Maybe your doctor recommended it, maybe you’re afraid of the gym (don’t be), maybe you just like the runner’s high, but fell out of sync with it for whatever reason. Anyway, you decided to run. How does one begin that?
The first task is shoes, so you don’t injure yourself. Now, you won’t swing a dead cat without getting some asshole’s opinion on what’s the best brand or style, but ignore all that. Their experiences are not yours. OK, don’t completely ignore it. Listen, take notes, but don’t think that your friend’s advice is more valuable than anyone else’s. Treat their ideas as suggestions, not the Gospel. They could very well introduce you to some new stuff, but that stuff may or may not work for you.
Go to a local running store and get fitted. Don’t be afraid to try on the whole store. That said, running shoes are often expensive. Find something in person that fits, but go online, get last year’s model, or see if the employee can get you any sort of discount. Do some research beforehand, as well. You can find some of that here and here.
Goals and plans
It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re aimless. Sign up for a race, set a pace you want to achieve, or just a distance you’d be proud to hit. This will help to keep you focused, an “eye on the prize” situation. Of course, once you’ve accomplished it, you need to make a new one.
The one that is more difficult for a lot of people is having a plan in front of you. Not saved to your desktop, not in your e-mail, but one you can hold and have. I prefer that people actually make their own plans, but I acknowledge that some people have no idea where to start. If you don’t feel confident making a plan, by all means, find one online, in a book, or join a running club.
If you still want to make your own plan, I recommend doing your long run over the weekend, and adding .5 miles every week (if you’re an absolute beginner, add .25mi/week for the first month or two). Complement it with two or three runs during the week doing different things. An easy run for 40min or so (beginners: start with 15min and add 5min/week until you hit 40), speed work (with hills or a bridge, preferably), and drills are good starting points, as is sand running, if you have a beach.
Amateur runners get quite a few injuries. Different studies show different rates (20-90%) of occurrence, but the mode seems to be somewhere around 50%. Half of runners are getting injured in any given year. This can be chalked up to a number of reasons, but a good chunk of them that I witnessed in my coaching stint were the result of people ONLY running.
IT band syndrome, for example, is incredibly common in runners, because many won’t do strength training. This means they’re stressing on the lateral (outside) of the leg and causes strength imbalances. Hip thrusters (or simple bridges, if you lack weights), to work the glutes and hamstrings are a Godsend, as is yoga. Since yoga not only stretches the body, but works on balance (and a lot of back work), it can nip a lot of the problems in the bud. Pigeon, Lizard, and Wheel pose are great, as are Cat/Cow and Cobra/Child for a warm-up.
Humans are built to run long distances. We’re not strong or fast, we don’t have claws or armor, but boy can we chug along. When you’re tired and thinking about quitting, remember that you’ve got two million years of natural selection backing you up.