“How to Get Started Running” Tips/Tricks/Advice!

Can you believe it’s almost been a month since I blogged? Well, let’s just say I’ve been very unmotivated to write since the Santa Rosa Marathon. I did run a night trail race a couple of weekends ago that was really fun, which I intend to recap soon. However, the thing that got me back on the blogging wagon was this message from my friend AJ:

“I need ‘how to get started running’ tips/tricks. Help?!”

First, a bit of history. For as long as I’ve known AJ, I’ve never seen her run. She’s one of the most fashionable people I know, and even the activities she’s taken up over the years are in-line with her stylishness: horseback riding, barre classes, strolling on the beach with her handsome M. So, though I was taken aback at first at her request for running tips, I quickly rose to the challenge. “This calls for a blog post!” I thought.

So, dear AJ, here’s a list of tips/tricks to help you get started:

Gear (for detailed reviews, see this page)
Running is simple, but a few items are crucial. As with most of my advice, the tips below are quite subjective. This is meant to get you started, but it’s definitely not comprehensive!

  • Shoes: go to a specialty running shop and get fitted for shoes. They may be expensive, but aren’t your joints worth protecting? Sizing: make sure they are one thumb width bigger than your farthest toe (usually 1/2 size up). Bonus points if you can find a store that will let you jog around the block in the shoes, or bring them back after a few runs. Try on a bunch of different shapes and intended uses. Every person is different, so don’t go by who likes what kind of shoe, go by what your feet tell you about the shoes you put on. Also, this isn’t a fashion show — the shoes that I’ve liked the most have also been the ugliest. (Sidenote: Altra, you need to make prettier shoes. Thanks.)
  • Clothing: whatever you feel comfortable in. Some women like shorts & t-shirts, others prefer tank tops and capris. I personally avoid cotton as it gets heavy with sweat and can also cause chafing, but others think that tech (e.g., quick dry) materials get too stinky. Target and Nordstrom Rack have a good selection of nice looking, well-functioning athletic wear. I’m personally a big fan of pockets.
  • For the ladies: sports bras can make you or break you, am I right? I’m a fan of super compression with as few seams as possible, such as Nike Pro sports bras and the Champion C9 seamless bras (only available at Target stores). I’ve heard that more well-endowed ladies like bras from Moving Comfort.
  • Socks: this will vary widely between people too. I don’t seem to have any issues (blisters, etc.) from cheap cotton socks (again, Champion at Target works great for me), but I’ve also liked more expensive brands like Injinji and Thorlo.
  • Headgear (optional): I’m a big fan of hats. Other ladies like hair bands. Still others go sans headwear.
  • Phone/key holder (optional): I used to use a Spibelt, but then I got the Flipbelt, which I like SO much more. It holds a lot of stuff, including my iPhone, and never bounces around. It doesn’t stick out like a fanny belt, so it’s more attractive than most waist belts, IMO.

How to run:
(Disclaimer: I’m not a medical doctor, nor am I a running biomechanics expert. Anything I say is my own opinion and not medical advice.)

My main tips here are: don’t overstride (your foot should land under you, not in front) and land as soft as you can. They say that the “optimal” running cadence is 180 steps per minute. I’m not sure how true this is, but I do think increasing cadence can significantly decrease impact (and possible injury).

When you first start running, it will suck. A LOT. In fact, the first X number of minutes sucks for almost every runner, regardless of how long s/he’s been running. Even now, after running thousands of miles, I still find myself cursing and complaining for the first 5-10 minutes of every run. But the thing is, over time, it will start to suck less and less. This might take a while though. Cathryn adds, “My best tip is that running is NO fun until you can run 30 mins/5k comfortably. THEN it gets fun but until then it’s no fun.”

You might want to consider run-walk intervals when you first start. Run 10 seconds, walk 10 seconds – repeat ad nauseum. Then increase the time intervals to longer periods of running (with proper rest). As you get stronger, run more and walk less. Programs like Couch to 5K are ideal for beginner runners.

