By Kate Carter/The Guardian
Running has long been linked with health benefits, from strengthening your bones (yes, even the knees) to improving mental health. Now, in another boon for us smug pavement-pounders, scientists have found it can turn back time.
Researchers at University College London and Barts health NHS trust tracked a group of 138 marathoners and, using MRI and ultrasound, calculated the “biological age” of their aortas (the largest artery in the body) before and after their training. As we age, the aorta can stiffen, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, failure or stroke. According to the research, training for a marathon can not only reduce but even reverse this – in this study, by an impressive four years.
It is especially encouraging given that all participants were first-time marathon runners, with finishing times between 4.5 and 5.5 hours — very similar to the UK average. So for anyone feeling inspired to train for a marathon as a result of the research, here’s what you need to know.
“Training for your first marathon can feel daunting but, with patience and a plan, it is an achievable challenge,” says England Athletics coach Tom Craggs. If you don’t run yet, then the NHS’s Couch to 5k plan is the perfect introduction – I did it myself in 2012 and have since run 13 marathons. “Make sure you give yourself enough time to build sustainably. If you are new to running, build up off a patient mix of running and walking,” says Craggs.
What gear do I need?
Running is – in theory, anyway – pretty cheap, but the one thing worth investing in is the right pair of trainers and, for women, a properly supportive sports bra. It is advisable to get your gait analysed, which involves jogging on a treadmill for a couple of minutes so that experts can suggest shoes that give the appropriate support.
How to structure training
Beginner marathon plans often last 16 weeks. The aim of the weekly long run is to build up “time on feet”, so don’t worry about pace, but stick to a set time. Don’t fret too much about this, though. “Your body likes routine and consistency,” says Craggs. “So four to five smaller runs a week will trump two big runs.”
Find running friends
Whether it’s your local running club or a friend who signs up with you, running buddies are brilliant for motivation and confidence. Don’t feel you need to be fast to join a club (many run programmes are specifically for beginners) or be put off by cost.
Do I need to change my lifestyle?
No, and you don’t need expensive protein shakes or supplements. “Just focus on a healthy varied diet and getting consistent, high-quality sleep,” says Craggs.
Do I need to do mental prep?
This will happen naturally as you train. Motivating yourself on a freezing winter morning is hard, but that mental toughness is what you will need to get around 26.2 miles, so those runs are training your brain as well as your legs.
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