I've been a runner for a little over four years. So it's still strange to me when people ask me for advice on running! I'm still finding my way, figuring out why I'm now so attracted to an activity I had not one whit of interest in before, and why I'm hoping to be able to continue running for as long as I can.
I started running for fitness and for weight loss, but it soon became something more emotional than a workout. I soon found that my restlessness was calmed by a good run, and that running--no matter my lack of speed or frustrations at not being able to run long, long distances--transported me out of my body the way little else in life has. The power of breath, the saving grace of sweat, the rhythm of my own footsteps--all hold enduring appeal for me, beyond any race or PR.
My advice for anyone starting a running routine:
1) Get good shoes and socks. Sounds basic, but if you are going to log a lot of time on your feet, you need good support. Runner's World does great work in shoe reviews, but if you can, go to an actual running store and get fitted by someone who runs.
2) Ladies: sports bras are a necessity. I used to wear two at a time when I was bigger! I have found that my "street bra" size and my "sports bra" size are not the same, since sports bras run snug. At first, they can feel like you've got an Ace bandage on your chest, but when you start moving, you'll appreciate that strapped-in feel.
3) Measure your runs in minutes. Miles can come later. If you get hung up on miles (like I still often do), you won't give yourself the credit you deserve.
4) Use the technology that works for you. Lots of folks use a Couch-to-5K program to get started. I didn't. I had been working out steadily on cardio machines, including the dreadmill--sorry, treadmill--so when I started running outside, it was a relief. I didn't use Couch-to-5K, but such programs are great and I recommend them to any new runners. I'm a big fan of Garmin watches, but if you don't care about how long and how far, you can totally skip that expense.
5) Read Runner's World. As soon as I started running regularly, I treated myself to a subscription. On plane flights, it's replaced my trashy entertainment magazines. The advice in the magazine is far better than any I can give you. The magazine also contains lots of inspiring stories about ordinary folks who run, and features on the stars of the sport (despite American indifference to running, there are tremendous athletes in this sport). www.runnersworld.com
6) Read a few books as well--I recommend books on running by Rachel Toor, John "the Penguin" Bingham, Jenny Hadfield, Scott Jurek ("Eat and Run"), Kara Goucher, and Paula Radcliffe. I have plenty of reading left to do in the field myself--I want to read all of the work of George Sheehan, for example. Reading about running may seem silly--but I'm a writer, and to me, writing and reading are about passion. I want to read about the activities I'm passionate about, and since running is now one of them, it's only natural to know about what makes other runners run.
7) Sign up for a race. Or not. This is entirely up to you. If you are goal-oriented, a race will keep you focused. If you don't like crowds, then perhaps not. I have done races from 2 miles to half-marathons, and I have found them fun and rewarding. Don't feel that you ever have to do a race, but if you do, pick one you'll be excited about. My favorite races that I've done have been well-organized with good on-course support.
8) Be prepared for negative reactions and unsolicited advice. Most folks will be supportive. Some will warn you about knee damage and heart attacks while running. Some will crack the old, old joke: "I never run unless someone's chasing me"--har, har. Some will insist that you work your way up to a full marathon, or that you concentrate on 5Ks, or that you become a triathlete. I try not to give my opinions on anyone else's exercise routines (or lack thereof). Exercise, diet and weight are landmines these days, and getting sucked into discussions about what other folks think about your plans is rarely productive.
9) That being said, there are productive online communities. Dailymile.com has been a huge source of support for me. I have posted there for years, and gotten a great deal of support of the ATTA GIRL!!! variety. www.dailymile.com
10) If you like group activities, join or start a running group. This is my biggest problem. There's not a huge running community where I live, and the runners who are "race regulars" are way too fast for me. I'd love a local group, since most of my runs are solo. But some folks think I'm too fast for them, or that they have to be "in shape" to run, or that they can't be seen in shorts, etc. If you have the opportunity to be part of a runner's club, do so. Often you can get discounts on race entry fees for being a member of a large running group.
11) If you don't like groups, don't be afraid to run solo. But always exercise caution. Wear those obnoxious-colored clothes--you'll be seen that way. Carry money and/or your cell phone. Don't run anywhere that gives you the willies.
12) Remember that running is a long-term endeavor. So do be careful not to overdo at first. Cross-train with other activities--my other long-term activity is biking/cycling. Listen to your body, but learn that pain is sharp and discomfort is not pain. I have only had one injury during my time as a runner, and it was relatively minor. I probably prolonged it by coming back to running before it had completely resolved (ankles are tricky little divas). I've learned my lesson, and now do ankle-strengthening exercises.
I'm still learning lots about running. I'll keep you posted on what else I learn ;-)