by Rachel Welch
When you think of exercise, what is the first form of movement that pops into your head? If you’re like many people, you probably picture someone running. Trim or slender, speedy, perfectly balanced (and somehow not panting for their life), runners on television, in movies, and in real life seem to have acquired a remarkable and coveted fitness level. Whether you’ve admired your neighbor’s daily running routine, desired to emulate fitness influencers online, or given a voice to your internal desire for change, running is an effective and healthy form of fitness.
Perhaps, in a flurry of excitement and motivation, you dove straight into running one day, only to find that you had sore joints, swollen knees, or an injury. While running is an excellent form of exercise, there are certain tools and rules to remember when starting your runner’s lifestyle. Consider this your “Running for Beginners” handbook and guide.
Ready, Set, Go!
Here’s what you’ll need to get started and to continue into a successful fitness routine where you can run away from all your problems. . .or, at least, run away from any that actively chase you.
While running is an essentially “equipment-free” sport, there are some basics you’ll want to have on hand to make running possible. Some of these may be common sense to you, but sometimes it helps to go back to basics. Please note these by no means have to be brand-name, fancy in any way, or influencer-approved items. You can accomplish a healthy start to running with the barebones basics of all these items.
There are plenty of running clothes out there, and running-specific brands. But when you are getting into running and wanting to stay on-budget, it’s important to also consider What NOT to Wear Running. Avoid things like 100% cotton and sweatpants, or the wrong thickness of socks for the season. Pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly. As you get further into running, the gadget and gear list will naturally grow to help you stay comfortable in all weather conditions. Make mental notes when you find yourself thinking that if you just had ______, then your run would be more pleasant. Make your list, check it twice, and start getting the gear that will help you want to continue to hit the pavement.
Running shoes are a must-have! These can be the standard tennis shoes that are in your closet now. As long as they fit you well, don’t cause blisters, and have reasonable arch support, you can run in them. Basic, inexpensive sneakers/tennis shoes will do just fine to get you started.
While not required, special shoes can make running easier and more comfortable if you move into a marathon or trail-running territory. If you have the means and desire to upgrade slightly, you can also find more running-specific shoes that are made to be lightweight, meant for trails, luminescent for nighttime, and more. Several nice brands out there are highly rated, and prices range from around $30 to closer to $100 for budget options. Run Repeat has done some great unbiased testing and suggests six affordable options.
Phone and Keys Holder
An important rule of thumb for safety is to have your phone with you when you are out running. Although this is a safety move that will hopefully prove unnecessary, you will want your phone handy if in a situation where you need to call for help. The same goes for car keys. If you drive to a park to use its nature-bathed trails, you may want to keep your keys on your person. Acquiring some sort of holder for your phone and keys is a must-have on our list.
There are several options here. If you are comfortable with it, several fanny pack-type pouches strap to the waist or torso and hold everything you need. For something less cumbersome (and less bouncy while your running jostles you), you can also look into running belts (which are essentially slim fanny packs) or armbands that will hold a phone, usually one key, maybe a credit card or two, and strap around your arm with Velcro. Many of the armbands out there also have a port for your headphone cords to go through, which makes listening to music while you run a breeze. And that brings us to the next point.
Studies predict that most runners listen to music while running and find it to be a huge motivator. Research suggests that 32% of people use music during exercise to boost their mood, 31% use it to focus/get in “the zone,” and 19% to distract from physical fatigue. In fact, another study’s findings support that running to music actually reduces mental fatigue. This is exciting research because, as most athletes know, the mental battle is often tougher than the physical one regarding running.
So, stuff your phone into a fanny pack or armband, crank up your most motivating and awesome music, and let the tunes carry you. For an extra benefit here, you can also explore some of the research on certain music’s impact on physical performance and cater your playlist to your advantage.
The other important but less tangible item, a must-have, is a pacing plan. When you start running for the first time, or even if it’s been a while, you must allow your body to ease back into it. Heading out the door tomorrow and launching straight into a run can be tough on your joints and muscles and leave you feeling worse than when you started. To start your running routine safely and successfully, follow these tips:
Walk to Warm Up
For any runner, seasoned or not, walking as a warm-up is a great idea. If you’re new to running, you may exclusively walk for the first few workouts, and that’s completely normal. The goal is to get your body used to that movement and gradually build up. Aim for 30 minutes a day to start out and gradually increase your walking pace until you can incorporate more speed. Then, gradually mix in small doses of running. For instance, you can walk for two minutes, run for one minute, and walk for two more, etc. Slow and steady is the key as you work your way into running for longer times.
