Running 101: Take the First Step Today

GEAR "Do I need fancy stuff?"

Buy the Right Shoes

You don't absolutely, positively need a new pair of running shoes when you begin running. You can run in your comfortable crosstrainers, sneakers, or walking shoes. But when you're ready, the right pair will make your runs more comfortable while adding extra injury-prevention features. Selecting these shoes, sad to say, can be a complex process. That's why it's smart to go to a specialty running store. The experienced staff will make sure you get shoes that fit right and provide the biomechanical support you need. Expect to pay $85 to $120. "We know how to look at your foot when it hits the road, and that makes a huge difference," says J. D. Denton, senior writer at Running Times and owner of a Fleet Feet running store in Davis, California.

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Wear Polyester

You don't need a lot of expensive gear to run, which is good news in a recession. That said, you'll never regret the dollars you spend on breathable socks, and even shirts and shorts. These garments, made from polyester fabrics, are a world apart from the scratchy material your father ran track in. The best are lightweight, soft, and nonchafing. "They'll prevent blisters and rashes," says Denton, "and they'll actually help keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter."

Forget About Gadgets

Heart-rate monitors, GPS systems on a watch, accelerometers that tell you how fast you're going, cell phones with astonishing tools—none of these glitzy products will help your first efforts. All you really need is a watch with a stopwatch function, available for around $30 at any drugstore, to help you keep track of your walking and running intervals. Don't worry about other fancy gizmos. But if your iPod makes your workouts go better, by all means take it with you—as long as you run in a safe place.

More: Power of Heart-Rate Training

TRAINING "So How Do I Do This?"

Start Slow. Back Off

Most beginning runners worry that they're not improving fast enough. Don't compare yourself with others. Every runner gets into shape according to his own body's schedule. Physiologists have calculated that any and all running paces are fast enough to put you into the moderate-to-vigorous aerobic zone that delivers health benefits. So take your time and focus on going farther, not faster. "We tell people that they didn't get out of shape in five weeks, and they're not going to get back in shape in five weeks," says Bob Glover.

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And Again: Go Slow

If you feel out of breath or sick to your stomach, you're running too fast, a mistake made by perhaps 99 percent of beginners. "A lot of people think that they have to go at least a mile at a time, and at a good clip," says Budd Coates. "I always tell my beginning runners to slow down and take more walk breaks." When you slow down and/or walk more, your breathlessness and nausea will go away. You'll learn that running should be a relaxed activity, and that you should "train, not strain." And, yes, beginning running includes lots of walking. Get over it.

Run Tall and Relaxed

For the most part, you don't have to worry about your technique. That said, experts agree that you should run tall (not slouched) and straight (not leaning far forward or backward). Don't overstride; that could put extra strain on your knees. "Run with your eyes focused about nine feet ahead," says Jane Serues. "Let your arms relax, down around your waist, and take a natural, comfortable stride."

Whenever and Wherever

Is there a best time and place to run? Sure: whenever and wherever is most convenient. Finding ways to fit workouts into your schedule is more important than fretting over the when/where questions. Neighborhood roads, a high school track, a treadmill — all good. Beginners should stick to relatively flat running. Hills dramatically increase the muscular and aerobic strain of a run. Run against traffic, so drivers can see you. After all, you're in this for the long run.

More: 15 Technical Tips for the Trail

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