Ancient Greek runners pictured on vase

Hey, it was a long way to Marathon for the Greeks, too.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to cross the fin­ish line of a marathon, or you look guiltily at the run­ning shoes under your bed that your boyfriend bought you as you get dressed in the morn­ing, but for what­ever rea­son, you’ve always wanted to be a run­ner. Unfor­tu­nately, the con­cept always seemed so daunt­ing and out of char­ac­ter for you.  Now is as good a time as any to step back and take a look at that wor­thy goal anew.  Run­ning can be an abun­dantly enjoy­able, healthy, and stress-relieving pas­sion if you fol­low some basic steps to get started.  I’ve been run­ning seri­ously for only about five months now and just fin­ished my first half-marathon, but I’ve dab­bled with it on and off for three or four years, and I have been able to dis­till some key tenets for success.

First Things First — Get the Right Equipment

It’s a commonly-held myth that run­ning has to be ardu­ous and painful, but that’s sim­ply not the case.  Most novice run­ners just start run­ning with­out prop­erly prepar­ing, and this can lead to unnec­es­sary sore­ness and dis­com­fort, which can then lead to quit­ting soon after starting.

There is an ongo­ing debate about what role run­ning shoes play in injury pre­ven­tion.  Some aca­d­e­mics have argued that there is evi­dence to sug­gest that run­ning shoes have lit­tle or no effect on injury pre­ven­tion.  On the Aus­tralian blog “Bare­foot vs. the Shoe” the author goes so far as to pose the ques­tion, “Is there a run­ning shoe mafia?This fan­tas­ti­cally thor­ough arti­cle even alleges that “Run­ners wear­ing top-of-the-line train­ers are 123 per cent more likely to get injured than run­ners in cheap ones.” In a later post I’ll doc­u­ment my expe­ri­ence with the Nike Free, a new type of run­ning shoe designed to sim­u­late bare­foot run­ning.  Vibram shoes uti­lize the same con­cept, with a much more authen­tic look.

For the time being, until there is more sci­ence to show what kind of shoes you should be run­ning with, it’s prob­a­bly best just to go to your near­est run­ning store and get­ting fit­ted for a medium-quality run­ning shoe — cross-trainers or bas­ket­ball shoes won’t cut it. A good store should have you run on a tread­mill and eval­u­ate your prona­tion, i.e. whether you run on the insides or out­sides of your feet. Also, the sim­ple fact of invest­ing in some­thing you use only for run­ning will remind you of your com­mit­ment to start.

But another key piece of equip­ment that most begin­ners don’t think about is cloth­ing.  The type of cloth­ing you wear is cru­cial to how com­fort­able you’ll feel run­ning.  You’re already going to be sweat­ing, so you might as well choose cloth­ing that won’t soak it up.  Invest in a cou­ple of sets of run­ning cloth­ing that are “moisture-wicking,” mean­ing they don’t hold on to your sweat like a sponge.  This is great for a few reasons:

  1. Run­ning in sop­ping wet cloth­ing is disgusting
  2. In the sum­mer this will keep you cooler
  3. In the win­ter this will keep you warmer
  4. Less sweat spots so you look sex­ier while running

A run­ning wardrobe should con­sist of tops for cold and warm weather, shorts or pants, and under­wear, as well as a hat and gloves for cold weather.  Run­ning under­wear is key, not just for the moisture-wicking com­po­nent, but also because it fits more com­fort­ably and can pre­vent chaf­ing on long runs.  Just ask any long-distance run­ner — chaf­ing isn’t fun. Ladies, you”ll also want to invest in a sports bra, as I’m told it’s sim­i­larly crucial.

Finally, if you like to lis­ten to music, pick your­self up an iPod Shuf­fle or sim­i­lar MP3 player.  I don’t always run with one, but espe­cially when your start­ing out it can keep you focused on mov­ing for­ward and not on the ini­tial dis­com­fort of run­ning. The sci­ence behind music as moti­va­tion has been well-documented.

