How do I start running?
July 31, 2008 1:37 PM   Subscribe

I am going to start running. I am! But I've also never made any attempt at serious athletic dedication in my life. What do I need to know, starting with stretches and moving towards routines. Pretend I am an alien. More inside.

I like to walk. I'm a walker. I'll walk 10 miles in a day because I like the relaxed focus it lends me. However, a new job has me pinned at a desk most of the day and while I still get out for an afternoon stroll, I'm wishing I had more time just to move. Couple this with a belly I've been nurturing and, well, running sounds like a good idea.

But I've never run in my life. I mean, a few miles on a treadmill maybe once or twice a year. But never seriously. I'm afraid of A- Being unprepared and B- Hurting myself in some way. My sister did some serious damage to her knee in this way and I'm afraid of forming bad habits.

So let's pretend I'm getting up on Day 1. What stretches should I be doing? What are my realistic goals? What kind of footwear should I look for? (I have a pair of Onitsuka Tigers. I presume those are better than my usual slip on boat shoes, but are they?)

What's proper running form? I walk on the front of my feet and the last time I ran in public people couldn't get enough. Quote one friend: "It looked like you were getting ready for take off"

What other complimentary exercises should I be looking to do? Is it better to run in the AM or the PM?

I know, I know- The first week (year!) is hell and everything gets easier after. I'm more concerned with the technique and practical aspects of running. I'm mentally committed, just not sure where to start. Any words of wisdom are well appreciated!
posted by GilloD to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should note that I ADORE going barefoot, but I'm not sure that's a possibility in Brooklyn.
posted by GilloD at 1:38 PM on July 31, 2008

All you need:

Simple and free. A cheap sports watch (I got one at Target for about $25) and a pair of running shoes and you're good. I started this with my wife, but after a few weeks found it to be too "easy." So we ditched it and started just running.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2008

Day 1: Visit a really good store that specializes in running gear. Ask around for recommendations, or maybe a MeFite will have a NYCity suggestion. You need the kind of place they'll put you on a treadmill and watch you run, analyze your steps, and come up with the right kind of you. Not the kind where the store clerks know where to find a box with your size and that's about it.

Pick up a good book about running, also. The Runner's Handbook is the one I'd recommend.

Day 2: Once you have shoes (and the nice thing about running is that the rest of your attire doesn't matter much, except maybe decent socks you can pick up in the same store), start slow and easy. If you can run a mile without stopping, great; if not, just do a run-walk. Don't exceed a mile, in any case.

From there, build up until you can run a mile comfortably, and follow directions in the book for building yourself up to doing a 5K race. Just plan to run the course, don't think about speed. Don't run every day, more like every other day. Don't increase your mileage too rapidly.

Running on the balls of your feet, rather than landing on your heels, is OK, it's actually what a lot of marathoners do. If it's natural to you, that's fine. It probably reduces shock to the knee.

Good luck.
posted by beagle at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2008

1. Get some proper shoes with real support. Those Tigers are cute but won't cut it.
2. Start walk/running first. Jeff Galloway's your man for instructions on how to do this.
3. Keep a log of how long/far you run everyday. Make notes about how your body feels. This is a HUGE motivator when you start to look back on how hard two miles once felt.
4. Run day or night. Try both and see which you prefer and you're more likely to keep up. I like running right after I get home from work, but you might prefer mornings.
5. Don't go barefoot in Brooklyn.
posted by jrichards at 1:54 PM on July 31, 2008

Just a quick tip... Go slower than you think you should to start. Think jogging, not running. Take it very easy and you'll be able to go further than you think you can.
posted by csimpkins at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2008

You need a pair of Five Fingers if you like to go barefoot.
posted by nitsuj at 2:03 PM on July 31, 2008

I agree the run/walk programs are a great--and safe--way to get started. I used the one at Runner's World: 8-Week Beginning Runner's Training Program. I ended up abandoning the run/walk plan and moving to an all-out 30-minute run somewhere around the 6th week, 'cause I felt ready. Now (about 9 weeks after I started) I'm running 10-12 miles/week, and strength training 2x/week. So far so good, and still injury-free! (Runner's World has some great forums, too...)
posted by lovermont at 2:05 PM on July 31, 2008

Response by poster: Nitsuj- I want those so, so, so, so, so bad and my wife REFUSES to acknowledge their infinite NEATNESS.

