Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gratuitous Running Advice, part 1

1. Do some walking first.

While I'm in an advice-dispensing sort of mood, here's the first part of an occasional series for the new runner. This advice isn't based on any great expertise, just on my own experience of beginning running, and a distillation of assorted websites. Follow it at your own risk!

So, here's the first thing: Get some walking done before you start on the actual running. If you haven't done any running before, then it's going to come as a bit of a surprise to your legs. They're going to say, "You expect us to do WHAT?", and they're going to say it loudly. So you need to get them used to the idea gradually, and walking is an excellent way of doing this.

In the longer term, your running isn't going to be constrained by how good your lungs, heart and muscles are at expending energy. Rather, the limiting factor is going to be how good your joints, bones and tendons are at coping with the strain that running puts on them. Joints and so on strengthen much more gradually than your muscular fitness improves, so it's very important to give them time to catch up. This is the reason that about 93% of running blog postings consist of runners complaining about their latest injury. Starting with walking is a great way to help avoid these sorts of problems.

You should aim to walk for around 20 to 30 minutes a day, five or six days a week, for at least a couple of weeks before you do any running at all. You don't need any special equipment, just some reasonably comfortable shoes - they don't have to be running shoes. Aim for a brisk but comfortable pace. If you can't do both, just go with comfortable.

One problem with walking, it must be admitted, is that it's really pretty dull - when you actually start running, it's going to be a lot more fun. But there are various ways of counteracting this - you could find a friend to walk with, or you could just relax and enjoy the natural world around you: the singing birds, the rustle of the breeze (or, on my walk this lunchtime, gale) in the trees, and so on. And then, of course, there's always the iPod. But just one word of warning - you may feel that you're quite capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, but walking and fiddling with your Nano is a little more challenging. It's all too easy, as I found out today, for the slippery little fellow to escape from your grasp, dangle tantalisingly for a moment at the end of the headphone cable, before finally parting company with the jack and falling onto the hard, hard ground, irreversibly scratching its formerly beautiful, unsullied casing. Still works, though, at least.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Inappropriate Playthings for Toddlers

Part of the fun of blogging is that it gives you an opportunity to dispense advice and opinions on anything that takes your fancy. So here is some parenting advice based on my recent experience. I do NOT recommend either of the following items as playthings for toddlers:

1) A bag of lentils

A large bag of dried lentils is an interesting tactile experience for an infant. Their attention will probably be engaged for several minutes as they prod and poke the bag, appreciate its texture and listen to the interesting sounds that it makes. You will probably feel that the bag is securely fastened, and that this is a harmless activity for your child. However, you are wrong.

Several thousand lentils spilling out onto the kitchen floor make a very special sort of noise. It is a noise that tells you that various sorts of unpleasantness are coming your way. Firstly, there is the necessity to remove your toddler from the large pile of lentils that he or she is now gleefully running his or her fingers through. He or she will not be pleased about this. Then you have the tedious task of rounding up all the errant lentils, many of which will have skittered a considerable distance across your kitchen. Even so, you know that some of them will have found places of concealment in which they will lurk, gradually shrivelling, for years.

2) A bunch of keys

Superficially, a bunch of keys can be an attractive plaything for a toddler. They are bright and shiny, come in different shapes and sizes, and make an interesting noise when shaken. Furthermore, since your toddler probably doesn't get to play with keys all that much, they have the bonus of novelty value. When you've just returned home, laden down with heavy bags of shopping, you will often have a bunch of keys in your hand, and it can be tempting to let your toddler play with them for a few minutes, while you unpack everything and sort it out.

Resist this temptation.

A determined toddler can put on a surprising burst of speed, and prove remarkably inventive in finding unusual places to conceal your keys. You may not notice that there is a problem until some time after the jangling noise has stopped. Even an extensive search, involving the unpleasant necessity of rummaging through the garbage, may prove unsuccessful. It is quite possible that your keys will not reappear until about a week after you have given up and had a new set made, at considerable inconvenience and expense.

Coming next: a post about running.