Answers to common running questions

Information to help you start out in running

Starting out in running can be daunting and if you're a beginner you will probably be concerned about the amount of running you will need to do and when, as well as other issues such as cooling down and stretching. Here some answers to questions that are frequently asked about running training.

Common questions you may ask about running:

1. Do I really need to follow a running training plan written by professionals?

2. How long will it take me to train before a marathon?

3. Why is it necessary to warm up before running?

4. What do I need to do to warm up before a run?

5. Why is it necessary to cool down and stretch after running?

6. Are there benefits to training with a heart rate monitor?

7. What does cross-training involve?'s answers:

1.    Do I really need to follow a running training plan written by professionals?

Yes, if you are training for a race. The reasons are as follows:

  • You will lower your chances of getting injured while running
    Professionally written running training programmes are produced by people who have years of experience, and who will be able to calculate what the ideal sessions will be for you to do depending on your aims. Doing these sessions will help you to avoid any overtraining, which can lead to injuries.
  • Your motivation for running will increase
    Having to follow a plan of what you are supposed to do in your training means you will be more likely to do it.  
  • You will have running goals to aim for
    If you follow a professional running programme, you will have more of an idea about what will be achievable week by week, and will have a plan matching your personal aims - for example, to complete a 5k race in two months' time.

2.    How long will it take me to train before a marathon?

The answer is it will depend on your current fitness levels. If you're a complete beginner to running, it should be possible to follow a 24-week training plan for beginners and finish a marathon in around 4-5 hours. You will of course have to adhere to the professionally devised training plan in order to achieve this. It's best to begin with several local races, though - for example a 5k, then a 10k race - so as to gradually build up to your aim of completing  a marathon. Not many runners would argue with the statement that the greater amount of time you train for (in terms of weeks and months), and the more slowly you build up your stamina, the more you will benefit from your training.

3.    Why is it necessary to warm up before running?

There are two important reasons why you need to do a warm up:

  1. To gradually prepare your muscles and tendons for the particular stress you are going to put on them during your run.
  2. To gradually raise your heart rate to the level required for running.

You should also warm up to avoid injury. Slow jogging followed by stretching will flood your working muscles with blood that is rich in oxygen and raise your body's temperature. This will make you more flexible and help your blood vessels to open up, thereby letting more oxygen-rich blood flow into your working muscles. If in addition to this you do some easy stretching, you will increase your range of movement, which can help you to avoid injuries. This type of gentle exercise will also release synovial fluid from sacs in your joints, giving lubrication and an even wider range of movement.

Raising your heart rate is an essential part of your warm-up. It will promote heat, which will warm up your muscles, and it will prepare your aerobic system so it can deliver a large amount of oxygen to your working muscles. Have you ever sprinted to catch a train, then felt dizzy or had to sit down and gasp for breath and ask yourself, "What's going on? I'm supposed to be an incredibly fit runner!"? The reason why you gasp for breath is that your heart has been forced to suddenly try to release oxygen to meet the demands placed on your body. So your heart sends blood at top speed to your legs, which will leave you trying to catch your breath as you won't be able to take in enough oxygen to meet the short-term demand, and feeling dizzy because your heart has instantly redirected your blood flow to your legs.

Warming up will gradually move blood to the places it's needed without negatively affecting blood flow elsewhere. This is essential for the start of a running event, where you immediately move off at race pace - often more quickly than would be ideal.

4.    What do I need to do to warm up before a run?

In general, the quicker you run, the greater the amount of time you will need to spend warming up beforehand. This is because the quicker you run the more your tendons and muscles will be used to their maximum, and therefore the more stress will be put on your aerobic system. Sprinters may spend one hour warming up via jogging, stretching, then more jogging and stretching, just for a ten-second race! On the other hand, marathon runners will often do no more than a few stretches and five minutes of jogging.

For a normal running session a warm-up can involve five minutes of jogging and then a few stretches. However for a longer or harder session or a short (e.g. 5k) race, aim to jog for five minutes, then stop and do some basic stretches - calves, hamstrings, back, Achilles tendons and so on. Then do a further five minutes' jogging and go through some more quick stretches.

5.    Why is it necessary to cool down and stretch after running?

Scientifically speaking, we know cooling down and stretching is beneficial, but no-one agrees about how much of them we need. However we do know that by slowly reducing your heart rate and ending your session with some stretching,  you will help to clear out the accumulated by-products of exercise (i.e. hydrogen ions, lactic acid, carbon dioxide) while controlling the dissipation of heat. It's also accepted that doing stretches while the muscles are warm will assist in the clearance of by-products, while giving your tendons and muscles a wider range of motion.

The more intensively you run, the longer your cool-down will need to be. The ideal way to cool down is to slow your pace to a walk and then continue walking until you get your breath back. After this, jog slowly for five to ten minutes, follow this with a couple of minutes' walking, and then do some light stretches.

6.    Are there benefits to training with a heart rate monitor?

Yes there are - if you are serious enough about your running, of course. 'The harder you work the more you'll gain' isn't always the case when you're running for long distances. You can never go too 'easy' during a run for the exercise to be beneficial, but  you can go too 'hard' sometimes. A heart rate monitor (HRM) is very useful for when you want to control when to run easy and when to run hard.

On each 'hard' training day, a heart rate monitor will be useful to ensure you recover sufficiently as well as ensure your general runs are completed at the optimum effort without turning them into high-intensity sessions.

Aerobic training is usually defined as exercising at around 75% of your maximum heart rate. Your steady runs should therefore be at a pace when your heart rate is at around 70 to 75% of its maximum. Long runs (i.e. 90 minutes or longer) and higher-intensity runs should be followed by easy recovery days. In general, easier running is defined as training at lower than 70% of your maximum heart rate. Using a heart rate monitor to control your steady running means you will be able to ensure you're making the right amount of effort in your aerobic training, which is an important aim, and even more importantly, it will help to make sure you are recovering properly between the 'hard' long sessions and higher-intensity runs.

The final point is essential to grasp. The biggest mistake some runners make is to do their aerobic training and recovery running too intensively, which over time means they won't be able to carry out their high-intensity training 'hard' enough. Making use of a heart rate monitor can help you to avoid this trap.

7.  What does cross-training involve?

Cross-training basically involves doing activities that are additional to and that complement your usual running training. Via cross-training you can learn new skills and train in a way that can prepare you more for your running. It is also likely to help you reduce your risk of injury.

Finding different ways to exercise will reduce the continual high-impact on your joints from running, and it may also help you to avoid becoming bored by adding some variety to your training. It can also enable you to improve or maintain your strength, flexibility and muscle tone. No matter what your running level is, cross-training is likely to help you get the results you're looking for.

Before you plan your cross-training schedule, it will be important to have a good idea about what you're training for and make sure your goals include a good mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Combining CV, strength and flexibility training will help you to achieve a good balance, as these three types of training are the foundations of all effective fitness training programmes. Digg redditFacebook Stumbleupon