Would they be good to run in?
posted by GilloD at 2:05 PM on July 31, 2008

Runner's World article on running form. You didn't mention whether you listen to anything while you walk. Whether or not you do, definitely go sans headphones for the first few weeks of running. Try to be conscious of your movements and your breathing. Pay attention to which muscles and joints are the most sore: they may be sore because of poor form.

Studies show that stretching before exercise is not particularly useful except as mental preparation. In fact, it's easy to injure yourself that way because the muscles and joints are not warmed up yet. Stretching after exercise is probably beneficial, however.

Complementary exercises are anything that strengthens your core muscles, anything that works the parts of your legs that running does not (such as cycling), and of course most upper-body exercises.

I find running in the PM better because I can't get up early enough to give myself enough time to relax and recharge after a run in the morning. If you get involved in races, however, know that most of them are in the early morning, which may take some getting used to. If you want to run with a group in a city, many of them run in the very early morning (5 or 6am). There are evening running groups, though.

A realistic goal is being able to run a 30 minute 5K in a month. That's a pace of just under 10 minutes per mile, or 6mph. One way to give yourself some inspiration is to pick a 5K race about 5 weeks from now and sign up for it. Note, though, that if you can't run a 5K about a week before the race, you shouldn't push yourself too hard on race day. It's easy to get swept up in the pace of the crowd at a race and overdo it.

I strongly recommend finding a running partner. It is much easier to push yourself to go further and faster with a partner than without.
posted by jedicus at 2:08 PM on July 31, 2008

Here's FiveFinger's section on running.
posted by nitsuj at 2:14 PM on July 31, 2008

I second the couch to 5k program and recommend listening to Robert Ullrey's podcast during training. For each of the nine weeks there's a new episode with music, and he tells you when to start and stop running. I've found it very motivating and much less hassle than looking at a watch every 30 seconds.
posted by amf at 2:34 PM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know, I know- The first week (year!) is hell and everything gets easier after.

Well, yes and no. Here's the "no" part: Wherever & at whatever level you start out, you can improve. You will learn quickly what works for you. But: you can only improve if you keep doing it.

It's easier mentally (if not physically) when you're just starting out because it's new and exciting. Once you've had some experience, running can start to feel like less of an adventure and more of a chore. And one day, you'll be at that moment (after you've just woken up, or after you've gotten home from work) when you're about to start getting dressed for a run--and the weather's crappy, or you have something on your mind, or you're just tired--and you'll think about how you felt the last time you were running in that situation, and you'll think, "Maybe I'll just skip this one run." And if you do, it makes it so much easier to skip the next one.

Some people get "in the zone" or a "runner's high" and it just feels natural and becomes something to look forward to. (Not so much for me.) The toughest thing thing about running, if you're like me, is establishing mental discipline. What everyone above has said about couch-to-5K and similar programs is on track: it's much easier to get into the routine of it if you have other people in your same situation. You can rely on them, you can learn with them, and you will demand a certain level of commitment from one another.

You will improve if you stick to it, I promise. But before anything, you have to make a mental commitment to keep at it for however long and however often you can manage without burning out. Good luck.
posted by kittyprecious at 3:31 PM on July 31, 2008

I run about 6k every other day and I do hills. Run on level ground for a while before yho do hills.

Also, I don't stretch. Never have. Never will. It is a waste of time.
posted by Zambrano at 4:37 PM on July 31, 2008

Also, I don't stretch. Never have. Never will. It is a waste of time.
Wow that's like the worst advice I've ever heard, not stretching doesn't make you a badass, it makes you kinda stupid. Stretching keeps you from getting as sore the next day, keeps you flexible (which could help prevent injuries) and just all around feels good. I don't really have any running advice because I hate running, I always thought if I was going to get excercise might as well have fun while doing it. I'd rather go and play some basketball or tennis or if I was bymyself I'd go do some dribbling drills with a soccer ball or ride my bike around town. If you're just wanting to get fit look into biking instead, way less impact and it's just plain fun. My uncle was a big runner his whole life and now he has titanium hips. And definetly don't listen too cool for school Zambrano, all the hip kids are stretching.
posted by BrnP84 at 4:53 PM on July 31, 2008

I don't have those five fingers shoes, but I do have a pair of socks like that which are amazingly comfortable.
posted by fixedgear at 5:05 PM on July 31, 2008

Piggyback/clarification: @nitsuj: Can you really run on asphalt and concrete with the five fingers? I really really want some as well, but the site doesn't really specify.

