In extreme situations, you could even step back a week.

Using a programme like this will allow you to get to a reasonable level of running fitness without anywhere near the risk of injury.

Before you think about progressing your running, you should aim to build a solid background of consistent steady running. I recognise the temptation to try to run fast as soon as possible, but the risk to reward ratio of fast running is huge, especially without a good base.

Unless you have other training activities that need to be balanced, I suggest spending at least 6 weeks, running between 15 and 20 minutes at an easy/steady pace each time. This way, you get 90 minutes to 2 hours of easy/steady running every week.

Six short runs will be far less hard on the body than 3 runs of twice the time/distance.

It’s important to know that, whilst muscle tissue remodels within 3 to 5 days, it can take 8 months to remodel connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, joint capsules etc.). As much as it might make sense to run 20 minutes most days for 8 months, we can progress a little faster than that, provided we do it slowly.

In terms of the intensity for these runs, the MAF workout is a good place to start if you have a heart rate monitor. If not, then a pace at which you can breathe in and out through your nose or hold a fairly comfortable conversation is about right.

It doesn’t matter how slowly you start, at some point you may wish to progress your running. This section describes how to do it effectively.

Of course, you might be quite happy with simply running 20 or 30 minutes at MAF pace a few times a week and, if that’s the running you choose to do, that’s fantastic. There is no rule that says you must try to get faster. Running for the joy of it is arguably the purest form of running.

First, you need to understand the holy trinity of training progression:

  • Volume - How much training you do. For runners it’s usually measured in time or distance.
  • Intensity - How hard you train. For runners, it’s usually measured in speed.
  • Density - How close together your training sessions are or how close together your intervals are in a speed or hill session. Within sessions, it’s usually measured by how long your rest intervals are.

Very important: You should be very careful about increasing two or all three of these at the same time 

Initially, you should focus on increasing volume. 

Once you hit your target volume - mostly at an easy/steady pace - you can start to throw in some intensity. Popular options are intervals and hill reps, but tempo runs, and fartlek training are also effective options.

There’s something that happens when you start to run 90 minutes or more. I’ve had people describe the effects as like voodoo. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I believe it’s this…

Especially for people who still eat significant amounts of carbohydrates as part of their diet, running over 90 minutes allows use of glycogen to a point where it becomes imperative for the body to look for an alternative energy source. Long runs allow you to tap into fat metabolism as a viable option.

It’s very important to keep the intensity of these runs in the easy/steady range. Rather than running out hard and struggling to finish, start off slower than you think you could run the distance and build the intensity so that you finish strongly.

In terms of the risk to reward ratio, two hours seems to be the limit for most people where long runs are concerned.

Interval training can be an extremely effective way to get faster as a runner. However, it’s important to know that this kind of training is the cherry on top of a very well iced cake.

When it comes to intervals, less is more. My 5k personal best of 15:50 was run off a winter of MAF mileage (±80km/week) and three short interval sessions. Yup, that was it!

It’s become very popular in the personal training world, to prescribe intervals as “the only way to train the cardiovascular system and the most efficient/effective way to train for endurance events.”. This is simply wrong.

If you want to find clues about what really works, it’s usually a good idea to look at what elite athletes do. Whilst you shouldn’t try to copy a professional athlete’s programme, we can learn things from them.

The biggest learning point is that the best athletes in the world do very little of their training as intervals, in fact, less than 10%. The rest of their training remains easy/steady. If this is the balance they strike, with all the training background they have, why would we be any different?

That said, here are some types of interval that you could use to add to your training once you have the appropriate level of background training.

Fartlek, a Swedish term meaning “speed play”, is a type of random interval training. There are no set distances or rest periods, you simply do whatever fits the run you’re on.

A good example would be running a rolling course, working hard up the hills and taking it easy down them. This randomness approximates what happens in a race situation quite nicely.

Hills are the “resistance training” part of running.

Don’t get me wrong, running hills is not a replacement for lifting heavy implements (or your bodyweight) in the gym, your garage or in your garden.

However, if you want to run fast, the ability to run uphill efficiently is vital. Hill reps will help with this enormously.

There are several innovative versions of hill reps, but I like the simple: 6-10 x 60m running hard up a fairly steep hill and recovering by walking back down.

Speed work refers to running at or above race pace for distances of between 300 and 1600m (1 mile), with rest intervals of between 1:3 work to rest and 1:1 work to rest. 

The idea is to learn to tolerate the metabolic effects of running fast, whilst maintaining good form throughout. This is by no means flat-out sprinting but is rather running at a very calculated pace. You can always spot the novice and the expert when they run intervals. 

