One of the fundamental building blocks of my online business is a short page called Contact, on this very blog. You wouldn’t believe the amount of feedback, constructive criticism, profitable ideas and partnership proposals I get through that tiny page.
Seriously now, that page is awesome. I even put a short form on it and people are actually using it. So here’s what I got through that contact form the other day:
“Subject: Request for an article.
I have started running and it would be very nice of you to write an article about how you got started and some tips for beginners. That’s my only request, I love your blog .
Well, let’s do this 🙂
Why You Should Start Running
Before even going to the “running for beginners” area, let’s try to find what is our motivation here. Over time, I learned that the degree of success of every endeavor is closely related not only to the execution (which may be impeccable) but also to the motivation, to the “why”. So, why it may be interesting for you to start running?
Here are just a few answers from my own experience (you’ll find more at the end of the article):
- health – running will help you maintain a better health, by shredding unnecessary fat, adding up to resilience and boosting your immune system
- affordability – it’s not expensive, you don’t need complicated gear (well, at least up to a certain performance level) and it’s also easy to squeeze in any schedule
- self esteem – even if you do not participate in competitions, you get a very important boost in your self esteem. Many of the public mass sports events, like marathons, have medals for every finisher, which, as simple as it seem, it’s important once you hang it on your wall, somewhere.
- community – statistically, people who are running are nicer than the rest, at least in my experience. And it seems the longer you run (I’m talking about the superb ultra-running community here) the nicer people are
- better focus – running allows you to take time away from your normal routine and use to reflect upon the things you overlooked. It helps a lot with maintaining a reasonable degree of presence in other areas of your life.
Feel free to add your own motive here (or in the comments) if you feel like.
So, if any of the above convinced you it’s time for you to try this out, let’s dive in.
Disclaimer: I’m a self-educated runner, I do not have formal education in this area, nor any professional degree in sport, nutrition or health. What follows is just my own opinion about this activity and it shouldn’t be considered medical advice. If you have a medical condition (or even if you don’t, but you have second thoughts) please consult a specialist.
Although the equipment for casual running is way cheaper than, for instance, tennis, there are some caveats.
First of all, the lower train, or the feet. You should always pay special attention to this area, and by that I mean: running shoes and socks.
You can start with cheaper running shoes, just to get a grip. Kalenji is a brand well known for its affordable shoes and I recommend them for easy to moderate running. But as you advance, please invest in better running shoes. I am a big fan of Mizuno and New Balance.
Also, pay a lot of attention to socks. Your feet will likely to sweat a lot and you need special socks for that. Again, start with something cheaper and upgrade as you advance. Keep in mind that some socks are good only for a specific type of running. In my experience, the wrong type of socks can create a lot of problems (blisters, for instance).
As you go up on the body, you get to the pants. Start with some standard pants and test. I run in short pants until 0 degrees Celsius, but when it’s below freezing I put on longer pants, to cover my feet completely. Your mileage may vary.
Another important part is the underwear. Many sport magazines have specialized underwear for running and I recommend using that (again, the first choice should be the cheapest one, until you understand what’s good for you). Wrong underwear can be a source of chaffing. Chaffing is bad.
As for the upper part of the body, I recommend getting special gear for running, and NOT using cotton. That’s just bad. You need a fabric that will let the sweat evaporate, otherwise you will get into all sort of minor (or not so minor) trouble, from chaffing to unregulated body temperature. As I started to participate in more and more competitions, I don’t buy teeshirts anymore, I use the ones that I get in the various race kits. Most of the time, the quality of the teeshirts you get at important competitions is very good.
The head should also be protected, most of the time. In the summer, I run with a bandana, during the winter I put a sports hat. During the summer you should avoid getting insolation, and during the winter you should protect your ears. I also use a buff, a fabric cylinder which became quite popular during the last years, it can be worn in many ways.
The gear should be completed with gloves, compression sleeves for calfs, various hydration belts and thicker layers (thicker blouses for warmth and special jackets for rain).
I left at the end one of the most important pieces of equipment, which is your running measurement device. In the beginning, I highly recommend using such a device. It’s important to gauge your effort and to calibrate yourself. It may also be frustrating when you start to compare with other runners, but you shouldn’t do this anyway. As you adjust, you will learn to evaluate your own pace and body condition and may even get rid of it (“running naked” is a new trend in running, which means, counterintuitively, just to run without a measurement gear).
When I started, I used my smartphone (which happens to be an iPhone). It’s decent enough both in terms of GPS accuracy and battery. I remember that I could have run a marathon in 4 and a half hours with just my iPhone.
If you’re a beginner, a smartphone should be just enough.
Right now I’m using a Suunto Ambit Sport, which is in fact a triathlon watch (has swimming and bicycle capabilities) and a very good battery (can last up to 25-30 hours with certain settings).
