By popular demand (OK, only one person has requested), I am going to do a series of posts that can help people start out running for recreation or exercise. I don’t want to overwhelm, because that inevitably leads to quitting. I also want to add this caveat: the only reason I think I’m qualified to issue this advice is because I’ve done it many times. That is, I’ve started running form the beginning. It’s easier every time, because I’m not learning new movements and I’ve got the muscle memory, but the fitness level part is lost if you stop for a long time, such as the requisite 9-18 months during and post-pregnancy.

So you can take my advice with a grain of salt. I love running. I believe that anyone can get to the point where they love it, but that point might not come for months. I encourage you to try it, and get to where you can run 3 miles in one go before you decide whether or not you love it. The first part always sucks, so don’t give up.

Step #1: Get the right clothes.

You will not go running ever again if the first time is so uncomfortable that you’re left with welts anywhere because of chafing, or if your feet hurt (or your knees or hips) from the wrong shoes, or if you feel like you can’t get used to the jostling. Here’s an email I once sent to someone who asked about what to wear while running:

I just think the biggest problem with running is that there are too many things that can be uncomfortable. If you can eliminate as many of those as possible, you’re more likely to continue, and to love it. So you NEED good shoes that fit right. If you are just starting, go to a running shoe store and get fitted. You should have running shoes that are about a full size larger than your dress shoe size. Also, shoes are so specialized that if you get your gait evaluated, you can get the right shoe for how your foot hits the ground, how heavy you are, etc. And you need comfortable clothes. Thrift stores have lots and lots of workout stuff, if you have the time to check them. I get my clothes from REI, Sierra Trading Post, and Road Runner Sports. They all have similar stuff, so I shop for sales.

Get some spandex. For me, there is nothing else to run in. Only the pants, though. I’m not so much into the leotard look. But tights or biking-type shorts (without the butt-padding) are the way to go. For these reasons:

1. They never ride up. I always feel sorry for those people who run in regular shorts, but they’re riding up the middle, so they have to do that side-stepping yank to get the shorts out.

2. If you get black ones, you can’t see if you’re sweaty. Another thing I don’t really like is seeing people who run that are all sweaty down the middle. On the shirt, that’s fine, but not on the lower half. It makes them look incontinent.

3. They’re oh-so-comfortable. Nothing flapping around, nothing pinching. I’m a little knock-kneed, so my knees bonk together. But with tights, they just slide past each other. It’s easier to stretch after a run, too.

4. In the winter, it’s really easy to layer if you have tights on the bottom. Just get some thicker tights one size bigger to put over them when it’s really cold.

5. They dry faster than cotton. So you don’t get the chills as bad after a cold run.

6. You get to show off your sexy legs, if you have them, and if you don’t, you get to proclaim that you don’t give a hoot what anyone else thinks about your legs.

7. No chafing. Cotton is the worst in this area, but with spandex, all your chafing woes are eliminated.

I also don’t wear cotton shirts for running because of the chafing and the wetness. I get the polyester and polypropylene running shirts. They have special seams so there are no raw edges against your skin, and they dry really fast. Some are mesh, so they help keep you cool in hot weather, while still covering the important stuff.

I think I got all the reasons. I have been wearing tights to run in since my freshman year in high school, when my mom made me a pair out of neon yellow fabric with neon green polka-dots. She sewed a hot-orange lightning bolt down the side of both calves. Those were awesome. I recommend you try them. I can’t even bear the thought of running in anything else.

And from another email regarding the jostling issue,

My trick for running, since sports bras do absolutely NOTHING for me, is to get a good quality underwire sports bra, like lunaire, in 34DDD or 36DD (a tiny bit too small helps), or even a regular but old underwire bra that’s comfortable, AND wear a speedo racing swimsuit over it.

It sounds ridiculous, but it works, and I don’t get my shoulders rubbed raw from the sawing, or any other bad chafing either. Although, when I go on long runs or more than 40 minutes, I also use an anti-chafing silicon roll-on in the high-friction areas. But the combination of sports bra and swimsuit really does minimize the bounce.

So is that enough to make you want to give up already? I suppose it’s OK to go running for the first few times in your regular walking clothes, but please just trust me, and get the right shoes first thing. Ask the salesperson lots of questions. Tell them where you plan to run, sidewalks, roads, trails, etc., and how long you will run at a time. If you’re just starting out, you will run about 2 minutes at a time, about 4 times a week. You will build up from there. And let me remind you, there is absolutely nothing shameful about running for 2 minutes, or even 30 seconds. At first, your bones and muscles will need to get used to it, and if you go out too hard at the beginning, pain and frustration will ensue.

For more on running:
Step #2: Make a goal and write it down
Step #3: Go Run
Step #4: Mix it up
Running Bonus Tip