My advice on starting to run is to go slow. If you find that you can't get past the level where you're running a half an hour or so, slow down. And remember not to increase your mileage too quickly, I think the rule is no more than 10% increase per week.
posted by zazerr at 5:08 PM on July 31, 2008

If it makes you feel any better, I'm definitely no athlete and am currently out of shape. But about 10 years ago I took up running. It was grueling during the first few weeks, but suddenly one day the endorphin high kicked in. It was unmistakable, and I felt like instead of slogging away, I was cruising. Unfortunately I only kept with it another couple of weeks, then I started slacking off, one day here, one day there, and soon I quit. I think if I had been stringent about a schedule (at least making up days I missed) I might have kept it up.
posted by tinkertown at 5:12 PM on July 31, 2008

Visit a really good store that specializes in running gear...maybe a MeFite will have a NYCity suggestion.

Indeed. On the vital topic of shoe stores in NYC, see my earlier Q&A. (For the record, I've been to both Jackrabbit and SUper Runners, and I'd have to give Superrunners the edge- though your experience may be different.)

My uncle was a big runner his whole life and now he has titanium hips.

How big is big?

As to stretching, well, opinions clearly differ. But the USATF Stretch Study looks interesting
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 PM on July 31, 2008

My husband is addicted to those five fingers shoes. He even wears them for walking around. I call them his "monkey mitts" because they are so ape-like.

But to answer your question, you might want to consider trail running. Anything not hard surface can be considered a trail (i.e. you could run on the grass at a big park--you don't need to be in a forest or anything). That's what I do, and it's much easier on all my joints. The varied terrain keeps it interesting, and provides more resistance, too.

Have fun!
posted by chippie at 5:54 PM on July 31, 2008

How big is big?

Pretty avid runner, he always brags about how he once went jogging with Rod Woodson, Rod sprinted ahead at first but it was like a 5 mile run or something and when he caught up he litereally ran circles around him. As for stretching that study deals with only pre run stretching. Now a days there is differing opinion on everything (how bad is sodium, do cigarettes accelerate/prevent Alzeheimers, should we use butter or olive oil, etc) I don't really know the whole thing about why we should stretch, I just know that when I was playing tennis hardcore stretching helped me from cramping up and getting shin splints, and given the option of being flexible or not flexible I'll take flexibility. I feel pretty certain that the majority of runners would advocate stretching, even if it's just post run stretching.
posted by BrnP84 at 6:22 PM on July 31, 2008

nthing Couch to 5k. I come from generations of nonrunners and it made it fun to run.
posted by LiveToEat at 7:22 PM on July 31, 2008

I could have written this question myself, and am absorbing the good info now. I've started the Couch-to-5k program and I'm really enjoying it, even though I'm very seriously unfit. I'm actually going to repeat Week 1, because it's only now (Day 3) that I've managed to do 5 of the 8 intervals without feeling sick. But I'm less fit than the average person, and I'm still enjoying it anyway :)

It's actually a good activity for someone who doesn't like the rules and extra baggage that comes with playing sport. I put on my shoes (getting proper running shoes tomorrow!), grab my iPod, walk out the door, and get started. Much less time to talk myself out of doing it!

I recommend the Podrunner Intervals podcast - similar to the Robert Ullrey one, but without the talking to let you know which interval. This one uses a sorta horn noise, and faster/slower music, to let you know when it's time to change pace. I prefer the music on it to Ullrey's, but am looking forward to being able to make my own mixes.
posted by harriet vane at 5:29 AM on August 1, 2008

I'm in your exact situation - just started running as a complete novice, and am on the second week of Couch-to-5K. I'm especially interested in what kinds of stretches (and when to do them) everyone recommends.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:17 AM on August 1, 2008

Don't over-think it.

