Getting fit without getting hurt

Getting fit without getting hurt

Everyone goes through phases of wanting to get in shape, get fit, lose weight, climb Rwenzori or run a marathon. There’s a huge market in fitness: from what to eat, what not to eat, what pills to swallow, which supplements to take, what exercise regime to follow, what gym to join what trainers to buy. You’ll certainly lose pounds: and dollars, euros and shillings.

In UK you can’t walk into a shop to buy trainers without seeing wall to wall adverts for supplements, protein drinks, whey, and diagrams of the molecular structure of the heels of the trainers guaranteed to make you run faster without injury. And you’ve guessed it: the only comment I’m going to make about shoes is who repairs them. Cobblers.Maybe the elite athletes need personal trainers, extreme diets, exercise plans and the latest protein drinks: the one they get paid to advertise. There is one certainty. They all disagree, which is why a new must-read book comes out every year.

I’m 70. Before Covid I ran to work twice a week and cycled twice a week. The reason was the traffic was so awful I couldn’t stand it any longer and I got to work tired, sweaty and feeling frustrated. Running and cycling I got to work tired, sweaty and feeling wonderfully self righteous, passing all those cars stationary at the junctions.

Then along came Covid and we were told running on the streets was attempted murder. I cycled 4 days instead. Now I’m retired living in the Kalahari and I know what it’s like to struggle to get back into shape. Slogging through soft sand certainly makes me tired and sweaty but no good feeling, self righteous or otherwise. So how to get back into shape without pulling a muscle, feeling exhausted, getting knackered going nowhere and giving up after a week?


No pain no gain is silly and dangerous.

It might work for pros but not for Mrs. average who wants to run a marathon in 3 months. Pain means injury means stop.

What’s your aim?

Whatever it is, take your time getting there. Start with doing a lot less than you think you can and doing it often. There’s a lot that happens when you exercise. The body runs on blood sugar, which is replenished from the glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. If those stores are constantly depleted your body starts to store more. Very soon your body is forced to break down fat into sugar to replace and increase the glycogen stores. You initially burn through your blood sugar very quickly and if there’s not enough oxygen getting into the muscle you build up lactic acid. The metabolic pathways to deal with lactic acid are underused and immature but with regular exercise they start to improve. You increase the use of muscles and that stimulates new muscle, new blood vessels and new metabolic pathways.


This all takes time: new muscle, stronger bones, stronger ligaments and tendons and wider arteries slowly happens over months and years. Rushing it simply causes lactic acid damage to tissues, chronic inflammation, over stretched muscles and strained ligaments that take months to heal. Start where you are. If you walk then start by walking. If you walk from the car park to the office or the bus stop, or round the supermarket then do the same as usual, but every morning put on your trainers and walk the same distance. Slowly! Then repeat in the evening. You might think you can run 5 km: I sure you can but you will feel so sore for a week you will have run 5 km once, then limped for 5 days.

Walk for 10 minutes every morning and evening at your usual pace and after 3 days you have walked an hour.

You might think it’s a waste of time putting on trainers to walk slowly for 10 minutes but you’re training your mind too. It becomes a habit to put on your trainers and exercise twice a day.

So start with slow walking, 5 minutes out, 5 minutes back. if that doesn’t make you tired, no pain at all, no stiffness; and only if it’s so easy your body doesn’t protest at all, then and only then, you can start to increase. Walk faster for 5 minutes out and back which increases the distance. If after 2 days still no twinge then walk out the same distance i.e. 5 minutes, and jog very slowly back.

Dr Dick stockley cancer screening
Dr Dick & Rosie Stockley

Jogging uses some of the same muscles as walking but stretches some new ones. So slowly. Don’t increase the speed until you have done 2 days without a twinge. What’s happened? You’ve walked and jogged 140 minutes in a week. Second week jog very slowly 5 minutes, stop, turn round, walk a minute then jog home. Do it again in the evening. If next day you feel a twinge, or stiff, go back to the fast walk out, jog home. You’re increasing your glycogen stores, you’re stimulating the metabolic pathways that clear up lactic acid, you’re no longer burning plasma proteins as an emergency fuel, you will be turning fat into glucose into glycogen all night to replace and increase the glycogen stores. You don’t see it, don’t feel it, but you’re getting fit.  If you’re twinge free, after 2 days start jogging 10 minutes out 10 minutes home. Slowly. Exercise must be balanced. Jogging actually exercises arms, abs, spine, pretty much every muscle in the body. So in the second week start doing sit ups. Very few very slow. Any twinge stop. Try press-ups. If you can’t then do standing press-ups in the shower. Stand arms length from the wall and put your hands on the wall, lean in until your face and chest hit the wall then push back to standing. Do it 5 times. If it doesn’t hurt next day try 10. If it’s easy after 3 days try proper press-ups. After 2 weeks what you do depends on your aim.


If you want a six pack and a bikini bod then carry on with the 20 minutes jog twice a day but concentrate on the sit ups and press-ups. Always do less than you can but do it often. If you want to do a triathlon start swimming and cycling, if a marathon is on your bucket list then work up to 10 press-ups 10 sit ups a day but concentrate on the running. The principal is the same. Do a lot less than you can but do it often.

