As this year’s running season is about to end, city streets in big cities across the world will be closed and overtaken by thousands of runners who are competing in races.
Over half a million people finished a marathon (a 42 km long race) in 2016 in the US, out of a total of 56 million Americans who run. In Europe, 41,708 people crossed the finish line of the Paris marathon, 39,072 finished the London marathon, and 36,054 the one in Berlin (these are stats for 2016). The eleventh edition of the Bucharest marathon (the city where I’m based) will take place this Sunday (cc: future mad car drivers).
As this sport’s popularity is on a rise, I think it’s a safe bet to make that some of you will consider starting running in 2019. When this happens, you only need to remember that I wrote this article, to come back to it and get these two things right before lacing your shoes and jumping out the door for your first run:
1. You need a green light for running from a doctor – preferably from a physician specialized in sports medicine, who’s familiar with the implications and repercussions of such activities. If you’re overweight, they’ll likely advise you to drop kilos first by dieting, and consider swimming or cycling instead. Running is one of those meta-habits that have a domino effect and positively impact other areas of your life, but don’t expect to instantly shed weight because of it. (by the way, if you’re also based in Bucharest, I recommend you dr. Alin Popescu – I’ve been following his work for a decade and pay him a visit whenever I’m considering new challenges)
2. You need to go shopping for running shoes and buy yourself a pair that’s at least half a size larger than what you usually wear.
That’s it. Anything else can wait. You’ll figure it out afterwards, at the right time, if you manage to turn running into a routine. But don’t f*ckin’ play with these two, cause they’re not reversible. You might injure yourself and never run again – is that what you want? Or do you want to create a life-long healthy habit?
Now, about the second point on that list. Advising you to buy running shoes might sound like a truism, but most people confuse streetwear with sportswear – and I’ve been guilty of this as well. Just because some sneakers look sporty, it doesn’t mean they’re built for practicing sports. Nike and Adidas might have started as running shoe brands, but not everything they release on the market is made for running. Most models of AirMax, Jordans, Stan Smith or Superstars are for fashion purposes only.
So what shoes to buy exactly? I can’t tell you what. No one can. You’ll need to learn by trial and error until you figure out what’s best for you. Don’t trust what’s popular, good looking, expensive or has great marketing. And manage your expectations (and budget), cause it’s likely that your first pair of running shoes will be a miss.
Start by going to a specialty store and ask for help to buy running shoes – not shoes for walking, basketball sneakers, or whatever else is in there. Decathlon is a great place to do that, they got a wide range, good quality and great prices. RunRepeat is a good online database that I use for research, to learn more about shoes and all their specs.
Back in the summer of 2014, when I first started running, I had no idea that I should buy shoes that are slightly larger than those I wear on the streets. So, after I finished my first 10k run&walk around Izvor, a small local park, my reward was… a black toenail! Oh, fun.
Another lesson I had to learn the hard way: if another runner feels good in a certain brand, it doesn’t mean that it will be great for me as well. I’ve had bad experiences with some running shoes that are extremely popular among friends and professional runners, but they are too narrow for my feet. That’s why it’s important that you try them on before buying.
As I wrote before, this year I ran in Cloudsurfer and Cloudflow from ON, a Swiss brand created by a former professional athlete. Before these two pairs, I ran over a thousand kilometers in some cheap Asics that I’ve seen only one other runner with (they have holes in them, but I still take them out for a run when the weather is bad). I also have a pair of La Sportiva that I use for mountain trail competitions.
Other than running shoes, you don’t need to throw money on anything else. At least not until you’ve turned running into a constant habit. And please don’t skip the warmup and post-workout stretching sessions! (David Goggins explains the importance of stretching in this conversation with Joe Rogan – I’ll write more on the subject in a future article)
You don’t need running clothes – well, you do need them, but nothing incredibly bad will happen if you don’t have them. Your mother probably told you that cotton is the best and you should stay away from synthetic fabrics, but cotton is a no-go for running, since it retains moisture – it will keep you sweaty and smelly for longer after a training (more details here).
As a beginner, you also don’t need a watch or any other gear. Yes, it’s important that you measure and track your progress, but you can do that using a free mobile app such as Strava.
When I first thought about writing this article, I planned on keeping it short, only a couple of rows, without any further explanations. As I was writing it, I realized that you need more than conclusions. It’s important that you understand all the factors and context, so you can make the best decision for yourself and not throw money out the window or, worse, injure yourself.
Quick recap: Doctor’s approval. Running shoes. And, ideally, a purpose that will help you get through the hard times. Yes, there will be hard times, running will suck, don’t expect it to be easy. You need to embrace the pain and have a bigger goal, such as turning this into a lifelong habit that will help you stay healthy, mentally sane and live longer. For your dear ones, if not for you.
And now, a few shoelfies from back in the summer days…
If you got any questions, please use the comments form below, so that everyone else can see the replies.