How Tos + DIY Running

How to Start Running: 43 Tips from My First 200 Miles

July 21, 2013

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I am a runner. There, I said it. When I first wanted to know how to start running, it felt like I couldn’t call myself a runner. I’ve been running for about four months now. With my first half marathon three weeks away, I’ve been thinking about how far I’ve come. I’ve put in over 200 miles – that’s more than the distance from Portland to Seattle! I’ve also grown to love the challenge of running (something that didn’t happen the first time I gave running a go in 2006). Running is hard. It’s not like any other physical activity that I’ve experienced. Sometimes I feel like I’m not built to run, and the rest of the time I feel incredibly grateful to have a body that can carry me so far.

How to Start Running – Things I’ve Learned:

  1. F&$# “conversational pace”. Everything always says to run at a “conversational pace”. I’m the person asking you questions so that I hopefully won’t have to talk as much. This one has gotten easier in the last month though – there may be hope for me yet.
  2. Start slow. I did the Couch to 5k program to start. That’s 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week for 8 weeks. Not very much when you think about it! Since I don’t identify much with a couch, I felt a little silly starting out with that program, but I felt even more silly terrified that I would get hurt again by ramping up too quickly. So I endured 8 weeks of C25k, and found it was a great way to get in the habit of running. And it made me feel like I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone and that I had a “finish” point every day. Like “check, I’m done.” Vs “I could run more.” It was nice having a limit. There are some free apps for this one, I used one called C25K Free.
  3. Everyone has an opinion on shoes, but we’re all different. Yay! So what worked for me were low profile “barefoot” type style and since I’d been wearing Merrell Pace Gloves traveling and hiking a bit already, I found the transition over 8 weeks of run/walking to be a totally fine intro into ‘barefoot’ without all the pain everyone talks about. I have pretty high arches, for what it’s worth. When my C25k program ended and my other training program started, I did experience foot pain around the 4 mile mark, so…
  4. Get new shoes – or don’t. Some theorize that if you shell out for expensive shoes you’ll shame yourself into using your investment. Maybe you’re not that kind of person though. It also might be more of a motivator to say you’ll get them as a treat after you finish 2-3 months. Whatever floats your boat. I splurged on a pair of Merrell Bare Access Arc 2s three months in and I love them! Tip: if you get your shoes at REI you can return them if they don’t work. I was a little nervous about getting shoes that might not work out, so it felt really great to know I could take them back if they gave me blisters etc. So much better than being stuck with shoes from other running stores or buying online – how it should be!
  5. [Almost] everyone will run faster and farther. And sometimes it’s all in their head (hey, boys!). So when people tell you their pace is x, that doesn’t mean they run like that every day.
  6. Do your own thing. You don’t have to keep up.
  7. Assemble your support team! If you’re adding running into your routine, it’s helpful for those close to you (your partner, roommate, friends etc) to know what you’re working towards and be onboard. Having someone be understanding that you need to make it an early night or remind you that you have to run in the morning is way easier than being around people who are four drinks in and want to know why you don’t want a second beer.
  8. Run/walk as needed. Even after I finished the c25k program, I would add in some walking at about a 10:1 ratio, or whenever I felt like I needed it. I wondered if I’d ever be able to not feel the need to walk. Two months later, I don’t feel the need! I “walk” past drinking fountains instead.
  9. Warmup. The whole time I did C25k I warmed up and cooled down with 5 min walking (warmup and then cool down), and then went home and stretched. I was a little strict about this but I figured – better to “waste” a little time than hurt myself and not get to do my half marathon. Now I do a really quick warmup, or if it’s my long run day I do a 10 min yoga warmup.
  10. Music. It makes you faster. It makes you not want to just go home. Podcasts are also great, but they make me go very slow (yes, that’s possible!).
  11. Pandora and Spotify – I use both of these (spotify’s radio function, not the paid version). I’ve found that not being able to predict the next song, and not always recognizing it because it’s not “my” music, helps keep me motivated and not bored.
  12. Treat yo self. But don’t mess with too much “fancy” running gear until you’ve been sticking with it a few months. I ended up buying new Merrell running shoes 3 months after I started running; I needed to ramp up my mileage and my old running shoes made my knee hurt and gave me blisters. My other super minimalist shoes made my feet ache after 4 miles. The following other items I’ve acquired along the way or had already:
  13. Socks. Apparently some people are more blister-prone than others. I found that for my 20-40 min runs I can wear pretty much any sock, but after that I need my “fancy” ones or it’ll be blister city. (I got some WrightSock ones on sale at REI that are my favs so far)
