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The 10 Most Important Things For Beginner Runners To Know

Running can be intimidating when you are first starting out.

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*Excerpt from Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training courtesy of Hal Higdon

Rebecca McPhail started to run at age 36. “The aim was just to be able to run for half an hour. I remember feeling self-conscious, uncoordinated, slow, and the burning in my chest hurt. This was all in the first couple of minutes. The stumbling block was getting over the feeling that I didn’t belong. I now know that other runners do not think that way. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow. I wish I had had a better understanding of that when I started.” 

Julie Lake, 46, remembers not even being able to run around her block: “I had to walk and catch my breath. It felt horrible, but I was determined to make the entire block running. Once I did that, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment.” 

Caryn Festa, 37, always had been a casual runner until she decided to train for a marathon. “I had a 2-year-old, so needed to run early morning. The first training day, I had 5 miles to run. I was lacing my shoes when my daughter woke up. I tried getting her to go back to sleep, but she wanted no part of it. I then asked if she wanted to ride in her stroller. Her face lit up. She stayed awake and talked to me the entire run. My first run remains my favorite run.

So many runners remember that first run as a singular experience. But how do you begin? New runners want to know how to start. They want a training program. They want information about shoes and equipment. They worry about sore muscles. Every runner experiences what might be described as start-up problems. Based on questions asked me through Social Media, here is help if you want to begin to run.

Safety First
Is running dangerous? Not really, says Paul D. Thompson, MD, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut: “You probably are safer running 13.1 miles in a road race than driving that same road.” Running is a benign form of exercise. Despite the stress we place on our bodies, runners have fewer heart attacks than sedentary people.

Shoe Selection
The single most important piece of equipment is shoes. Go to a specialty running store, one owned and staffed by runners. As for brand, model and price, ask the salesman. Try on three or four pair. Go for a short jog around the store. Fit is most important. “Feet, particularly those of beginners, tend to swell the further you run,” says Megan Leahy, DPM, a Chicago podiatrist. “Be willing to accept a size larger than your party-going high heels.”

Running Attire
Among runners, nobody cares what anybody else looks like. In a survey I took, runners favored comfort far ahead of fashion when it came to picking clothes. It is almost impossible to make a fashion faux pas. Begin with basics: a pair of shorts or tights and definitely a sports bra. (Popular lately are shorts that look like skirts.) When temperatures drop, layering begins. What keeps you warm in winter is not only the fabric, but also the air trapped between the fabrics.

GPS watches allow runners to measure time, distance, pace, and much more. Personally, I love the app on my iPhone, which allows me to view a map of the route just run. Depending on how much stuff you want on your watch, you can spend between $100 and $500. Another best-selling item is foam rollers. Nothing electronic about them, but you can rub the rollers along a sore or injured muscle and recover more rapidly.

RELATED: The Basics Of Foam Rolling

Sore Muscles
Yes, sore muscles happen. Even after running becomes easy, you still will experience sore muscles from time to time. People get sore muscles for three reasons:

  1. They are not used to exercising.
  2. They are used to a different exercise.
  3. They push their regular exercise too hard.

Pain is good. It is a warning signal to back off training. A general rule is that if pain comes at the start of a workout, but gradually diminishes as your muscles warm, keep going. But if pain gets worse as you run, it is time to stop and seek medical care.

Where to run?
The question of where and when to run seems easy to answer: anywhere and at any time. Most beginners start by running around the block or down the street in their neighborhoods. Only later, do they seek varied locations for their running activities. The sport is called “road running” and most people run on roads—facing traffic, please. Trails are safer and sometimes softer. Tracks are almost all 400 meters (four laps to the mile), so it is easy to measure performance, particularly if you do speedwork. Find the running areas that work best for you.

Any time, but most runners start their day with a morning workout. This wakes them up and guarantees that they will get in their run that day and not have work or unexpected family obligations derail their training plans. In summer, you can avoid the heat by running early, although in winter, I run mid-day for extra warmth.

In an ideal world, we should be able to run anywhere at any time without fear. Our world is not ideal, so be careful where you train. If you have to run in the dark or in unpatrolled areas, stay alert. You don’t need music every step you take. When possible, train with a partner. Everyone should run defensively. If running in the dark, please wear a reflective vest so drivers can see you from in front and behind. 

RELATED: 5 Rules To Stay Safe During Night Runs

Pick a program. This is self-serving, since I have dozens of programs available free on my Web site, But why venture into unexplored territory without a guide? Avoid silly mistakes. Much information is available in books and magazines and online. Make use of it.

In deciding to become a runner, you make a very important choice that will extend your lifespan. Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, author of the best-selling Aerobics, says, “Our research suggests that people who exercise regularly can extend their lifespan by six to nine years.” More important, “people who exercise improve their quality of life.” You can be a runner. You’ll look better. You’ll feel better. You’ll live longer.

That should be a good enough reason to begin to run.

Hal Higdon is the author of the recently published Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training.