Maybe because running is such an accessible form of exercise — anyone can do it, even the least likely among us, and you don’t need much by the way of gear to start off — there never seems to be a lack of advice for it. Use this app! Follow this program! Wear these shoes! This color t-shirt will make you feel faster! These songs will keep you motivated! This time of day is best for any run ever! This gel doesn’t leave you tonguing the back of your teeth like a dog with peanut butter! You get it. In fact, there’s so much advice all over the place that when I started running, I blocked it all out. There was just too much to take in, and I figured that with trial and error, I’d get there eventually. After all, if we can manage it when we’re toddlers, we can manage it as adults with coordination and snazzy kicks, right? Wrong.
Over the course of hundreds of miles, lots of races, and countless driving rap beats, I realized that there are some things you should keep in mind as you lace up and get moving. No matter how invincible you feel at the beginning, you’re still only human. And sure, running involves putting one foot in front of the other in front of the other in front of the… but no matter how simple that seems, you still need to be smart about it. And sometimes, the best advice is just plain simple.
1. There is absolutely no shame in walking.
None. Zip. Zero. You don’t need to keep any one pace throughout the duration of any run. Staying on your feet and moving is good enough. Whether you need to take a break every once in a while or every single mile, letting your body actively rest helps you build up endurance, so that eventually, you don’t have to walk as much. Work to get to there. Walk if you must, but keep going.
2. You need to eat.
I’m not saying to run on a full-to-bursting stomach – and really, it can lead to pretty disastrous heaving if you eat too much before going for a run — but cutting back severely on calories while simultaneously upping your activity is a recipe for burn out, getting sick, and a whole lot worse. Your body needs fuel in order to run on its own (pun only partially intended), let alone to run and denying it that energy is only going to bite you in the butt.
3. … and you still need to care about what you eat.
The phrase “you can’t out-run a bad diet” reads like a cliche because, well, it’s true. Running on nothing but coffee and birthday cake is going to make your heart feel like it’s going to explode straight out of your chest, and running on a steady stream of Chipotle burritos is never a great idea. Eating well will only make running easier — and putting the time and effort into running is usually extra motivation to eat better. One lends to the other. (But still, you have to remember to eat. Just make that bagel a whole-wheat one.)
4. Get. Your. Shoes. Checked.
If you do absolutely nothing else before beginning your quest down the road to the Rocky soundtrack and spandex glory, go to a store that checks your gait, pronation, footfall, and everything else. Lots of running stores have treadmills in the shoe area so that you can test a few pairs until you have what works best for you. The great thing about running is that if you don’t want music or headphones or a fancy GPS watch or any other gadget, you don’t need them — but you do need a good pair of shoes, and preferably one that will keep your body strong, and injury-free.
5. You don’t have to do this alone.
Running is a largely solitary sport — and that’s kind of the beauty of setting out to clear your head for a few miles — but it’s also a huge sport, and chances are you know someone else who runs. And if absolutely none of your friends are runners, go to Instagram or Tumblr or Twitter or literally any other social media platform. You’re bound to find a community of people who you’re going to find inspirational. There’s also tons of running clubs you can join, and sometimes having that weekly obligation not only gets your butt out the door, but provides friends with whom you can commiserate when you really, really just don’t wanna.
6. Start slow, and start short.
You’re no less of a runner because you’re slower or put in fewer miles a week than someone who’s been running for years. Nobody’s expecting you to run a marathon within your first year of picking up running (and, in fact, if you don’t train properly, that can be plenty dangerous.) But if you show up time and time again for even a mile run here and there, that’s something. Even if it takes you twice as long to run half the distance other people you know can cover, that’s still something. And that something will snowball into a few more miles, and you’re bound to get incrementally faster and able to train farther if you just keep on showing up. (And even if you don’t, that’s fine. You’re still doing — let’s say it again — something, which is infinitely better for you than your 57th Netflix session for the week.)
7. Cross train.
Go to yoga. Do a few squats and lunges. Take a class every now and again if your gym offers it. Use the elliptical or go for a bike ride. Do something that changes your body’s range of motion and strengthens the muscles you might otherwise make overtired. Sure, there are people who just run, but the ones who keep their workouts comprehensive and varied are often the healthiest. Even people who are training for marathons mix in different work outs. (Plus, you won’t burn out or get bored as easily if you mix it up.)
8. If you’re doing this for model-thin legs, you’ll be running forever.
In fact, chasing after some skinnier version of you that you think lies just one mile further along the trail is largely pointless. You might lean out here and there, but your legs are also going to develop muscle — this is a good thing. You need that to power up those hills, and to keep going for miles. Some runners are really lean. Some aren’t. Your body will develop into the kind of runner you are meant to be, not into the pants size you think you want to be.
9. There are going to be some runs that suck.
And these runs don’t just happen in the beginning. There will be times, years down the line, when you just stop on the side of the road and wonder why this one run is so awful. Bad runs, bad times, bad races, and bad weeks happen. But the beauty of these funks lies in the fact that they train you to push through to a better run — and that one run when you feel like yourself again is often the only thing you need to remind you why you’re lacing up your sneakers to begin with.
10. Don’t wait to start when you’re [x thing in the future].
Not when you’re skinnier, not when you’re faster, not when you’ve eaten better for a month, not when you have cooler running clothes, not when the weather is 100% prime conditions. Just start now. Everything else will come along eventually. But you have to start somewhere, and if you can manage to even run a block and walk two, then that’s good enough. Start with that. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting around forever.
11. There is always going to be someone who is faster and can run longer.
And good for them. Let them run their own race; you don’t need to chase them, or tag along. Maybe some days, you’ll be super refreshed and full of energy, and you find that you can match their pace for half a mile or longer, and you’ll feel like an Olympian. And maybe some days, you won’t. Run your own race, too. Focus on you.
12. Say goodbye to cute feet.
Save those calluses, learn how to pop a blister in a sanitary manner and bandage it properly, be ready for black toenails and that one look of concern on manicurists’ faces, and kiss open-toe sandals good-bye. Really. Your feet are never, ever, ever going to look the same. This is the price you pay.
13. Listen to your body.
There’s no other way to tune into what are minor gripes, and what are the actual signs of something more serious. If your lungs are gasping and your mind is anywhere but right there in that moment, it might just be a sign that you should power through. If you feel something twinge in your knee, it’s not more noble of you to soldier on and run to the next street or tree or lamppost or mile. Walk if you need to. Test it out again, and if it still hurts, give your body a break. Really, you’d rather take a day off to rest than much, much longer to heal.
14. The world isn’t going to give you time to run. You have to make it.
Sure, you’re a nicer, happier, more focused and energetic person when you’ve gotten a workout in — and that’s great! But the world isn’t going to care. Things happen. Deadlines get pushed up and your job makes you stay late and your friend comes in from out of town and you want to sleep in. Your sneakers will always be waiting for you, but it’s up to you to get out the door and run. And any time you put into running is time well spent. You can regret skipping a run, but few people hardly ever regret the time they take to get out there and run.
15. But if you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world.
Really. You’re no less disciplined for not being able to make it happen every now and again. You’ll waste more time beating yourself up over it than if you just get back out the next day. And nobody wants to hear the self-flagellation that comes with being human.