If you want to start a fitness routine, running is one of the easiest—and cheapest—things you can do. But how do you start running, especially if you really, really suck at it? (I’m talking “running around the block leaves me doubled up in stitches, wondering if I’m about to die” levels of bad?)
Luckily, running only gets easier the more you do it. As a long-time slow runner who spent months working up to a five kilometre routine and has a raft of last-place race finishes to show for it, here are a few of the hard-won lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Good shoes are essential
A good, well-fitted pair of running shoes is the one piece of equipment you’ll need. Everything else—the high tech running clothes, the fitness trackers, all the miscellaneous running gear out there—is really just icing on the cake.
When it comes to getting the right running shoe, expensive doesn’t always mean better. A lot of companies will try and convince you of the importance of knowing your gait and arch type. Although these words sound very scientific and precise, they actually have very little bearing on predicting what kind of shoe is best for you. The best shoe is the one you feel comfortable wearing, even if it isn’t “recommended” recommended for your foot type.
In pre-pandemic times, the best way to find the right shoe was to go to a dedicated running store to try out a number of different shoes and see which one felt comfortable and supportive. Unfortunately, in this day and age, that’s no longer advisable, so the best thing to do if you have a pair of comfortable shoes, is to continue to use them.
If you don’t have a comfortable pair of shoes, you can do a virtual fitting. It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s still better than ordering a random pair of shoes and hoping for the best. Just make sure to ask about the exchange policy in case the pair you get doesn’t work out.
There’s a lot of fancy running apparel out there, but you don’t strictly need any of it. Just wear whatever you have that is comfortable to run in. Your running clothes could be entry level gear from a discount store. They could also be the t-shirt and shorts you’ve had since college. They need not be special, they just need to be comfortable.
A good sports bra will work wonders
For many, a good sports bra is essential. Even if you are top-heavy, even if you’ve spent years telling yourself you can’t run because of how you are built, it is still entirely possible to do high impact workouts, such as running, comfortably—as long as you have the right sports bra.
As someone who has struggled with this problem for years, I’ve found that although it takes some time, effort and trial and error, there are suitable options out there. Personally, I swear by Shock Absorber’s Active D+ sports bra, which is available in sizes up to 40H and has gotten me through more long runs and 5Ks/10Ks than I can count. I prefer the Shock Absorber to the other popular option, Enell, simply because Shock Absorber offers a wider range of sizes and a more personalised fit. That said, Enell has worked wonders for many people, as have a number of other high impact sports bras tailored toward larger sizes.
No matter your physique, there is certain to be a comfortable, supportive option available. The trick is to measure really carefully, do your research and experiment until you find what works for you. If you are in doubt, the subreddit A Bra That Fits is a really helpful resource for figuring out sizing and finding recommendations for your particular needs.
Consistency is key
When it comes to establishing a running habit, consistency is key. Running is a high impact sport; your body needs to get used to it. That’s why, even if you are in good shape, it’ll probably suck for a while at first. It’s important to be consistent in your running and to ease into the mileage.
If you are a complete beginner, a couch-to-5K program is a good place to start, as it’ll have you alternate walking and jogging, slowly building up your running over time. By the end—usually after nine weeks—you should be able to run 3 miles.
As someone who has always been a slow runner, and who had a lot of difficulty in the beginning, I’d advise that you go slowly and concentrate on being consistent. By the time you can comfortably run 3 miles, running will get easier, you’ll start to really feel some of the good physical effects all your runner buddies rave about. When it comes to cultivating a running habit, it’s good to be stubborn and methodical.
Know the signs of injury
A good long run will leave you feeling sore, but it’s important to know the difference between a normal ache and something more serious. Muscle soreness, aches that are uncomfortable but not painful, and discomfort that goes away as you run are generally expected. If you have a sharp, stabbing pain; an injury that is affecting your gait or pain that gets worse as you run, that is generally a sign you need to stop running and consult with a doctor.
“One of the most important thing that beginners can do to avoid injury is to build slowly,” said Christie Aschwanden, author of “Good to Go,” in an email to Lifehacker. “Avoid increasing your mileage too quickly. A very rough rule of thumb is to avoid increasing your mileage by more than 10 per cent per week.”
In order to avoid injury, it’s important to be consistent and to avoid over-training. Running too much too fast is a good way to hurt yourself.
“Be sure to give yourself time to rest too,” Aschwanden says. “It’s great to run regularly, but give yourself at least one rest day per week so your body has a chance to recover and regenerate.”
And if you do start to develop an injury, it’s important to give yourself adequate time to recover. As frustrating as it may feel to be sidelined, it’s better than spending months recovering from an injury that got worse because you returned to training too soon.
So get your running gear, come up with a routine, and before you know it, you’ll be one of those annoying runners who talking about training plans and endorphins. Welcome to the club. We’re happy to have you.