Nail your technique, go the distance: Your complete guide to running

By Sarah Berry and Sophie Aubrey

Credit:ILLUSTRATION BY Monique Westermann

Starting nice and easy, over five weeks we will warm up our bodies and get moving. With experts guiding the way, this plan will kickstart your running journey – or if you’re already running, take it a step further. From nailing your technique and preventing injury, to choosing the right fuel and gear, consider this your training toolkit. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s do this – together.

Your training program

Running coach and physiotherapist Rachel Stanley has put together two five-week programs. The five-kilometre program is designed for beginners who can walk comfortably for 30 minutes. The 10-kilometre program is for people who are already running for at least 20 minutes, 2-3 times per week.

Stanley recommends people do some form of strength and conditioning on two additional days of the week, if possible.

Nail your technique

Humans were born to run. In fact, evolutionary biologists argue that running is part of what made us human in the first place.

At its best, running feels like a form of art in motion – the synergy of breath, mind and muscle, as Christopher McDougall puts it in his running bible, Born to Run.

Rachel Stanley recommends considering your cadence when running.

3. Cadence
Increasing cadence, by taking shorter, faster steps, is another way to combat over-striding and helps us stabilise, says Stanley. It’s for this reason that Stanley encourages new runners, and runners who have experienced injuries to aim for a cadence (step rate) of about 180 per minute.

The magic of 180, Stanley says, is that there is 13 per cent less ground contact time than a slower cadence of 160. Increasing the cadence higher than 180-185 however is too fast for most people to maintain for any prolonged period.

Not everyone agrees that 180 is right for all runners. Height, for instance, plays a role in cadence – it’s a lot easier for someone with shorter legs to have a faster cadence, while taller people typically take longer, slower strides. In fact, recent research shows that while the average cadence among a group of world class athletes is 182, they ranged individually from about 160 to over 200.

4. Breathe
When we lose our breath, we are also losing form. Williams says that when we go out for a run, we should remain in the aerobic zone (about 70 per cent of our maximum heart rate) for four out of five kilometres or eight out of 10 kilometres.

One way to monitor our exertion, if we don’t have a heart rate monitor for instance, is via our breath. Williams suggests a 3×3 breathing pattern, inhaling for three steps and exhaling for three steps until the final part of the run when we increase to a 2×2 pattern. “You should be out of control only for final sprint,” he says.

Podiatrist Odette Blacklock.

Our breath also provides the rhythm for our run and podiatrist and athlete, Odette Blacklock adds that breath control equates to body control. Breathing from our diaphragm switches our core on, keeping us stable, elongated and able to maintain alignment when we run.

“If you’re not breathing properly you can’t create energy and you’ll fatigue really quickly and you’ll want to give up,” Blacklock says.

How to prevent injury

By some estimates, more than 621 million people around the world run regularly. Of these, as many as 70 per cent will be injured at any one time.

This causes many people to stop running altogether, blaming the rickety way their bodies feel when they run.

Knee pain accounts for about 42 per cent of running injuries, followed by problems with the foot or ankle (17 per cent), lower leg (13 per cent) and hip (11 per cent). But injury is not inevitable.

Bend and stretch and strengthen your body to minimise the risk of injury: Trent Knox, Rachel Stanley and Todd Liubinskas.Credit:Janie Barrett

Mobility, on the other hand, allows us to move freely when we run. If we can’t move easily, then we will not be able to run with efficiency or speed, we increase our risk of injury and running is unlikely to feel good.

“I liken that tightness to wearing a wetsuit,” Stanley says. “Do you want to run down the high street with a four-millimetre wetsuit? Mobilisation takes off your internal wetsuit.”

It is for these reasons that Stanley believes that, for injury prevention, the biggest thing we can do is strength work followed by mobility.

Todd Liubinskas, director of the 440 Run Club and founder of Feel Fit in 4 Weeks, adds any strength and mobility we do will benefit us when we run, whether it’s pilates or push-ups, a strength session at the gym or some squats, a walk, a swim or yoga.

For new runners, Liubinskas suggests adding in one strength session a week to start, slowly building to two as our bodies adjust.

Eating well is an important part of your running performance.Credit:iStock

When to eat
While some people find they can run shortly after eating without getting an upset stomach, for most people, a meal 2-3 hours is generally recommended. After the run, to gain muscle, Austin suggests having a bite within 1-2 hours.

