A Beginner’s Guide to Running (and Why You’ve Been Doing it Wrong)

There are plenty of things no one teaches us how to do that we go through life just assuming we do correctly. The most elemental of these? Running. If you hate running or feel like you can’t run very far you probably just have bad form. No sweat, we’re here to set you straight.

*Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or even a doctor in training, even if I do read WebMD and diagnose myself all the time. Please consult your doctor for any concerns you have related to strapping on your shoes for the first time.

I was never supposed to be a runner. I played tennis. But my back tells me, quite often now, that tennis is no longer in the cards. Therefore I needed a new avenue for activity. I remember while in college a friend of mine ran a marathon. A freakin’ marathon! I thought to myself, “not going to be me.” But here I am, running and training to do my first half-marathon on March 20th in New York City.

It all began two years ago on my 25th birthday when I received the Nike+ running chip. I had begun running a few months prior to that, but I was using an arcane way of tracking my runs, which involved using Google Maps and my figures to measure my distance.

I have learned a lot since those early days and as I am about to embark on 13.1 miles, I thought it would be beneficial to share a bit of what I have learned since you can’t play football and hockey forever!

Five Things to Know

Look Ahead (and keep those arms moving)!

I always wondered how I was supposed to run. I’m not a sprinter and my legs aren’t skin and bones. Like I said at the top, I used to play tennis, so my legs are bigger size-wise than most runners. So I have to change how I run a bit.

The biggest thing I notice when I see runners on the roads is how stiff they are. You must be relaxed. It starts at your head and looking forward, but around, and goes all the way to your toes. Keep the muscles moving. My biggest pet peeve is seeing people run and bring their hands and forearms across their chests, a big no-no! Just run forward with your arms swinging through the hips, but not crossing your body.

Pulling your arms across your body is wasted energy that is not propelling you forward. As for the rest of your body; your legs and feet are also very important. Runner’s World says to have your feet land directly underneath you and if you’re a jogger/runner and not a sprinter, you don’t need a high-knee lift, in fact it’s again wasted energy on a long run.

More: Additional “101” thoughts from Runner’s World

Start Slow!

You’re not out to run a marathon … yet. So take it slow. Run at a slower than normal pace and at a mile distance. If that feels good, add a bit more distance the next time. The one thing I have done really well is pace my runs. Now that I have been running for two years, I can run four miles one day and seven the next, without much preparation. But in your early stages, don’t go from one mile to five in one swift motion.

Shoes Matter!

I first started running in an old pair of Nike’s. Nothing wrong with that … wait … there is everything wrong with that. There are all kinds of resources available to help you with finding the right shoe and let me tell you: take the time and get the right one. After those Nike’s, I purchased some Brooks and they felt like bricks on my feet. But I still put nearly 500 miles on them. They protected my “prone-to-sprain” ankles and that was important to me. However, they ended up not being the right shoe for me and I ended up with IT Band Syndrome. That leads to my next point …

Rest!

I used to be the worst person when it came to listening to my own body but not anymore. Anytime something hurts, I treat it. I rest it. I’m competitive by nature, but take the time to get to know your body. Especially if you are new to running, your body is going to need some time to adjust to the new activity. After my injury, I went to an athletic trainer who was able to measure my feet and we found the correct shoe for me and now I feel like a million bucks.

Eat!

Finally, I am all about being fit but not at the cost of giving up food. I have always been a fan of meat and carbs. And to run any length, you need the carbs and you need protein. They are must-haves. If you’re just doing one-mile runs, you can get away with your normal eating habits, but if you plan on running any distances, you must plan your meals around your runs to maximize your use of that energy. Trust me, I’ve done it wrong and ended up with stomach cramps because I hadn’t eaten all day.

This is just a start, but that’s all I had and I’m on my way to a goal I never thought I’d achieve.

Do you have any tips about running you think other guys should know?

Richard Dedor is a writer, speaker and personal coach dedicated to helping each person achieve their dreams. He ran for political office at age 18 and recently published his first book, Anything is Possible. You can find him at his blog Believe in Possible and on Twitter @RichardDedor.

  • Tarun Suri

    I have never posted before, but I feel compelled to educate the masses before they are misled by the information presented above.

    While you are correct that most people do not know how to run, the above suggestions do not do justice to reality.

    If you are interested, google POSE running (or barefoot running) and the difference between that and shod running (the way most of you run). You will surprised at what you will learn. There are countless studies that support this fact as well.

    I personally suggest the following reading (far more comprehensive, talks about the feet, but feel free to google the specific differences).

    PS: Richard, I have read a couple of your posts, and I find them most informative. This is nothing personal, but I felt compeled to post this because dysfunctional motor patterns are something that has unfortunately plagued most of the developed world when it doesn’t have to.

  • Tarun Suri
  • Jmccormick

    Great timing, for me at least! I began exercising this year (not a resolution) and just last night started looking at sites to learn how to not only run, but ease into it.

    Thanks!

  • http://richarddedor.com/blog Richard

    Tarun,
    Thanks for your comments, but I would just like to say I don’t believe my information is “misleading” as you have said.

