Never run a step? Or was it so long ago you can barely remember? Perhaps you’ve tried running before, but not managed to keep it up. Either way, you’ve come to the right place. It doesn’t matter whether you want to run for fun, for health, for personal challenge or for competition, the rules are the same – we start easy and progress slowly. This is the best way to introduce your body to running, because it allows time for your fitness level to respond and adapt. If you rush it, you’re more likely to end up feeling sore, tired and disillusioned – and fall off the wagon.
View becoming a runner as a journey, rather than focusing only on the destination, and you’ll widen your perspective on what you’re gaining from your endeavours. Not just the ability to get fit on your own two feet, but the confidence to try something new, the strength to overcome challenges, an escape from daily stresses and a sense of belonging to a wider community.
This walk-run programme lasts eight weeks. It starts with bouts of running that last just 60 seconds and by the end has you running for half an hour, non-stop. All you need is a watch or phone for timing yourself, and a pair of running shoes. If you can’t quite manage 30 minutes by the end, YOU HAVE NOT FAILED. We are all different. Some people will be ready for 30 minutes sooner than eight weeks, others will need a little longer. Just keep applying yourself, be patient and you will get there.
How the training plan works
There are three running sessions each week, numbered 1-3. There is an optional fourth session, too. They don’t need to be performed on specific days but do try to leave a day between them rather than doing them on consecutive days.
The first five minutes of each session are designated for brisk walking. This is to allow your muscles to warm up and your heart rate and breathing to quicken, to supply those muscles with oxygen. You can introduce some simple movements to help free up your joints and get rid of any tension in your muscles and joints – for example, bringing each knee alternately up to your chest, flicking your heels up to your bottom, circling your shoulders and walking on tiptoes. The last few minutes of each session are also reserved for walking, this time at an easy pace, to allow your body to return to its normal ‘resting’ state rather than coming to a sudden stop while you’re still breathing hard and blood is whizzing around your body.
When you get to the running (or jogging, if you prefer that title) parts, don’t be tempted to sprint. Find a nice comfortable pace that you feel you can sustain for the required duration. You should be able to segue from running to brisk walking without needing to stop and gasp for breath. That’s not to say you won’t notice your breathing during the running bits, but it should be rhythmic and manageable, not ragged and out of control – if that’s the case, you need to slow down.
The only time when you’re asked to run a little bit quicker is when ‘Strides’ are introduced in week 5. Strides are short efforts –15-30 seconds – run at a swift pace, but not a sprint. The focus is on running with good technique – think tall posture and ‘fast’ feet – while staying relaxed. After you run a stride, walk back to your start point, to give you some recovery time before the next one. You should finish a set of strides feeling energised, not exhausted.
The first few times you run, you can expect to feel a bit achy and sore because your body has not yet adapted to this ‘new’ challenge. It’s nothing to worry about, and it should abate after a day or two. However, if you have a specific place that hurts, such as your knee or heel, and the pain doesn’t ease off after a couple of days, then stick to walking while it settles down or if you’re concerned, get checked out by a doctor or physio.
Alongside the walk-run sessions, the programme includes a twice-weekly strength and conditioning workout designed to strengthen your running muscles and improve your movement efficiency. This will take no more than 15 minutes to complete and not only reduces the chance of you getting an injury but also builds a stronger, fitter running body. The workouts are scheduled on running days, but if you’d prefer to do them on another day, that’s fine.
If you miss a session, it’s up to you whether you come back to it on your next run or whether you skip it. This will depend on how you feel you are progressing and how big the progression is between the missed session and the next one. If you fall off the wagon completely for a week or so, it’s best to go back to where you were, or even an earlier week, so that you can find your feet again.
I’ve finished the plan. How do I progress?
First of all, congratulations! Be proud of yourself. But what now? Continue building your endurance by extending session 3 by a couple of minutes at a time, as and when you feel able to. It doesn’t need to be increased in length every single week and because the onus is on improving distance, pace is not important. This is the single most valuable thing you can do to progress.
To develop your speed, increase the duration of the weekly strides from 15 seconds to 20 or 30, and the number from 4 to 5 or 6. This is a great introduction to becoming more comfortable running at a faster pace, paving the way for the introduction of speedwork a little further down the line.
If you aren’t already doing so, adding in the more informal ‘optional’ workout is another way of continuing to ‘move the goalposts’ and add challenge. The rule with this one is to run as much as you can but walk as much as you need.
You should be able to maintain the strength you’ve built over the last eight weeks with just one strength workout a week now. Or continue with two if you’d like to see further gains.
Finally, consider signing up for a 5K race or parkrun. It can be really motivating to lay down a marker, which then serves as a measure of your future progress. It’s also a great way to discover the local running community that you are now part of.