A Beginner’s Guide to Running

The definitive source of must-have high-tech and low-tech gear for the new runner


One of the most attractive things about running is that it’s cheap and easy.

And by easy, I mean it’s easy to take on the road. Plus you don’t need a lot of flashy, expensive gear. At the most basic level, all you need is a good pair of running shoes and a treadmill in the hotel gym.

Of course, there is a lot of flashy, expensive gear for sale, but if you’re just beginning, it’s a good idea to keep it simple and work your way up to the not so cheap and easy items.

Photo: Fitbit

Bring on the wearables

The best way to stay motivated as a novice runner is to track your progress. You don’t have to go straight for a $500 GPS running watch with all the whistles and bells, but you should get something that tracks steps – and your heart rate.

A few of my favorites are the Fitbit Alta HR and the Garmin Vivosport. Both have custom color options, but the Alta HR is slimmer with more vibrant color choices while the Vivosport is more masculine-looking and adds GPS.

Both Fitbit and Garmin have cool apps that pair with the wearable, and they track weight, fitness and sleep.

As a running newbie, you want to make sure you start slow, and the best way to do this is to monitor your heart rate. Calculate your maximum heart rate (220 – your age), and don’t go over it!

A low-tech way to tell if you’re running to fast: Talk while you run. If you can’t, slow down.

Get a running app

If you opt for a wearable that doesn’t have GPS, an app on your smartphone will track your mileage and route. Some will even track how many miles you’re putting on your shoes, which is important since shoes should be replaced every 200 miles.

My favorite running app is Strava. In addition to tracking all the above items, it’s like a little mini Facebook, where you can build a social community around fitness – follow your friends or find new ones! Plus, Strava is versatile enough to track biking in addition to running.

(Editor’s Note: We’re big fans of Strava, as is Jill, but it should be pointed out that the company has come under fire lately for the heat map function as it relates to military bases. Read more about that, and other privacy concerns, here.)

All you have to do is open the app, hit record, select the sport and start. In addition to showing your distance, it’ll show your average pace – which will come into play as you get more fit and want to get faster.

Oh, and if you get Strava, also download Relive. When you’re done with a run, it’ll upload your Strava activity and create a cool animated video, showing your route. If you took any pictures while running, it’ll add those in at the GPS location you took them. Then you can share on social media and show your friends how fit – and fun – you are.

Both apps are free in the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Photo: Vibram

Buy the right shoes

There are hundreds of running shoes – from the ultra minimalist Vibram FiveFingers to the cushy Hoka One One – and there is no “right” shoe for everyone.

So where does a running novice start? At a running store. In person. Don’t go to a sporting goods store like Dick’s, and don’t try to use Zappos to order online.

For your first pair of running shoes, you want to go to a store that specializes in running shoes and will look at how you walk, then make a recommendation on the kind of shoe you should consider – neutral, stability, motion control, and other factors.

Most running stores will let you run in them on a treadmill so you get a sense of how they feel on your foot. The perfect running shoe for you should feel like an extension of your foot. It shouldn’t rub, chafe or hurt your feet while running.

Oh, and when the sales person recommends buying a size larger than your dress shoes – trust them! Your feet swell when you start running distance, and not getting a size larger is the number 1 cause of lost toe nails.

Ditch the cotton

If you’re just running a couple miles in the beginning, what you wear on your body isn’t as important as what you’ve got on your feet. But as miles build, you need to start getting high-tech clothing – and ditch the cotton.

From shirts to underwear to socks, you’ll want to invest in dry-fit, moisture-wicking materials that move the sweat away from your body while you exercise.

Why is this important? Two words: chafing and blisters.

I’m mostly a Nike girl with my athletic gear because I like the fit and it’s not crazy expensive. But you can spend more on brands like Lululemon, which have special cuts and materials that help prevent stinking, or get your basic budget gear at Target.

The no cotton rule goes for socks as well. Nothing will sideline you faster than an ill-placed blister on your big toe or heel. I like thinner socks that let my feet breathe and opt for Balega in the summer and SmartWool in the winter.

Invest in the “runner’s wallet”

This will be the lowest-tech item in your arsenal. The runner’s wallet is really just a Ziploc sandwich bag. I usually stock my “wallet” with my phone, a $20, my ID and some ibuprofen.

The plastic on the baggie is thin enough that you can operate your phone through it – including the fingerprint unlock – and it will keep your phone dry in case of rain or sweaty pockets.

If you don’t want to carry your phone in your hand or pockets, you may also want to invest in a running belt such as Spibelt. Sure, it looks a little like a fanny pack, but I’ll take my Spibelt, flip it around to the small of my back and cover it up with my shirt.

The bottom line

Shoes are the most important thing you’ll buy as a beginning runner, so don’t scrimp here and expect to pay between $100 and $150. Everything else (except the runner’s wallet!) is just icing on the runner’s cake.

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