Everyone who is a runner had to start somewhere. From the avid marathoner to the person who sneaks in 3 miles before work, runners have to begin the process with a decision to pick up the hobby. Even the guy who ran every day for 44 years had a day, way back, that was the first. You might not run every day for 44 years, but we want to help you become an avid runner or jogger.
Running can be a great, lifelong hobby, and is one of the most common outdoor hobbies in the world. In North America alone, nearly 30 million people ran at least 50 times last year. In addition to being a sport nearly everyone has access to, running also offers ample opportunities to race and compete in 5Ks, 10K, and marathons.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when starting to run, or returning to running.
Work on your Form
It is crazy to think about, but most people who take up running just go out and start moving. While this is great from a motivation standpoint, it probably is not such a good idea when it comes to long-term health. It is important to learn how to run correctly, with good joint alignment and gait. If you were to start swimming or playing golf, you would likely get some coaching. But when it comes to running, most people have never had a single lesson.
We recommend that people do research or even get a coach to help them develop a safe, sound, long-term healthy running stride. Youtube videos can be great, and even talking to your doctor and be good. At a minimum, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to form:
- Focus on Foot strike. The foot strike is the point of your foot that hits the ground on each step. You might hear the term “heelstriker” meaning that someone hits the ground with their heel. You can figure out what a toe-striker is. Try to be a mid-striker, someone who hits the ground with the middle of your foot. Doing so likely means you are running in a controlled way, not overly extended, and in a manner that helps your body absorb the shock of each step. There have been recent studies that show how your foot lands on each and every stride has a major impact on your likelihood of getting injured. Good form upfront is the key.
- Keep your Steps Linear. People who roll their foot on each step, or try to run on the outsider or inside, actually have a lot of motion with each step that is not productive and can be harmful. It creates a chain reaction up through the knee and hip. Likewise, your hips and knees should not be bowing out to the side — try to run in a smooth, straightforward line. Sometimes it is hard to tell how you are running yourself — consider getting a buddy to watch or even video you running for several strides.
- Keep your Steps Short. Stride length is one of the first things a coach will point out
to you. If your steps are too long, something called overstriding, then your body will take an unnecessary pounding while you are running. Better for you to take mid-sized steps, keeping your body weight consistently above your feet and not causing undue stress on your knees and hips. People who run in cold weather will also find that shorter strides prevent many spills on snow or ice.
- Loosen Up. Your torso, arms, and head should all feel comfortable and loose as you run. If you are too stiff, you will likely create stress throughout your neck and back. A common complaint of runners is not knee or hip pain, but back pain. If that is the case, you might be running too stiff, or leaning forward.
- Stand up Tall. Speaking of leaning forward, don’t. You should be pretty much straight up and down when you are running. Leaning forward might be necessary when sprinting, or on uphills, but it is also a recipe for pain. Leaning back is just poor form. If you run past a window where you can see your reflection, take a peek at your posture and make sure you are pretty much vertical.
Stretch Your Muscles
One big rule of running — stretch, more often than you think you need to. Stretching should not be viewed as some type of additional hassle that needs to be tacked on to your workout. It should be viewed as a permanent part of your workout routine, right up there with running itself.
The best stretching routine occurs both before and after your run, and perhaps even in your off days. Your body will tell you when you need to stretch more, but the rule of thumb is that for each run, you should also be doing 5-10 minutes of combined stretching before and after. Be sure that the stretching allows you to hit the calves, shins, hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Youtube is a great place to get some stretching ideas. If you aren’t sure where to begin, try this basic video for some inspiration.
Get the Right Shoes
Shoes are the most critical component of a runner’s outfit. If you are just getting back in to running, or starting for the first time, we strongly recommend that you do so with new shoes. And while it can be tempting to just go to Amazon and find something on sale, it is best to get fitted at a local running store. A good, trained, running shoe fitter will not only get you in a shoe of the perfect size, but more importantly they will study your stride and gait. Any deficiencies, hitches, or oddities of your stride can often be corrected by wearing the right shoe. This could prevent foot, ankle, knee, or hip issues down the road.
Just because you go to a full-on running store for the fitting doesn’t mean you will pay more. If anything you will find a more diverse choice of shoe options at all price ranges. The key thing you will end up with is the right shoe, which you can then simply order again and again when you feel you have worn out the cushion.
Stock up on Gear
One of the best parts of running as a hobby is that, outside of the shoe, there really isn’t much that you have to spend on the sport. Now, just because you don’t have to spend money doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you have the budget for it, getting some nice running gear can make it just a bit more enjoyable. Here are a few of the key pieces of gear you might want to consider.
- Shorts. Assuming you are in a warmer climate, several pairs of shorts are a must. You can use loose shorts, or more form-fitting compression shorts. Just be sure to have several good pairs, so you can use some while others are in the laundry.
- Tops. An assortment of long-sleeved and short-sleeved tops are best. We recommend using synthetic fibers, as they are more moisture-wicking. Cotton tends to get damp and cold during a run.
- Tights or pants. Getting a couple good pairs of running pants or tights is a must if you are in a northern climate, and even in warmer climates they can be nice. Compression tights can provide the added benefit of recovery acceleration in between workouts.
- Winter Running Gear. Unless you live in Miami or Phoenix, there will likely be times during the year when you need to gear up for colder weather runs. Truth be told, running in colder weather can be some of the best running of the year. We have an entire piece on cold weather running gear that we suggest you check out for the details on what to get.
- Wearables. OK, now we are getting into the territory of nice-to-haves, not must-haves. For decades, runners ran without wearables, so it can certainly be done. But knowing your mileage, pace, and other key data can sure be nice as you try to ramp-up in a smart way. The most popular wearable devices tend to be made by Garmin, Fitbit, or Microsoft. Many often simply use their phone as their tracking device as well.
- Sun Protection. Don’t forget about sun protection, both for your skin, your head, and your eyes. Many people like to run with a running hat in order to keep the sun off their head and face. Sweatproof sunscreen is a must during summer months. And running sunglasses are essential even in winter. The white snow can be as blinding as the bright summer sun.
Find a Group
There are those among us who do best when working out solo, but for the rest of the world, finding a club or a group can be critical. You have several options when it comes to finding your running community.
- Local running clubs are everywhere, and most cities and towns have at least one. A quick web search should help you identify if there is an organized run club in your area. They are usually welcoming to all skill levels.
- Running shops often have groups who go for runs on a regular basis. The drill is that you meetup at the store at a publicized time, and then begin the run. It is common to split up into smaller groups based on the speed at which you plan to run. Besides going in to the running shop and talking to staff about the options, a great way to know about these runs is to follow the stores on social media and watch for announcements.
- If you are a student, college or school running clubs can be very common. Some colleges have competitive running clubs, but they also have more casual running clubs focused on community and fellowship. In addition to staying in shape, it is a great way to meet people.
Regardless of how you plan to start running, and what your goals are, we know one thing: You won’t regret taking up running as a hobby. It can be a lifelong endeavor for many, and is quite possibly the most efficient single workout activity you can do. Furthermore, it is easy to do anywhere — no gym, bike, or expensive gear needed. Whatever your goals are, our wish is that you meet every single one of them!