Running Tools

In 2010 I read a book that intrigued me and made me wonder if I too, was Born To Run. It is a fascinating read, even if you’re not interested in running. But it made me dust off the treadmill and learn to run in a whole new way that I had previously thought was ‘wrong’. A year later I ran (mostly) a real and extremely hilly 5K race and finished it alive and in about 33 minutes.

I’m by no means a dedicated runner now, but I go through spurts of trying to keep fit and breaking out the treadmill again. Here’s what I have found helpful.


Born To Run By Christopher McDougall

It’s an examination of the Ultra-Running phemonemon, barefoot running and this crazy tribe of Mexican barefoot runners the Tarahumara. Fascinating read.

Running Research

Barefoot Running Technique: Because I was intrigued by the ‘keep it easy, keep it light’ barefoot or barely-shod running that seemed so different from the bouncy, pounding running I thought was the ‘proper’ way to run (from watching people pound around the park), I looked up how to do it properly without injuring myself. Here’s what I found useful:


If you’re running barefoot is important to take small, smooth steps with very little bounce, not landing on your heel. This is much easier to do if you take more steps per minute than most runners. I saw 180 beats-per-minute as the recommended speed and started running at that pace. No matter what *speed* you’re going, keep your footfalls going at three-per-second. (If you don’t have a running playlist that is full of 180 bpm music see below for mine, or simple look at a stop watch. Every time the seconds tick away you put one foot down and by the time the next second comes around you shoudl have taken two more steps. I go like this: 0:01 right foot down, left, right, 0:02 left foot down, right, left. From that point on, I just have to ‘feel’ the way alternate feet are hitting every time the seconds change.

This stride might be hard to get used to if you’ve done a lot of running and are a bouncy runner, but for me it felt really natural. Any time I’d successfully run before, it was by doing a very smooth, non-bouncy step that felt so easy I always thought it was ‘cheating’! But believe me, you can work up a sweat running this way!

(I was delighted to discover so many and varied pieces of music that fit into the 180bpm mold. It’s not all techno or ‘workout’ music by any means. Check out my current list below.)

Walk Breaks:
Another running myth I had debunked (thank, Carol!) was that you’re not doing it right if you ever stop for a breather. Jeff Galloway argues that it’s better for your muscles and can make you faster. I certainly couldn’t have run my 5K in a respectable time and felt like I had succeeded, without this.

The Head Fake

Running is about tired, shaky muscles the first few times you do it, and about gasping for air and wanting to puke and wondering if maybe dying young, wheezy and fat might be a fine alternative to this. Then, as your muscles get stronger and your stamina improves it is mostly about trying not to think “can I stop yet?” (YMMV).

I *know* I can almost always run farther than I want to. If I’m trying to get to the end of a segment in my Couch To 5K app, I’ll use my prodigious imagination to daydream about things that would make being able to run like this important to me. Here are some of my head-fakes

  • I imagine that my children are in trouble and I’m running towards them. This is a little bit of a downer but makes me want to run and run and run forever.
  • I imagine myself playing with the kids, laughing and chasing them around the garden and being able to keep up. Also pretty powerful.
  • I imagine myself having the stamina to dance the night away at a swing dance or ceilidh (you may picture salsa dancing, a wedding disco, or Dancing With The Stars, or moshing at a concert. Up to you).

Tools of the Trade

I use this Run 5K app to work me up to speed when I’ve, er, taken a break from running.(Truth time: I spend most of my time reworking the middle few weeks, rarely getting to the point where I can run without breaks). This is a more official Couch To 5K app, which came much later but is endorsed by, who came up with the original Couch To 5K program. If you want to support the makers you might want to buy the official one. Personally I find it a bit too slick and like the rough and ready early version. Plus the workout-prompts are perkily chirped by some girlie who doesn’t know that the word is “RunnING” not “Runn-en”, which really grates on my nerves.

If I am running outside I wear these. Even if I’m not running outside I wear these quite a lot. They are lovely and light, but you do need to order a size bigger than you think you will.

The Playlist

Hugely important part of the workout: good music can keep me going even when I’d rather stick needles in my eyes. “I can keep going through this song”, I tell myself as the music makes me feet move on their own and all I have to worry about is keeping the oxygen reaching my lungs.

Here’s what’s on my playlist just now. I think some of them might surprise you.

And that’s how I run. What about you? Any tips?