There's nothing wrong with any of the advice in this thread (well, except that I suppose one of "you must stretch" and "stretching is a waste of time" must be in error). But you don't need a watch, an mp3 player, a log, special socks, running shorts, a programme etc. You don't even need a wonderful pair of shoes - there are people all round the world running in all sorts of footwear - but it's a good idea to get a decent pair. The great thing about running is that it's absurdly easy to do.

The point is that you should get out there, take it easy, have a gentle jog and simply stop if anything hurts. Running comes first, then you can accessorise. You can put on your tigers today, head out and run for as long as it's fun. There's no reason why it should be 'hell'; you ran a few miles on a treadmill so I doubt running the same distance without a roof over you is going to lead to horrific injury.

(I'm not a hardcore runner, but I've got five marathons under my belt and know some scary ultramarathoners.)
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:19 AM on August 1, 2008

I was in your situation last December, and this past May I ran my first half-marathon. I'm a big fan of Jeff Galloway. My favorite bit of wisdom from his books is that the biggest impediment to getting faster is getting hurt. It sounds obvious, but it really isn't. Most of us think that we need to push really hard to increase our speed... and that's when injuries happen. So I've slowed down. I take walk-breaks. I give myself days off to recuperate. I've been running for seven months now without a serious injury, and I'm now in training for the Melbourne Half Marathon in October.

A great Galloway trick that really helped me at the start was to have a cup of coffee in the hour before your run. I always had trouble feeling motivated and energized to work out (especially in the morning). Once I had a little bit of caffeine though, I felt peppy enough to get out there. It's a crutch, sure, but it's better than skipping a run because you felt sluggish.

Also, with regards to stretching, there really is a lot of conflicting information. In Galloway's Book of Running for Women, he specifically recommends NOT STRETCHING. He's helped thousands of runners over the last few decades, and he reckons that beginners are far more likely to hurt themselves stretching than they are to get any benefit from it. I've only recently started doing post-workout stretches, and they're specific ones that my physiotherapist recommended for me. (My hip flexors and lower back get tight, so I work on those mainly.) When I go out for a run, I just make sure that I'm thoroughly warmed up with five minutes of walking before I speed up.

Just a final bit of advice - for me, running sucked for the first three months. I stuck with it because I was stubborn, but it never felt easy and I didn't ever enjoy it. And then at some point in March, I went out for my daily run... and suddenly it was easy. I realized that I was going at my usual pace, but I didn't feel like I was huffing and puffing and gasping for breath. I didn't feel like I needed any walk breaks that day. It was just a huge breakthrough, and it was the first time that I felt more energized at the end of my run than before it. I still have bad days, of course, days where I feel like I'm struggling just to finish the workout. But now that I know what a really good day feels like, I'm motivated to keep chasing that feeling. I guess maybe it's the famed "runner's high." All I know is, hang in there for a few months. It'll be tempting to quit after a few weeks - especially if you're not seeing the improvement you expected - but it really does get better if you stay with it.
posted by web-goddess at 11:18 AM on August 1, 2008

"A realistic goal is being able to run a 30 minute 5K in a month. "

Please don't listen to that. If you're a natural, sure, you might be that fast already. But you're much, much better off not worrying about pace at all. Don't set time goals for anything any time soon. Run slowly, relax, and have a good time.
posted by liet at 5:54 PM on August 1, 2008

Yeah, that comment killed me a little bit. I'd love to run a 30 minute 5K... but after 7 months, I'm not quite there yet.
posted by web-goddess at 6:55 PM on August 1, 2008

Response by poster: Just to follow-up: I've been following the Cough to 5k for about 3 weeks. After Week 1 I still didn't feel "up to it", so I repeated Week 1 again. Before I start week 2 I started doing some "free runs", just kind of running until I feel tired, walking a bit, then running again. I'm doing better!

On the whole, I like having some kind of fitness in my routine. I like to see other parts of my neighborhood. And I feel like a Golden God when I'm done. Seriously, it's like getting buzzed, I feel great afterwards.
posted by GilloD at 1:24 PM on August 22, 2008

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