Reader Query: Starting a Running Program

Dear Om Gal:

I recently (as in 2 minutes ago) allowed myself to be coaxed into doing a triathlon relay. It is in memory of a dear friend and incredible clinician who did Olympic distance ones and recently passed away about a month ago. I am going to participate in the run.

The truth is, I don’t run. Not even a little bit unless someone is chasing me. Could you please give me some suggestions on how to start? It seems obvious. Place foot left, right, left right and repeat. But I want to do it without injury (i.e. making a total a$$ out of myself).

Thanks a million.


-I’m not into Tris but I’ll try.

Dear Not into Tris But You’ll Try:

Congratulations on committing to an athletic endeavor that will honor the memory of a friend and make you stronger in more ways than you realize now.

In truth, becoming a runner is as simple as you say: place foot left, right, left, right and repeat. However, simple is not synonymous with easy. Without knowing your time frame or distance, I can’t be too specific about a recommended training program. However, here are 5 essential tips to help make your journey to the starting line easier and ensure that you are ready for race day when it arrives.

Get the right shoes. Different shoes perform better at different distances, on different terrain, and in conjunction with different body types, so before you kick your training program into high gear, make sure your gear can fall in step with your goals. Many running stores are staffed with veritable human encyclopedias of the latest gear. Marathon Sports in my hometown of Boston epitomizes this service, where its team can analyze your gait, assess your needs, and recommend the right shoes to carry you to the finish. Runner’s World magazine also publishes a thorough overview of the best sneakers on the market each year.

Start slow. My guess is that you are likely racing at the Sprint or Olympic triathlon distance, in which the running legs clock in at 3 or 6 miles respectively. Either way, you’ll need to begin by running one mile. As long as you start slow (bearing in mind that you can walk if needed), this should be relatively painless. From there, you’ll slowly increase your mileage over several weeks. Your pace is unimportant, just keep putting left foot in front of right, right in front of left, and repeating.

Go steady. Over time, your pace will naturally increase (and your need to walk will decline), provided you steadily and consistently stick to a schedule. There’s no need to overdo it, but schedule a few days of running each week and adhere to them no matter what. Crappy weather, crappy day at work, crappy night’s sleep: No excuses. Maintain the training schedule as best you can.

Cross-train to stay healthy. Of course you shouldn’t stick to a running program if you are injured or ill. Instead, opt for cross-training activities such as yoga or swimming to let your body recover. Furthermore, you’ll be less prone to injury if you cross-train from the start. Most importantly, cross-training combats boredom, a pesky obstacle to any workout program.

Remember: not all miles are created equal. Sometimes, you cruise. Sometimes, you crawl. Sometimes, your miles are highly efficient masterpieces of graceful movement. Sometimes, you slog along, counting the minutes until you can check another training run off your list. Love it or hate it: this is the nature of running. Don’t despair when you have an off day. Don’t rest on your laurels after totally crushing it. Not all miles are created equal. Some are easy; some are hard. All are part of the journey, each one preparing you for your race in its own way.

Best of luck to you. May you have a healthy, happy, and inspiring run. And, on behalf of all the runners out there, welcome to the tribe, my friend.

Om shanti,


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  • CalGal

    some solid advice! i would also add, find a trusted buddy to run with. you and your running buddy can keep each other motivated on the days you just don't want to hit the pavement, and moving through miles that seem 5 times longer than they should be. good luck!

  • Runner Mom

    I agree that pace is unimportant, your body will naturally find a fitting pace for itself. I would also suggest trying to run 3 min, walk 1, repeat for your first few two-three mile runs. Then you can move up to a 5 min run/1 min walk, repeat, and at some point, you won't even need the walking minutes. That is how I started running, it really doesn't take off to much time and as you progress in miles and get comfortable with your bodies pace, you will lose the walking all together.
    Running with someone also helps, keeps your focus on something other than how long the mile seems.
    Good Luck!

  • Kendra

    It's a great idea (though it feels goofy) to walk 100 paces and then run 100 for the first 10 or 20 miles. Your tendons and other tissues are probably not used to the impact of running, and you'll probably injure those long before your muscles get tried. Try some Yin yoga to work on those same ligaments. Have fun!

  • William B

    Running Boston Marathon in 2002, always running in life but never being a "dedicated" runner, I would like to suggest a few ideas…
    I would suggest you use a wide sneaker. Although my foot measures a "normal" D width, I run in NB 2x wide sneakers and never had a problem with rolling ankles. My thought is that your foot has a greater ability to flatten out naturally upon striking pavement.
    When thinking of "pace", think of comfort. Run at any pace that feels comfortable or "natural". This will obviously increase with practice and time invested, but in the beginning, allow yourself the right to search out your own pace. Don't get discouraged when you see people running faster. When I ran the marathon, i followed those who looked like professional athletes who never finished the race and also individuals who I would have bet could not run 5 minutes, not alone 26.2 miles, and I was never able to catch them.
    Finally, remember the notion about learning to crawl before walking??? The same can be said about running. So……walk first. I would suggest the first week, set a distance for 3 miles, and walk that distance 4 days. At a 16 minute mile pace, which should get the blood moving for a beginner, you"ll be out there for approximately 45 to 50 minutes which will start to help the body and mind prepare for being out on the pavement.