My idea for this article came from my brother, a self-professed non-runner. Having recently tackled his first run in 6 years, his question was quite clear – “how long will it take me to be able to run without pain?”. While this is of course difficult to answer exactly because everyone is different, it seems valuable to look at possible answers so that newbies can get their bearings.
First of all, running (or any sport for that matter) is challenging, especially when you first start. Yet running for fun doesn’t need to be the same as the gruelling training that many complete to run competitively. I would suggest starting by picking a sensible distance to work towards. Couch to 5k plans are everywhere and offer a realistic set of runs to help you get to a goal 5k time. Have a look at the NHS one here. It suggests, like most plans, that it will take an average of 5-6 weeks before you should be comfortable with running a solid half hour block (about the time for a 5k). On the other hand, for an athlete training for a larger competition it can take months to get to the right fitness level and there is always room for improvement. A cross-country runner, for example, can train 6 days a week for an hour or more a day and still feel the need to step it up a notch. The problem with putting a time frame on fitness is, of course, because it really depends on what your goals are and how much effort you put into sessions rather than how many you do. It is therefore so important to follow training plans properly (and that means taking rest days too!) to ensure you feel your best.
To further this however, my suggestion is to run with people, either joining a club or getting your friends together. I always find that group running motivates people so much more than running alone to get up and go. The camaraderie of having similar goals and interests is a real lifesaver when you’re working towards your running dreams. Most universities now have running clubs which, aside from the serious stuff, offer fun run groups. Some will even pick you up from your halls (if you’re a first year). For example, King’s College running group has a Bootcamp run every Wednesday afternoon around the Thames. Similarly, the UCL running club provides fun run sessions three times a week and have a ‘This UCL Girl Can’ set of sessions where you get a free shirt after 6 sessions! If you don’t want to get into a club too soon (as you will usually have to pay a subscription fee to join) you can join a Parkrun in any of the London parks. They are easy to find, well organised and open for all abilities.
So in answer to my brother’s question, I would say the time to build enough initial fitness for a comfortable 5k will be about 6 weeks with dedicated training. My hope however, is that by that point you will be in love with running as a social, fun and rewarding sport. I think really that is the best part of it; not necessarily being without pain, but certainly embracing it.