14 Things Every New Runner Should Know

Although running seems like a simple sport (just put on some shoes and go, right?), there's actually a pretty big learning curve. As you get started with running, you may feel nervous, insecure, and a bit overwhelmed. To help ease you into the sport and avoid some running blunders, here are 14 facts and tips that all runners should know. 


Cotton is not a good fabric for running clothes.

Man and woman running together
Jordan Siemens

Running clothes have come a long way since the days of cotton shirts, short shorts, and bulky sweat pants that get wet with sweat and can cause chafing. Now they're made from synthetic fabrics such as spandex and polyester, which are much better than cotton at wicking away sweat. Some fabrics are even odor-resistant, so you'll avoid being wet and stinky.
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2. Taking a walk break is not cheating.

Walkers in race
Yellow Dog Productions

I hear a lot of new runners say things like, "I don't want to have to walk!" as if walking is equivalent to throwing in the towel. Whether you're just going out for a run or you're in a race, there's no shame in taking a walking break. In fact, using a run/walk approach can be a very beneficial way to safely build your fitness and endurance.


Wearing the right running shoes and sports bra makes a big difference.

Runners feet
Photo by John Foxx

Wearing the right running shoes is the key to comfort and injury prevention. Visit a running specialty store to get fitted for the right running shoes for your foot type and running style.
If you're a female runner, you'll feel a lot more comfortable and confident running in a well-fitting, supportive sports bra.


At some point during a run, you will have to use the bathroom unexpectedly.

If you have a fear of portable toilets or dingy convenience store bathrooms, you may need to get over that soon. Chances are that you'll have to duck into one or the other during a run at some point.
It's common for runners to have a sudden urge to use the bathrooms because they drank too much water before their run or they're suffering from dreaded runner's trots. When it happens to you, don't be embarrassed that you had to interrupt your run for a potty break – welcome to the club!
Also see: How to Avoid Stopping to Urinate During a Run
Embarrassing Running Issues


You won't get a side stitch from drinking water while running.

Women running with water
Photo by Zia Soleil

Some beginner runners don't like to drink water while they're running because they're worried that they're going to get a cramp in their side (also known as a side stitch). Side stitches, which are usually a pain right below the rib cage, are not caused by drinking water. They're usually a result of not breathing properly.
If you're running 30 minutes or less, you don't need to drink water during a run. But if you're running longer than that, especially in warmer weather, you should be drinking water every 20 minutes or so.
Also see: Running and Hydration


Running does not give you a license to eat whatever you want.

Runners overeating
Photo by Greg Ceo

"You run marathons? You must be able to eat whatever you want!" is something I frequently hear from non-runners. While running does burn a lot of calories, it certainly doesn't give you license to eat anything you want all day long. Some new runners learn this the hard way, when they actually gain weight after a couple months of regular running. Figure out how many calories you need and focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet.
If you're trying to lose weight (or maintain your current weight), try keeping track of your exercise and calorie intake in a journal -- you'll get a better picture of how many calories you're actually burning and taking in. And tracking everything will make you think twice before eating lots of high-calorie, high-fat foods after runs.


A marathon is 26.2 miles.

Runners in the NYC Marathon
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It's common to hear non-runners refer to a race of any distance as a "marathon", as in, "I'd like to do one of those 5K marathons." If this is something you did before you were a runner, then now's a good time to stop that habit. A marathon, by definition, is a 26.2 mile race. So only races that are 26.2 miles should be called marathons. A half marathon race is 13.1 miles. Other races are also named by their distances, such as a 5K race (3.1 miles) and a 10K race (6.2 miles).
Also see: 10 Things Not to Say to Marathon Runners


You'll probably get injured at some point.

Ankle sprain injury
PM Images

Try to take a proactive approach to running and assume that you'll get injured at some point. You'll be more aware when your body is signaling that something is wrong. Runners who think they're inury-resistant will often ignore injury warning signs, push through pain, not take self-treatment steps, and end up making injuries far worse.
Also see: 7 Steps to Injury Prevention


You should run against traffic.

Running Against Traffic
Chase Jarvis

If you run on roads, make sure you're running in the opposite direction of cars. You'll be much safer if you can see cars coming at you rather than having them at your back. In some areas, it's not even a matter of choice -- the law requires that runners and walkers face oncoming traffic.
Drivers have a lot of distractions and they may not see you until the last minute (or until it's too late), so stay clear of oncoming cars and never assume that a driver can see you.
Also see: Running Safety Tips


You probably won't finish last.

Woman Running Across Finish Line
Yellow Dog Productions

If you've never participated in a race before, you may have an overwhelming fear that you'll be the last person to finish. In reality, you probably have as much chance of finishing last as you do of finishing first. Most short-distance races (such as 5Ks) have a number of walkers participating, so if you're planning to run or run/walk, you're most likely going to finish ahead of a bunch of walkers. And, even if you do finish last or close to last, be proud of being out there and crossing the finish line at all! You're still ahead of all those people at home on their couches.
Also see: Common Racing Fears
Reasons to Run a Race


You shouldn't run at a steep incline for your entire treadmill run.

Treadmill running
Photo by Andersen Ross

As a new runner, you might be feeling ambitious and decide you want to really challenge yourself by doing your entire treadmill run at a steep incline. But that much straight hill running is never a good idea and could lead to injuries. Think about it: Would you ever find a 3-mile hill at a 5 or 6% incline? If you did, you probably wouldn't want to run up it!
You should avoid running at a steep incline for more than 5 or so minutes. You'll get a much better, safer workout if you alternate between running a few minutes with an incline and running a few minutes without an incline. Also, don't go above a 7% incline because it places too much strain on your back, hips and ankles.
Also see: Common Treadmill Running Mistakes


It's OK to throw a cup on the ground during a race.

Runners at New York City Marathon water stop
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Watching a 5K several years ago, I saw a runner take a cup of water off a table at the water stop and drink it as she kept moving past the table. I wouldn't have known she was a newbie until I saw her double-back with the cup and place it back on the table. I admired her desire to not litter, but her back-tracking caused a bit of chaos, as other runners tried to dodge her. Just throw that paper cup on the ground! The race volunteers are there to pick up the cups, and you'll feel like a hard-core runner.
Also see: How to Take Water from Water Stops in Races
Etiquette for Running Races


Wear the race T-shirt after you've run the race.

Runners in road race
Photo by John Foxx

If you participate in a race, you'll most likely get a T-shirt with the race name on it. Wearing it is a great way to brag about doing the race, after you've completed it. So, in other words, pick another shirt to wear during the race. Not only are there superstitions associated with wearing the race T-shirt in the race, but it also makes you look like a rookie! And race T-shirts are often made of cotton, which is another reason why you shouldn't race in it (see item #1).
Also see: Tips for Your First Race


Everyone was a new runner at one point.

Group running
Christopher Futcher

You may feel a bit intimidated when you're around more experienced runners, whether you're running with them or just chatting about running. Try to remember that all runners were in your shoes at one point and they probably had someone who answered their questions and gave them support when they were first getting started. So don't feel silly if you ask questions. Most runners want to help!
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