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Running highs and lows: CALM's sprints and tips

Whether you’re a marathon runner or a jog-around-the-blocker, how can you tap into your full potential? The amount of information out there can make it all feel a bit overwhelming, so we caught up with trail runner and coach Maggie Dempsey and pulled together some top tips to help you run with confidence. Here’s CALM’s guide to getting into your stride.

Running’s mostly about putting one foot in front of the other and remembering to tie your shoelaces, but there are ways to really make the most of your run and prevent training too hard or too fast. A quick phone call with coach Maggie reassured us that running is about keeping things simple and finding a routine that works for you.

As exercise goes, running is pretty accessible. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and the world is your oyster. There’s no real rules or set ways to train, but there are some basic principles that can boost your confidence.

Set S.M.A.R.T goals

Ooh we love an acronym. Well, if you’ve been searching for a straightforward way to break down your training goals, this is it.

No matter where you’re at in your running journey, Maggie uses S.M.A.R.T goals as a foundation for all her coaching:

“This is something I try to instil in everyone I coach. It’s about making sure that every goal you set is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-orientated. A lot of people, no matter what level they are, tend to set very high goals that may not be achievable at that time. Using this as a foundation will make sure you’re reaching goals you’ve set and help you get to the level you want to be at.”

Rather than just saying you want to run more, narrow it down to how many days a week and what distance you want to cover. If the only running you’ve done recently was for the bus, then aiming to run an ultramarathon next week probably isn’t achievable or realistic, so while it’s great to aim high, give yourself a chance from the get go. Finally, think about when you’d like to reach your goal and give yourself a deadline to work to.

Work on your posture, but don’t overthink it

Ever walked towards someone you know and totally forgotten how to walk? Overthinking how we’re running can leave us in a similar situation.

Posture is important, but working on it doesn’t mean running with a pile of books on your head. Maggie has an ‘uplifting’ way to think about our running form:

“It’s good to understand the basics of technique when running or doing any form of exercise but really it’s about the overall posture of your head, neck, shoulders and back. You can still keep moving when your legs are fatigued, but your shoulders will start to roll in, your head will drop and your back will curve.

“Think about a balloon pulling your head up as you run, straightening you up and making you taller. Keep your arms at a 90 degree angle and make sure that you’re driving back from the elbows to open up your chest and help you to breathe. You don’t want to overcomplicate it, because when you run it should be natural. If you’re constantly thinking about technique you’re not going to enjoy the run.”

Don’t blow your dough on spenny kit

It’s easy to get carried away when it comes to kit, but Maggie says it’s all about a good pair of shoes.

“One thing I’ll say, is if you’re starting out don’t go and buy the most expensive kit, because you don’t know how far you’re going to take running. Some people might just want to run twice a week and some people might start running marathons for the next ten years.

“A good pair of trainers is key. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy the best trainers on the market, it’s about what feels comfortable to you. Last season’s products are normally discounted in the sale, so if you’re looking for quite a good shoe, always opt for last season. They’ll be cheaper but just as good as the shoes they’ve just brought out.”

Rest before you’re on last legs

Don’t get bogged down with complicated training plans and allow yourself time to recover after runs.

As a coach and a seriously badass trail runner, Maggie knows all about building training plans, but she also knows that an important part of reaching your full potential is rest:

“It’s about gauging how far you’re able to run at the start and making sure you’re not pushing your efforts too high. From there try to increase your distance by 5% every week or two so you’re not overloading your body. Always make time for a recovery week and ensure you’re not constantly building on distance, because you won’t peak, you’ll actually plateau.

“In your recovery week you should be cutting back the length and intensity of your runs and mixing in cross training. That means low impact exercise like cycling, which will help build your aerobic base and allow you to recover. Strength training is a vital part of training because it helps build key muscle groups that you use for any type of running.”

Chase down confidence

Find a running crew that will cheer you on and make you feel like you can take on the world!

If you’re feeling self-conscious about getting out for a run, you’re not alone. It’s normal to worry about whether you’re breathing like Darth Vader or doing strange things with your arms. It might feel like everyone is judging your running style, but in reality they’re probably more focused on their own stuff. Maggie suggests joining a running group if you can’t shake that self-conscious feeling:

“There’s a lot of imposter syndrome when it comes to running and lots of people think they’re not good enough. But people don’t just wake up one morning and run a marathon. Everyone started their journey somewhere and just because your running journey is different to other people’s, doesn’t make you any less of a runner.

“Joining a running group or community can really help build your confidence. It’s a great way to meet people who are at the same level as you and make friends. You’ll learn loads of new running routes and it can motivate you because you have people to hold you accountable. Just having people around you to remind you you’re doing a great job is really important.”

Find a running routine that works for you

You don’t need to jump out of bed at 6am for a run if you’re not a morning person. Run around your own schedule.

Maggie’s final nugget of wisdom? Running is personal and what works for one person, might not work for another:

“Some people might work shift patterns or sit down from nine to five. Other people might be on their feet all day or have to fit their run in after they’ve put their kids to bed. It’s about what works for you and what works around your lifestyle. Lots of people tend to think that training has to be really regimental and actually making sure you adapt your training to your lifestyle is really important, because otherwise it will become more of a chore and not something you enjoy.”

If you’re looking for something to motivate you to get out there for a run, why not sign up to Run CALM? From the London 10K to the Great North Run, there’s plenty of events to choose from.

You can talk to CALM if you or someone you know is struggling. Our free confidential helpline and webchat service is open every day from 5pm until midnight. Access it here.