A starter kit for launching new runners

There should be like a starter kit for running. And experienced runners should have it handy to give out whenever needed, because we’ve all had that conversation.

It usually goes like this: “I want to start running. What is the key to success?” Or, “I started running and now my (knees) (shins) (feet) (etc.) hurt.” Or, “I signed up for a half-marathon in two months. How should I train?”

In some ways, I think I’ve been developing this starter kit. I just need to bundle it and make millions.

Sometimes I think people feel guilty, almost, being around me and not being a runner. Since leaving the running specialty store at which I worked, coworkers at both jobs have succumbed tothe subconscious   pressure. I don’t think it’s because I make it sound like tons of fun, either.

The latest to fall is my boss. Poor guy. Sitting closest to me in the office must mean the force field is strongest. My soon-to-be sister-in-law also caved, which I think is the recent college grad equivalent of a mid-life crisis.

Starting with when I worked at the running store — seven years ago — I have encountered a lot of new runners. I’ve helped a lot of runners find solutions to injuries, or helped them find the right person to diagnose the problem. I am certainly not the expert, but I tend to approach getting new runners started the same way … so I guess there is, kind of, a starter kit.

Starter kit, in action

1. The questionaire. Establish fitness/running background and current activity. In Louisville, we have a lot of “Triple Crowners.” Folks who sign up for our combo 5k/10k/10 miler series and usually for the half-marathon soon after — they start training in January, complete the races in late February through March, the half in April, then forget what running is again until January.

You want to find out if you’re talking to a total newbie or someone who was, likely, a recreational runner who fell off the wagon.

Also, if they used to be a runner of some sort, why did they quit? What you’re looking for here are injuries so you can try to identify preventative solutions.

Next — do they have a goal? Is there a race coming up? A weight loss goal? Will setting a goal help keep them motivated?

2. Do they have appropriate running shoes? Almost certainly not. Direct them to your favorite specialty shop. Even better, see if you can get some coupons from your shop to give to new runners. This works for me because I run for a store team, I know all the employees and I know they’ll make sure my referrals get the right shoes. Sometimes I’ll even meet them there, just to be a reassuring voice when that $115 pair of shoes that are a size bigger than what you usually wear and are really ugly hit the counter. (What, did you think I was kidding about working in a running store? Five years of complaints about those three things — price, size, color.)

3. What other gear do they need? Be a good friend and don’t let them buy a bunch of gimicky stuff they don’t need. Most folks can get away with not using technical gear to start out with. Obviously if they need to buy workout gear, steer them to the technical stuff, even if it’s just Champion or other big-box brands.

Tell them the importance of good socks. They will thank you the first time their feet are soaked either from southern summer heat and humidity or rain.

Body Glide, too, or your favorite other anti-chafe product. (Personally I use Chamois Butter most.) They will need it for some body part sooner or later. Legs, feet, arms, chest … whatever. Don’t lie to your friend about the ugly part of running — the blisters, the chafing. (Maybe save the purple toenail issue for later.)

Do they need a GPS watch? Doubtful. You can measure routes online or use one of a million apps on your smartphone. Later, maybe, but not to start.

4. How should they train? Carefully. Slowly. I always return back to the Couch-To-5k program. It served me very well when I started running. It keeps you out of trouble and always seems manageable. Now, eight years after I started that program, I can still remember putting in the work those first few weeks, then being anxious when the schedule read “Run 2 miles.” Not “run 2 minutes, walk 1 minutes.” Just run 2 miles. TWO MILES! I thought. There is no way. And then I did it, and it was easy. That was how the whole plan went. On the occasions I felt daunted, I soon found out there was no need to fear. There are, I am sure, other great starter programs out there, but this is my go-to.

5. Where should they run? Give them maps or descriptions of your favorite routes. You can map them at sites like gmap-pedometers.com, send them links to your Garmin files, whatever. Save them the hassle of finding out (Louisville reference here) that Willis is a stupid, stupid street to try and run down, but Dayton one block over is lovely. Tell them where they can find water fountains, too. (I made a Google Map of Louisville water fountains that we shared with running store folks and that I still update. Find it here.)

6. Support them, encourage them — be their cheerleader. When they are beaming and describing how great their 2.4 mile run was, DO NOT say, “Yeah, I got in an easy 8 this morning.” Know when to just shut up and tell them how awesome they are. Be there for their first race. Help them find ways to make the schedule work when it doesn’t fit their life, help them get back on the wagon if they fall off.

“Baby runners” are the future of not just running, but our country. Consider the obesity rates in our country, and, in particular, many of the states we live in. Sorry, Running Journal, but you don’t cover the healthiest geographic region. If each of us can encourage just a couple of people to adopt a healthier lifestyle, imagine how incredible that would be — and how rewarding.

Look, we all know I’ll never make millions off this starter kit, so feel free to steal it the next time you’re watching a baby runner about to hatch.

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