Running is the most straight-forward activity in the world, right? You just strap on your shoes and hit the pavement. No fancy equipment or special training required.
Wrong. For those of us who haven’t been running our whole lives, starting a new habit as an adult can feel really intimidating. If you try it once and it doesn’t go well, you probably won’t be inclined to keep trying.
But, if you’re challenging yourself to run a 5K or just want to start a healthy habit, chances are you can achieve your goals. Jeremy Lindquist, a Minnesota-based running coach and personal trainer, said half of his clients are “adult-onset runners,” having never received any running coaching before in their lives. The trick is to start your new habit or training regimen with realistic expectations and an understanding of your body’s limits.
Here’s some expert advice for getting started on the right foot.
Before you even put shoe to pavement, figure out why you want to start running, Lindquist said. Maybe you want to reap the health benefits. Maybe it’s winter and you need the endorphins. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe your family has set a goal to run a race together next year.
Whatever it is, your goals should inform the way you train. They can help you develop a sustainable plan for success.
When people try to start a running habit without thinking it through, “what happens is people get frustrated, they get hurt or they just get fed up and say, ‘Running isn’t for me,’ so you never really develop that ability to run comfortably, whether it’s a mile or 100 miles,” said Ron Byland, a self-proclaimed “running geek” and a coach who has trained people around the world for more than 35 years. “To start with, you need to spend time on your feet. You need to be realistic about who you are and what your abilities are when you start.”
The right shoes can be the difference between a bad running experience and a good one. If you already have comfortable athletic shoes, consider yourself lucky. A lot of people aren’t wearing the right footgear when they exercise, and it’s “the biggest cause of discomfort and injuries for runners,” Byland said.
“Having the right pair of shoes is critical,” Lindquist said. “Even if they are just (alternating) walking and running, it’s still a jarring force on the body.
“There’s not a right shoe for everybody but there’s definitely a wrong shoe for everybody.”
Finding the right pair of shoes isn’t as simple as “going to the big box store and going up to the wall and picking out your favorite color of shoes and brand and (thinking) that’s good to go,” Byland said.
Instead, if you can, invest in a visit to a special running shoe store, where an expert can fit you with the perfect match, Lindquist and Byland said.
If you can’t do that, take shoe recommendations from runner friends and try them on in person. Walk around the store, do lunges and hop up and down to get a good feel for how they fit.
“No guessing—go try on several pairs and get to a process where you find something that feels extremely comfortable,” Lindquist said. “Make sure the footbed of the shoe is sitting comfortably on the arch.”
Depending on your goals, you’re going to want to train a little differently. If there’s a race you’re gearing up for, obviously you want to ramp up in time to run it.
But whether there’s a race in your future or you’re just trying to work more cardio into your weekly routine, have reasonable expectations for yourself when you start your regimen. Don’t feel bad about starting slow. Expecting to be able to sprint for 10 minutes straight your first time out is a good way to get discouraged right away.
Instead, start with a walk-run exercise, Lindquist said. Jog for one or two minutes, then walk for one minute, giving yourself a chance to recover. Repeat that for as long as you’d like.
“Week by week, gradually ramp up how much time you spend running,” he said.
Don’t worry about how long it takes you to reach your distance or speed goal, if you have one.
“It’s kind of like a diet: The longer it takes you to lose the weight, the longer it’s going to stay off,” Byland said. “The longer it takes you to build your cardiovascular endurance the better off you’re going to be.”
He tells people to start out run-walking two, three or four times a week. (If you run on a treadmill, be sure to set the incline at 1 or 2 percent, he said.) The other days of the week, try to do another type of cardio training, like swimming or cycling.
Pair that with some resistance or strength training, the experts said. Make sure you work on the strength of both your upper and lower body.
Byland said every adult should be doing some strength training at least once a week.
“Strength training is one of the best things that any and everybody can do,” he said.
If you’ve ever tried to start a good habit or kick a bad one, you know telling people about it can help hold you accountable. The same goes for running, both coaches said. Better yet, find people who want to run, too, and go together. Build or join a community of runners who can encourage and support each other in their personal goals.
You’ll find that you can run better and longer when there are people with you, Byland said. He’s the founder of a running group that includes everyone from novices to marathoners. Sometimes new folks will worry that they won’t be able to hang on the group’s three-mile runs, he said. It’s easy to get bored and worn out when you’re slogging along by yourself—you might even find yourself ending your run before you reach your goal.
But newbies to Byland’s team are always surprised at what they can accomplish when they’re running with friends.
“It’s so funny —you get started and within five steps they start talking about what happened last night,” Byland said. “Whether you run (three miles) or you run a 20-mile run, the time goes so much faster and it’s so much enjoyable. It’s difficult to do this stuff on your own.”
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.