“How Do I Get Started Running?”

“Hey Joseph, how do you get in to running?”

I hear that question a lot. It’s certainly no secret that I’m a bit of a runner these days. I’ve run either six or seven half marathon races, covered that distance a few more times, and I’m planning my first marathon for Spring 2019. I’ve done it all over the course of the past three years, lost around 35lbs, and gained a newfound love in the process. If I’m not running, I’m probably thinking about my next run in some shape or form. “How is the weather going to be? Should I shift tomorrow’s run to the day after to take advantage of the cold front coming in? Do I have time to drive to the park, or am I just running around the neighborhood?”

The only time I've made it on a podium.

So, when people ask me for advice, I’m always excited to give it, and I thought it might be useful to get that all written and posted somewhere. This will be a kind of Q&A post, and I may come back and update it here and there as other stuff comes up.

How Should I Start Running?

Couch to 5K, plain and simple. The Couch to 5K (or C25K) program does a fantastic job easing you in to running, helps you build up the endurance, and packages it all up neatly. It’s how I got started, and it’s what I recommend for everyone. There are a plethora of C25K apps out there, just pick the one that’s the least offensive on your App Store of choice. (I used this one.)

How Do I Make Running Not Hurt?

Slow down. Seriously. You should be able to hold a conversation while you run, which means you shouldn’t be out of breath, and you shouldn’t be sore at the end of a run. (There are exceptions once you’re an established runner, but don’t think about those now.) If you think “I CAN’T go any slower, I’ll be walking!”, then fine! Switch to running and walking intervals until you’ve built up the endurance to run continuously.

My road racing pace is around a 9:45/mi, based on the last road race that I ran. It took me almost 3 years to get that fast. My comfy pace is still around a 10:35, and on trails it’s closer to 12:00. You don’t have to be fast to lap everyone who’s still sitting on the couch.

What Shoes Should I Wear?

Whatever is the best for you. (Yes, that’s a cop out answer.)

Go to a local running store and have them fit you for your shoes. Not a Dick’s Sporting Goods, not REI, but an ACTUAL running store. If you’re local to me, I really like Charm City Run, but find somewhere that’ll get you on a treadmill, watch how you run and walk, and will fit you properly. Your feet will thank you.

What Clothes Should I Wear?

Whatever you’re comfortable in! I started in gym shorts and a t-shirt, and now I run in more specialized running shorts and old race shirts. One day I may be some bronzed Adonis that can run shirtless, but probably not. Too many freckles and all that.

I’ll wear that all the way down to about 40 degrees Farenheit, where I’ll start adding a buff and gloves for the first few miles, maybe switching in a long sleeve on windy days. Below freezing, the tights come out under shorts, cause I hate cold thighs.

And I always run in a baseball cap, because it keeps the sweat out of my eyes. My hats are horrible and stink like death and I love them.

Where Should I Run? Treadmill? Trails? Roads?

Wherever will get you running. I can’t stand the treadmill, but it’s pretty useful for when the weather is truly abysmal. Trails are my favorite places to run, but runs take longer both to get to and to get done, and they’re harder, so the majority of my miles are done on roads.

A word of caution: A treadmill is a wonderful tool, but you need to be careful. Running on a treadmill isn’t the same motion as running elsewhere, and can lead to bad form and possible injuries. When you run on a treadmill, you’re basically jumping up and down really slowly, as opposed to running forwards, and that can cause undue stress on joints and muscles. It’s a good idea to shake it up and run outside when you can if the majority of your running is done on a treadmill. Also, you can run faster on a treadmill than on anything else, so be sure to SLOW DOWN when you switch.

When Should I Run? Morning? Noon? Evening?

Whenever you can make the time. Notice I said make, not find. Even for me, I have to make the choice to run each morning. I find it’s helpful to put my clothes right by the door each evening so that there is minimal friction while I’m still tired.

As for time of day, whatever feels best to you. I can’t stand the feeling of being sleepy as I start running, so I wake up a little earlier and have a cup of coffee first, then go out. I love lunchtime runs in the winter because the trails tend to be empty, but wrapping up a workday with a run is really nice, too. It’s really whatever you prefer, as long as you do it.

Do You Run With Music?

I used to. It’s a really helpful tool, especially when you’re starting out, but make sure that you can always hear cars and bikes and things over your music. ALWAYS.

What Do You Track Your Runs With?

Strava. I’ve tried a bunch of apps (here’s an old post about it), but Strava has been the best for me long term. But it’s whatever you prefer.

I do use a GPS watch, a Garmin Vivoactive 3 for all my tracking while I run. I use it to watch my heart rate and keep an eye on my pace, but it’s a “nice to have”, not a necessity.

But I Still Don’t Like Running!

First, that’s not a question. Second, that’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but you’ll never know unless you try it. I didn’t love it at first, but once I was able to go further than I ever had before, and do it without every step feeling like misery, it was like nothing else I had ever done. But that did take time.

Will You Run With Me?

Anytime, anywhere, for any distance. Having someone to run with is fantastic. You can push each other farther, you have some camaraderie, and it builds friendship like nothing else (“Hey, watch my back, I have to pee. Let me know if anyone is coming.”).

If you want to go for a run, just let me know and I’m more than happy to.

I think those are the common ones. Running helps keep me fit, helps keep me mentally stable, and just feels good to me. Even if all these (THIRTEEN HUNDRED) words only help one person get started running, it’ll be worth it to me. I’ll end with an excerpt from Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog.

“For that matter, few ideas are as crazy as my favorite thing, running. It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. It’s not just that there’s no finish line; it’s that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them within. It’s all in how you frame it, how you sell it to yourself.
Every runner knows this. You run and run, mile after mile, and you never quite know why. You tell yourself that you’re running toward some goal, chasing some rush, but really you run because the alternative, stopping, scares you to death.”