Running 101

A Beginers Guide to Running

When I started running 25 years ago I put on my swim shorts and a t-shirt, slipped on my mothers discarded running shoes (unisex), then headed out the door. The amazing thing is that I wasn’t alone! Running was simple – and cheap. Running has evolved into a more complex and potentially expensive sport. At times I am nostalgic for the old days but I realize that many of these innovations can make running a more enjoyable experience. Training approaches have also improved giving you a better chance to accomplish your goal, improve your time and limit injury. This article is an overview of equipment and training approaches for the beginning runner.


Shoes Jackets Watch Training Faster
Racing Hats GPS Getting started Intervals
Trail Winter Wear Portable Music Stretching Tempo Runs
Clothing Reflectives Heart Rate Monitor Strengthening Longer
Shorts Eyewear Hydration Packs Drills Racing
Pants Accessories   Form Injury
Socks Insoles   Cross Training Nutrition
Shirts Orthotics      




Your running shoe is the most important piece of equipment you will purchase. The right shoe can make your experience much more enjoyable. Most people don’t need the most recent technology - which is often marketing hype. However, don’t buy the $40 department store shoe. A quality running shoe will cost $70+ retail and is worth the expense. Read Selecting a Running Shoe for a detailed guide. Road Runner Sports has an incredible selection and helpful tools to get you the right shoe.



Barefoot running has become a popular form of training since the pubilcation of the best selling book "Born to Run". The book is fascinating to read but definitely biase towards bareoot running. Barefoot running can be a great way to strengthen your foot muscles and improve your running form but proceed cautiously. For more info read our article on barefoot running.


Racing shoes are lighter than regular training shoes – normally only 5-6 ounces. If you are trying to shave a little time off your best performance these will add a lift to your step.

Trail running shoes are more rugged. The stiffer sole and traction help some people feel secure when navigating rugged trails. However, for most trails a regular training shoe works just fine.




Guys are wearing mid to lower thigh length shorts these days – below the knee length shorts tend to feel awkward. Ladies shorts are usually mid thigh or shorter. Skorts are a new combo of shorts and skirt for a feminine twist. Having a small pocket for keys, or id is a nice feature and reflective siding is a bonus safety feature. Liners are a personal preference; however, if you experience chaffing after runniing experiment with biking short type of liners or a product called "Body Glide"


Sweats and tights are out! Running pants are the new style and are actually quite comfortable. You’ll find a variety of styles and fabrics for personal preferences. Side zippers are nice if you want to shed the pants without taking your shoes off. Reflective siding is also a plus if you are out in the dark.

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For years I ran in the cheapest socks I could find – then I was given a pair of the high quality running socks. What a difference! These socks are supportive, cushioning and durable. Double layer socks are nice for cooler weather and added cushion, they may also help prevent blisters. The thinner socks work well in humid or hot environments.


Cotton tops are fading out to the new high tech, moisture wicking materials. The new fabrics are nice for layering and my friends that sweat a lot swear by them. However, you can still catch me wearing the plain old cotton or cotton / poly.


If you live in a cold, windy or wet climate a nice jacket saves the day. The windproof / breathable material will keep the cold and wet out while your warm inside. For more moderate climates a simple nylon windbreaker with layering underneath is sufficient. Reflective stripping is a plus.

Winter Wear

Layering will keep you warm and allows versatility for temperature changes. Polypropylene is the ultimate for underwear in the extreme cold conditions.

A pullover cap is essential for cold weather running, some will even come with a pull down facemask. Neoprene face masks (Velcro’s around face) are great for protection from windburn and keeping you warm.

Gloves will keep your hands warm and mittens are better for the coldest days. Ski type gloves tend to be too bulky. I like cotton gloves because you can wipe your nose with them then toss them in the wash. There are also combination mitten / gloves that allow you to fold over the mitten for added warmth.


If you run in the dark wear reflective clothing or covering. Assume that vehicles will not see you.


If you have to run in the dark consider using a headlamp. These have become lighter and brighter enhancing not only visibility but safety.

