The Only 3 Things You Need to Know to Begin Running (Really)

If you've been reading Dumb Runner for any time at all, you know that we like to "have fun with it," as they say. That while we take running seriously, we do not take ourselves seriously. This explains why so much of our content is stupid.

It also presents a challenge—namely, How do we get readers to take us seriously when we have something serious to say? 

We're still working on that. For now, however, we'll just come out and say it: This article contains some serious advice that we seriously believe will benefit anyone who cares to read it. Seriously. We know, that's a bold statement. But we mean it.

We felt compelled to publish this article now for two reasons:

One, it's January, which means many folks are deciding to take up running for the first time, or to resume running after a long break.

And two, there is a bewildering amount of information out there for new runners to process, in the form of tips, advice, guidance direction, instruction, warnings, prescriptions, admonitions, dos, and don'ts. It comes at you from every direction, via books, magazines, and podcasts; websites and blogs; and—Lord help us all—social media, where Twitter alone can leave you convinced that if you don't tread very carefully you will definitely wreck everything with your stupid ignorance, e.g.,

  • 4 treadmill mistakes you need to avoid!
  • Why runners should do Pilates!
  • 5 training mistakes EVERY runner makes at some point!
  • 6 foods you should NEVER eat before a run!
  • 10 foods that are making your inflammation worse!
  • 7 postrun eating mistakes you're probably making!
  • 3 foam roller mistakes you might be making (and how to avoid them)!
  • Do runners need dairy to lose weight?
  • How long should I wait to run after eating?

Those are all real tweets, by the way.

This bothers us.

It bothers us because most of this stuff is unnecessary or contrived—solutions in search of problems. Some of it will flatly contradict something else you've just read. Much of it is just nonsense.

Worst of all, it's overwhelming. It can paralyze. Far from helping, this firehose of "advice" can actually dissuade would-be runners from taking their first step. Newbies can and should disregard nearly all of it, and they deserve to be told so. 

Let us repeat that, because it's so important: If you are a new runner, you can and should ignore virtually everything you see, hear, and read about running. 

That is good news, because it frees you to focus on a few common-sense, general principles. Remember these three broad guidelines and you'll do just fine. I promise.


1. Just Go

The first step truly is the hardest, so stop thinking about running and run. Go out the door and do it. Sooner the better. 

Go slow. If that means something closer to a brisk walk, fine. At this point, speed is irrelevant. At this point, in fact, worrying about your pace can only lead to bad things. So don't worry about it.

Go short, too. If that means running (or walking) around the block, or to the corner and back, that's fine too. Just as with pace, worrying about distance can only lead to bad things. 

Wear something comfortable. Doesn't have to be "running gear." Leave the Fitbits, GPS watches, etc. at home. At this point they will do more harm than good.

2. Be Patient

Making running (or exercise in general) a routine is hard, and it won't happen quickly. But it is crucial. Schedule 20 or 30 minutes for it on your calendar, like an appointment. Set up reminders. Promise to meet a friend. Whatever gets you out there.

As running begins to feel easier—and it will, sooner or later—you may be tempted to push yourself to go faster and farther, to do "too much, too fast." That's a natural impulse. Resist it. This is the most common way new runners sabotage themselves. 

3. Pay Attention

Pay attention to your body; don't be afraid to back off or make an adjustment if something feels not quite right. Pay attention to your surroundings; not just for cars and other potential threats, but also to notice the world around you. You'll be surprised how much wonder and beauty is out there, and in how many surprising places, when you simply take the time to notice it. Pay attention to your thoughts; running has a wonderful way of lifting the fog, bringing perspective and clarity. Take advantage of that.

Pay attention, too, to where you came from and where you're going. It's clichéd to say so, but running really is a journey and it can be an amazing, humbling thing. Remember that.

...and that's it. Really. Just go, be patient, and pay attention. Remember those three things and you'll do well. All the rest? Ignore it.

This doesn't mean you can't have, or ask, questions. Of course you can. (In fact, you can Ask Dumb Runner—we answer reader questions all the time.) Just don't let yourself get buried in them. Don't overthink.

Once you've been at it a while, once you feel comfortable and established as a runner... At that point, yeah, you may want to dig deeper and get a bit more "advanced." This will mean dipping a toe back into that ocean of information—the tips, advice, and so on.

Just remember that you don't have to. You can be a happy, healthy runner for the rest of your life without once fretting over the "7 postrun eating mistakes you're probably making." 

Because in the end, running isn't about tips, advice, direction, instruction, warnings, prescriptions, and admonitions. It's not about books, magazines, podcasts, websites, blogs, or social media.

Running is about you—your legs, your heart, your soul.

Remember that, too.

Still have questions...? Just Ask Dumb Runner.

Or click to learn more about TRAINING, NUTRITION, GEAR, or MOTIVATION.