Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/83 item 02 - scanned

A TOUCH OF THE RUNS (column)

Do you ever feel that there are just not enough hours in the day to keep up with this fast-moving industry? Computer programs wring extra productivity out of us but no sooner do we get the hang of doing things with the computer than we find that the workload has increased still further. Now I've been introduced to a widely known method of squeezing more productivity out of each day: it's called running or jogging; I'm not clear where the boundary between the two lies. This is how it came about. . .

Every year I flop down in front of the telly to watch the participants in the London Marathon knacker themselves. By the time they reach the finishing line, I'm thinking how courageous they are, especially the older ones like me. Every year I turn to my son and say "perhaps next year we'll go in for it", and every year I discover to my relief that he won't be old enough and I can put it off again.

This year something changed. I started interrogating every runner I could find. I wanted to know how you could tell if you were fit, how far and how often you should run, whether you lose weight or inches, how long it takes to become fit. Then one day I decided I had all the answers I wanted and, much to everyone's astonishment, started running.

One runner told me that it gets your pulse going at around 120 beats per minute for an hour or so, it stimulates your metabolic processes to such an extent that they keep up their faster activity for hours after you stop exercising. I asked my friend for evidence that the approach worked. He told me he'd lost seven inches off his waist since he'd started running. He added that he has been eating whatever he fancied too. My original motivation was to improve my body shape and, perhaps, to lose a bit of weight. While things are clearly progressing in this direction, I have found that running has made me far more alert, presumably because it pushes more oxygen into the brain, and if I run in the morning this alertness lasts all day. If I get home whacked out, a run soon wakes me up again and I can keep going until the early hours. This immediate benefit has become far more of a motivator than the longer-term prospect of losing weight and becoming trim.

Before starting to run, I investigated the likely ill-effects. Firstly, you must be sure that you are healthy enough to take up strenuous exercise. If you are in doubt then you should consult a doctor. Certainly do this if you are more than 30 percent overweight or if you have a history of serious illness. If you think you are okay, there are a few tests you can perform to get a measure of your personal fitness.

You could start by taking your pulse. In general, the lower it is, the fitter you are. At rest, it is normally between 60 and 100 beats per minute. You could measure your 'recovery index' by doing a few minutes' strenuous exercise and then checking your recovery 90 seconds later. To get a recovery index, take your pulse immediately on completion of the exercise (it should be between 140 and 160 beats per minute) then take it again 90 seconds later. Express the difference between the two readings as a percentage of the first. If this is greater than 25 percent, then you are in reasonable shape for doing strenuous exercise. If it is less, then you are probably better off taking up gentle exercise until you are fitter.

I then turned my attention to possible injuries and ailments. It soon became clear that jarring of the body as your feet hit the ground was a common source of injury. The solution, of course, is to wear a decent pair of running shoes which progressively absorb the shock of the foot hitting the ground. Because I weigh 12 stone I bought a pair designed for heavy people. You can buy shoes with different soles, depending on the sort of surface you are to run on. It's common sense really that a smooth sole or one with ridges very close together wouldn't be much good for running through mud, you'd slip, whereas they'd probably be fine for road work.

The rest of your clothing can comprise old shorts, tee-shirts and jumpers, at least until you know whether you're going to enjoy running. I started with a pair of £20 shoes, some cushioned socks, an old tee-shirt and some sawn-off jeans. After a week I bought some light running shorts because the jeans were chafing.

Don't expect to run continuously for an hour when you start and do stop if your heart starts beating too fast: it means that you are running too quickly. If you can hold a conversation while running then your speed is okay. This means that you won't be going at much more than a brisk walking pace to start off, but you'll soon find the miles slipping by more quickly. Some books recommend that your heart rate should not exceed 200 minus your age. In my case, for example, that's 160 beats per minute. If you want to read some serious stuff about running buy one of the monthly magazines or Runners Guide.