Poorna Bell, editor, MSN Her
Updated: 03/08/2012 11:12 | By Poorna Bell, editor, MSN Her

Running tips from Sally Gunnell

The Olympic gold medallist shares some very easy-to-follow advice to coax even the most reluctant runner on to the track…

Sally Gunnell (© Royal Caribbean)

Sally is our hero, not just because she's an OBE and is a gold medallist, but because she is the only woman to have ever won four track titles consecutively. That's the Olympics, World, European and Commonwealth. Who better to ask for running tips?

If you're a complete beginner, what's the best way to get motivated?
I truly believe that the best way to get and stay motivated is to join a group of like-minded people who can provide some support and camaraderie.

Whether you're a seasoned athlete, a weekend warrior or a beginner looking to start your first run, when it comes to motivation it always helps to set yourself a goal that you can work towards. It can be as small as a 5k charity run or as big as the London marathon, nevertheless having a date in the diary is always something that helps to spur the motivation.

How do you keep motivated when it's cold outside?
While sometimes it's some upbeat music, ultimately what motivates me is the feeling I get after a run. I find that going for an early-morning run just sets me up better for the day. I can think more clearly. I'm less stressed. I'm a better mother. And having recently joined a group of mums who are also into running I've found that they're the ones that give me the energy to get out of bed.

When it's cold or rainy, if you've committed to someone I think it's human nature to not want to let them down and that's the motivation I get from running in a group. While I may dread leaving the house to face the elements, once I've got out there it's something that I never regret. That wonderful euphoric feeling I get after running, you honestly cannot beat it!

What's the best way to avoid an injury?
It should come as no surprise, but the best way to avoid injuries is to follow a proper running programme that allows you to build up your training gradually. One of the most common running injuries out there is the knee pain that comes from pounding the pavement day in and day out or overtraining in general.

My advice is to mix it up and change the surface of your runs. Don't just be a road runner - seek out trails or parks where you can clock up the miles. Varying your training keeps things interesting and allows you to guard against a runner's most common injury.

Sally Gunnell (© Rui Viera_PA Images)

Sally in action

What's the best post-run food to help you recover quickly?
Contrary to popular belief, the best post-run meal is not fish and chips and a pint! One of the most crucial parts of post-run recovery is actually not WHAT you eat but WHEN. It's really important to eat within that first half an hour of finishing a run. For me personally some of my favourite post-run snacks are fresh fruit smoothies mixed with a little coconut water or something that's rich in carbohydrates.

What are the main benefits of running?
Running can help you to lose weight, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, act as a stress reliever and can literally add years to your life. An added bonus is that it's cheap and you can do it anywhere. Just throw on a pair of trainers, step out your front door and you're ready to go!

What's the best way to warm up? Dynamic or static stretching?
Conventional wisdom says that you should warm up for a run by doing dynamic stretches as those are the movements that are most suited to what you will ultimately be doing. If you're doing static stretches before, you run the risk of pulling a muscle as the muscles are not yet warmed up. It's always best to do your static stretches post-run as that's when your muscles have the most elasticity and thus will be less likely to be pulled.

Are marathons good for you?
Marathons are great as long as you train properly and are well prepared. I think the marathon sometimes gets a bad rap because so many people 'hit the wall' or injure themselves before they can cross the finish line.

A lot of the time I think this comes down to not following a proper training regime or not fully committing to a programme that's going to set you up for the best possible chance of success.

From personal experience I think it's always best to start out small and build up to a marathon by doing some shorter runs first. If you're a beginner, start out with a 5 or 10k and then work your way up to a half marathon before considering whether you're going to commit yourself to the holy grail!

Sally at the European Athletics in 1995 (© Tony Marshall_PA Images)

Sally at the European Athletics Championships

How do you keep in shape when you've injured yourself?
Training after a running injury is not to be taken lightly and care always needs to be taken. Following an injury, you should always build up your training gradually and listen to your body for any signs of distress.

As I mentioned earlier, a knee injury is the most common running injury and one of the best things you can do to speed recovery is some non-impact exercise like swimming, bike riding or getting on an elliptical. Another great workout to help you mimic the act of running but minimise the high-impact element is to run lengths in a pool. Also, never underestimate some much-needed rest. Recovery and giving the body a break are just as important as the actual training itself.

How do you refuel without gaining weight?
Everything in moderation! I try to stick to a well-balanced diet but like anyone else I like to treat myself every once in a while. I think the key thing to remember is just because you've started running, it doesn't mean you can eat everything in sight. Living a healthy lifestyle is just as much about the food you put in your belly as it is the exercise you're getting - it's important not to lose sight of that.

What running shoes should you buy?
Unfortunately to discredit what the marketers and advertisers would have you believe - there is no magic shoe that works for everyone and a new pair of shoes is not going to help you reach the podium. To quote cycling guru Lance Armstrong: "It's not about the bike."

I could easily say the same thing about running. It's not about the shoes. It's not one size fits all and the best thing you can do to make sure you're running in a good set of trainers is to go to your local sports or running store so they can take a look at your feet, your gait and your running style to see what works best for you.

How often should you rehydrate when going on a long run?
Proper hydration actually begins the day before a long run. You don't need to drink gallons and gallons of water, but you do need to make sure you're taking in lots of fluids the day before your long run. Water is the most important part of any run especially the long run.

To avoid dehydration you should consume water before, during and after a run. Unfortunately there is no secret or exact prescription for hydration that works for everyone. Each person is different and your hydration needs can vary from run to run depending on how much you sweat, the temperature, and your pace. The key thing is to not just drink when you're thirsty because by then it's too late. Sip on water throughout your run and you'll have won half the battle.

Sally has joined forces with Sport England and cruise line Royal Caribbean on a new campaign to get more people involved in running. Royal Caribbean Runners groups are currently available across London and for more information and to find running groups in your area, click here.

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