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Sunglasses subdue the glare on sunny days. You’ll feel more relaxed if you do not have to squint. A side benefit is bug control – glasses will keep those demons on the outside. Pricing varies immensely – I tend to buy the cheap ones because I loose them. My ophthalmologist friend wears cheap ones as well; however, we’re not always the most stylish.


Runners are prime candidates for skin cancer with our long sunny day runs. Make sure you screen up especially on the nose and shoulders.


Now you can get sun protection with out overheating. The new lightweigth, mesh, moisture wicking hats are much cooler than a traditional ball cap.



Today’s insoles have tremendous cushioning, support and durability. When a shoe company designs a shoe, if they want to trim the price down they will use a lower quality insert. For a nice shoe upgrade or to refresh your existing shoes try a good quality insert . Road Runner Sports has the best insoles I have been able to find.

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Orthotics are customized shoe inserts. Some people do well with orthotics but they often cost over $400. Try everything else before going this route – they are not a cure all. In a recent study of college athletes over 50% of the athletes who had shin splints had been using orthotics during the training (meaning they did not relieve their symptoms).


Watches are a nice way to keep track of your run times, analyze your pace and get you home on time. They range from a simple timepiece to gps units that will compute your pace, distance, heart rate, etc.

Portable Music

With the advent of MP3’s and iPod’s music can follow us everywhere. You can find products that will mount to your sunglass, strap around your arm or clip to your shirt. Use caution when running with these devices, you may not hear potentially dangerous situations (dogs, cars, etc). I actually prefer the silence – it leaves my mind free to wonder and I often experience my best thinking of the day.

Heart Rate Monitor

For those who are more serious about training, a heart rate monitor (straps around your chest and is read by a watch) can help you more accurately assess your training intensity.

Hydration Packs

If you are running for more than an hour you need additional fluid. Most runners prefer waste packs as opposed to the "Camel Backs" popular among mountain bikers. Hydration packs will often have pockets to hold energy bars and other essentials (credit card, keys, id).



Getting Started

Make it today! The first steps are the hardest both psychologically and physically. Optimally, you’ll be most healthy aerobically exercising for thirty minutes per day 5-6 days per week. However, if you start running that much you will soon be injured. Try running two days per week for 15 minutes each time.


You can supplement your exercise time with walking, cycling, swimming, elliptical training, etc. Your previous activity level will determine how quickly you can increase your running time as well as your total aerobic activity. Be patient and listen to your body. It is normal to experience some aches and pains but be judicious as you increase distance, time, frequency or intensity of exercise. Your patience will be worth the reward.


Once you get the kinks worked out you'll be amazed at how much better you feel. Runners will tell you that no other exercise leaves you feelling as good as running does. Bring a friend along - it will help with motivation and you can solve the world's problems together (research actually shows improved brain function during and after exercise). A neighbor recently told me that she doesn't really enjoy running but she loves to talk with the friends that join her and she loves how she feels when its over (she has been running for 6 months).


Set goals! Choose a running event to help focus your training. Share your goals with other. Start modestly with perhaps a goal of finishing a 5K (3.1 mile) - from there you can try faster or further.


Stretching works best when performed after your run (or exercises). Prior to running perform a few drills to ready your body for running. In general, you should stretch your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. As you stretch you will notice certain tight spots. Spend extra time on the tight muscles (try holding for 30 seconds and repeating 3 times) while stretching the other groups for 5–10 seconds, 2–3 times. For most runners these stretches will only take 5-10 minutes. If you would do better with a structured program we recommend Vinyasa Yoga For Runners.


Runners don’t need to be lifting heavy weights but performing some core training exercises can have an incredible impact on both performance and injury prevention. This is perhaps the most neglected component of most training programs. You should perform core training at least twice per week and optimally 5 days per week. A very simple approach is the plank exercises shown below. The DVD “A Balanced Solution ” provides an excellent program for core training and also provides comprehensive stretching instruction.