Design a Beginner’s Rou­tine that Makes Sense

I used to work as an ACE-certified per­sonal trainer and time and time again, I saw bur­geon­ing fit­ness nuts way­laid by increas­ing the inten­sity or dura­tion of their work­outs too rapidly.  Espe­cially if you’re new to a reg­u­lar run­ning rou­tine, you need to give your body more time than you think it needs to adapt. When I first started, I found great suc­cess in alter­nat­ing jog­ging and walk­ing dur­ing the first month or two, in order to allow my body to get used to run­ning.  This made me hap­pier and more com­fort­able while run­ning, and kept sore­ness to a minimum.

As I got more con­fi­dent as a run­ner, I started to shorten the length of my walk­ing peri­ods.  It’s easy to keep track of whether you’re ready to run or walk by using some­thing like the Per­ceived Level of Exer­tion Scale, which allows you to rate how hard the exer­cise is.  If you’re nearer the top of the scale, slow down, if you’re closer to the bot­tom, speed up (you may want to con­sider using a more sen­si­ble num­ber range, like 1–19, rather than 6–20).  In the begin­ning, it’s not a good idea to make goals like, “I’m going to run 3 miles today.” Much more effec­tive is to say, “I’m going to run for 20 min­utes today, and take walk­ing breaks when I need to.” Performance-driven goals can push you too far too fast in the beginning.

Build Up Your Runs in an Orga­nized Way

After begin­ning a reg­u­lar run­ning pro­gram, you’ll even­tu­ally start feel­ing the “runner’s high,” an endor­phin release that hap­pens once you get warmed up and into slightly longer runs.  This euphoric release can often spur you to run faster or far­ther than your body is actu­ally ready to, so after you’ve got­ten some expe­ri­ence under your belt, start plan­ning small incre­men­tal increases in speed or dis­tance by writ­ing out a sched­ule. Ini­tial sched­ules should only entail three days of run­ning a week, but as you scale up you can add one or two more.  Only increase the total num­ber of miles you run per week by 5–10% at a time for opti­mal improve­ment.  More and you risk injury or frus­tra­tion, less and you’ll see no progress.

More­over, even as your mus­cles strengthen and feel ready for the new chal­lenge, your con­nec­tive tis­sue is usu­ally one to two weeks behind the curve.  This could be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor behind joint injuries, as it’s easy to over­train because your mus­cles are ready but your lig­a­ments and ten­dons are not. Be care­ful to pace your­self math­e­mat­i­cally as you scale up to resist the temp­ta­tion to overex­ert yourself.

Once you get into dis­tance run­ning, i.e. more than 3 miles at at a time, it’s a ter­rific idea to find a run­ning buddy, or to join a local run­ning club.  Long runs by your­self can be med­i­ta­tive, but they can also be incred­i­bly bor­ing if you’re not feel­ing all that moti­vated that day. Not to men­tion, it’s eas­ier to keep a good pace when you can chat with a part­ner.  You should be able to hold a con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing long runs, but not sing.  If you can sing, you’re not work­ing hard enough, if you can’t hold a con­ver­sa­tion, slow down.

Finally, never set stan­dards that quan­tify you as either being lazy or stick­ing to your pro­gram.  Black and white met­rics for suc­cess don’t moti­vate. The most impor­tant thing in start­ing to run is just to get out the door.  If you can get out the door, chances are you’re going to make progress.  If you don’t have time for the long run you had planned, go out and do a short one.  Small runs here and there will get you more excited about the longer ones, and one step closer to devel­op­ing a real pas­sion for the sport.  And when you reach that runner’s high it be all the more reward­ing because you got there safely.



  1. Run with love. Take after the Tarahumara.

  2. I def­i­nitely believe that bare­foot run­ning is the way to go. It has lit­er­ally saved my body.

    Yuri Elkaim

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