Runner's Resource - A Running Blog
Top 10 Tips for Beginning Runners
April 4, 2016 Lindsey N. Dyn
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The First Step to a Running Lifestyle
So you've decided to give running a try…that's awesome! Congrats on taking the first step! Starting a new chapter in your running life can be exciting, but with the bombardment of information, where do you start? Books, articles, and online forums abound on the topic. And, while I'm not a professional by any means, here are my top 10 tips for entering into your new running journey.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links which means that if you click on and purchase from the linked website, I receive compensation.
1.) Get checked out by your doctor
Running is a great gateway to a healthy lifestyle. That being said, as with any new exercise regimen, only you and your doctor know if you're ready to dive right in. Get checked out to ensure that you're healthy enough and don't have any pre-existing conditions that may complicate matters.
2.) Invest in the right shoes
Half size larger - Why a half size larger? With a constant state of activity and pounding, your feet will gradually begin to swell. Now, we're not talking a scary amount, but enough to cause issues further along in your run. Wearing a shoe a half size larger will provide more accommodation for your slightly swollen foot, while also allowing movement of the foot within the shoe (therefore hopefully avoiding black toenails).
Get fitted at a professional running store - Again, you may find yourself asking why? You just told me buy shoes a half size bigger, isn't that enough? The simplest answer - no. The specialists at the running store not only check your feet for the proper size, they also will watch you run. How is your protonation? Are you more of a forefoot runner or heel striker? These are just some of the considerations that come into play when selecting a running shoe. And you just thought it was about the pretty, flashy colors...
Technically I wanted to rank this tip #1, but as with all good disclaimers, the doctor's blessing had to go first.
3.) The right socks are equally important
In my opinion, it's not only about the shoes. The socks are just as important (I suppose unless you wear Vibrams) and can be just as personal of selection as shoes. When I first started marathon training, I began using a brand called WrightSock, specifically their double-layer design, such as the ones seen below:
I found these to be wonderful, as the double layer allowed movement of the foot within the sock as opposed to the friction of the foot moving within the shoe - it essentially provided a gliding motion within the shoe. Blisters were reduced, making for a happier runner.
Since tackling the marathon distance (and beyond) on a much more frequent basis, I have found the Injinji toesocks to be a lifesaver. After a while running in other socks I began developing blisters in between and on weird places on my toes. The Injinji toesocks, such as the ones seen below:
practically eliminated those for me. At first it took a little getting used to (kind of like having a glove on your foot), but now I can't live without them. Investing in specialty socks like the ones I've just listed can seem like a bit of sticker-shock at first, but you will be paid back in full in comfort and peace of mind that blisters won't derail your training or race.
4.) Set goals
When starting out, you may have a goal of getting healthier, running faster, or running longer. These are all admirable goals, but how will you gauge your success? Using 'run longer' as an example, a number of questions can stem from this vaguely worded goal. What is our baseline, or starting point? When running longer, are we considering time, or distance? For purposes of this exercise, we'll consider the goal-setter is a brand new runner, with no previous experience. To craft a better goal, several elements come into play and can be summarized by the mnemonic SMART.
S pecific: Instead of vague goals such as run longer, state your goal using more objective terms such as "I want to run a mile".
M easureable: There needs an objective way to quantify and evaluate progress and completion. By recording your runs, you provide a way to compare your current state to your goal.
R easonable: I consider Attainable and Reasonable to be almost one and the same. Does the goal provide a challenge that is still achievable? If not, it is almost certainly destined for failure. A goal of running a mile for someone who is new to running could be considered attainable and reasonable. A goal of that same individual completing an ultramarathon in the same span of time is not.
T imely: There must be a specified timeframe involved. Without a timeframe, perhaps both of the previous AR statements are achievable. It would be reasonable for a newbie to run a mile with the given timeframe of 6 months. Likewise, the same person could complete an ultramarathon if the timeframe is 2 years out. As you can see, specifying a time frame is important.
To see how our admirable, but vague example goal has evolved…originally the goal was to 'run longer'. A more well defined goal based on our SMART elements would be "I want to run a mile without taking walk breaks after 8 weeks of training".
