Running is one the cheapest and most beneficial forms of exercise around (from a fitness, weight-loss, and overall health perspective). But it’s also really daunting to a lot of people who assume they will get winded, injured, or just look silly doing it. As a woman who is technically overweight (by BMI standards) and very accident prone, I’m here to tell you that anyone can integrate running into their exercise regime to save money, get fit, and improve their well-being. Here are my eight tips for any beginner runner:
1. Take baby steps. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? The method of running is a lot like that. You don’t want to overdo it your first day out by going too fast or too far and injure yourself, so start with a small goal and build up from there. There are so many beginner’s running guides online, but I like Hal Higdon’s program, which is free and has different guides for runners of all levels. Following that program helped me get through my first marathon in under 4.5 hours.
2. Get the right shoes. Maybe you are one of those lucky people who are like Kalenjin marathoners and can just run barefoot and be totally fine, but most of us do not possess that skill. Although running with whatever gym shoe you have might be OK if you are running less than three miles a week (or you’re easing into your first month of running), to avoid injury you’ll need to upgrade to running-specific shoes. Although it’s tempting to skimp here, this is the one item you should invest in. Go to a running store and get fitted so that the shoes fit you well. I love Jack Rabbit in NYC for this. They record a brief video of you running on a treadmill and recommend shoes based on your gait.
3. Get the right bra. I used to skimp on this particular item of clothing because I figured no one saw it anyway, and I hated the idea of spending more than $30 on a single item of sports clothing. But then, a girlfriend of mine remarked on her own wardrobe and claimed that a good bra was holding “precious cargo.” Just like that, it hit me that you only get one pair of boobies, and you should love and care for them as you would for the rest of your body. Now, I spend a decent amount on sports bras that look like some corset/harness for a small animal, and I often need help strapping myself into — but they do the trick. I have yet to find a brand I love, but here are some suggestions.
4. You don’t need fancy clothes. Unless you are running serious distances, speed running, or running in extreme weather conditions, any workout clothes (or even casual clothes) will do. I often get the “chub rub,” so I’ll wear spandex capris (which keep everything compressed) and pair them with old race t-shirts. If you tend to get blisters or have super sweaty feet, you might want to consider a sock that wicks sweat. To round out my standard running uniform, I’ll usually wear a baseball hat I got for free to keep my hair out of my face, as well as wraparound sunglasses I got in high school which keep dust from getting in my eyes.
5. You don’t need fancy technology. I keep my technology to a minimum. I have an iPod mini that I clip to my waist and a Nike+ chip that clips to my sneakers (about $25), which I use for playing music as well as my pedometer. It’s not totally accurate, but unless you are some competitive athlete there is really no need to pay $200 for a Garmin watch. You can also use free fitness apps on your smart phone, like MapMyRun, to track how far you’re going and how many calories you’re burning. Make sure to get a little armband for it though as it will slip as you run. One time, I fell and hurt my knees and arms pretty badly trying to ensure that the iPhone I was holding didn’t smash on the ground — I was out of commission for my marathon training for over a week. This could have all been avoided if I purchased a cheap armband on Amazon, so I’m passing this wisdom on to you.
6. Hydrate before AND after. Try to drink a glass of water before and after your run, not during. I usually only bring water on runs over six miles because you don’t really need it for runs shorter than that. Some people think that you need to have water with you at all times, but there’s no need for any sport’s drinks unless it’s really hot out (in which case yes, you should have water on you), or you are running over 10 miles.
7. Mind your surroundings. Run on sidewalks or running trails wherever possible and against traffic if you are running in the road. If you are listening to music, be aware that you increase your risk of not hearing a car, bike, dog, or (potential) mugger with enough time to protect yourself. Avoid running in the dark, in dangerous or isolated places, on ice, in the rain, or when a storm is expected. Try to let people know where you are going and when you will be back. Always take a cellphone (in an armband!) with you if you can. Basically, don’t be a dumbass!
8. Set goals. Running in group races are always more fun than jogging alone and give you something to work for (as well as a new running t-shirt!). Start by signing up for a 5k, and work your way up to longer races. Use running to help you achieve your fitness goals, but don’t panic if your results slow down. I run about 10 miles a week at the pace of about a nine minute mile, but one of the reasons I’m not losing weight (besides approaching 30 and working a 50+ hours a week at a desk job) is because I’ve hit a plateau. If you feel like this is happening to you, switch up your routine. Try to run hills or add speed and distance — see what happens and how it affects your body/fitness levels. Rememeber to always stay safe and listen to what your body tells you.
Emma is an attorney who moved from NYC to Nashville for law school and decided to stay. She will never again live North of the Mason Dixon line or pay more than 1/3 of her salary in rent. Follow her blog or her Instagram.