The idea to post running tips for beginners has been bouncing around in my head for a little while, so thank you to my friend Morgan for asking for ideas to help her get started, giving me a good reason to put my thoughts down in an organized list. As a beginner, and I mean really a beginner who had to Google “how long is a 5k in miles” (3.1,) not someone who did track in high school and wanted to get back into the habit, these are eleven things I didn’t know but wish I did.
1) Nobody cares. This is perhaps the most important piece of knowledge I can share. Even if you live in an area where people don’t seem to remember they own a car, they are not looking at you or judging you. You might be lapped by a girl wearing sexy running tights with an awesome hydration belt and professional looking compression sleeves and feel bad that you don’t look as pro. All that stuff is cool and fun, but a runner in training is a runner in training, whether on mile one or mile 10,000. You might be surprised at how supportive the running community is of each other, but since running is largely a sport about conquering individual barriers both mental and physical, other runners are just out there trying to do what they need to do to succeed whether you are on the trail or not. The people most likely to look and judge are those who see you jog by them, and they think, “I should really be out there doing what that person is doing.” Size, talent, and endurance don’t matter to anyone but you.
2) Get good shoes. Good, quality shoes that are 1/2 to 1 full size larger than your normal shoes are important from day one. Even if you start out walking 100%, an old pair of shoes can give you blisters or harm your arches. I highly recommend going to a running specialty store and having your stride/gait analyzed so they can off you a variety of shoes best suited to your style of walking or running. I realize that there are many of you for whom the closest running specialty store is a long way away, so if that isn’t an option try to order directly through a shoe company so you can test a pair and return it if necessary. Those bargain deals that pop up on sale blowout sites often have a “no returns” policy, so what seemed like a good deal actually ends up being money in the trash if the shoes aren’t exactly perfect. I know my affiliates New Balance, Adidas, and Reebok all have free, no-hassle returns, so if you realize that you really should have paid attention when I said to order shoes that are bigger than your normal street pair, you don’t have to just be out the money because you wanted to save a few dollars up front. (Once you know exactly what works for you, bargain shopping is fine!) Right now I’m running in these babies because I have high arches and they need a little extra support. And they are sexy.
3) Don’t run in cotton socks. This might seem too small for its own bullet point, but it was HUGE for me. I kept getting little blisters and sores from my cute cotton socks, and it wasn’t until someone at a sporting goods store asked me if I needed help picking between some new socks that I learned that people don’t run in cotton. (If you already know this, good for you! And why didn’t you tell me two years ago?!) Runners generally pick compression socks, a lightly padded sock for longer distances, wool running socks for winter, or a thin cotton-free wicking sock for shorter distances. (It’s really a matter of preference, though, not a hard rule.) I bought this exact set from New Balance and am wearing them right now, I love them so much.
4) Don’t run to the point of getting winded. If you find yourself feeling like you’re sucking air through a straw, slow down your pace. Once you get yourself into good cardio shape you can do tabata-style bursts of speed, but your muscles have to be conditioned first. Running until it hurts your lungs is your body’s way of letting you know that it can’t get oxygen to the muscles fast enough, so you aren’t actually doing yourself any favors by pushing too hard. You might have to sacrifice a little bit of pride, but your sacrifice will pay huge dividends if you allow your body to take the proper time it needs to build the oxygen delivery system from the ground up. I promise, it won’t take you as long as you think, and as a huge side benefit you are much less likely to get injured because you are also training your muscles to stretch and work in a way they aren’t used to. Need help with this? A heart rate monitor is a great investment from early on. Mine beeps rudely at me if I push too hard and keeps me in check.
5) Build up miles slowly. Completerunning.com lists among their tips, “At first, keep your runs short and slow to avoid injury and soreness so you do not quit.” Don’t sign up for a marathon a month from now. Start with training for a 5k then move up from there. Your body with thank you as will your wallet when it isn’t paying for medical bills.
6) Have someone look at your stride. The best option for gait analysis is a running specialty store, but if that isn’t an option you can ask a friend to film you and virtually ask a specialist to recommended the best modifications. Running forums are often full of people eager of offer advice. I learned I tend to kick my feet out a bit crooked and often swing my arms too much. Working on these points has improved my endurance and speed.
7) Have a goal to work toward. Right now for me it’s a half marathon in December. Six months ago it was a fun run. Six months before that it was a family 5k. Having a reason to train is hugely helpful to getting those shoes on and getting out the door to form a healthy habit.
8) Foam roller. A foam roller is your new best friend. Not into running but love pilates? Get a foam roller. Do a lot of hiking? GET A FOAM ROLLER. They are the most versatile at-home recovery and massage tool you can buy. Bar none. And they are cheap. YouTube is full of foam roller exercises and massages to help you recover from soreness faster.
9) Know which injuries you shouldn’t run through. I fight with ITBS quite a bit, and early on I had no idea what it was or why it felt like after a mile I was being shot in the kneecap. Turns out it is a really common affliction for runners, and with a little bit of Googling I found dozens of tips to help get me back on the treadmill quickly. Some injuries cannot and should not be pushed through. Runner’s World has a list of the seven most common running injuries, how to rehab them, and most importantly whether you can run through them. Know in advance so when you’re on the trail you don’t make a choice that could keep you off your feet for weeks. This will also help you learn what non-running workouts and stretches you need to do to avoid these injuries.
10) New clothes make running more fun. Fact. I got a “13.1” shirt similar to this one that I love to put on when I go on a long training run. It looks cute on, and having something fun to wear makes me more likely to get out the door. The same is true for a new piece of gear. It might not be necessary, but it sure is fun. (Check out my Ultimate Gift Guide for Runners for fun ideas from cheap to splurge.)
11) Music isn’t the only option. Podcasts. Glorious podcasts. I have two toddlers at home, so sometimes I feel like I get no grown up conversation. For probably a year I picked my favorite albums or found “running tracks” to listen to with my phone strapped to my arm, but these days I load up the podcasts and enjoy getting to hear a spirited discussion or learning something new while on the trail or the treadmill. Audiobooks are another fantastic option. Music is great, but if you find yourself bored of the same tunes, switch it up.
Always check with your doctor before starting a new fitness routine.