If you’re training for five kilometres, Austin says you don’t need to eat a lot more food, but it’s smart to look at when you’re eating to fuel your runs. “If running in the morning you might get up and split your breakfast into two. Have some before and the rest after, so you have pre and post run fuel, rather than adding in more. It could be a banana before the run and then your porridge when you come home. If running in the afternoon you may have lunch two hours before and leave a piece of fruit to eat an hour after the run.”

For 10-kilometre runners, an additional snack post-run is a good idea to replace your fuel. It can also help stop you losing muscle mass. Try a glass of milk and crackers with peanut butter or a bowl of soup.

Your race day diet
Don’t gorge before the big race. “If you overeat you will feel sluggish and won’t sleep well if loading the night before,” Austin says. If you’re running five kilometres, Austin recommends eating normally the day before. Ten-kilometre runners can add in some extra carbohydrate but don’t go overboard. “You don’t need a mountain of pasta the night before. Have a normal bowl and a top-up of a slice of toast before bed if the run is early in the morning. But if it is later in the day you will be eating breakfast to top up carb stores anyway.” Austin also urges people to avoid high-fat foods before the race because they take time to digest and make you feel heavy: “This is not the time for takeaway.”

On the day itself, if the race is first thing, have a light breakfast. “Two hours before is ideal but no need to get up at 5am … Simply have a snack before bed the night before and have some toast or yoghurt and fruit in the morning. Having some water or other fluid is important.”

During a five or 10-kilometre race, it’s up to you whether to drink water. Do so if you need to. If you’re going for speed, you might want to stick to drinking before and after the run. You’ll mainly be hydrating with water, but grab a sports drink if you’re intensely pounding the pavement or the weather is warm.

After a 10-kilometre race, have a snack within an hour as you would when training. Then have your main meal 2-3 hours after the run.

Gear up

The beauty of running is that you don’t need much to start. But there is a lot of value to equipping yourself with great gear: it can be motivating, more comfortable and, in turn, improve your performance.

What you wear on your feet is the most important piece of this puzzle. Sports podiatrist Odette Blacklock says that a well-fitting shoe will prevent injury – from your feet to your knees, hips and back – and give you confidence on race day. She adds that when running, your foot strike produces a force of more than three times your body weight, so shoes help reduce that shock.

Start with the right shoes, says sports podiatrist Odette Blacklock.

“The best running shoe is forever a hotly debated topic,” says Blacklock. The reality is that it’s extremely individual, so don’t buy shoes simply based on friends’ recommendations, nor from online without trying on, she warns. Rather, you need a shoe that’s exactly the right size, and is based on your foot type and running strike. Your best bet is to head to a store that assesses you, lets you try a pair and take it for a run, Blacklock says. Many retailers also allow you to exchange a shoe if it’s not suitable after being tested out, so it’s worth checking this. Blacklock recommends looking for these features: a wide toe box with ample room to move and splay your toes; light-weight and flexible at the front; a firm heel that doesn’t collapse under pressure. RunRepeat has a lot of helpful resources on running shoes on its website. Blacklock’s top all-rounder running shoe brands are Asics, New Balance, Brooks and Hoka.

As frustrating as it may be, you’ll need to replace your runners every 6-12 months. “The reality is spending $100-$300 on a shoe should be seen as a small investment for how much you get out of them. The right shoe can also save you hundreds if not thousands in long term health-related injury costs,” Blacklock says. “If you want to save money, keep an eye out for last season’s shoes as most of the better quality shoes don’t change much over time.”

The right socks can make or break your shoes, Blacklock says. You want to feel secure without slippage or irritation. “The aim is to choose a sock that reduces friction and moisture, to prevent dermatological issues such as athlete’s foot, blisters and calluses.” The best fabric is a synthetic blend that wicks moisture away and stays in place around the ankle. Avoid loose fitting cotton socks. Blacklock’s favourite pair is Under Armour’s Run No Show Tab socks.

Sean Williams gets into a hamstring stretch. Credit:Joe Armao

Moisture-wicking synthetics are ideal for running: they’re more breathable and help you regulate your body temperature because the material quickly absorbs sweat from your skin and dries. When the weather is warm, you want to feel as light and comfortable as possible, Sean Williams says. That might mean a singlet or T-shirt and shorts.

