It’s that time of year when people start to think about dusting off the trainers and start running. 

The days are stretching so it isn’t pitch black by the time you get home from work and temperatures are starting to rise again (admittedly that isn’t the case at the moment with a yellow weather warning in place!). 

The Belfast Marathon is also approaching and the lure of raising money for your favourite charity can entice otherwise couch potatoes out of the living room and onto the treadmill. 

It’s even more difficult to stay in the house when colleagues are putting on the pressure to take part in the marathon relay.

But it isn’t just as simple as donning some running gear and setting off. 

In fact, the risk of injury is increased if you don’t do things properly.

So, we’ve spoken to Debbie Matchett, a chartered physiotherapist and body control Pilates teacher who specialises in running injuries, foot and lower limb problems and back pain at her clinic, PhysioWorksNI

An avid runner herself, she has competed for Northern Ireland in cross country for more than 10 years. 

If you’re thinking of starting running, you’d be silly not to listen to her advice! 

Is it too late to start training for the marathon? 

Yes – Belfast Marathon is only round the corner on April 30 so if you’ve never run before, it’s 100% too late.  

I would always recommend that you start off slowly and not run on consecutive days. Running can be hard enough on the body and the marathon is 26.2 miles.  

It’s a long way, especially if you’ve never run before and it really takes a long time for your body to become conditioned to running. 

It’s like any new skill – it takes practice. 

I recommend that when you start out running that you build up to a 5k, then a 10k, and that you don’t put yourself under pressure.  

What are the main problems runners experience? 

The ones I see are calf and lower leg problems, and hip pain and tightness. 

The calves can tighten up and that can lead to problems with the Achilles’ tendon and feet.  

The problem arises when people do too much too soon. 

For me, I started running later in life when I was 40, and it’s common for people who play football or hockey or another sport and they have a certain level of fitness that they do too much too quickly. 

Actually, running is quite different, it’s a lot more repetitive and it isn’t just a matter of running out the front door.  

You need to gradually build up the time on feet and take plenty of recovery between runs. Adding in a stretching routine post run is also very useful. 

How do I go about starting to run safely? 

I would recommend signing up for a couch to 5k or download the app.  

This gives you a lovely programme to follow that will build your miles slowly and stop you doing too much. 

Running on grass and trail is another good thing to do when you start running as there’s less impact going up through your joints and muscles.
It’s also more interesting than just running on roads. Pick an area you have never run before and enjoy the scenery while you run.  

Running with friends or a group of people is also a good idea.  

You’ll not notice the miles going in and if you’re running and able to have a conversation that’s a great pace to run at, especially if you’re new to running. 

Any other tips? 

Run by feel rather than looking at your watch. 

Technology is great and we have so many watches to choose from that will track our miles and our pace and many more things.  

But rather than watching your pace and trying to target a pace, why not run to feel? 

Get to know your easy pace and how the body feels and get to know faster paces and how the body feels. 

A great way to improve your running is by joining a club where you will be guided by more experienced runners and you’ll make new friends.
There’s also safety in numbers when running with a group. 

Consistency of running will also help you get fitter and stronger for running and joining a club will give you set days to run so you can get the routine of running into your life. 

Park runs are a great way to get a 5k run in on a Saturday morning. 

Following the couch to 5k programme will progress you to the park runs and will give you a 5k run every week. 

They’re free, they cater to all ages and abilities and in Northern Ireland, they start at 9.30am every Saturday. 

Park Run - Local Women Magazine

What’s the best way to protect my calves? 

Strengthening and stretching. 

You’d be surprised but a lot of people have very weak calves, so they really need to do some strength work in conjunction with their running. 

One way of doing this is by adding calf raises into your day. 

Standing on the edge of a step, with your heel over the edge, lift and lower your heel. 

It depends at what stage you’re at but if you’re starting out, you should aim to work towards completing three sets of 30seconds and a lot of people find that tough enough at the beginning. 

You can start on both legs at the same time, but you want to get to the stage where you can do single heel lower and lifts. 

As you progress and the exercise gets easier you can add weight, such as a rucksack on your back with a weight in the rucksack. 

Calves are actually very often forgotten about but it’s important to do strength training on them two or three times a week. 

Once a week just isn’t often enough. 

To maintain length in the calves and help prevent them getting tight, add in calf stretches and foam rolling the calves can be very useful. 

What about my hips? 

Again, strengthening and stretching. 

To strengthen, try bridge work.  

To start, lie on your back with your knees bent flat on the floor, heel close to your bottom.   

Lift your hips off the floor, reaching your knees towards the wall in front of you, hold for five seconds and release the hips back to the floor. Repeat this 10 times.  

As you get stronger you can make this exercise more challenging. 

Try a single leg bridge. Once up in bridge, place your hands on your hips and as you lift your knee towards you, see if you can keep your pelvis still.  

Repeat this 10 times on each side.  

There are many stretches to help maintain the flexibility of your hips. 

An easy one to do after your run is to lie on your back and bring your knee across body, using opposite hand to help. Do this after you run. 

How often should I train? 

If you’re starting out, I think you should take two days between each run to give your body time to recover properly, so that works out as about three runs a week.  

In your off days, add a little stretching and strength work, or maybe think of joining a Pilates or yoga class. 

At what point should I respond to a running-related ache or pain? 

If you’re starting out running, you will get niggles but I think the most important factor to remember is if the pain goes away and you don’t feel it for the rest of the run, then you’re basically fine. 

If you find the pain gets worse while you are running, then you need to stop and take a few days off running to rest the body. 

If the pain isn’t clearing, you can get great advice and treatment from a physiotherapist who specialises in sporting injuries and running injuries. 

If you go for a run and notice pain while running and then the next time you run the pain is slightly worse, you need to rest. 

If you get up the next morning and you feel stiff or sore, that’s another warning sign and you need to rest up from running. 

If the pain is sharp, stop running and take some rest from running. 

If the pain doesn’t clear, is slow to settle, or is getting worse, that’s probably a good time to speak to a sports physiotherapist. 

Should I buy a special pair of trainers? 

There are so many different varieties available but I would generally recommend getting a good, cushioned neutral shoe to start off with. 

Essentially you want a shoe that’s comfortable and if it feels comfortable and it works for you, then that shoe should suit you well. 

If it doesn’t feel comfortable, then maybe you need specialist advice from a therapist who specialises in gait analysis and can look at how your feet move and how you walk to help with the type of running shoe that will suit you. 

Is there anything else I need to know? 

Think about your nutrition, adding protein to your diet and always rehydrate after running. 

A regular sports massage is also worth its weight in gold if you’re starting to run regularly. 

Video demonstrations of the exercises described by Debbie can be found on the PhysioWorksNI YouTube Channel.