  14. Hat. I bought a running hat six weeks into my C25k program, because I was in Florida and the heat starts early. Totally worth it. Having a hat (I bought the Nike Daybreak) also helped me feel better about running in the morning. Now I like it so I can roll right out of bed and into a run. Yes, I am one of those people who feels like I want to shower before a morning run, but that’s a waste of time. Having a hat and washing my face makes me feel totally ready.
  15. Foam roller. I have had one for a while, and it’s perfect for self-massage and to relax the muscles, especially after my weekend long run. Lactic acid builds up in your muscles when you work out really strenuously. So using a foam roller can help break it down and makes your legs less achy/cramps after. I bought the GoFit one ages ago and it’s still in decent shape. Looks like Gaiam has one for a bit cheaper now too.
  16. Yoga. Yoga is the prefect way to stretch out my muscles after a run and on my cross-training days. We subscribe to Yogaglo ($18/mo), which when split for 2 people, that’s less than a drop-in class would be at most places. And it’s so convenient that there’s really no excuse not to do a 5-60 minute practice! My favorite are the classes by Tiffany Cruikshank. So many great classes! And they do a free 30 day trial as well.
  17. Yoga gear. I’ve been practicing yoga off and on for five years. My only “prop” has always just been a yoga mat. After starting my running routine though I found that if I over-stretched I reaaaally felt it on my next run. So I bought a strap and block (came as a 2-pack!) which has really helped me feel like I’m not pushing myself too much on my cross-training days, so I’ll use my block to feel the stretch I need vs just getting into the pose because “hey look, I can!”
  18. Moleskin. Blisters! Yay! So originally I thought maybe I should just not run when I had blisters but then I realized that would limit me to running like once a week while they healed. So Moleskin means you can keep running and you don’t get a blister on your blister. I just picked up a pre-cut pack from REI, which was way easier than having to cut pieces to fit.
  19. Make appointments for running. Running won’t just assimilate into your current schedule. You have to make time for it. I add all my runs and cross training to my Google Calendar on Sunday nights. Then, I can estimate pretty well what’s coming up this week, like dinner out or an event, and even a general weather estimation. Since I’ve been doing this, my “oops, I missed my workout… because it was too hot, or I had to go to dinner, or I had a meeting” has dropped to pretty much zero. It’s Sunday and I can estimate that all this week it’s going to be too hot (IMO) to run at lunch or in the evening, guess what? That means I have to schedule it during the morning. Guess what else? I have a daily morning meeting at 7:42am. So that means 2 days a week I need to wake up at 5:30 or 6 to get out and back and ready in time. It’s basic, but if I don’t calendar it’s not as likely to just happen.
  20. Sign up for a race  – something that requires you to train for it. A 5 or 10k you can probably slog through, so sign up for something that if you don’t put the training and miles in you’ll either not make it or feel like you’re going to die. Motivating!
  21. One step at a time. When I first started the C25k program and was feeling wheezy after 20 min, the thought of running 13.1 miles seemed silly. Now that I completed my 10 mile training run this weekend, it seems tiring, but reasonable.
  22. Your pace doesn’t matter. Sometimes I begin to feel discouraged about how darn slow I am, but when I look at it over months, I feel pretty proud of the time I’ve invested, and how much I’ve improved each month.
  23. Small victories! Yeah, yeah, pace doesn’t matter, but when you’re such a beginner every week seems like more miles and a faster pace than the last. The beauty of being a little tank.
  24. Ignore those that are speedy. Sometimes when I’m running around the waterfront, some speed demon goes flying by me and I feel a twinge of contempt? maybe. or jealousy? probably. But my running isn’t about them. And if they’re crazy fast, good on them, they probably have put a hell of a lot more energy into running thus far in their life than me, and maybe also they have better running genes.
  25. Speaking of pace. Pace yourself. I read somewhere that in a 1/2 or full marathon (when your goal is just to finish) you should start out slow and then take it down a notch. I do this on my long training runs, and it’s helped me to speed up half way through and towards the end sometimes vs getting all tired in the first few miles.
  26. Find a running buddy. Some of us need more external motivation than others. I was born with a pretty strong will, adding things to a calendar and knowing that if I don’t put in the miles I’ll be a sad panda in BC, at my half, is generally enough to get me out the door, but yes, it’s nice to have a running buddy, so long as they’re not super fast. Running with people too fast, and I’ve found it builds a mini rage within.
  27. Drink lots of water. In the day(s) before your runs too.