Motivational Tips
Even though I’ve been running races for over 15 years, I didn’t become a “runner” until 3 years ago. Along the way, I’ve learned some things about what motivates me, which includes:

  • Having running partners. It’s more fun to run with someone (preferably of the same speed and fitness) and it keeps you accountable.
  • Races on the calendar. Having paid for something makes me work harder to make sure I have a good race. It also gives me a goal to work towards.
  • Related: goal setting (in general). Whether it’s a new distance or faster time, the satisfaction of completing a goal is awesome.
  • Exploring new places. It’s been fun to run all over the Bay Area, and especially when I travel to a new place, it’s been fun to see it by foot.
  • Having baseline fitness to be able to do just about anything. 10 mile hike? No problem. Long bike ride? My butt might hurt, but I’ll get through it.
  • FOOD. And lots of it.

Some people are motivated by an actual reward. A friend of mine in grad school promised herself a pair of nice shoes if she got up to 6 miles on the treadmill. That doesn’t work for me because I have no problem buying a pair of shoes without working for them. 🙂 To each her own! Which means you have to decide what works best for you.

Where and when to run?
The treadmill and the track are two very easy, but boring places to run. If you don’t live by a beautiful trail (urban or wooded), then various websites like MapMyRun will show the most popular running routes in your area. When to run depends on your schedule. For a long time, I refused to get up early to run, so I would only run in the afternoon. However, work (or my bad attitude) would often get in the way of those plans, so then I decided I should run in the mornings so that I would have no excuses.

One major consideration for where and when is safety. Always be mindful of your surroundings! If you run at night, make sure to wear reflective gear so that drivers can see you.

Am I forgetting something? Runners – leave some tips below for AJ! AJ (and other beginners) – let me know if you have any questions!


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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8 comments on ““How to Get Started Running” Tips/Tricks/Advice!
  1. AJ says:

    This is so exciting! We’re lucky to be just a few minutes from the Charles River, which has very pretty trails and routes for all kinds of outdoorsy things and certainly running.

    The intervals are definitely going to be how I tiptoe into this, and I’ve heard enough about the importance of form to know if I make it to 20-30 minutes consistently, I’ll want to get someone’s feedback on my own if I’m to continue without harming myself or making the experience more unpleasant than it has to be.

    I’m going to feel so self-conscious, but everyone starts somewhere! Thank you so much for this! You’re the super best.

    • Jen says:

      I think if you can get up to 20-30 minutes of running consistently, your body will let you know if you’re running correctly. 🙂 Which reminds me – don’t do too much too soon. You probably knew that anyway, but let your body rest. Also – everyone is different, but I like doing dynamic movements (like leg swings) before and after my runs.

      It’s definitely normal to feel self-conscious. When you’re running/walking, remember you’re “beating” everyone who’s just sitting on the couch.

      Good luck! Keep me updated on your running journey!

  2. Kate says:

    There’s so much information for new runners that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Keep a list of gear, shoes, books, websites, etc. that others recommend, and explore them on your own timeframe. Don’t feel like you have to try everything all at once. Also keeping a written record of what works and doesn’t work for you is useful.

    • AJ says:

      It IS overwhelming! The list-keeping is a great tip. Jen, M reminded me that you ALSO left out skiing and casual rowing! THE LIST JUST KEEPS GROWING. Does sailing count? That’s next in line.

      • Jen says:

        How could I have forgotten!? Thank goodness for M. 😉

        Related to Kate’s point – keep a log of your workouts. It can be easy to forget how far you’ve come without some sort of written record.

        • Cathryn says:

          My other big tip is to have a goal – building on what Jen said. Like you’re going to run a 5k in 12 weeks. I find having a goal incredibly motivating, otherwise you’re just out running and it’s a bit aimless. Look at runningintheusa.com to find local races. Races are generally REALLY friendly and welcoming and you’ll see people of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness. I started running when I got dumped by a really awful boyfriend and signed up for a 5k…the feeling of achievement at the end of my first 5k was like nothing I’d ever felt before!!!

  3. Jan says:

    People ask me this all the time. These are great tips!

  4. […] of running and motivation…some of you might remember the post I wrote advising new runners, and in particular, my friend AJ. Well, I have exciting news! After a rough few weeks (not related […]

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