Start Off on the Right Foot: Here's Everything You Need to Start a Running Program

From getting good gear to running up a hill the right way, these tips will turn you into a runner in no time

It may seem intimidating, even impossible, but making running your workout routine is within your reach. Armed with these tips -- and a good pair of running shoes -- you can work up to running from a minute to a mile, no problem.

Don't spend your whole paycheck on gear, but get good shoes
You don't need expensive workout clothes to run, just the right ones. Buy workout gear made of synthetic fabrics because cotton will get heavy and clammy the more you sweat. Look for tags that say 100% polyester, which wicks away moisture from your skin. And you don't have to break the bank -- discount stores like TJMaxx and Marshall's, and big retailers like Target and Wal-Mart, have great workout clothes at budget prices.
 
The place to invest is in your running shoes. "The most important piece of equipment for all runners is their shoes," said Michael Conlon, running coach and physical therapist at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. Find a sports store that specializes in running shoes and apparel -- some will even have you run on a treadmill while analyzing your gait to recommend the best style for you.
 
Spending around $100 on a good pair of running shoes is reasonable and even encouraged for a sport that depends on healthy feet. If your needs are pretty basic -- your feet don't over pronate (roll inward too far, jeopardizing your stability) or under pronate (don't roll in enough, causing muscle strain in your legs and hips), you can probably find good shoes for less money at a discount store. If you need more stability or extra cushioning in your shoes, or a special width, let the experts guide you to a style that works for your feet and your wallet.
 
Get started, slowly
Don't run too fast -- or far -- right away. "The most common mistake new runners make is to do too much, too soon," said Lisa Witler, a Road Runners Club of America-certified marathon coach. "It takes several weeks for the body to adjust to the demands and stresses of training."
 
Beginners should aim to run 2-3 times a week. Varying the distance, pace and terrain on makes each run more valuable. Include one long, slow distance run each week followed by a short recovery run the following day to get used to running on tired legs -- good if you plan to enter a race -- and minimize muscle soreness. Then plan at least one additional run a week during which you might increase your pace or try a hillier route.
 
If you've never run before, try a program like Couch to 5K, which is designed to have you running 3 miles in 30 minutes within 8 weeks.
 
Establish a routine of running a few times a week, interspersed with cross-training (any exercise that takes the stress off your feet, like biking, swimming or an elliptical trainer) and strength training. Aim to increase your total weekly mileage by about 10 percent each week. "Building distance slowly over time enables the runner to make the necessary physical adaptations while minimizing injury risk," Witler said.
 
Control your effort level
Effort is the amount of energy expended over the time you run; pace is your speed over the distance you cover. When you're first starting out, effort is more important than speed. Imagine four effort levels, says Witler. Level one is a light jog or even a walk. This is your cool-down (recovery) pace. Level two is an easy, relaxed pace. Level three is your tempo pace, fast enough to inhibit conversation, but not so fast that you cannot control your breathing. Level four is a full-out sprint and cannot be sustained for long. (Think the hundred-meter dash).
 
Your runs should be conducted at level two. You should be able to carry on a conversation, so if you can't, slow down until you can and maintain that pace.
 
Go outside
"Running on a treadmill requires no propulsion. The runner is essentially lifting his/her feet up off the moving belt," said Witler. She recommends running outside to workout, except in the case of injury (if you're sore, rest completely for a day to heal) or inclement weather that could be dangerous, like a thunderstorm or icy roads. In that case, the dry, warm gym may be your workout savior.
 
Stretch
"Active stretching is recommended before and after running to prepare your joints and muscles for the increased stress of running," Conlon said. "Think of it as part of your warm up and cool down." Before you run, loosen up your muscles with big movements, like jumping jacks and rolling your arms in circles. When you finish, stretch each major muscle group carefully, holding each stretch for about 10 seconds.
 
Run up hills and down hills
Running hills makes you a stronger, faster runner if done consistently. But form is important: When going up, lean forward slightly from the ankles. Keep your arms bent at waist level and keep your steps small and consistent. If you're feeling particularly challenged, pretend you’re holding on to a rope and "pull" yourself up, hand over hand. Most importantly, you want to maintain your effort level -- if you’re running on a flat surface at level two, take the hill at the same level of exertion.
 
When you're running downhill, don't lean too far back because you'll strain your knees. Keep the same slightly-forward stance from your climb up, taking small steps and remaining steady -- don't charge downhill. Your quadriceps will thank you.
 
The long run
The day before a long run should be a rest day, regardless of whether "long" for you is 30 minutes or 10 miles. Take time to plan your route and make it interesting -- run to a new park trail or venture to a different neighborhood. Long runs should be done at effort level two. You should always be able to carry on a conversation and not feel winded at any point.
 
Start speed work
Speed work doesn't mean running like Usain Bolt. It means beefing up your running workout with some sprint intervals followed by a short recovery. Your actual speed is less important than your exertion level -- you shouldn't be able to talk when you sprint. You will be out of breath when you finish the interval, hence the recovery period. Consider this exertion level three. Do your speed work on a flat surface. Space your intervals using landmarks along your route or time them.
 
Hydrate
Keep a water bottle with you during the day and at your bedside at night. "The rule of thumb is to multiply your body weight by 0.6 to determine the amount of water in ounces you should consume every day to keep your tissues healthy and injury free," Conlon says. If you're 100 pounds, you need to drink 60 ounces of water every day.
 
If you're doing a long distance run, especially one over an hour, take a water bottle with you, says Jim Purvis, a running coach for the New York City chapter of Team in Training. "You will need to consume six to eight ounces of fluid every twenty minutes. Take in this hydration in little sips spread out over the duration of the workout."
 
Eat well
Burning all those calories while you run is great, but in order to maintain your now-fit body, you've got to replace them healthfully. Eat a balance of healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat. Before you run, eat something small, like a banana, energy bar or natural peanut butter on toast. Running on empty does neither your body nor your mind any good. For a longer run, tack on a little extra fuel. Try stirring some peanut butter into oatmeal or having a banana with an energy bar. Just find something you enjoy that doesn't upset your stomach when you run and make it your go-to, pre-run snack. 
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