One good way to help ensure you are enacting all of these SMART elements into your goal-setting is to sign up for a race. (Reason 2 Run, LLC Virtual Races are a great place to start!) Before signing up for any race, consider the race distance, in conjunction with the time until the race and your current training level.
5.) Devise (or download) a training plan
Having a goal and having a way to attain that goal are two totally different things. A goal without an actionable plan may leave you feeling frustrated and lost. Find a training plan that you can reasonably fit into your lifestyle (or can be adjusted to) and use it! I mean really use it! Schedule your miles as an appointment - so write it down, enter it into your digital calendar, whatever you normally do with your other appointments.
6.) It's ok to start with the walk/run method
Nobody (with sanity intact) has set out to run an ultramarathon on Day 1. Starting a new running program (for any distance) can be hard, if you don't know where to start. Many running programs begin with a period of walking, followed by a shorter period of running. As your endurance gradually increases, the portion of walking decreases and is replaced by running. Keep with it, and before you know it you'll be able to run for an hour straight. And...sometimes continuing with the walk/run method (even in a race) is completely acceptable, and encouraged. As the distances increase, you subject your body to more wear and tear. Planned walk breaks can not only help mitigate some of that damage, pushing your body further than if only running, but can also can provide a welcome mental relief.
For the longest time I underestimated the power and necessity of cross-training. Until recently, when I was training for a race, running was pretty much all I did as far as exercise goes. But now I have seen the light, and how beneficial cross-training can be. Incorporating strength training, particularly for your core, can make you a stronger, better, and therefore happier runner. Core work is especially important for runners, as a strong core can help your running form, allowing you to use your muscles more efficiently, thus preventing injury. So learn from my mistakes, and start scheduling some strength training into your weekly regimen.
We've all heard this one before. But, I want you to consider your previous ideas about stretching. When you imagine stretching, is it limited to before your run? Is that imaginary runner doing the traditional stretch and hold routine? If you're like me, before I started seriously running, I had those same images. Since adopting running as a lifestyle instead of merely a hobby, I've found that stretching after running is just as important as before. And the type of stretching (static vs. dynamic) also has an effect. While some debate exists over the type of stretching to employ, I've begun to adopt more and more dynamic stretches into my pre-run routine. So what's the difference? Static stretching is the traditional stretch and hold poses we were all taught in grade school gym glass. Dynamic stretching involves controlled movements such as leg swings, which may more closely mimic the activity you're preparing for. As for my routine, I incorporate the dynamic stretches into my pre-run warm-up and save the static stretching for afterwards.
9.) Listen to your body
This is another rule that I, myself, have broken. There are times when turning off your brain from the discomfort is good, and other times when ignoring that persistent or sharp pain (stubborn much?) can be bad. The trick is learning the difference. Many times what you perceive as discomfort can be gutted out. Example? Sprinting and the subsequent lung burning. Yes, this is uncomfortable but most likely is not something that will cause an injury. In my experience, however, if pain is sharp and/or persistent, stopping is the prescribed course of action. There have been a number of times when my stubbornness has gotten the best of me. Hey, it's only one more mile, right? Bad idea. Ignoring legitimate pain can leave you missing out on way more miles thanks to an injury than cutting your scheduled run short.
The above advice should obviously be taken with caution. If you are ever in doubt - STOP. Consult with your doctor, coach, and/or personal trainer (since I am not one) and hopefully they will be able to resolve your issue.
10.) Build in recovery
More miles does not always equal better performance. Your body needs a break. Constant running breaks the body down; rest allows the small tears in your muscles to heal, making the muscles stronger than before. From the articles I've read over the years, that regrowth that is so important happens during the resting phase. It's no wonder, then why the majority of training plans have rest days built in. If sitting back and relaxing makes you antsy, you could replace a rest day with cross training (strength training and/or yoga would be my recommendations). Just remember, rest = good; injury = bad.
So there it is in a nutshell - my Top 10 Tips for Beginning Runners. Hopefully this was a good jumping off point for you. Until next time - happy running!