Running today has become more than just a fitness routine; there are clubs, groups and online forums dedicated to running.

You don't have to be a trained athlete or an active sportsperson to start running. All it takes is a pair of running shoes and the initiative to start. You don't need a licence to run. You can run in a nearby park, or in your neighbourhood or in the beach.

Just pick your place and start running. With a modest investment of time and effort, you reap rich rewards. And while you're at it, you can also lose those extra pounds you found while eating that cake yesterday.

Advantages

Running has myriad benefits including being in good shape, better coordination, improved cardiovascular health and a refreshing break from the monotony of everyday. People who have desk jobs, like software or management personnel, lead a sedentary lifestyle and don't tax their bones. This increases the susceptibility to osteoporosis later in life. Regular runners are free from this threat as there is constant stimulation of the bones and muscles.

Aside from the physical benefits, runners also benefit from reduced stress levels. While running, endorphins are released into the blood stream causing what is referred to ‘the runner's high'. These endorphins alleviate stress; improve the runners' moods and increases concentration. This keeps them focussed and alert throughout the day and thus enhances their performance at work.

Chennai has a group of running enthusiasts who train everyday and organise runs in different parts of the city. This group, ‘The Chennai Runners' was formed by Ram Vishwanathan, Vidyuth and Hari Shankar four years ago. The group now boasts a membership of 800. Especially on Sundays, you may see a throng of runners running past in Boat Club Road or the IIT campus. Their rules are simple and flexible: anyone can join or stop at any point.

This group organises the ECR run on a quarterly basis. Through the course of this 30 km run, runners are aided by a group of volunteers who supply first-aid, electrolytes and water. The Chennai Runners, be it the group or the individual members, in addition to carrying water and electrol in their running belts, carry the euphoria of their achievements and the heat of future aspirations. Many members are active marathoners who travel to different countries including Singapore, America, France, New Zealand to participate in marathons at an international level.

This year's Hyderabad, Bangalore-ultra and Singapore marathons will surely see some Chennai Runners at the starting line. One member is training for the Comrade Marathon 2010 in South Africa, an 89km run in May. They also conduct a programme called The Extra Mile where they donate running shoes to budding runners who cannot afford costly ones.

Tips on running

A warm-up is crucial. People have different ways of warming up. Monappa Nalyanda shares his account of the Chennai Runners' warm-ups:

One group warms-up with laughter. Someone recounts a joke and everyone breaks into peals of hysterical laughter. This gives the abs a great workout.

Another group does yoga. Various asanashelp stretch the necessary muscles before starting to run.

Recommended stretches include wall push-ups, hamstring stretch, knee clasps, backward stretches, chest push-ups and crunches.

One member, of course, has a classic simple warm-up: a mere 15-kilometre run before joining the group to repeat the same.

While running, pay attention to your body. If experiencing any pain, stop and do not over-exert your muscles. Some trained runners complete long distances by interspersing regular intervals of walking between spans of running.

Cool down stretches and exercises are a must to prevent accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. Train regularly and improve your capacity gradually. Marathons cannot be trained for in a day. Good luck, runners!

Possible problems faced by runners

Running injuries are not uncommon. It can happen to anyone, whether a seasoned marathoner or an amateur. Some of the most frequently occurring problems are:

Foot pain: Athlete's foot, hard skin, blistered or cracked feet, Tendon or ligament injuries etc.

Lower Leg: Ankle Sprains Running, Calf Strains Running, Shin Splints Running

Upper Leg: Ilio-tibial Band Injuries, Hamstring Strain Injuries, Groin Strain Running, Knee Pain Running, Quadriceps Injury

Upper body: Lower Back Pain Injuries, Hip Pain Injury, Side Stitches

To prevent injuries

Wear proper running shoes and change them regularly.

Do appropriate warm up and cool down exercises.

Eat healthy. Have a balanced diet; avoid over indulgence.

Cross training is recommended to strengthen specific muscle groups. Try cycling or swimming.

Strength train two days a week for musculoskeletal fitness.

Drink a protein-carb mix after your run.

Water consumption

It is recommended that runners drink water when they're thirsty rather than preventing thirst. Drinking excess water results in a decrease in amount of sodium in the blood, a condition named Hyponatraemia.

The Chennai Runners celebrate their fourth anniversary on March 7 with a five-kilometre run in Anna University campus. Log on to their official website: www.chennairunners.com for more details.

Baghya is a second year student of B Arch. Interior Design in Measi Academy of Architecture. Vasundhara is a second year student of B. Sc Psychology in Justice Basheer Ahmed Sayeed College for Women