Slow and Steady
To start, focus on your walk/run mixture for longer times as you go. Then, once that feels easy, you can increase your speed, change up the ratio, and eventually boost your mileage. Just remember to listen to your body’s cues and be patient. If you want a super clear-cut plan, some helpful breakdowns online tell you exactly how to build up to running regularly.
Ultimately, an ideal frequency to aim for is running at least three times a week for even just ten minutes. This will provide cardiovascular benefits and (paired with other healthy choices) lead to healthy changes.
Supplements for Soreness
As you start your running journey, you will experience soreness. It’s an unavoidable yet positive sign of fitness progress. In addition to ample hydration, certain nutrients will help with this. Magnesium, electrolytes, vitamin D, and B vitamins benefit proper healing, restoration, and maintenance of healthy muscle and exercise-based performance.
To prioritize these vitamins, incorporate them into your regular diet through healthy smoothies and colorful, nutrient-rich meals, or take them as supplement capsules. In addition to plenty of water, rest, and stretching, these supplements will help you recover as you progress toward your goals.
Remember to run toward your goals with a slow and steady approach. Be patient with yourself as you get started, and don’t sweat the small stuff (save that sweat for your first 5K). Above all, have fun with your run, and reap the healthy rewards.
Why Running Rules
First of all, here are some healthy tidbits of knowledge to fuel your motivation! Running is a healthy sport and has been studied heavily for years. It hardly comes as a surprise that it is so popular, considering that running is one of the few completely free, easily accessible exercises out there. Without needing any equipment, any expensive gym membership, or any sort of coach, you can start running at any time and almost anywhere, as long as you have a safe place to avoid traffic.
Running can seem intimidating for beginners at first, but with a steady and structured start, you can build up to a point where running may become your favorite form of exercise—and can lead to various benefits that make it worthwhile. You may have heard of one such benefit from runners you know, which is the runner’s high. Characterized by a rush of euphoric hormones (endorphins), runners often experience this “runner’s high” midway through their run. Those who have experienced it report a sudden feeling of joy, with less anxiety and feeling unstoppable. It sounds pretty great, right?
Research on the Runner’s High
For years, scientists thought that this runner’s high phenomenon was due to increased endorphins in the blood due to exercise and pinpointed opioid peptides, which are known to elevate mood. While this is still a common theory, another possibility has emerged. German scientists have found another potential link within the brain’s endocannabinoid system. From breaking that word down, you can probably guess that this is the same part of the brain that is impacted by the use of drugs like marijuana.
Endocannabinoids are found naturally occurring in human blood after running and are known to be able to travel to the brain. This fact prompted researchers to explore studies with mice, which revealed that mice who ran for several hours also showed a high level of these hormones. The running mice, after their run, showed significantly less anxiety and stress afterward than the non-runners. The researchers drew parallels to that of the human experience with running and claimed that this might be the source of the happy runner’s high so many athletes have enjoyed.
Aside from euphoric running perks, running also provides health benefits galore, across mental and physical areas:
Running is a fantastic way to get your heart pumping and launch fat-burning processes in the body. In addition to providing cardio, running helps tone muscles, contributing to increased weight loss in the long run.
Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Runners show a significantly reduced risk of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and an Australian study confirmed this with a longitudinal study of over 230,000 people. Among their large participant pool, they found that more running led to more health and longevity. They concluded that even running once weekly reduces the risk of early mortality.
Reduced Symptoms of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
In simple terms, running creates endorphins, endorphins make us happy, and that helps to alter the brain’s chemistry in a way that combats symptoms of anxiety and depression. Various studies have looked at the relationship between running and mental health and almost unanimously find that it is highly beneficial to mental health.
Improved Confidence and Mental State
Exercise of any kind helps to provide the brain with happy hormones, like endorphins, but sports and specifically long-distance running, encourage individuals to maintain a more positive outlook on life with positive lifestyle changes, including the implementation of regular healthy activities.
Likelihood of Living a Longer, Healthier Life
Running is known to be a key factor in healthy aging and longevity, both physically and cognitively. A study from 2017 found that runners generally live three years longer than non-runners, and runners were found to have a 25-40% lower risk of their life being shortened by health-related factors.