A watch should be considered only if you are serious about participating in a half or full marathon. Training for so long with a phone can feel bulky.
One of the most important aspects when you start running, is running form. Or, in other words, how do you run. It seems that everybody knows such a simple thing, but the harsh truth is that almost no one knows how to do it, especially in the beginning. And that may lead to frustration as you don’t seem to progress or even injuries.
The human body is a very complex structure. It’s a collection of muscles, bones, joints and other supporting organs and all have to work together in harmony for a good running experience.
Here are few hints for anyone who is just starting to run:
- small steps: it seems very counterintuitive, but it’s very useful. The smaller the steps you make, the less time you’ll spend in air, which means less impact once you hit the ground. In order to better understand this, imagine that you will make a step that will last for an entire minute. Can you imagine the impact of your foot after such a big step?
- higher cadence: try to increase the speed not by making bigger steps (see above) but by increasing the pace. That’s probably the most awkward thing you’ll have to learn in the beginning, but it’s gonna be fundamental.
- leaning forward: you should be always leaning forward as much as you can, in order to use gravity for advancement. It seems like a trick, (like you’re not using your muscle to advance, but a combination of falling and recovering). Fundamentally, though, that’s what running and walking are: controlled falling. The less energy you use from your muscle, the better.
- arms swinging: ideally, your arms should be parallel with each other (not in front of your chest, you will actually brake yourself, from a physical point of view) with a 90 degree angle formed at the elbow and swinging back and forth as you run. It will create a “momentum force” that will propel you forward (especially during uphills).
- breathing: whatever your breathing technique, focus on the expiration first. Be sure to eliminate as much air as you can and let the lungs inhale as they see fit. This tip works especially when you seem to choke: just exhale powerfully a few times and let the lungs get back on track.
- relaxation: apart from the body parts involved in the actual movement, the rest of your body should be as relaxed as possible. If you’re keeping tension in other muscles (for instance – and very common – the back muscles) you’re spending energy on useless activity and you’re also slowing down your other movements.
As you advance, you will discover many other small things that can make the difference.
A common misconception is that when you start running you should start “big”. Like, from the first day, cover 10km. It’s totally unproductive.
Start with short walking sessions followed by running streaks. Pay attention to the transition between walking and running, as it may create strain on the muscles.
Increase the distances until to a certain plateau, and then stay there for a while.
For instance, if you train for a half-marathon, spend some time (read: a couple of weeks) at the following levels: 5km, 10km, and 18km. Run those distances until you feel comfortable.
But even outside the training for a competition, distances should be considered in regard with a few factors:
- your overall training (like I said, don’t attempt a 10k if you just started: you may make it, but the damage will be such that you will not want to run again)
- the expected recovery time (that’s where a good measuring device, being it a smartphone or a watch, comes in handy).
- your overall nutrition (if you’re on some specific, under-caloric diet, your shouldn’t push on the distances)
- your available time (you certainly have other commitments as well, so don’t try to steal form them. Instead, try to incorporate running time as smoothly as possible).
If you run for pleasure, just keep running. 🙂
But if you have some specific goals, here are a few hints:
- don’t try a marathon before running a half-marathon (I did this, and although I finished my first marathon in 5 hours and 20 minutes, it wasn’t nice).
- experiment with many race types: there are 5k, 10k, half-marathons, trial, asphalt, track races and ultra-marathons. Participate in as many as you can in the beginning and understand which one is good for you.
- try to find a community or a running buddy. If you join a community, you will get a lot more benefits, from a social point of view, than just by running yourself (which, of course, it’s ok too, as long as you’re ok with it).
- regardless of what you chose above, try to make a running goal out of keeping running for as long as you can, in your 70s, your 80s or, why not, even your 100s. That means taking a very good care of your health, nutrition, training and so on.
At the end of the day, it counts that you lived to run the next day too.
What Running Is For Me
Surprisingly enough, I caught myself during the last few days asking me the same question: “Why do I actually run? What are my reasons?”
And as I was trying to find out the answer, I realized I can’t. There isn’t only one answer. There are many. And their ponder in the overall ball that is pushing me constantly to run is constantly changing. But here are the most important ones:
- health – Yes, I run in order to have a better health, and I already achieved a lot in this area (see how overweight I was before I started to run)
- meditation – For me, running is a form of meditation. It really helps clear my mind and focus on various topics.
- curiosity – Sometimes I’m just curious if I can actually do a specific thing. Like running a 200+ km race, point to point, or participating in a 48 hours running event.
- mental therapy – I had to admit this after a few very long races. I’m using running as a form of psychological therapy. It acts on many levels (from the simpler ones, like creating good habits, to the more complex layers, where I confront myself to more and more difficult situations, trying to find out what are the blockers, or the fears that are preventing me to reach my full potential). So far, it seems to work.