    I took a look at your links and did the search and while informative, everyone has their preferences and science will always study the human body. I wrote this to support my style of running, what has worked and what has been coached to me by my physical therapist.

    I believe my intro to running comments do in fact do justice to someone just starting out. I would never ever recommend (and I’m not a doctor) someone start out with barefoot running. But that is just me and every person is free to decide how they would like to run.

  • Adam R

    Barefoot running or running shoes are both viable options. Richard’s post is informative and correct in it’s information if that style works for you. Some people swear up and down that running shoes are the cause of injury and that barefoot running is how we were meant to run. In the end it all comes down to what works for you: trial and error. Having said that, the form he describes above is how we generally run when we are barefoot, as opposed to landing on the heel and rolling through the toes. So shod or unshod, proper form is a must. I would recommend finding a grassy field such as a football field and doing some barefoot drills and sprints a few times a week to help strengthen your feet. If you want an interesting read and great discussion about barefoot vs. running shoes, read Born to Run. It’s a great book that’s tough to put down

  • dennis

    I support the POSE model

    All I have to say is watch children run. free and with out shoes as God made us (or evolved in to and have barley changed in the last 200 mil years).

    What is funny if you talk to a PT they will talk about traditional running style (heel strike method) but you can go back only 50 years and find great runners preaching that you should strike the mid foot and that the shoe companies are designing shoes wrong because they are studying people who are running wrong. shoes make you heel strike then are designed to “help” you do it right.

    but I will never argue people can’t run heel strike well and fast. The question is “what is optimal for heath and you body in the long run?”.

    I won’t even get in to why you shouldn’t even run that much in the first place…..

  • Tarun Suri

    Well said Dennis. Although I still do think from an efficiency standpoint, shod wastes a lot of energy. At professional levels and for anyone doing endurance running, learning to recycle forward momentum gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of improving performance.

  • Floyd

    +1 to Dennis and Tarun

  • http://abetterhuman.blogspot.com Steven

    I keep reading about running, and they keep saying “run a mile.” One even said, “warm up for the first mile…”

    I can run about 100 yards. Where do I start?

    • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

      Hey Steven, I completely relate. I just started running myself and I can only do a mile / mile and a half. When I first started I couldn’t do that. I would suggest you run as far as you can, rest by walking for 5 minutes, and then pick up the run again. I think you’ll surprise yourself how far you can run and that it’s mostly a head game. Good luck!

  • Jan

    I think the whole “barefoot running” thing is just a fad. And here’s why:

    Nobody uses the so-called “heel strike” method. It is a myth. Try it yourself. It is uncomfortable, and you lose speed every time your feet hit the ground.

    “Traditional runners” land flat on the foot, with most of the weight on the forefoot. There is hardly any weight on the heel, even if it may touch the ground a split second before the rest of the foot.

    The cushioning in running shoes compensates for the lack of cushioning in the ground. We evolved running on soft savannah grass and sand.

    Now we run on hard asphalt, concrete and gravel. If you use cushioned shoes, you run the way we were meant to. If you use “barefoot shoes”, you don’t. Unless you only run on grass and sand, of course. But how many of us really do that?

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  • J Rock

    Who runs with the same arm and same leg forward at the same time? Now THAT is “How To Run (incorrectly).” Lol

  • http://www.thegasgrillreviews.com Jim

    Hey Richard,

    I think body posture is very important. I am just curious about one thing. Do you actually change posture while running up a hill and going down a hill? I have heard that running down hills are pretty bad for your knees. Not too sure if this is true.

  • http://www.richarddedor.com Richard

    Jim,
    That is a great question! Based on my research, your posture should change just a little bit when hill running. When running uphill, you should not only use your arms a bit more for momentum but also a slight lean forward. Conversely, when running downhill, leaning back slightly is proper and a safe way to keep you from falling forward! :-)

    Safe and happy running!
    -Richard

  • Alan

    I think the key thing, no matter how you run, is to be relaxed, efficient, and most of all, to not be jabbing your feet at the ground. You should be landing softly and springing forward, with an elliptical stride, as opposed to a mostly vertical bounce

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  • Tonya

    Thank
    you Richard for your dedication. The How to run correctly diagram was
    posted on one of our group facebook pages and I felt compelled to find where it
    originated. My only real disagreement with it is the foot strike.
    The direction to be is too familiar to the heel strike proported to be the way
    to run of years ago. I used to compete years ago and have recently
    started to run again. I joined a group – beat the couch – and started to
    train. one of our trainers gave us form advice. I had knee surgery
    (nothing serious) a year and a half ago and it started bothering me so I went
    to a physiotherapist and he sent me the link to the POSE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN1x3Ik1t5Y running technique (same as our
    trainer). After changing the way my foot strikes the ground, and
    gradually building up to running longer distances I was able to run without the
    pain. If I had continued to run landing more towards my heel I truly
    believe I would still be injured and would have had to keep the sports specialist’s
    appointment that I canceled

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