This weekend a team from Avecto will be taking part in the Great Manchester Run to raise money for Stockport Mind. In my last blog I discussed some reasons why I think everybody should consider running to improve their own mental health. Today I will discuss how you can get started and stick to it. I’ll also draw out some similarities to software development.

Decide what is important to you

In software development, we recognise that it is key to understand exactly what we are trying to achieve so that we can focus our efforts on working towards those goals. When taking up running it also makes sense to understand what you are aiming for, so that you can make a plan that is appropriate for you to achieve your goals. If the focus is on fundraising the plan should be very different than if the goal is to beat a friend in a race or to beat a certain time.

For running, I like to make sure that I have process goals as well as outcome goals because I have more control over process goals and it also ensures that I enjoy the training.

Make a plan

In modern software development, it is common to use a product backlog to describe the goals that we are trying to achieve. A manageable portion of the backlog is worked on at a time, in priority order, in a series of short efforts called sprints.

A similar approach can be taken for running, especially if your goals are ambitious. Breaking down large goals into smaller, easier to achieve tasks makes it all a little less daunting.

There are some golden rules when making a running plan that everybody should stick to:

  • Ensure you have appropriate footwear that fits well and is suitable for your gait. If possible, get assessed and fitted at a local shop.
  • Start and finish every run slowly, or with a walk. Most people understand the importance of warming up, but many neglect cooling down that is vital for preventing injury but also for good heart health.
  • Only ever increase the total number of miles run over a week by a maximum of 10%.
  • Only ever increase the distance of the longest run of the week by 10%.
  • Every fourth or fifth week, have a recovery week. Try running 30-40% fewer miles, this does not mean a week off!

These guidelines ensure that fitness slowly builds over time and allows the body to adjust to gradually increased training load. One of the reasons I love running is that there are no shortcuts!

Feedback, feedback, feedback

Just like in software development, it is important that runners listen to feedback and adapt accordingly. The most common reason I hear that people stop running is due to injury, and often this can be prevented by listening to feedback from the body. Injury is most likely when the body is tired, and it is much better to take time off to recover rather than risk injury.

Conversely, positive feedback can allow plans to be accelerated, or training paces to be adjusted.

Race day

The golden rule for the race day to is to be prepared:

  • Make sure you do not wear anything new on the day. Chafing and rubbing are not runners’ friends!
  • Do not eat anything different for breakfast. Stick to what you are used to, for most people it is best to eat breakfast at least two hours before the race start
  • Get all your kit ready the night before and lay it out in order (a social media kit photo is popular!). Make sure your number is attached to your top, and if required attached your timing chip
  • Leave plenty of time on race day and get to the start early. Make sure you know where you are going and how you are going to get there. Leave time for things going wrong and for journeys to take longer due to the number of runners travelling.

The most important rule for race day is to enjoy the experience – look up, soak up the atmosphere and smile. I like to think of the race as being a celebration of all the hard work that has been done in training.

Seek inspiration and be the inspiration

Regardless of how far or quickly you are running, it is highly likely that you are inspiring somebody else. On an almost daily basis, I am inspired by new runners getting out of their comfort zone and doing something hard for thousands of different reasons. These are some of my current inspirations, all ordinary people doing extraordinary things that help to keep me motivated:

  • Nicky Spinks is a 50-year-old British farmer who recently set the record for the 132-mile Double Bob Graham Round, having taken on the event to celebrate 10 years since her breast cancer diagnosis. The attempt is covered in this excellent video.
  • Colin McCourt is a former GB athlete who grew to 94kg (14st 11) once he retired from athletics. This year he was challenged by his friends to run under 16 minutes for 5k in 2017. If he achieves it he wins £1700, but if he fails he has agreed to get their 17 names tattooed on to his body. He is chronicling his journey daily on Instagram.
  • Ben Smith ran 401 marathons in 401 days as part of the 401 Challenge to raise awareness of bullying in the UK

I would like to wish all runners taking on the Great Manchester Run good luck, and I hope that they all decide to keep running after the event!

You can sponsor the Avecto team, who are raising money for Stockport Mind, here.