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Couch to 4k - A beginner’s guide to running the Mother’s Day classic

Always wanted to do a fun run but never quite knew how to go about training for it? With the Mother’s Day classic only two months away, there’s still plenty of time to get yourself prepared to tackle the 4km course. Committing to running three times per week in the next couple of months will see you racing across the finish line come May 13!

Before we even think about putting runners on, if you’re new to exercise, a general health check up with your GP is imperative. While exercise is safe, and indeed has an innumerable number of health benefits for most, making sure that it is safe for you is top priority. My other tip for starting off is to phone a friend. We know that people tend to stay more committed to an exercise program when they have a buddy, so get your partner, your friends or even your kids on board and support one another to achieve a common goal. Sign them up and hit the ground running together.

First off, you’ll need appropriate footwear to get you through the next couple of months of training. This will help get you there without injury, and we all know that there’s nothing quite like a fresh pair of kicks to get you up and running! Runners should never be more than six months old, as the cushioning and support provided will decrease substantially over time. For most people with fairly normal feet, a neutral running shoe would be a safe choice. Some good options are the Brooks Ghost 10, the Nike Pegasus or the Asics GT 2000. If however, you find yourself troubled by chronic lower limb injury, a visit to a podiatrist comes recommended for an assessment of any biomechanical factors that might be contributing. Running can put more than 5 times your body weight through your lower body, and optimising your support through footwear is an essential part of injury prevention. Ultimately though, the shoe that feels comfortable and supportive is the right shoe for you.

Getting started can often be the hardest part. We humans have a tendency to worry about the unknown, and starting a running program can be a scary prospect for most of us. Setting realistic goals and expectations from the outset will help the process seem a little less overwhelming, and reminding yourself that you’re a beginner learning a new skill can help counter frustration when it occurs. The first run should be short, easy and achievable. Start with running for one minute on, and one minute off, over 15-20 minutes. If you can only do ten, this is ok too. Over the first month, the aim would be to build up to running 10-15 minutes continuously, by increasing the amount of continuous running over time. Generally, it is advisable to increase your loads no more than every second session, giving your body a chance to adapt and recover.

The second month should see you aiming to add more distance. A good approach is to run 10-15 minutes consecutively, followed by some run/walk intervals to complete 30minutes total. This could be a 2-3 minute run, followed by a 2minute walk, for example. As you progress, increasing the continuous running time and decreasing the walking time, will get you prepared for running 4km continuously.

If you prefer more structure and a motivating voice in your ear, the Couch 2 Five 5k (C25K) app is an excellent resource for gradually increasing your running distance. It’s a nine- week program that builds up to running 5km, or 30minutes continuously, and could easily be adapted for our purpose. Perhaps the best feature of the app is that it seamlessly integrates the training instructions with music, allowing you to play your favourite motivational tunes without missing a beat of your running program.

Once you’ve done the training, and you’re running more comfortably, the focus changes to the weeks leading up to the run. Ideally, you should aim to run 4kms the week before the event to give you the confidence that you can complete the course. However, many people find the energy and adrenaline on the day is enough to help them over the line either way. Avoid running in the three days leading into the event to ensure you’re well rested and energised on the day. The same goes for other strenuous exercise like gym classes or weight training, however short walks are great for keeping active without the risk of fatigue.

Getting your nutrition right is an essential ingredient for ensuring success on the day. Your preparation should begin well before the event, as knowing when, what, and how much to eat beforehand will help avoid any pesky gastrointestinal symptoms like a stitch or an upset stomach. Avoid eating in the two hours before the race, as you need to allow enough time for digestion, and some people might not want to eat at all. A carbohydrate-based meal is an excellent option for providing a good energy source for the day. Pre-race is not the time to get experimental with your eating and sticking to foods and meals that you would usually eat before a run is the best way to avoid any issues on the day. Saving the honeycomb pancakes for a post run reward will be a great motivator to get you across the finish line!

Now that the big day has finally arrived, and you’ve prepared well with this program you should be fit, well fuelled, and ready to fire! No doubt you’ll be nervous too, but this is completely normal, and a good sign that you’ve been working hard towards an important goal. As my mother always said, make sure you leave plenty of time to travel and park as additional stressors will only detract from what should be an enjoyable day. New running gear is always exciting but be sure to give it a trial run before the day. Running 4km with your shorts chafing will definitely break your stride, so be prepared in comfortable apparel that both fits well and makes you feel good.

Last but not least, having a support crew to cheer you on and high five you at the end is a great way to celebrate your achievements, and for parents, this sets a fantastic example about the importance of exercise for your kids. There is no better way than leading by example, and maybe you’ll even inspire them to run with you next year.

Learn more about Dr Carlee Van Dyk by visiting