How to Start a Running Routine

By | January 6, 2019

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It is a new day in a New Year and we are all here for it!

Or, well, at least I am. If I sound a little chipper, it’s because I broke into 2019 by crushing a 10K (which ended up being more like 5.6 miles because of a last-minute course change, but still!).

Whether you’re an experienced runner ready for a change in the new year or you want to become a runner but don’t know where to start, welcome!

Starting a running routine, or getting back to running after a long break, can be daunting. It may feel weird and awkward and you might end up a bit sore afterward.

Here are a few things you can do to get over that initial “what am I doing?” hump and build a running routine that lasts so you too can crush a 5K or 10K next New Year’s Day.

Really. There are a lot of running products out there — just ask my inbox, which is full of emails from brands telling me why I should write about their latest $ 300 doodad. But to start, you don’t need any of it. While I think getting properly fitted for running shoes is important as you build your mileage (and buying them can give you an incentive to stick to running), you don’t need them for your first few forays out. You might want to ditch the cotton T-shirts for something sweat wicking or even toy with a GPS watch down the road, but you’re probably set for right now with what you have.

The comedian Bob Einstein, who died this week, mocked the running gear market back in 1981 when he played a pushy sporting goods salesman in “Modern Romance” (alongside his brother Albert Brooks). In this clip the scene starts at the 55-second mark. It’s just as true now as it was then: You don’t need all that stuff to start out.

(If and when you decide to buy something, you might look at Wirecutter’s reviews of running gear.)

I would like to run a 100K ultramarathon in 2019. That is realistic for me given my past training. It would not be realistic for a new or born-again runner. A 5K is perfect for you if you’re one of these runners. It’s a challenge, but not one that will eat up your life or put too much stress on your body as it gets used to running.

It’s a free, nine-week training program to help people go from no running to that 5K finish line, and then maybe beyond. It’s a great way to start.

I have a hard time getting out the door if I don’t have a race on the docket. Fortunately for you, spring is a popular 5K time, so you most likely can find one on a weekend nine weeks out from when you start.

You want to be able to look back and see how you’ve progressed. It’ll keep you moving forward. This can be in a spreadsheet, a journal, your calendar or something like Dailymile, which I use, along with a Google Sheet that I share with my coach. While running apps will keep these statistics for you, you’ll want to make sure to also record how you feel about each run. This will help you identify what other things affect your training. The log I share with my coach helped me identify that I felt fatigued at a certain point in my menstrual cycle, which is not surprising, but I couldn’t identify it until I saw the pattern written out.

Forming any new routine is difficult, especially such a physical one. It’s easier to know that this challenge is going to take some work, so that you can prepare for it (maybe that means scheduling a nap on the weekend, or finding a fellow runner to gripe with when the going gets tough).

It just means you get a chance to learn from what didn’t go right, and adjust for the future. No one said you must start a running routine on Jan. 1. Your birthday works, or Presidents’ Day, or next Saturday. And don’t beat yourself up if it takes a few tries. Running is hard. Sticking with it until it’s a routine is harder. But I believe in you. I really do.

If you’d like to know more about the science of sticking to a New Year’s resolution, I wrote a feature on it last year. It includes a lot of tricks and tips for setting and meeting any kind of goal. And here is a New York Times guide on How to Start Running.

One common fear I hear from new runners is that they’re worried they’ll finish last in their first race. That’s incredibly common — I worried about it. My mom finished last in her first race ever, and she’s now entered in the New York City Marathon drawing (which I’ll write more about next week). If you too are worried about being in last place, check out this Runner’s World feature about people who finished last, and lived to tell the tale. It’s not as bad as you think.

We’re also running a 30-Day Well Challenge. Every morning for 30 days, you’ll be emailed a daily challenge that will help you build healthy habits, one day at a time. Sign up here.