While all you technically need to do is lace up your sneakers to get started with your running routine (find out how to buy the perfect pair here), turns out there’s way more need-to-know info. And who better to turn to for tips than some of the most popular trainers, experts and runners who’ve already charted the course? We had nine fleet-footed pros share the running tips they wish they heard before they spent years circling the track, padding along the trails and grinding it out up steep hills. Forget about learning the hard way — you can steal their secrets right here, right now.
9 Beginner Running Tips Straight From the Pros
1. Never apologize for your pace or speed.
“Every runner started with the first mile,” says Robin Arzon, co-founder of fitness movement Undo-Ordinary. And while she considers the running community to be one of the most encouraging groups in the fitness community, “I wish I knew to never apologize for my pace, speed or newbie status when I began running with those more experienced,” she says. Those who run with Arzon will echo the sentiment — running buddies are there because they want you to succeed. Join a club, sign up for a race or find a friend who will offer you the kind of pick-me-ups that can help you go the extra distance.
2. Protect yourself — especially your skin.
“I wish I knew the extreme significance of sun protection when I started out,” says Deena Kastor, an Asics elite runner, Olympic marathoner and skin-cancer survivor. “Even a simple accessory, like a running hat, could actually save your life,” she says. And for all of the of hours Kastor, 42, spends outdoors training in her hometown of Mammoth Lakes, California, she’s extremely diligent when it comes to sun protection. Kastor religiously applies her favorite sunscreen, Coola SPF 50 Unscented Spray, before each run — even on cloudy days — and never sets out without her go-to Asics Kayano cap because it has a broader rim than most other hats, providing even greater face coverage.
3. Learn proper form before taking on lots of miles.
“I wish I had realized that running is the only sport where it’s not common at all for the athlete to be taught how to safely and effectively do it beforehand,” says Golden Harper, founder of Altra Running. Harper believes it’s essential to take an actual running class (check out these crazy treadmill options) or work with a coach to learn how to protect your body before racking up the mileage. His strategy: Keep your cadence (or step count) high regardless of speed (around 170 beats per minute). “Count how many times your right foot hits the ground in 20 seconds — 28 to 30 is ideal; think, quick, relaxed feet,” Harper recommends.
4. Sleeping more is the key to continuity — and improvement.
As a former competitive runner, Ironman, triathlete and professional road cyclist, Stacy Sims, Ph.D. and co-founder of OSMO Hydration, knows a thing or two about what’s needed to perform well on the road. “People spend way too much time on screens,” she says, and more importantly, not snoozing. “When you don’t get enough sleep, your hormonal levels spike, causing your body goes into overdrive trying to repair all the stresses of the day,” Sims says. Try turning down the TV, computers and smartphones 90 minutes before bed to prepare for the hours of rest ahead (plus all of these amazing sleep-better tips), she recommends.
5. Socks are just as important as sneakers are.
With more than 25 DVDs under her belt, Tonique Method creator Sylwia Wisenberg actually considers running the bread and butter of her fitness regimen, logging miles five to six days a week. When it comes to lacing up, forget about the sneakers for a sec — Wisenberg is all about top-of-the-line socks. “I always cared so much about the sneakers I wore and ignored the quality of my socks,” she says. But great socks are critical to performance and comfort. “Don’t choose cute over quality when it comes to the basics of a running wardrobe. Ward off blisters with a pair made of breathable sweat-wicking fabric like 2XU’s Performance Low Rise Socks.
6. Sometimes it’s better to go for time — not distance or pace.
Olympic track and field runner and New Zealand native John Henwood came to the States with a vision: to help treadmill runners stay the course — and not cut workouts short. The result? Opening TheRUN, a boutique treadmill studio in NYC. When his clients aren’t giving it their all inside the studio, he wishes they would know how much better it is to run for time, rather than distance and pace. “It’s easier for beginners to mentally get through a run of a certain time in mind at a comfortable effort, rather than a certain amount of miles at a given pace.” After a few weeks, start playing with various distances and paces, being careful never push things too far or too fast.
7. There will be bad days.
Take it from Alexandra Champ, a running coach, the founder of Learn To Run and a Lululemon ambassador, who thinks the hardest thing about running are the mental challenges you can face every time you get ready to run. “Some days you just don’t run well, don’t feel up to it and you will probably never know why,” she says. “You just have to go home, let it go and try it again tomorrow.” Champ insists an array of things can contribute to an off day, including eating the wrong food, drinking too little water, not getting enough sleep or even leftover soreness (known as DOMS) from a previous hard workout. Plus, taking a rest day lets you jump back on the wagon with more energy in your reserves.
8. Only do the workouts (and run the distances!) you enjoy.
“When I started running I felt like going far was the impressive thing to do,” says Jaclyn Emerick, Fitness Director of SHAPE Magazine, who participated in many half- and full marathons. But she “hated training for long-distance races because it took over, and I didn’t have time to do as much of the other things that I really liked,” the strength training addict recalls. But it all clicked for her after enduring — and loving — the sprints portion of her CrossFit workouts. “I’m a speed and power person,” she says. So Emerick started running shorter races, shaved minutes off her race times, and took podium finishes. (Cross-training FTW, anyone?) Remember: Stick to runs you love and experiment with the activities that make you (and your body) feel good.
9. Always, always, always load up on water.
While it may seem obvious to hydrate, it’s easy to forget. “It’s not that I couldn’t drink water or I didn’t like to, I honestly just couldn’t remember to get in as many ounces as my body needed to be able to train efficiently,” says Olivia Ward, Season 11 winner of the Biggest Loser and current Soul Cycle instructor. Her forgetfulness even sidelined her with leg cramps. The fix: Programming daily phone reminders telling her when to drink up and log daily miles. You can also try an app like Waterlogged, which will send you a reminder every hour — to the sound of bubbling water — in addition to showing you how much H20 you’ve downed that day.
Originally posted October 2015. Updated March 2016.