Running: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

Everything you need to know before getting started

It may not seem like it now, but spring is coming, and with it warmer weather, blooming flowers – and running shoes.

If you envy those friends who so carelessly throw on their sneakers and hit the pavement, but you find yourself having trouble taking that first step, you’re not alone.

With the right tools, like proper footwear, clothing, hydration habits and just a touch of motivation, you too can kick up your heels. Here are a few tips and tricks to help get you started:

Footwear: Perhaps the most important part of getting started in running comes down to what’s on your feet. But different types of feet mean different types of sneakers: a high arch foot requires a “neutral” sneaker; someone with normal arches would use a “stability” shoe; and a flat foot needs a sneaker with “maximum support.” Wearing the wrong footwear cannot only ruin a good workout, but cause injuries. Running store employees can help you find the perfect fit. “If a shoe either hurts or rubs or does not fit right while in the store, don’t buy it, because it’s not going to stretch out or accommodate for your foot later on,” says Cary Zinkin, a Florida podiatrist and spokesman for the American Podiatric Medical Association. “If it’s not comfortable, it’s no good.”

Clothes: Gear with moisture-wicking fabric, also known as “technical gear,” which moves the perspiration away from the body and to the surface of your clothing, is the best bet when you’re building up a sweat. These fabrics are available with shirts and shorts, but it is especially important for socks because cotton socks can cause friction. And ladies, a comfortable sports bra is essential. Here’s a warning though: sometimes the high-tech fabric does smell more than cotton, so look for detergents that are good for technical gear, like Penguin Brands Penguin Sport Wash.  

Environment: Nathan Guerrin, who recently started a Connecticut personal training company called Foundation Fitness, LLC, encourages runners to find a comfortable environment. “If you like being outside, be outside,” Guerrin said. “If you like the woods, find a path in the woods. Whatever you like to surround yourself with, be there.” So pick the place; from the treadmill to the boardwalk, your options are nearly endless. Or, better yet, try different places. Some prefer the treadmill because of the constant speed while others like the great outdoors because of the varying terrain. It’s all up to you.

Routine: Just jumping into a run with little to no experience is not a good idea. Jenny Hadfield, a running coach and author, says her number one rule for new runners is to “start from where you are.” A simple routine to get you started is to walk with a few jogging spurts. Numerous personal trainers suggest jogging one minute for every four spent walking. Eventually, as your fitness progresses, you can alter the ratio and start to spend more time running. To run longer distances, you’ll have to give your body time to adjust. “Run until you hear your breath and walk until you catch it,” Hadfield says. “Go by how you feel when you run rather than watching your pace or looking at your watch.”

Hydration: Running coach and author Matt Fitzgerald says there are benefits to consuming fluids during exercise. “It will help you feel more comfortable and if you’re really testing yourself, it will help you run better.” In that case, if you plan on running for longer than an hour, carry water with you or choose a route where you can stop for a drink along the way. And don’t stress over how much; just drink to your thirst.

Apps: Running? There are apps for that. A few favorites include Couch to 5K, which helps you train for a three-mile run; Nike+, a popular app that tracks your runs as you listen to your music; and Zombie Run, a fun app with survival missions that places you in a scene similar to something right out of “The Walking Dead.” While some are just for fun, apps that are geared toward tracking your results can help you watch your progress and reach your goals.

Motivation: Running is meant to be enjoyable, but it’s not always a walk in the park and staying motivated can be a challenge. Motivation is very individualized and eventually, only the runners will be able to push themselves to keep going. Fitzgerald and Hadfield suggest setting goals, like aiming to race a 5K. “That’s very doable for most people, you only need several weeks to get ready for something like that,” Fitzgerald said. And, he says, “Crossing that first finish line is a transformative experience.”