Running is many things to many people: sport, religion, raison d'etre, way of escaping tigers, etcetera. It’s also just part of being human.
We are actually among the best endurance runners in the animal kingdom. Over long distances, a trained runner beats ostriches, camels, sled dogs and, well, tigers.
Not over short distances, though. If you learn nothing else from us, it’s that you shouldn’t antagonize an emu.
Your forebearers likely used this incredible ability to hunt. Persistence hunters chase after their prey, until they collapse from exhaustion.
Your ancestors could do this, because your legs are not really legs. They’re more like highly efficient pogo sticks, built to spring into the air.
So then why is running so contentious? Where some people get that famous runners high, others feel like all their joints are being pelted with rocks while their body fat flaps around like a windmill. It turns out, beyond genetics, getting to a baseline fitness level as a runner can be challenging. It takes a real investment of time.
But the good news is, barring underlying health conditions, it’s a sport everyone can do.
It’s also cheap and incredibly good for your health, self-esteem and longevity.
If you want to learn how to land on the right foot, read on for a few tips!
The first, and absolute most important thing you need, is to decide to give it time. Let’s set a goal for a month, and aim for at least 4 days per week. If you miss some days, that’s okay, as long as you run again the next time.
Let’s be honest here. The first two weeks of sessions will probably be the hardest running you ever do.
Your muscles, joints and lung capacity are still building up. But just remember: if you keep doing it, you will get better.
At the beginning, you can get by jogging in old shorts and a T-shirt. But shoes are something worth buying.
Consider going to an actual running store, which can analyze your gait and foot and match you with the right shoes.
Some brands run wide, others are for flat feet, others are for trail-running. Let them know the type of terrain you’ll be covering and make sure they have a good return policy if they don’t work out.
Some of these running stores also push orthotics, or, in-shoe insoles. This is one of running’s many contentious topics. Some believe orthotics are a racket, others swear by them. We’d say, consider them if you have unusually flat or arched feet, but for most people they are not a necessity.
It’s really the shoes that matter, here. Some runners find a type and stick with it for years, back-ordering models from years ago because they’re used to them. Running in old, worn-out shoes is a bad idea, unless you want to get shin splints as quickly as possible.
Many great athletes run on a treadmill, for weather, convenience and safety. But if you have access to a place that’s pretty, not too hot and safe, you’ll find it much more inspiring. There’s something primal and exhilarating about running outside, even on a track. Also, make sure you’ve had a bite to eat and some water recently. No need to make things any harder by having a blood sugar crash into a dumpster.
When you start jogging, go slow at first. Before you settle into too many habits, think about your form. You should be upright with good posture.
Don’t overextend your stride. Keep your steps fairly short, as this will reduce the shock of your feet hitting the ground.
A more advanced topic... but as for how to hit the ground, runners variously heel-strike, forefoot and midfoot run. This is also contentious. Some say that forefoot running (or, on the balls of your feet) is the most natural and builds up calf and foot strength. But plenty of midfoot and heel-strike runners have won marathons. All bodies are different, so go with what feels comfortable.
At the beginning, don’t worry about how many miles you’re running. Distance can help with goal-setting but in the beginning, just worry about time.
Aim to run between twenty and thirty minutes a session for the first month or so. Twenty minutes is the minimum to get the full benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
Try to run at an easy pace at first, at about 75% your total effort. This is building a foundation of fitness.
Don’t be afraid of walking if you can’t keep the pace for a full twenty minutes. The idea is to work your way up to a continuous run. Even better than a walk-rest is a jog-rest. Essentially, even if you’re jogging at a very slow shuffle, it’s much better than walking because it keeps you in rhythm. You’ll even see trained runners do this, especially as they warm up.
On that topic, don’t judge yourself for going slowly. The vast majority of runners are purely concerned with their own battle against gravity. Running is very simple: if you run, you’re already a runner.
Don’t be afraid to give your joints and tendons a day off. An injury will set you back more than a breakthrough will push you forward. Some marathoners take months off in between races to avoid stress fractures in their feet. If you feel real pain in your joints or tendons, slow down.
While some runners run exclusively, doing nothing else, we’d recommend you do other workouts too.
Yoga, weight lifting, HIIT and biking are all fantastic counterparts to running because they work and stretch your running muscles, core and stabilizing muscles.
As for stretching, some absolute weirdos don’t need to do it at all, but the rest of us humans will need to give our hammies a lot of love. Be sure to take a few minutes to stretch before and after your run.
You will have high gravity days. You might never get the mythical runners high. In this case, you might need help staying motivated. Running communities, either online or in-person, can help. You can also meet new people who can keep you in your shoes. There are also many Couch-to-5K programs that can help.
Other people use music as a motivation. While some runners love the peace and quiet, a high-intensity cardio mix can encourage you to push yourself even farther and give you a sense of rhythm to your run. Look for something with a fast tempo, but even more importantly, look out for traffic.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve already taken the first step to getting out there. All you have to do now is the most natural thing in the world. Just remember, for how difficult it may feel at the beginning, the feeling that you’re improving will be worth it… and you will improve. Runners spend much of their lives chasing that feeling, and if you’ve never felt that way before, we can think of very few things more worth the effort.