You want to start running? Good news! All you need is your legs, lungs and a pair of sneakers. And you will enjoy life-long benefits such as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, you will also feel happier, you will add years to your life and build iron self-discipline.
1. The first few weeks
The first thing to do when you start running, as all trainers will tell you, is to start by building a base, which means you need to accumulate a decent amount of miles. This should be done at an easy or slow pace. So what is “easy pace” exactly? It means “conversational pace”, i.e. you should be able to talk comfortably with a fellow runner next to you, and you shouldn’t be getting out of breath. Try to build your base at that pace, not much slower, and in no case faster. That way you will learn about your body, what pace you can sustain and when you are pushing yourself, you will learn basic running form, and you will avoid injury, which is very common among beginners. You should do this for the first 3 to 6 months while slowly increasing your mileage by no more than 10% a week to avoid injury. Each time you run, pay attention to how long you’re running instead of how many miles you’ve ran. You are building endurance and not speed. Don’t focus on the distance you ran at first. This will reach your fitness level to the one of a decent beginner runner, and you will be ready for the next parts of your running adventure!
2. You need a training log
Another important thing is that you want to have a way to record your pace. These days, a lot of “smart watches” will do that for you. Popular brands are Garmin and Fitbit. You should also keep a training log. It is important to know if week after week, month after month, you are running faster or longer. It will also help during your run to know if you are over-exerting yourself or not. Remember, long-distance running is about endurance, which means you want to keep your pace more or less stable throughout the run.
3. Running gear
Get some decent running gear. Cotton shirts are uncomfortable, they will feel heavy when soaked in sweat and will feel itchy on your skin. Any sports store that stocks Nike, Underarmour or Lululemon will have plenty of options for running gear.
And most importantly, get a good pair of running shoes. In a lot of specialized stores, sales people are passionate runners who will take time to find the right shoes for you.
4. A plan
The next thing to do is to have a training plan. This will give you structure and help you build the necessary discipline to reach your running goals, be it losing weight or running a marathon. I recommend the one you can find in Jack Daniels’ “Running Formula” (link at the bottom). Consider the “Couch to 5K” program too (http://c25k.com/)
5. Running community
Find a running group or register for a few local races in your area. This will help you keep your motivation up and you will find that the running community is usually very friendly. You will easily make friends and your fellow runners will support you in your running goals. Some running stores (Nike, Asics, etc.) have running groups that meet regularly every week. You will find running groups and clubs online on websites such as meetup.com.
6. Gym, stretching and cross-training
Consider strength training and doing some work in the gym: squats, lunges are most beneficial to runners. Work on your glutes, strengthen your core and your IT band. Do stretches. This will make a difference down the road between faster runners and the other ones. It will also help you break plateaus.
Also consider cross-training: cycling, rollerblading, swimming… All these activities will help use your legs in different ways they are used too. You also need to realize that road running can put some stress on your legs and knees when you’re a beginner, and exercising in a slightly different way may help you recover faster and eventually make you a better runner.
Eat healthy. This means carbs, especially after a run, but also proteins and vegetables. Open some books on nutrition. Find information online. I will also probably put up a blog post soon about nutrition and diet.
Don’t underestimate the importance of rest. As a beginner, try to run 3 or 4 times a week at most, especially if you’re out of shape or if your body is not used to running. Resting is essential to recovery and to improving your running.
Resources for beginner runners
- Jack Daniels’ “Running Formula” https://www.amazon.com/Daniels-Running-Formula-3rd-Jack/dp/1450431836
- Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe https://www.amazon.com/Starting-Strength-Basic-Barbell-Training/dp/0982522738