Congratulations on your decision to become a runner! There is no cheaper, no purer, and no more accessible form of exercise than this. Plus, it's free. So let's get you started.
Despite seeming very simple, running can incorporate an amazing amount of variables - shoe firmness; heel strike patterns; stride length, cadence and speed; proper posture and biomechanics; different running surfaces; etc. As a new runner, you don't have to worry about all that (yet). The 3 main variables you will want to play around with are going to be: 1) Time, 2) Distance, and 3) Intensity.
TIME: This will be the easiest way to measure your progress. It's simple: the longer you are able to run, the better your endurance. Before you rush out the door targeting a 30-minute run, you must first build a foundation. Our bodies are amazing at adjusting to the pressures we put on them, but in order to elicit the physiological responses we want and need, we must stress our system carefully and slowly. When we run, the heart beats faster to supply our active muscles with more blood, our lungs work harder to take in oxygen, and our bones take on more force with every step. In order to tolerate the increased physiological demands resulting from exercise, we must be patient with our body. Prepare it as best you can by starting with short runs and gradually increasing the duration. Little by little, you will learn to play with your times - whether it's your split time (how long it takes you to run 1 mile), your total workout time, or how long you can run before you feel like you need to stop. But when you're starting out, accept the shorter workouts and know you can build up from there.
DISTANCE: We've all heard some running distances thrown out there: 1 mile, 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon... To start, focus more on time than distance. As you progress, running a certain distance can help motivate and inspire longer duration runs. Eventually, you will probably have a target distance. Perhaps you want to run a 5k? As you build that foundation of endurance, you can start to look at how far you are traveling over a certain amount of time. Having a target distance during a run could help you learn how to pace yourself and give you a chance to monitor your intensity - a slightly harder to measure variable.
INTENSITY: What is intensity? In physics, intensity equals power divided by area, with power being rate of work and area being an imagined surface that is perpendicular to the direction of energy propagation. (Did I lose you yet?) In simple terms, intensity is how much effort you are putting into the work you're doing. You can run 10 minutes or 1 mile and it will feel completely different based on how intensely you are working. The easiest way to adjust intensity is to increase/decrease the rate of work - or, put simply, run faster or slower. There is a learning curve to adjusting intensity, but you will feel the difference between a higher and a lower intensity workout. Use time and distance to help understand your intensity.
Now, five tips:
1. Start low and slow.
By low, I mean don't try and run three miles the first time you get out there. By slow, this is different for every person, but you want to be able to still have a conversation while you run. If you can't, you're probably running too fast.
2. Find a running buddy.
Not only can you test out that conversation factor mentioned above, but it will also make you accountable. Running can be a very private experience, or it can be a fun social activity. See what works best for you. If you prefer to run with a group, there are plenty of beginner runner groups in NYC. Why not get fit, and make some friends along the way?
3. Strengthen before you run, stretch after you run.
Two words: damage control. While there is currently some controversy surrounding the benefits of stretching, there is really no argument against strengthening before you begin running. Running will increase the demands you usually put on your musculoskeletal system. The best way to prevent injuries is to strengthen the muscles you're going to be using most. These muscles are responsible for keeping your bones in optimal alignment to protect your joints. Focus on exercises that strengthen the hips, core, and legs -- and if you begin to feel tightness, add some gentle stretching into your pre-post workouts.
4. Use an app.
There are many (free) apps out there. Ask your runner friends which ones they use, and give one a try. An app will help you get some baseline numbers for time, pace (splits), and distance. It will save your workouts so you can keep track of your progress.
5. Be patient.
It's ok if running doesn't feel blissful right away - you'll get there. The first few runs might feel uncomfortable, exhausting, and even awkward. Hang in there. One day, you'll be running and you'll have that feeling every runner gets at some point when you are approaching the end of your target run time/distance and you think Hey, I feel pretty good...I could keep going! When you get there - and you will - I think it's safe to say you're officially a runner.