Keep with the programme: your running questions answered

Our expert Mary Jennings on breathing, pacing yourself and staying motivated

Mary Jennings will be answering your questions online from 9-10pm tonight. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mary Jennings will be answering your questions online from 9-10pm tonight. Photograph: Eric Luke


So we’ve just passed the halfway point in the Get Running 10km programme, and if you’re still on track, then congratulations, keep up the good work, there’s not long to go.

Our next online Q&A session with Mary Jennings takes place this evening from 9pm-10pm. You can ask a question now at; or live, at 9pm-10pm, by following the links on

In the previous online sessions, readers have touched upon a huge range of issues that have cropped up in their training but here, for the benefit of those who won’t be near their computers tonight, Mary answers the five most frequently asked questions.

Q Do you have any advice for dealing with shin splints? Things have improved since I changed my runners but I am still having some problems.

A These are guidelines that runners generally find good for dealing with shin splints:
1. Stretch the legs (particularly the calves and shin muscles);
2. Run on grass where possible;
3. Run on a flat surface: try to avoid running on surfaces that are sloped to one side, such as steeply banked pavements;
4. Combine your running with periods of walking;
5. After your run, bathe your shins in cold water. Also, try applying the ChiRunning techniques we have covered in our course videos, which are all still there to watch on the website. These will take pressure off the lower legs and relax the shins.

Q I have completed the beginners’ running programme, but don’t really feel ready for the 10km programme. Do you have a plan for just maintaining my new running habit?

A We’re currently developing a maintenance course that will be launched during the summer. This will be for people who have completed the beginners’ course and want to maintain or improve their 5km running. It should also help people who have lapsed a little and need some motivation to keep up the 5km distance.

For anyone looking towards this programme, I would suggest you maintain three runs a week: two short midweek runs (20-25 minutes, with a break in the middle if you like) and then your long (30-minute) run at the weekend. That should keep you ticking over nicely.

Also, trying a few 5km parkrun events, if you can find them in your area, should increase your motivation. See

Q How do you stay motivated to keep heading out for a run? I’m good from time to time but then I really struggle and do nothing for weeks on end.

A Motivation is hard for everyone, whether you are new to running or have been running for years. I use the following tricks to help me get out there on the nights when I’d rather be watching TV:
1. Arrange to meet somebody else. That way, you’ll have to go whether you want to or not.
2. Set a goal. With the original Get Running programme, to which you can sign up online at, the aim is to get to 30 minutes in eight weeks.

We provide online support to help you, and there are tips and advice in these pages every week too. Your email every Sunday is your reminder to plan your runs in advance, and it will contain motivational videos to ensure you stay on track.
3. Be accountable. Tell your friends and family you have started and ask them to chase you out the door on the days you’re not feeling inspired. Once you get out there, you’ll feel great.

Q Have you any advice regarding breathing more easi ly when running? Mine feels laboured right from the start of my run.

A One thing I really try to emphasise to everyone taking up running is the importance of managing your pace.

We spent a lot of time talking about this in the beginners’ course. I know it may seem strange to advise you to slow down, but please just try it.

If you slow even a little, it will help your body to relax. In turn, your breathing will relax and you will feel more comfortable. Run your 5km at a pace that enables you to breathe and talk comfortably.

Also, focus on the posture tips that are shown in the videos. A good posture lengthens the spine and gives you more space for air and easier breathing. In terms of the breathing itself, try to focus on exhaling more than inhaling; this should also help you to relax.

Critically, though, never feel that you have to be running at an uncomfortable pace to be a “real runner”. It is so important to feel strong and comfortable and relaxed in running. If you don’t enjoy it, you risk giving up altogether.

Q How do I get rid of a stitch in my side while running without stopping?

A Getting a stitch when you are running is terribly frustrating. The rest of you feels fine but the pain just digs into your side. I often see the problem in beginner runners but, as time goes on, it generally becomes less frequent. There are different schools of thought about stitches, but here is my theory. You need to get more air into you to relax the stitch, so focus on running tall and on your breathing.

Slow down and shake out your arms; breathe into the area of the stitch. I find if I stop and walk, the stitch comes back, so slow your pace but keep jogging, and eventually it should subside.

Email your running questions for tonight’s Q&A to get-running/ask-