These days it seems like a lot of people are picking up running. And I get it. For years my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being have been deeply connected to running, and frankly, I’m glad to see more people out there moving their legs.
Running isn’t easy though, so here are some tips to get you started, keep you going, and help you stay healthy and happy out on the roads and trails.
1. Start Slow
Running is physically demanding, and it will take time for your lungs, heart, muscles, and joints to get used to the increased demands and stress you are putting on them. That means you have to start slow, both with your mileage and your pace. If you are brand new, I would suggest only running 1-2 times per week. A good rule to follow for increasing mileage is the 10% rule. Only increase your total mileage by 10% from the previous week. As far as pace goes, start at a pace that you think you can keep for the duration of your run and then slow down another 1-2 minutes per mile. I know what you’re thinking, “I’m out here to run, not speed walk.” Trust me though, starting slow and gradually increasing your pace will pay dividends long-term. If you do want to run fast, start by just doing so for short intervals (about 30 seconds) toward the end of your run when you are already warmed up.
2. Listen to Your Body
A lot of runners, both new and experienced, fail to do this and pay for it. If you are having aches and pains, it likely means you are not giving your body the time it needs to recover. The basic advice is this: when you have little hints of pain, take time off from running. If you ignore these messages and keep running through them, it can lead to major injuries. Shin splints, runner’s knee, plantar faciitis, and extensor tendonitis are all examples of what runners call “over-use injuries”. As the name implies, these can generally be avoided by not over-doing it. Learning to decipher the messages your body sends you will take time, so you might as well start early. Lastly, if you are having persistent pain that isn’t going away with rest, see a medical professional for a true diagnosis and treatment plan.
3. Get a Nice Pair of Shoes
It’s true that you don’t need much equipment to run. The simplicity and accessibility of it are part of what make running so enticing. However, I would argue that having a nice pair of running shoes is invaluable. Shoes made specifically for running have specialized foam (ethylene vinyl acetate–EVA, thermoplastic polyurethane–TPU, polyether block amide–PEBA, etc.) that dampen the forces of this high impact activity to keep your joints and muscles protected. They are also light, breathable, and moisture-wicking, which makes running easier on you and the skin on your feet. My advice on buying running shoes is to stick to well-known brands that concentrate on running–Asics, Saucony, Brooks, New Balance, Nike, Altra, Hoka, etc. Then, find a shoe that is comfortable, offers that important cushion/protection, fits your foot perfectly, and has a design and color that make you want to wear them all the time. You’ll want to have some space for your toes, so that you don’t lose toenails or jam your toes on downhills. Expect to pay about $80-130 for great running shoes. Remember, they should last you between 300-500 miles, which means a hobby runner probably only needs 1-2 pairs per year. I promise that the small investment will be worth it to you and your feet.
4. Make Goals
Whether it is finishing a marathon, racing a local 5K, or running a full mile without stopping to walk, setting running goals and working to accomplish them will keep you focused, make you a more consistent runner, and demonstrate your improvement over time. From qualifying for the Boston Marathon to clocking a 6-minute beer mile, some of my fondest running memories have involved hard work, failure, persistence, and eventually, achievement. These themes can carry into other areas of your life too, so I encourage you, even as a beginner, to set short-term and long-term goals in your running that are important to you.
5. Have Fun with It
I’ll acknowledge the fact that when you start running, it’s hard to enjoy it. You’ll likely be concentrating only on keeping yourself going while huffing and puffing for air and dreading waking up sore the next morning. However, once your body gets used to it, running becomes almost second nature, and that’s when it gets really fun. There are a lot of possibilities in the world of running. Different distances: sprints, 5Ks, marathons, and ultra-marathons. Different surfaces: treadmills, tracks, roads, and trails. And different ways to do it: solo, with a friend, in a group, and at a race. Dip your toes in the waters of experimentation. Try a little bit of everything to figure what you really enjoy. Then, simply, just keep doing that. There’s no prescribed way to be a runner. But if you’re having fun with it, you’re doing it right.
So there you are, my 5 tips for new runners. They aren’t hacks. It’s not “how to become a great runner overnight”. That’s not what it’s about. Instead, if you put this advice into practice, over time running can evolve from an experiment to a hobby, a hobby to a habit, and perhaps, a habit to a passion, as it has for me. If it does, the only thing that changes is you’re going to have to buy a lot more shoes.