In the colder months, you may want a second layer over your top half. If so, Williams recommends a lightweight running jacket. Otherwise just wear a long-sleeve running top. And you’ll probably want to wear long tights. Williams says the key to cold weather running in Australia is the right accessories. “There’s nothing worse than being too cold for the whole journey,” he says. Consider getting yourself some gloves to keep your fingers toasty. Also look into getting a headband, ear muffs or a beanie. A neck buff can also be handy. You can always remove these accessories and put them in a pocket if you need to.

A Rebel Sport spokesperson says its most popular brands for running apparel are Nike and Under Armour as they’re functional, sleek and use high-performance fabric. Williams adds that you don’t need to spend a fortune on apparel, and recommends waiting for sale prices. He also suggests checking out budget-friendly sports giant Decathlon. But he adds: “The more running you do, the more you’ll want the good gear.”

Williams is a big fan of running watches because they offer you detailed reports on your runs and allow you to easily monitor your progress. A JB Hi-Fi spokesperson says the key measures they give you are your pace, distance and overall time. They also track your heart rate, so you know your exertion levels, and changes in terrain elevation. More advanced watches come with extra features, like a cadence-counter and calculating optimal recovery time. The most popular brands are Garmin, Apple, Fitbit, Suunto and Samsung (and they’ll sync up with running app Strava). It’s worthwhile getting a watch that you can play music from, too, so you don’t have to carry a phone. Williams says while some people use their phone to track their runs – often using only the app Strava – it can be a nuisance to carry. His favourite watch is the Garmin Forerunner 235, which you can find for about $380. “You don’t need to be paying double, triple that,” Williams says.

Runners tend to prefer wireless earbuds to avoid getting their arms tangled in cords and falling out; neckband styles are OK for this too. JB Hi-Fi’s spokesperson says the top brands are Jabra, JBL, Sony, Under Armour and Bose. They recommend getting a pair that’s water (and sweat!) resistant with a nice, secure fit (some brands come with different sized bud attachments) to avoid having it slip around in your ears. Don’t choose noise-cancelling headphones because you want to stay alert. Better yet, look for ones that have an ambient-aware mode to amplify external sounds.

Dial up the enjoyment

Get a buddy

An easy way to make running more fun is by going with a pal. Clinical psychologist Tamara Cavenett, president of the Australian Psychological Society, says not only does a running buddy keep you accountable, they also distract you from any desire to stop. “You’re socialising and connecting on a common interest and it will increase your level of commitment, so it’s a really good way of improving your mood,” Cavenett says. Or, take it online: you can join our running club on Strava.

All in the ears
There’s nothing quite like your favourite song coming on to pep you up on your run. It’s no secret that music is an excellent motivator. Matthew Bourke, a Victoria University PhD candidate in exercise psychology, says it distracts you from noticing negative physical sensations. He points to research showing that people tend to find exercise more pleasurable and less difficult when listening to music, and their performance improves too, particularly with high-tempo music.

We’ve curated a Spotify playlist based on some of the favourite running songs of our experts, and runners in our team. We hope you enjoy it.

Of course, not everyone likes listening to music. Some prefer to engross themselves in a podcast or a great audiobook. Bourke says while these are unlikely to boost performance (they’re not exactly high tempo), they certainly can have a soothing effect and decrease your perceived exertion. In other words, what pain?

A dose of mindfulness
Mindful runs can be a really lovely addition to your routine, Cavenett says. Rather than focusing on your pace and distance, or getting distracted by music or worries that are on your mind, you’re turning your attention to your surroundings, your breath, your body and your movement.

It takes practice, Cavenett says, so start with 5-10 minutes and gradually increase. Try to take deep breaths and notice how it feels; notice the minute detail of the trees you’re running by, the ground beneath you. You’ll probably find your mind will wander a few times, and that’s perfectly normal, Cavenett says, it’s just about realising that and bringing your attention back. “In winter I’m noticing the feeling of the rain on my skin, watching my breath in the cold air, looking at the waves and seeing how they’re so dark and choppy,” she says. “There are so many things in the here and now that we usually miss.”

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