For those considering taking up running, it can be a daunting premise. Where does one start? And how does one know they’re physically ready or capable of running? These questions don’t always come with easy answers. Even the most nuanced Google searches might lack the information necessary for someone who’s been nursing an ankle injury or maybe for the person who’s never run at all.
As a coach of many competitive marathon runners and racers, I’ve observed hundreds of bodies and know that everyone’s capacity for running is different. This guide is a compilation of what I’ve found to be digestible and effective; it will help you determine your running savvy, cadence, pace, and everything in between.
Step 1: Feeling Your Feet
A hallmark of good running ability is having the wherewithal to distribute weight on different parts of your feet. Everyone’s feet will strike the ground differently based on height, weight, and experience. But, for beginners, an important aspect of developing a running practice should be what I like to call “feeling your feet.”
This involves a simple practice of standing (and eventually, walking) on different parts of your foot as a measure of building stability through the ankle joint. Standing and balancing on your tiptoes and on the outsides of your feet are great ways to expose different areas of your feet to the forces of gravity.
When you can comfortably stand and balance on these areas, practice tip-toe walking, heel walking, and walking on the outside edges of your feet in your ideal running shoe a few times a week and keep this routine as a warm-up for future runs.
Step 2: Walk Before You Run
Before taking your first serious jog or practice run, simply taking a long walk can do wonders for a multitude of reasons.
First, you’re getting a sense of your cardiovascular health. The ease or difficulty of a long walk will tell you just how ready your heart is for a faster tempo. Second, you’re mapping out a potential running path — if you live in a flatter, lower-traffic area, a walk can be a good way to plan a route for consistent runs.
And lastly, you’re building the habit. Walking and running are constant movements. The ability to keep going is a skill that must be developed. When running gets too difficult, it’s better to slow down to a walk instead of stopping outright. Think of a walk as your safety net to revert to when things get overwhelming on a run.
Step 3: Develop a Recovery Routine
If you’ve reached the point of achieving your first run, whatever the distance, you may be sore afterwards. Relaxing, rehydrating, and rejuvenating are part of all runners’ routines, so finding a form of recovery is paramount to keeping up with it.
Some will require ice or heating pads. You might budget extra time for your nighttime routine and sleep after a running day. Others might consider a monthly massage or investing in protein to help muscles rebuild. Regardless of the method, finding a way to help repair damaged tissue will be a gamechanger.
Step 4: Monitor Your Metrics
Once you’ve gotten into a groove, a good way to gamify running is to take stock of what’s going on during runs. How fast can you run a mile? What is your heart rate during a mile run? What are you feeling throughout your body during these runs?
Wearable technology makes all this much easier to track, but for those without access to these things, stopwatches and simple pulse tests with your two fingers can help you gauge the intensity of your runs. For noncompetitive runners, timing isn’t as much of an issue. But most will want to have an idea of where their heart rate is to make sure they’re not overdoing it.
Without the feeling of your heart beating out of your chest, a new runner can expect their heart rate to be anywhere from 130 to 175 beats per minute on average for each run; and you’ll see that average heart rate drop as you improve with consistency over time.
Above 175 beats per minute is not necessarily reason for concern, but it might be an indication for new runners that intensity is too high, or lower-intensity cardiovascular training is needed before continuing running.
Step 5: Home in on Your Shoes
Shoes are some of the more underrated components of a good running experience. For beginners, it’s simply about establishing a consistent routine. But running savants will know that the height of your foot arch, where you strike, and how much cushion your sole needs are essential factors for better running performance.
Running-specific shoe stores like JackRabbit and others have specialists in-store who will help you determine these options more accurately and can even assess your stride and running style to help custom-fit you into the best shoe.
If you’re someone who plans on running a lot, you’re going to want shoes that support you as much as possible. They will, after all, be with you for at least a few hundred miles, so to say they’re worth the investment is an understatement.
*Consult with your primary care doctor before picking up running to make sure you’re in the adequate physical condition to adopt it as a routine practice.
Fran Kilinski is a Hudson Valley native, NYC-based health and nutrition coach certified through NCSF, who specializes in running and post-rehab training.