How to Prep for Your First 10k or Half Marathon—When You’re New to Running

Sure, running's a pretty low-key sport. Lace up your shoes and go. So how come there are a million little "what to dos" that come up once you've planned a goal to run a little farther every day—either for a race or the shear joy of it.Like, what do you do about your house keys? How come you don't get to eat double the breakfast and your toenails are falling off? There are no stupid questions, say experts, just the ones you don't ask—and cause you blisters.

We interviewed three running coaches for their expert advice on the tiny—yet not insignificant—issues that pop up for new runners. Here’s how coaches across the country help set you up for success:


What workouts should I do besides running?

You need strength-training classes, and your upper body is super important when you race, explains David Siik, a pro runner, an instructor at Equinox in Los Angeles, and the author of the forthcoming book Run for Your Life. “Do something that focuses on your arms, shoulders, and back. Those are important muscle groups. I would add a really good core-training class in the first month of training, too. You become a better, more efficient runner when you have a stronger core."

Should I do yoga?

Yoga is great, says Siik. “Take a good, hard yoga class, one that works on flexibility and joint stability.” But he also recommends barre classes. “You don’t go through as much movement but that sort of training does fully extend your muscle groups, and it’s a great strength-training tool that’s low impact. When you’re doing a lot of running, you want to keep your cross training low impact.”

How should I change my diet?

Training for a race is probably the best opportunity to reevaluate how you eat, says Siik. “If you’re not eating clean, you’re going to find out very quickly during your training because you’re going to feel like crap. It’s impossible to eat heavy, greasy food and feel good during your runs,” he says. And alas, no nutritionist is going to give you carte blanche to eat a double breakfast after your long run. You’ll never see eggs Benedict and a stack of pancakes recommended in a healthy training plan.

Shoes, socks, and pedicures

Do I need sweat-wicking socks?

Wicking socks are a must, says Jessica Green, co-founder of Hot Bird Running. "That way the sock doesn't cause massive blisters as you sweat during your run." Some women  love an ultra thin sock while others prefer a thicker padded one. Maybe try out both on a long run and see which one works for you?

How do I save my toenails? (Get more pedicures!)

Keep those toenails short, says Green. "This is a perfect excuse for regular pedicures! Just make sure to inform your pedicurist that you'd like to keep your calluses because you're a runner." In other words, count these as protection and padding.

How much bigger should by running shoes be?

Conventional wisdom is to buy a pair of running shoes up to a full-size bigger than your normal size, because your feet will swell, says Leanne Shear, cofounder of Uplift Studios in New York, a marathoner, and a race coach. “But what’s super important is getting properly measured by a good running store—a half size up might be best for you, because you don’t want the shoe to feel uncomfortably large or to slip at the heel. And I replace my running shoes every three months due to wear and tear, and to prevent injuries.”

Carrying your stuff

Should I run with water?

Sure, especially as you’re learning how much your body needs. “But you probably don’t need a whole big fanny pack belt if you’re out for an hour or less,” says Uplift's Shear. Take a bottle you can recycle on your route, or choose a training route with water fountains along the way, advises Hot Bird's Green.

What the heck to do I do with my keys and wallet and phone?

If you’re going for an hour-long run, you don’t need a fanny pack filled with goo, tissues, cash, and the kitchen sink, says Shear. “Tie only the essential keys you need to the laces of your shoes. Always bring a credit card and stash it in your sports bra or your pocket, just in case," says Shear. Too much gear not only encumbers the run, "but nobody likes a runner who jingle jangles to the tune of their keys," says Green.

Do I need a hat, sunscreen, and sun glasses?

“I’ll wear sunscreen on my face—it’s in my moisturizer anyway,” says Shear, who gets that some people really like to slather on the SPF 50 for skin-cancer protection. (Sunscreens with zinc tend to stay put better.) And some runners like the shade of a hat or a visor, while others like to strap on sunglasses. “Just don’t get too obsessed,” Shear advises.

Pain in the... foot

How tight should my shoe laces be?

If the top of your foot is hurting, say, or you’re regularly getting blisters and pain despite getting new shoes and wicking socks, it might not be the shoe at all—it could be your the way you tie your shoes. Check this source and see if a new way to lace up takes the pressure off.

How common is pain with running?

Sometimes after a long run I get an achy, fatigue feeling in my feet, says Shear. “That’s just wear and tear and being on your feet. But it’s a problem if the pain is sharp or you’re incapacitated after a run in your feet, legs, or back. In that case, immediately rest and talk to a sports medicine doctor.”

Should I take anti-inflammatories?

“Recently runners have become really interested in tart cherry juice, since studies have shown it acts nature’s ibuprofen,” says Shear about its anti-inflammatory power. “I’ll drink an 8 ounce glass in the morning and at night. (It also helps with hangovers FYI.) Some people also like ice or heat on their feet or legs.”

Training tools

Do you need a run club or a run coach?

“A run club is similar to the experience of a group fitness class and a coach is like a personal trainer. A club or group run provides motivation, camaraderie, fun, and distraction. But if you want to improve your form, speed, or really zero in on your performance, that’s where you’ll want a run coach. Ditto if you're a total newbie and want to learn how to run,” says Shear.

Should I run everyday?

Once your body is familiar with distance, you might want to be guided by what your body needs. “Not running tons has helped me and my race time. In fact, when I’m my most muscly, and have been lifting heavy a lot, that’s when I do my best race times,” Shear notes. “Not killing myself with over-training felt intuitively right to me. You don’t have to run six or seven days a week to run a race.”

Can a treadmill can help your training?

“The biggest benefit to using a treadmill as a training tool is that it’s quantitative and calculable, unlike outside. You have freedom to monitor your results, to challenge yourself. Like adding 2/10ths to your pace. You’ll never be able to do that outside. For people who struggle with pacing, it can help monitor how fast you’re really going,” says Siik, who's a treadmill expert.

How much treadmill training makes sense?

Don’t spend more than 25 percent of your training on a treadmill, if you’re getting ready for a race, says Siik. “Forces outside are different. You still need to go outside because in real life, you still have to have the stability in your knees to go downhill. You’ll get a little too accustomed.” —Melisse Gelula


This story is brought to you by Athleta

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