Toolkit to Become a Better Runner

by Dr. Rajat Chauhan
Here are 10 tips for beginner runners to improve performance and meet targets effectively
In the past decade or so, running has emerged as a favourite mode of exercise for many. Some do it for recreation or as an effective cardiovascular exercise but for some others, running is serious business. They live by the marathon calendar and train intensively for each race. No matter where your running aspiration features on this graph, it helps to know how to enjoy the exercise and improve your performance with each run. Here are 10 ways to do it.
1. This is not another rat race. Do not try to rush back to being how active or fit you were at a particular stage in life. You will get there soon and go beyond it, but you first need to understand the current situation.Also, do not compete with anyone else around you. Start slow, make a solid foundation so that you do not get hurt. Your intent should be to carry on doing the best you can and enjoy yourself.
2. Time on feet is more important than distance or speed.You will notice that in the running community, everyone is too obsessed with numbers of all kinds. I suggest you do not worry about distance and speed for the first few months. Simply focus on time on feet. In a couple of months, once your foundation is solid, you can decide to do what you want to do. But till then, simply enjoy the journey. Do it because you want to do it, not for those around you.
3. Start by alternating gentle walking for one to five minutes with brisk walking for one to five minutes.Repeat three to six times. For the first week or two, simply stick to this. Once you are comfortable moving at a brisk pace for five to 10 minutes non-stop, it is a good idea to start jogging a little. Now start alternating one- to five-minute brisk walks with jogs for the same duration. Repeat three to six times,
4. If running is the love of your life, strength training is your father or mother-in-law. You need to start doing whole body strength training to make it more comfortable for you when you run. It will help you run more efficiently and keep you injury free for longer. Strength training could be done at home or at a gym, using body weight or machines.
5. Do not resist, just let go. It might sound very philosophical but this is the most basic tip for running. The more you resist, the more unnatural it becomes and the more mistakes you will make. Start by relaxing your shoulders and jogging in one spot. Hold an imaginary papad, which you are not supposed to break,between your thumb and index finger of both hands. To hold it gently, you will naturally relax your shoulders and the upper body.
6. Whether it is for walking or running, you need to work on your breathing. Do not take it for granted. Soon enough, when you start running, you will get out of breath and start taking very shallow ineffective breaths. Practise breathing when you start walking by taking a long breath in, holding it for a second or two and then breathing out. This will come naturally even when you are running at a fast pace.
7. Listen to your footsteps. The only thing that you should listen to while running is your footsteps. If you can hear them, you are too loud. Be soft on your feet. Skipping or jogging in the same spot for three to five minutes is the only warm-up needed before the run. This will help you land softly when you run, reducing the strain on your knees.
8. Listen to your body. Initially your body will tell you to just stop because it is not going to be comfortable. I suggest for the first three to four weeks follow the advice given above, but if there is pain that persists for a couple of days, seek medical help. In a month, you will know what feels right.
9. No bare-foot running for people who are just picking up running. First learn how to run better and then do what you feel like but for now just pick up a decent pair of running shoes based on your needs. If you are a neutral runner, pick normal cushioned shoes, but if you are an over-pronator, pick stability shoes.
10. Have a sip or two of water every 10-15 minutes, but no more.Best is to have an electrolyte mix instead of plain water. Never run straight after a meal. Leave a gap of at least two hours.After a run, have proteins within 20-30 minutes. 
11. Keep miling and smiling. And all the above are useless tips if you aren’t smiling while you are miling. And yes, this is the eleventh tip even though I said I’ll give you ten. After all, one and one come together, and get you moving.
Dr Rajat Chauhan, a student of running and pain, has been a runner for 37 years and founder race director of La Ultra, an epic 11-555 km race in Ladakh since 2010. He is a Sports-Exercise Medicine and Conservative Pain Management physician for over two decades. He is the author of The Pain Handbook: A Non- Surgical Way to Manage Back, Neck, and Knee Pain. You can find him on Twitter @drrajatchauhan

January 2, 2022

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