So let’s assume you want to run a marathon in June.

Week 3. If you’re now running 20 minutes twice a day without any pressure, you can drop one of your runs and increase the distance. Do not try and increase speed. Jog very slowly with short steps. You’re trying to make new muscle, new arterioles, widen the arteries, burn fat. If you start to stretch out and run hard you are going to pull something, stretch something, tear something and you’re out for a month. If you’re getting twinges and stiffness then go back a step, and slowly work back up until you are getting into an easy routine of slowly jogging 20 minutes twice a day. You should not be running any further than 2 or 2.5 km each time but you are in effect running 35km a week. Without any pain stiffness or injury. Your muscle and metabolism are now ready for serious running. Let’s assume you want to run a marathon inside 6 hours. So we train for 5 hours so no pressure on the day. Do serious runners need serious running shoes? You’re not an elite athlete going for the olympics you’re running very short steps about 6 kph, light infantry marching speed

Now let’s get you running a marathon.

Run an extra 5 minutes out so you are now doing a 30 minute run, but reduce to once a day. Start to stretch out, running a bit faster, a bit longer stride, but not enough to be breathless. Each day you will run a little bit further in 30 minutes. If no pain no stiffness, then measure 5km. Either 2.5 out 2.5 back or a circuit. Then run it slowly and it should take about 40 minutes. Next aim in week 4 is run only 6 days a week but get breathless. Bring your time down to 30 minutes for 5 km. Any stiffness twinge or pain means you’re overdoing it and go back to gentle jog until it’s boring and easy. Once you can run 5 km in 30 minutes you’re a runner. Do it 6 days a week. It should still be easy, no pain no stiffness, and you’re still doing 10 press-ups 10 sit-ups a day. If that’s your goal then job done: reduce to 5 days and enjoy your new found fitness. But if you want to run a marathon in June you’re only half way there.

Getting fit without getting hurt marathon training

Training for a marathon from nothing can be done in 3 months

You are now running 5 km 6 x a week, and we keep up that background fitness by running 5 km 4 times a week and working harder one day. You can’t grow new blood vessels any faster but you can start seriously working on glycogen and lactic acid metabolism.

Your body can store enough glycogen to run from about 15 km up to half a marathon, but then you “hit the wall”. Your body will burn protein in an emergency but that’s not possible for long either.


You have to burn fat: not slowly all night long replacing your glycogen stores, you’re already doing that from the second week. You have to burn fat while you’re running: a whole new metabolic system that is normal for all elite athletes, they all turn fat directly into energy as soon as the stored glycogen is used up. So once a week run at the same speed but a greater distance. Start with 4 x 5 km and 1 x 10km. Rest the next day. If you want to run a marathon in 5 hours then you need to run the 10 km in 70 minutes, which includes 1 minute slow down to drink every 5 km. It’s actually quite slow: it’s just a bit faster than your old 2 and a half k in 20 minutes speed. So run 10 km in 70 minutes once a week plus the 4 x 5. After 3 weeks run 15 km instead of the 10. You might experience “hitting the wall” at 13 or 14 km but probably not. Rest the next day.


Finally in week 5 or 6 try a half marathon: rest the day before, run 21 km in 2 hours 25 minutes with 4 drinks stops. You’ll hit the wall but you’re now a runner and run through it. For the next 2 weeks go back to 5 km x 4 and 10 x 1. Now it’s time to try a 30. Choose a nice easy terrain, water stop every 5 km, run your routine 5 km 4 x a week then rest 2 days and do a 30. I advise train for a marathon by doing 30 km twice, 3 times if you have the time, 2 weeks apart in 3 hours 30 minutes with 2 days rest either side. You must always continue the normal routine of 4 x 5 km a week. The second or 3rd 30km attempt should be 2 weeks before the marathon. I don’t advise training over any further distance as over 30 is stressful. No special diet, no special foods, no high cal drinks, your body knows how to create enough fuel, it’s been preparing for this for 3 months. Before your marathon run your 5 km 4 x a week then rest 4 days before the big day. You know you can do 30: you’ve done it twice and the extra 12 isn’t anything new and you’ll find it easy. Normal breakfast, finish at least an hour before the race, and have a dump. I know from embarrassing experience there are no toilets half way on the Kampala marathon! Use your watch, resist the temptation to go faster, aim for 10 km in 70 minutes, allowing stopping every 5 km to go very slowly for a minute while drinking 500 mls.

Is running a marathon healthy?

One marathon is fun. One a year is fun. I’ve done 50 mile races, 33’s, 30’s and standard 26 mile marathons, I’m built that way. If you’ve run a marathon in 3 hours great but I don’t think it’s healthy to keep doing it and aiming for faster and faster. It invariably damages joints, it releases cortisones, and elite athletes die young. Those who run 35 to 40 km every week as a routine 5 or 10 km a day are relaxed, live long healthy lives. If you find a 10 km easy then run 10 km 4 times a week like I did getting to work. Even running 30 km every now and again if it’s easy might be good for you: but stress isn’t.

Marathons are stressful, do them occasionally but I think the obsessive who do them over and over should think again. If you simply hate running try triathlons. Or buy a dog and go for long walks.

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