The novice will run the first one or two repeats way too fast and will see a subsequent deterioration in both speed and form. The expert, on the other hand, will run every interval with great form and in almost the same time-split.

My favourite has always been 10 x 300m at a pace about 45s per km faster than my 10km race pace, walking 100m recovery. I’ve seldom run mile intervals because I’m probably a bit too lazy to do so!

Although massively fashionable at the time of writing, most people who "sprint" aren’t sprinting.

A sprint is a maximum effort that lasts no more than 6-8 seconds for the average person. When someone tells you they’re doing 30s sprints and they’re not a trained 400m athlete, they’re not sprinting. Make no mistake, they are possibly running very hard, but they’re running for too long to get the leg-speed benefits of true sprinting.

Sprinting is also very hard on the body and the nervous system and should be used sparingly, once a week if that.

4-6 x 6-second sprints with 3 to 5 minutes of recovery is plenty for most of us.

Trying to change your running technique is difficult, because we all have different anatomy (e.g. limb lengths) but there are a few small things you can do that will make a positive difference.

I’ve seen several programmes that have purported to teach “the” way to run. I’ve even tried some of them. They were all a failure for me because I have a way of running that I’ve had since I was a child. 

Unfortunately, I’ve also taken some poor advice in the past that did result in me making some questionable changes to how I ran; these hurt me!

So, instead of presenting “the one way to run”, here are a few ideas about running form, along with some cues that you might want to try.


Easy is Smooth is Light is Fast.

- Caballo Blanco


Post anything about running on social media and somebody will come back with a comment about not landing on your heel, but on the ball of your foot. Some, who are slightly better informed, will talk about a mid-foot landing.

However, even elite athletes running marathons in under 2h10m, are predominantly heel-strikers. In one study, runners were filmed at the 15km mark in a half marathon and of the top 50 finishers - runners who went through 15km in around 45 minutes - a full 62% were landing on their heel.

This is just one of many such studies. Even before reading any such study, I remember watching the super slow motion shots of the Beijing Olympic marathon and being astounded by the fact that “everyone” seemed to have a noticeable heel-strike!

A focus on having a forefoot strike, especially in shoes that have a drop from heel to forefoot (most running shoes), is actually more likely to cause problems like tight calf muscles, sore Achilles tendons and shin pain.

What folks who obsess about heel-strike are concerned about is the braking forces experienced when you land on a straight leg that is extended in front of you and the cost to running speed when you do so.

They’re right about this, but they’re looking in the wrong place.

Rather than worrying about what part of your foot hits the ground first, focus on having the foot move backwards before foot-strike. This reduces the ground forces experienced at the knee and hip, as well as transferring your effort into fluid forward movement.

If you do this, you’ll almost certainly land towards the outside of your foot with the foot under a flexed knee. This takes advantage of your inbuilt shock-absorption and leverages the elasticity of the tissues in your foot for elastic rebound.

A simple drill you can do to get a feel for the “foot moving backwards before landing” is straight leg running. I like to throw this in later in long runs when I’m likely to be reverting to just landing any old way.

Posture when running shouldn’t be significantly different to posture in everyday life. We’re all slightly different shapes and sizes, so this will look a little different for everyone. What’s important is that you are relaxed as you run.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Head resting above the shoulders (“Don’t allow your head to poke forward like a chicken.”)
  • Shoulders above hips
  • Hip girdle in a neutral position, not in anterior or posterior tilt (“Think of your pelvis as a bowl full of water and don’t spill any out of the front or back.”)
  • Shoulders down (“Gently put your shoulder blades in your pockets.”)
  • Shoulder girdle neutral (“Don’t pull your shoulders back.”)
  • Hands relaxed (“Imagine holding a butterfly in each hand.”) and arms swinging naturally for you.

The legs should be doing the work of moving your hip girdle forward. Everything above is simply carried along, with the arms doing only enough to counterbalance the movement of the legs so that the hips can stay square.

Cadence could also be called turnover or how many steps you take per minute. Strictly speaking, it’s how many complete cycles per minute, but you’ll run in a more balanced way if you count every step, not every left foot.

There is some individual variation here but especially as we get older or are taking up running when we’re older, we want to minimise impact forces and make it easier to attain the “foot landing under a flexed knee whilst moving backwards” position.

Most people will do this most effectively by aiming for a cadence of around 185 steps per minute.

If you’re someone who has always bounded along, taking loping strides, this will probably feel weird. Stick with it; running with a higher cadence is a very efficient low impact way to run.

A nifty little trick for counting steps per minute is not to count the steps, but the arm cycles. You can either count every time a hand comes up or - my favourite - every time you drive the elbow backwards.

