Let me just preface this post by saying that I am in no way qualified to give advice about running--I'm no running coach! (Update in 2013- I got my certification as a running coach. And I still stand by everything written here.) But a lot of people have been asking me lately about how to get started, so I'm happy to share with you what I've learned over the past couple of years as a runner. This is just based on my own experience.
I've been getting a LOT of blog visitors from Pinterest lately (welcome!!) and many many emails asking about running and my diet. I'll save the diet for another post, because I feel like I'm always answering that question, but I love to talk about running--so here goes.
When I was 253 pounds, I couldn't even imagine being a runner one day. And now I'm running at least three days a week, and training for my first full marathon... VOLUNTARILY. I don't *love* running, like a lot of runners claim to; I just love the way it makes my body feel. I love that it's a very efficient form of exercise. I love that it makes me a nicer person in everyday life. I love that it helps me maintain my weight. I love how it's shaped my body.
But I hate actually DOING it. ;) While I'm running, I'm always thinking "Five more miles" "Four more miles" "Three more miles" etc. Wishing I was done. And then when I finish, I think, "Wow, what a great run! I love running!"
Anyway, back to getting started...
I think the very first thing that one should do when thinking about becoming a runner is register for a 5k race. Say what?! Yes, register for a race. There is nothing that will motivate you to go out and run more than knowing you will HAVE TO run a race soon.
I registered for a 5k race that was many months away, thinking it would take me that long to be build up to running 3.1 miles. I don't think you'll need THAT long. If you're a beginner, I'd give it about three months. Once you register for your 5k race, pick a training schedule. My very favorite training schedules are those by Hal Higdon. He has a novice, intermediate, and advanced schedule for just about any distance race you can think of. I would try his Novice 5k schedule. (Lots of people use a program called Couch to 5k also--I attempted it numerous times, but it was just too difficult for me. But maybe you can give it a whirl with different results).
I continued to do this (three times per week), running a little farther each day. After I had done about a mile and half, I was frustrated that I felt like I would never get any farther. I mentioned it to my brother, and he told me that I was probably going too fast. He said slow waaaay down, even if I felt like I could walk faster than I was running, and see if I could go farther.
I took his advice and managed to run the 5k on my next time out! I was very very slow, but I didn't have to walk at all. Once I managed to run 5k, I tried to do it a little faster each time. I would set a goal before my run: "Today, I'm going to run 5k in 34:59 or less" or "Today, I'm going to run 5k in 32:30 or less" etc. Eventually, I reached a big goal of a sub-30:00 5k, which was very exciting for me.
You can build up your mileage that way, or you can follow the training schedule once you're able to run 1.5 miles. I LOVE training schedules, because you don't have to think about what you're going to do--the schedule just tells you what to do! However, you don't HAVE to follow the schedule right to the tee. I switched my days around as needed, and just checked off each run as I did them that week. If you're scheduled to run and it's pouring rain, there is no harm waiting until the next day to do it. Or if you're schedule to rest, but it's a gorgeous day, head out there and do the following day's run.
On getting faster...
You all know how much I looove my dreadmill (not), so I choose to do intervals outside whenever possible. My Garmin Forerunner 305 has an interval setting that beeps at the beginning of each interval. So when I hear a beep, I know to start running hard, and when it beeps again, I slow to a jog. Then later, I can look on the computer to see what my pace was for each interval. (You can set the intervals to be however frequent you want--either by distance OR time).
Once you're comfortable with running about three times per week, you can make your own ideal running schedule when you're not training for something. Ideally, I like to do three runs per week: one shorter, easy run (about 3-4 miles at an easy pace); one speed workout, either intervals or a tempo run; and one long run, usually 6-10 miles.
When you want to do a race, you can follow the corresponding training schedule for that race. I always use Hal Higdon's programs, because they are very "do-able" for someone like me.
In a nutshell:
1) Sign up for a race.
2) Start training (three times per week).
3) Build up mileage by running slowly--work on speed later.
4) Eventually, try to do an easy run, a speed workout, and a long run each week.
5) Stay consistent. Run three times per week to keep in shape--if you take weeks off, it will be that much harder to get started again. Staying consistent is probably THE most important advice I can give you! I made a promise to myself that I would run a minimum of three times per week, NO MATTER WHAT. And with the exception of my two surgeries, I've kept that promise every single week for almost 2 years now.
A word on shoes... I HIGHLY recommend going to a running store and getting fitted for shoes. Not all running shoes are created equal, and you will benefit from having a professional fit you for the right shoe. You will probably pay a lot of money for a good pair of shoes--but it is WELL WORTH IT when you don't get blisters and tendonitis and stress fractures from wearing bad shoes.
I was super embarrassed to go to a running store when I was fat, because I felt like I didn't belong. But I got over it after I was in a walking cast for 3 weeks because of tendonitis. Now that I wear good shoes, I have no problems with my feet!
I think that pretty much sums up the basics about getting started as a runner. Hope this answers some questions!