  28. Drink less [beer] + Track things. I’ve found knowing that I have to run in the morning has cut my drinking way down. On that note, I’m super into quantified self, so I downloaded Tenxer and I track my daily drinking (#s), running (hours), yoga (hours), water (cups) etc. It’s helped me realize that when I say I have a few drinks per week, I really mean that I have 4.4 drinks per week.
  29. Sleep, glorious sleep. I also manually enter my approx hours of sleep into the habit tracking app. Sleep allows your body to repair itself. I’m a morning person, but running has turned me into more of a morning a person and also gets me to bed earlier. Yay, thirty-something life!
  30. Alphabet is your friend. Even now if I’m doing another little warmup routine, I still do my A>Z alphabet routine of tracing all the letters of the alphabet quickly with one foot and then the other. This helps me not to get shin splints. Someone told me this tip ages ago, whoever you were, thanks!
  31. Hydration strategy. Plan your route around drinking fountains if needed. I don’t like to carry a water thing, so this is what I do.
  32. Coffee. Unless I’m rolling out of bed to just run 40-50 min, I have a morning cup of coffee.
  33. Peanut butter and banana is my go-to pre-run combo. If I’m going for a longer run I’ll have some toast too.
  34. Running “fuel”. People get super serious about their training run fuel. I don’t like the idea of buying specific running “food” like Gu. Maybe if I was doing a full marathon. For my long runs I’ve just been folding up one of my fav fruit snacks (Stretch Island Fruit Co) in my back waist pocket.
  35. Post-run noms. They say you should refuel within 15 min of a hard run. I usually make a banana peanut butter smoothie with coconut milk and chocolate greens.
  36. Starting is the hardest part. If you don’t feel like going out, just tell yourself that you’ll give it a try and then if you still feel like crap or whatever that you’ll stop. Usually after you start moving you feel better.
  37. Off day. I like to have my off day as a Friday or a Saturday. Sometimes it’s something to look forward to and other times I feel a little restless. Now if my off day was the day after my long run I would feel no remorse. ever!
  38. Leave the shades open. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, congrats it’s summer! By leaving the blinds behind our curtains open slightly it helps more light get in the room so I am more in sync with natural sunlight rhythms. then I can just hibernate in winter, like a bear.
  39. Apps ahoy! I use Lululemon’s 1/2 marathon training app. It’s great to be able to check things off every day. I also use Nike+ to track my runs. If I’m planning a new route, I also use MilerMeter to map it out.
  40. Library books! I really enjoyed Born to Run and Complete Book of Women’s Running. Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness was also a good read. Jurek was featured in Born to Run. I was interested to read his book since he’s a vegan ultramarathoner. I felt like he left a big chunk out of this bio though since he wrote this book after his divorce. Still an interesting read though. Tip: did you know lots of libraries let you check out Kindle books? It’s awesome.
  41. Run distractions – while music is a great way to pass the time, some days you might be lost in your own thoughts and the scenery, and others you feel bored. When I’m struggling, I do silly things like say “I’ll run to the next light pole”, and then the next, or I’ll count my steps for a while, and then it passes.
  42. Some runs suck – if I scroll through my Nike+ activity, I see plenty of frowny or half smile faces that I entered for it feeling so-so or tired. Yes, there are days that I marked as awesome. However, the things they share in common is that after running you usually feel great regardless.
  43. If you run, you are a runner! People sometimes say things like “oh, are you a runner?”, or “Cool, what PR are you going for”? In the beginning, I left most of those conversations thinking, “no, I’m not a runner yet, but I will be”, “PR? I just want to finish!” Running is many things to many people, but all it takes to be a runner is to get outside and begin – whether you’re slowly trying to finish your first mile or knocking out ultra marathons.

Are you a runner? Any tips to add?

Seawheeze half marathon
SeaWheeze Half Marathon
  • Marshall Kirkpatrick
    October 28, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Olivia, this is a great list! I too have just begun running in the last 6 months or so. It is such a learning experience! I am always thinking about how running is analogous to starting a tech company, which is what I do for work. I try to take note of the similarities in my journal entries on One Note (journaling app) and tag those entries Running. Last night I started too fast on a run (again) and barely held it together at the end. I thought things were really different, because it was cold and night time instead of warmer and late morning like when I usually run. It had been a few days and I was feeling rested, so I thought all of that was why it felt easy to start out fast. But things hadn’t changed as much as I thought they had! Change is incremental! Happy running to you, thanks for this super cool list.

    • Olivia
      October 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks Marshall! Yes, I’ve really been enjoying the process and slow “successes”. Over time it amounts to big things!