I was recently in a conversation with a veteran runner who is very involved in the community running scene, and we were discussing how often we here this very question. For those of us who have been running for a while, it can seem an afterthought that there are some valuable tips/lessons that can be shared with new runners to help them hopefully avoid mistakes that we veteran runners might have made. I’ll outline several tips below in no particular order:
- Make sure you are healthy enough to take up running. Partly this is the disclaimer type answer, but partly it is a truthful need to self-assess. I’ve had several people recently ask about starting running when they have a muscle injury that is limiting their ability to just do day-to-day tasks like walking and cooking. While running is an easy to adopt form of exercise, it is not an easy thing for your body to adapt to. You have to make sure that you are starting in a good place before taking it up or injury/failure is nearly inevitable.
- Don’t start with a race goal … or if you do, make sure the date is far into the future (preferably 15+ weeks). This is tough advice to issue because so many new runners have a goal race in mind – it is one of the most common catalysts to become a runner. While many people certainly start this way and while I have coached many people in this scenario, it often places a pressure of time that is not ideal as a beginning runner. This is especially the case if you are in a tight timeframe for whatever event you have chosen. It’s rare that someone will become a runner without some “bumps and bruises” along the way. Injuries, illnesses, and life tend to get in the way. For a beginning runner, it can be a big deal to miss several days to any of the above if he/she is on a tight schedule. When possible try to have 6-8 weeks of running before settling on a first race. And also try to limit yourself to no further than a 10k for a first time race unless you are giving loads of time to meet your goal.
- Consider a run:walk method. Jeff Galloway is the king of this method (http://www.jeffgalloway.com/) and has multiple resources available on his website. It is what it sounds like – a mix of running and walking. Usually, you start by walking for 5-10 mins before switching to a run:walk method. Something like 2 mins running: 45 secs walking is a common ratio you might consider. Then you would repeat the 2 mins:45 secs “x” amount of times before ending with a walk. There are multiple reasons why this is such an effective way for runners to come into the sport. You get built in rest breaks, vary the strain on your muscles/bones, often can go further/longer, have an easier mental time knowing a break is in the future, and often can get faster sooner. Many veteran runners benefit from this method as well.
- Run no more than every other day. Really try to resist the urge to jump right into training every day. Again running is a serious sport that requires a lot out of your body (see prior post about runners being athletes here). Taking at least 1 day for a break is a good way to make sure you are getting some decent recovery from the runs that you are on. Early on, it might even be good to take 2-3 days off between workouts. Try to learn early on to listen to your body.
- Consider joining a running group or getting a running partner. Running groups are a great way to get to know other runners, get some knowledge from veteran runners, and find other runners that might be good training partners for you. Running groups are also great for accountability. Partners can provide some of the same benefits. It’s always easier to skip a morning workout when you are the only person you have to convince! Just be sure to find someone in the group or a partner who is not too much faster or slower than you are.
- Get some good non-cotton socks. I make the sock recommendation ahead of any shoe recommendation because the socks are more involved in whether you get a blister or not (at least if you are in a good fitting shoe, which most of us are). Seriously, spend a bit of money to get some sort of athletic sock. You’ll regret not following this if you get a nasty blister!
- Don’t sweat the details! If you happen to pick up a Runner’s World or browse the internet, you can quickly become overwhelmed with all of the things that you are supposed to do as a runner. It can seriously be crazy! One year for halloween I took all of the running gear I had and put it all on to be the “overly prepared beginner runner”. I had fuel belts, water bottles, ear phones, bright socks, shoes, three technical shirts, running tights, running shorts, sweat bands, and more … and truly need none of it for the majority of my runs. Good gear can seriously be helpful (see socks above), but you truly need very little to be able to run effectively as you begin to get into the sport.
- Have fun! Running can be life-changing. It can help lead to improved physical and mental health. It can be a way to grow individually as you meet challenge after challenge. It can be a great way to become involved in your community. You can meet lifelong friends. You can raise money for a special cause. You can do anything with it! Have fun, and take things nice and slow.
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