No article about running would be complete without mentioning strength training, because most runners don’t do any!

Because this is a guide for non-runners, I hope that you’re already doing two or three resistance training sessions a week. If not, you certainly should be.

Strength training is important for runners because the act of running tends to favour being light and is primarily leg focused. It doesn’t even require a lot of leg strength, because efficient running is far more about elastic rebound than it is about strength.

Strength and muscle mass are positively correlated with longer lives and a better quality of life into old age. It makes no sense to incorporate running in order to improve your cardiovascular fitness, only to lack the muscle mass to support the body that carries that heart and lungs (yes, it’s a bit more than that, but you get the picture).

There is also a positive hormonal benefit to be gained from strength training. Human Growth Hormone and testosterone, both very important for recovery, repair, and longevity, are positively influenced by strength training.

I’ve seen a lot written about a drop in testosterone from endurance training, mostly from strength gurus who decry cardio. While I’m not convinced that they’re not simply observing an over-training effect, anything that helps to maintain this important hormone as we age is a good idea 

You don’t have to do an enormous amount of strength training. Instead, make sure that you address the basic human movement patterns, ideally with heavy compound lifts, twice a week and you’re good to go.

Remember what I wrote earlier about limiting how much intensity you have in a week?

Here is one reason why you should keep most of your running at an easy/steady level. Strength training should be considered high intensity activity, which needs to be balanced with a good chunk of lower intensity work if you’re to remain healthy.

Because running happens in a fairly small range of movement, it’s not unusual for runners not to be the most flexible people in the world. Stretching your calf muscles by trying to push the wall over (you know what I mean 😉) just isn’t enough.

A lack of mobility might not affect your running negatively, but it could increase your injury risk from everyday living. With this in mind, it’s something worth addressing.

Fortunately, mobility training doesn’t require a separate session, special clothing or even a dedicated space. You can do 10 minutes of mobility work in front of the TV in the evening if that’s the only time you have available. 

In fact, this is a great time to do it because working on your mobility is generally relaxing for your nervous system and you’ll sleep better afterwards!

Areas that most people should focus on are…

  • Thoracic spine
  • Ankles (including tight calf muscles)
  • Hips
  • Hip Flexors
  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes

This isn’t an exhaustive list. If you have a mobility issue in any area, you should address it.

Just a quick word about nerve flossing, which fits into the mobility area. Many runners find that they struggle with calf cramps and believe that these are because of tight calf muscles or a lack of salt. 

Whilst this can be the case, it’s also possible that they have an issue with nerves becoming compressed because of muscles that have tightened up somewhere in the kinetic chain. These nerves are meant to “glide” far more freely (it’s not a lot of movement, but they’re meant to move).

Nerve flossing is the process of releasing this entrapment. For calf muscles, I like to use the slump stretch for this purpose. For years, I couldn’t figure out why my calf muscles would cramp up. This fixed it.

For most running, you shouldn’t need to eat or drink while running. Even for longer runs, unless the weather is particularly hot, there is no need to drink. Your body has enough reserve fluid to see you through a two-hour run without drinking anything.

As for food, unless you’re running hard for 90 minutes or more, you should not need to eat anything.

I wrote an entire article about low carb workout nutrition, which I’ve found to be the most effective nutrition approach for the vast majority of people.

Running is a fundamental human activity, one which made us human in the first place.

What’s more, in almost every case, people who run get better at almost all their work capacity tasks. Yes, it really is like magic.

As much as there are gurus out there who pile hate on running, simply refusing to acknowledge the adaptations that we evolved to allow us to run, running is an accessible way to build a strong cardiovascular system. In fact, it’s the top of the cardiovascular training tree, outstripping rowing, cycling, swimming and even cross-country skiing (which is really a highly effective way of “running” on snow).

Don’t worry, you won’t become the size of those little Ethiopian and Kenyan runners you see on TV. Those are elite runners. They didn’t become skinny by running, they run because they are naturally skinny. The sport of distance running selects for individuals with that body shape; nobody starts off as a 200lb muscled monster and becomes a 120lb elite marathoner just because they did some running.

If you choose to start running - and I heartily recommend it - take your time, respect the limitations imposed on your body by your modern lifestyle and, above all, enjoy using this ability that our ancestors evolved over hundreds of thousands of years.

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Strength Training (A Guide for Non-Strength Athletes)

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Will Newton


In over twenty years of coaching, Will has coached everyone from absolute beginners to world champions. His interest in getting the best results for athletes who compete for the love of the sport, rather than as professionals, drives him to find the most effective ways to get results.

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