Starting anything from scratch is a humbling experience. You’re either learning a completely new skill with no experience, or you’re forced to take on beginner status for something you remember mastering at one point. Running is no different when it comes to starting from scratch. Whether you’ve never broken into a run before, or it’s been a long time since you have, to begin running can seem overwhelming and easy to quit before you really get going. Hopefully, these tips will catch you before you throw your hands in the air and decide running is for someone – anyone– else.
Tip Number One: Start Slow and Respect the Run
So, you’ve seen friends posting their runs on Facebook. Maybe you’ve started reading running blogs. Then you’ve started noticing all the people out on sidewalks, trails and in the parks, running. Whatever is motivating you to start running too, it’s likely that your concept of running is that you just put on your shoes, head out the door, run for x number of miles, then come home. Not so fast! (Literally, ha!)
Just like you wouldn’t take an advanced yoga class for your first time, or pick up the 45 pound dumbbells if you’ve never used weights before, it’s not advisable to just start running without a break on your first time out. My advice? Walk for a while, until you feel warmed up. Then, either pick a time period (two minutes is a good goal), or pick a spot not too far in the distance, and run for that period. Then walk for half the time you were running. Repeat that pattern throughout your run. Try a 20 or 30 minute time goal for your first run, using the walk break format.
Always take it super easy on that first run out, because even if you feel amazing while you’re running, you just don’t know how you’ll feel when you get home and your body starts the recovery process. If you feel fine afterwards and feel like you can handle more, add a little more time to the running segments the next time you head out.
“But I used to run 5 miles without walking! I don’t need to be so conservative!” Yes, you do. It’s kind of like cooking – it’s better to add too little of an ingredient at first and gradually increase until you get the ratio right, rather than dumping a whole spice jar in and then bemoaning the loss of your taste buds for the next week.
“Everyone will look at me and judge me for taking walk breaks!” No, they won’t. And anyone who actually would think like that is a jerk. This one is mainly in your head, trust me. When I went out for my first postpartum run, I felt like a big, floppy, out-of-shape mess. I was humbled by my (lack of) speed and yes, had to take walk breaks. I spent the whole time wishing I could explain to every runner I saw that I’d just had a baby and this was my first time back running. No one cared but me, but I know how vulnerable starting over makes you feel. The second time I went out felt a thousand times more comfortable, both physically and mentally/emotionally – I promise it gets better!
Tip Number Two: Give Your Body Time to Recover
Maybe you think because your first run or two are 20 minutes long, then you don’t really need to cool down, or stretch, or recover. Don’t be fooled! Adding any kind of new stressor to your routine requires adequate recovery to avoid injury and ensure you’re ready for your next session.
What’s the best way to recover after running? Walk for a while if you have time, just to keep your legs moving and increase blood flow. Compression socks or sleeves can also help blood flow to aid muscle recovery. Drink some water as you walk to rehydrate after sweating. Ideally within 30 minutes after finishing your run, you should eat or drink something that includes carbs (which your body has used on your run) and protein (to aid in muscle recovery). Ideas for quick post-run snacks include low-fat chocolate milk, a yogurt & fruit smoothie, a fruit with nut butter, or veggie sticks dipped in hummus. Foam rolling is the best method for aiding recovery, but some static stretching while you’re still warm always feels pretty good, too.
Tip Number Three: Listen to Your Body
If you’ve exercised before, you know how you feel after a good workout – sore (but good-sore), suddenly aware of muscles in places you’d never noticed, a little stiff getting up when you’ve been sitting for a while. These are all normal post-exercise aches and pains, which should feel pretty familiar to you. So, if something hurts, like a sharp pain kind of a hurt, or if anything looks or feels swollen, or something just doesn’t feel right to you, listen to your body. Don’t go back out running while you’re feeling that way. Ice anything that is painful. If it is still hurting after three or four days, go see a doctor. It’s better to stop and take care of an injury as soon as you notice it, rather than trying to run through the pain. In a worst case scenario, you could turn a minor injury into a major injury that will set you back months, compared to a week or two off running if you take care of it at the first sign of pain.
Tip Number Four: Invest In the Right Gear
In theory, running is one of the cheapest, most accessible sports to try. All you really need is a pair of sneakers, shorts and a t-shirt, right? In actuality, spending a little time and money on a few key pieces of running gear will make a huge difference in how comfortable you feel out running.
Hands down, the most important thing you can buy are your running shoes. Not just sneakers – running sneakers. Running shoes have a lot of science behind their manufacture to ensure a comfortable, injury-free experience. The best idea is to go to a reputable running store to get a gait analysis, which will steer you to the right type of shoe that will work best for you. Sometimes, even if you’re convinced a particular brand and style is best for you, when you wear them they just don’t feel right. See if your running store has a ‘try them out’ guarantee – some do offer this, where you can wear them on a run and if they don’t work, you can exchange them for a different pair. Online, Road Runner Sports has a 60 day Perfect Fit guarantee – you can exchange any pair within a 60 day period, even if you’ve run in them, if they don’t feel right for you. (That’s not an affiliate link – I just happen to buy shoes on that site and love that they have that guarantee).
Once you have the shoes taken care of, there are a few other pieces you should consider to make running a great experience. Forget cotton t-shirts and shorts, to start with. If you’ve never experienced the agony of chafing before (particularly the agony of hot shower streams pelting your chafed skin), then hold on to that blissful ignorance by eschewing cotton. Look for breathable, sweat-wicking fabrics. If you’re on a budget, check out online sales, or look in stores like Marshalls or TJ Maxx for good deals on running basics. PS: This counts for socks, too!
Finally, base your accessory purchases on where and when you’ll be running. Starting out on a treadmill? You won’t need fuel belts, hats or visors, or sunglasses. If you’re running outside, think about time of day to decide if you need shades or a hat (or both) and sunscreen; and consider the route you’ll take when it comes to fuel belts. For example, I usually run in the park, where there are plentiful water fountains, so I’ve never invested in a belt that holds water bottles. I use a FlipBelt, which comfortably holds my keys, phone and fuel for my long runs. If you’re running on the sidewalks, or trails, where you won’t have easy access to water, a belt that holds water bottles, or some kind of hand-held water bottle would be a good investment.
Tip Number Five: Set Realistic, Attainable Goals for Running
You obviously have some goal in mind if you’re trying running for the first time (or getting back into it after a break). Maybe you’re running to lose weight, maybe you just want to feel fit, or maybe you’re driven by a competitive spirit and want to start racing. Whatever is motivating you to get out and run, make sure you’re keeping SMART goals in mind – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Focused. If you want to race, ensure that you have enough time to get a good weekly mileage base in place before you embark on a training plan for the race. If you want to lose weight or gain fitness, set smaller goals at first and chip away at them week by week.
Bear in mind that your goals don’t have to be set in stone. It’s okay to change your mind about a race you signed up for, if you are beginning to realize you won’t be ready. It’s okay to give yourself a break if you’re not losing weight at the rate you were hoping. Be fair to yourself while you’re working towards those end goals.
Runners – do you have a particular memory of starting from scratch?
What would you add to these tips for starting to run – what’s the best advice you received as a beginner?
Want more Running Tips? Check out these you may have missed:
Or you can check out the whole Running Tips archive here. 🙂