A short sequence of drills is an excellent way to warm up prior to running and helps prevent injury. For starters try these three: walking on your heels, walking sideways alternating crossing one foot in front of the other (left and right) and skipping with high knees (or walking with high knees) each for 20 steps.


Your first step is to just get out the door (or on the treadmill). As you begin to feel a little more comfortable with running, then start working on improving your form. Performing a few simple drills and watching other runners can make a real difference in how much you enjoy running. Be patient as you refine your running form and realize that each person is unique and may have limitations in being able to run with "perfect form". See Running Form for more specific guidance.

Cross Training

Cross Training is a term used for aerobic training that supplements a running program. Running is a physically demanding sport. Many runners find that alternating other forms of aerobic exercise into their routine allows them to train at greater volumes or intensities without getting injured. Once an injury has occurred cross training allows runners to maintain their fitness while recovering from the injury. Click here for the free eBook “The Runner’s Guide to Cross Training



If you want to run faster you have to – well, run faster. The trick here is that you have to balance your body’s ability to adapt and improve with your ambition. You probably shouldn’t consider fast training until you are able to run 20 minutes per day, four days per week. Speed training will increase your risk of injury so use caution as you progress. Initially only perform one speed session per week. After a month you could consider adding in a second speed session. For optimal gains you must have recovery days following the speed sessions. Recovery days are at an easier pace or shorter distance (or cross training). For more details on how to run faster visit our "Running Faster" page. You can use our speed calculator to take the guess work out of establishing your training paces.


Intervals are time periods that you run harder. For beginning runners choose a specific time (2-4 minutes) or distance (400 – 800meters) and run the entire time or distance at an intensity you perceive to be “hard”. Then walk or jog for 2-4 minutes and repeat the sequence 3 - 6 times. Intervals are hard but exhilarating – a great way to improve your running times and form. You'll need a watch and track to time yourself and track your progress. See "Running Faster"

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are performed at a faster pace for a longer period of time. They are designed to train your body to be able to run faster – longer. For a beginning runner a tempo run could be performed for 5-20 minutes at a pace that you perceive to be “somewhat hard”. Generally you would only perform one or maybe two tempo sections during the training run as opposed to 3 -6 intervals. See "Running Faster"


Increasing the distance of your runs will improve your endurance. As you become comfortable with running begin to add a longer run into your weekly training routine. This should not be at a fast pace – rather a pace that you think you could comfortably maintain for the entire duration. Use caution as you increase the distance – increasing distance and pace can lead to injury. See "Running Further"

Racing / Event Participation

Participating in local or national running events can be an exhilarating way to challenge your newly trained body as well as a way to meet fellow runners. has an extensive list of local and international events. Visit Road Runner Clubs of America to see if there is a running club in your area. Running clubs are great resources for local events and may even help you connect with a training partner. Sometimes beginning runners over schedule themselves with their new found sport - be cautious and stay within your body’s ability level. Use our Pre-race Checklist to help you prepare for your running events.


Unfortunately, runners experience temporary setbacks. This is a time to analyze your training, supplement your training with cross training and let your body catch up. Most running related injuries are minor and can be overcome with some patience and guidance. For a guide to identifying and treating running injuries visit The Injured Runner



Running is a physically demanding sport. Give your body the advantage it deserves by eating nutritiously. Carbohydrates are the primary energy source used by your body while running so make sure your diet contains plenty of whole grains. Proteins help build muscle and repair tissue. Typically you don't need supplemental protein but if you are vegetatrian be sure to combine your foods to get all the amino acids. Your body does use fat for energy, especially if you run longer distances. However, a lower fat diet is a more healthful choice.


Sports nutrition guidebook

If your training or running event is longer than 60 minutes you should take an energy drink to refuel.


Eating / drinking shortly after a training run will improve your recovery time.


Keep yourself hydrated so that your urine is light colored. This is particularly important in warmer climates.


For a complete guide to sports nutrition we recommend Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Sample Articles:Nancy Clark Nutrition.



Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist

This article may be reproduced with appropriate reference.