As soon as people know you’re a runner — possibly even before you call yourself one — they will want your advice. This is inevitable. Your charge is also inevitable: ensure they become part of the runner-fold and never want to leave.
Usually, it starts like this: “I want to start running. What is the key to success?” Or, “I started running and now my ____ hurts.” Or, “I signed up for a half-marathon in two months. How should I train?”
I spent five years working in a running store, so I answered these questions a lot.
Okay. You’re now the resident expert, and you have the floor. Time to make them a convert.
1. Establish a running fitness baseline.
First things first, you have to determine if you’re talking to a total newbie, someone looking to start racing after spending a significant time running for fitness, or someone who was a runner, but fell off the wagon. If they used to be a runner of some sort, why did they quit? What you’re looking for here are reasons they didn’t stick with it, like injuries, so you can try to identify preventative solutions, or life circumstances that took priority.
Next, do they have a goal? Is there a race coming up? A weight loss goal? Will setting a goal help keep them motivated? Knowing this can help you get them hooked and excited about the running journey they’re about to begin.
Lastly, in establishing their baseline, you need to assess how fit they are to determine where to start. Someone coming to you who has not exercised much in years needs to start differently than someone who’s been participating in another sport regularly, etc.
2. Do they have appropriate running shoes?
If they are brand-new to running, it is almost certain that they do not have or know how to get appropriate running shoes. If they are returning to running after a break, new shoes are still likely necessary. Direct them to your favorite specialty shop. Sometimes I’ll even meet them there, just to be a reassuring voice that the $115 pair of shoes that are a size bigger than what she usually wears and are the worst color combination ever are indeed the best option and a wise investment.
3. What other gear do they need?
Be a good friend and don’t let them buy a bunch of gimmicky stuff they don’t need. One wonderful thing about running is its simplicity, so start simple and do not overwhelm them. Newbies don’t usually need compression socks, fuel belts, racing flats, or any of the other highly-specialized gear. Most folks can even get away with wearing whatever comfortable workout gear they have to start out with, and certainly don’t need any of the incredibly expensive name-brand running couture. Obviously if they need to buy workout gear, steer them to the technical stuff, even if it’s the cheap stuff from the big-box store.
Sing the praises of truly important gear, like good socks. And don’t forget Body Glide, too, or your favorite other anti-chafe product. They will need it for some body part sooner or later. Legs, feet, arms, chest … whatever. Don’t lie to your friend about the ugly part of running, like the blisters and chafing. (Maybe save the black toenail issue for later.)
Do they need a GPS watch? Doubtful. You can measure routes online or use one of a million apps on your smartphone.
4. How should they train?
Whatever advice you give here is going to be dependent on the baseline running fitness you established in Step One above. But for almost everyone the answer to this question is: Carefully. Slowly.
I always return back to the Couch-To-5k program. It served me very well when I started running. It keeps you out of trouble and always seems manageable. Now, eight years after I started that program, I can still remember putting in the work those first few weeks, then being anxious when the schedule read “Run two miles.” Not “Run two minutes, walk one minute.” Just Run two miles. TWO MILES! I thought. There is no way. And then I did it, and it was easy. That was how the whole plan went. On the occasions I felt daunted, I soon found out there was no need to fear.
Other good ways to get new runners running? If you determined from Step One that they have a specific goal or race in mind, your local running store might have a group training for that very race or they might host new runner group runs that meet up each week. Help your new runner begin to network within your local running community and attend one of those group runs with them.
5. Where should they run?
Tell them a few of your favorite routes, or if you’re feeling high-tech, map a few routes at sites like gmap-pedometers.com or send them links to your Garmin files. Save them the hassle of finding out that Oak Street may go straight into the park but it has no sidewalk or shoulder, but that Ash Street one block over is lovely. Tell them where they can find water fountains, too, so they don’t get talked into buying a fuel belt for those two mile runs.
6. Support them, encourage them, be their cheerleader.
When they are beaming and describing how great their 2.4 mile run was, DO NOT say, “Yeah, I got in an easy eight this morning.” SHUT UP and tell them how awesome they are. Be there for their first race. Help them find ways to make the schedule work when it doesn’t fit their life, help them get back on the wagon if they fall off.
We were all there once. Plus, if you don’t fulfill your obligation, your next conversation will be, “I tried running but it gave me [insert common newbie injury].”
What’s the best piece of advice you received as a new runner?