Written 2 July 2013. This was actually written as advice for someone on FB.
Here is what I would say to a newbie. My locus standi first— I can run for 50 kms, without a stop; I have done two full marathons this year (Mumbai and Mawana; earlier Adhm, Gurgaon Half marathons and so many unofficial Half Marathons) and could do ultras soon if only I had the time (certainly no dearth of energy or motivation). I also do some cycling, gym, trekking, walking and have a beautiful body (that gym-goers think is made in gym without realizing that it’s made by running and healthy kitchen practices). I have converted, guided and escorted many friends to running (though these friends didn’t do more than 10 km but that is as good as a marathon to them). Enough footage, coming to the point now.
I have tried to be comprehensive. And I have a good typing speed; so pardom me if the length (1400 words) gets in your nerves. Tone maybe a bit didactic, ignore it (or curse me if you can’t). Keep in mind that I am still learning. No word here is final; even scientific research in the field is an ongoing activity, leave alone advice by runners. It is derived from my experience, observation, online research and reading of reputed running and health sites (and portions of some health books). Most of us who run already know it.
FOR NEW RUNNERS—WELCOME
Read various online resources and articles by reputed runners on sites like runnersworld and read experts like Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway and others. I am not good with this part I think; I don’t recall much from my period before June 2011 but I can tell you that I was a smoker (yes, it came in chains) and I struggled to run from one bus stop to another in not so distant past. Read this part on web.
I would say: Walk first, mix it with jogging. Running is not an easy thing esp for beginners. You may injure your feet if you overdo it in beginning. Things take time. Do not be in a hurry or injuries are not so uncommon in running. To begin with, ordinary running or sports shoes (even the 275 Rupees original Nepal Goldstar sold at Sai Footwear at Pratap Market in Munirka should work good). Your running shoes should be one size bigger than your normal fit. Walk, walk long, walk briskly, walk and jog, walk less jog more, walk and run, walks less run more and finally run and run (stopping only for hydration at times) is usually the order to follow. Do your own trial and error; you will know your body and fitness with time. Listen to your body; it communicates with you and with time you will know it. Most runners and experts agree that it is a myth that road running causes injuries to knees but still it would be a good idea to avoid road in the beginning (choose the soil surface, as in stadium; I love the road though).
Many begin with a bang and end in a whimper within days. Some newcomers start in fancy gear and do little and end it with a nutrition bar that sends in more calories than what they burn. So avoid playing to the gallery, do it because you have to. Enjoy the process, forget the miles. The latter comes with time. Don’t do it for a Half Marathon medal or certificate; you are running and that is your aim. Rest follows. Don’t compare yourself with others or feel bad in your initial months or semester; all amateur runners (which includes all of us here) compete against themselves. No one is a super(wo)man; we all do it with practice and perseverance. Your BODY DOES MAGIC IF ‘YOU’ AGREE TO DO IT.
When you are comfortable with 5-6 kms (don’t worry on timings), then you should start thinking about long distances. Read about gait analysis and pronation. Check if you are an underpronator, or overpronator (I underpronate and my the then Adidas shoes caused me injuries that put me down for two months; I had even missed Mumbai marathon 2012). Read about gait analysis on the Asics website, check your foot arch etc.; Asics (now sold in India) is best for running. Buy suitable Asics shoes now or later. RAN (Reebok, Adidas, Nike) can’t hold a candle to it. They say you should change shoes after 600 to 800 miles (I usually keep and sometimes use my old Asics just as you keep your favourite dog-eared book).
Another myth in India (esp among the older generation) is that you do not drink water while running; I have had older people stopping me on road and asking me not to drink water or run on road(!). A trekking mate even thinks side stitches (google it) are due to water sipped during exercises! All this is not true. Feel free to sip (NOT gulp) water when needed. It helps and at times you can’t do without it. And for long distance running (usually over 15 kms, you will need sports drinks such as Fastcharge or Gatorade). Try Kalenji gear at a later stage (visit decathlon dot in and the Kalenji section also to know what running gear is usually there; it’s fun too). You will be amused someday in future when you have to run with a bottle belt (I still smile when I remember my maiden occasion).
Keep varying your schedule, speed, distance, exercise timings, intensity, running routes and tracks to lose more calories and for better results. Or else the body gets used to the same schedule and burns less calories (and it also becomes boring). Mornings are better for running but it is not a rule.
Try eating within the hour after a run/exercises: it is called the golden hour of nutrition; works great for body.
Don’t run or follow a healthy life style for cosmetic reasons or just for temporary improvement with weight etc. think it as part of life. Eat healthy every 2-3 hours, usually six meals a day. Eat less in dinner. Lot of salads in lunch. Read about carbo loading and eat more carbs in the days before a long run (I even gain weight due to overeating; I am always hungry, almost).
Healthy eating is half the battle. BODY, FITNESS AND HEALTH IS MADE IN KITCHEN FIRST. Aamir and Hrithik have echoed the sentiment in recent interviews.
ANSWERING SPECIFIC QUERIES—
—Every day or alternate day? You will know your answer. I told you don’t run in beginning if you never ran earlier. Try walking, jogging. Give it the time. If it is pain, then every other day. You will ease into it; it grows on you. Go start first, don’t plan every detail. It is not the same software for everyone’s hardware. You will find yours and you will fine-tune it. Let not injuries put you down if you meet them. Also don’t kill all the excitement by perfecting it on paper.
—Specific Length? Again, the same reply is valid. You will know your length. The surface and your body will tell you. You will know how much you could do. Keep bravado aside, and do a small distance in the beginning even if you are okay and feel like an empress after a 2k within days. You may walk more after a run. Your body is your guide. We (and our Rx) should matter less. A friend ran 4k on day one, and was down with injuries thereafter. So bite only as much as you can chew. 15 minutes to begin with is okay. Walk or cycle when you are tired.
—Where to Run? You may choose earth (soil). Good for beginners. Cycle to the place. Walk many rounds after your jogging or run. Do some bar exercises too. The more catholic, the better.
All the best.
DISCLAIMER—This is not a substitute for medical advice. Use this information with care and caution.