A year ago I tried running for the first time in, oh, ten years or so. I was already in reasonable shape because I’d been biking a ton – at least cardiovascularly. So I went out and bought some running shoes and did my first run – I figured 5 miles sounded like a good starting distance (I was coming from biking, after all). Pain ensued – for 5 days!

I screwed a lot of things up. I started running again this week, a year later. This morning I went for a 4 mile run. My third this week. Zero pain.

So what’d I do right this time that I screwed up last time? And by extension, what’s the best way to safely get into running (whether you’re already in shape, or not)? Here we go, from the very first decision on up:

1. Choose the right shoes. This is *huge* – and harder than you’d think. When I decided to start running a year ago, I thought I was going about this the “right” way. I went to a running specialty store. They had a computer hooked up to a pad I stood on that looked at how I stood. They told me I needed a “stability” shoe. Turns out the problem was you still needed someone to interpret what that computer/pad setup spit out – and they got it all wrong.

In a nutshell, you either “underpronate”, “overpronate” or are neutral. Underpronating basically means that you walk on the outsides of your feet (this is what I do). People with high arches will tend to underpronate. People who underpronate, it turns out, get less natural shock absorption. Read: you’re particularly likely to get knee / leg pain, etc.  Apparently only 3% of runners really do this. Overpronating means that your feet fall inward. People with flat arches are particularly susceptible to this. 20-30% of runners overpronate. Neutral means what it sounds like.

If you underpronate, you need a neutral shoe *without* a lot of support. You do want decent cushioning though, since you provide yourself less cushioning. The reason you don’t want a ton of support is that when people talk about “stability” or “motion control” shoes – this means support to keep your feet from falling inward (what an overpronator does). The kind of shoe you, the underpronator, want is generally called a “cushioning” shoe. The reason, incidentally, that I had so much pain last year is that I got a “stability” shoe, which was pushing my feet outward – when they were already naturally falling outward. My IT bands were killing me after running, for example. Turns out that overpronating, which basically bows out your legs, puts extra stress on your IT bands!

If you overpronate, depending on how severely, you either want “stability” or “motion control” shoes. These have built up inner soles, which are designed to keep your foot from falling inward.

Neutral folks seem to be steered by the web toward the “stability” type of shoe.

Here’s a good link for figuring out your foot type from Runners World: http://bit.ly/udlbj5. The Zappos running shoe fit guide is also really good: http://bit.ly/vYnP6E.

2. You have the right shoes, now get the right clothes. You don’t want cotton anything. No cotton shirts, no cotton socks, no cotton underwear. They’ll just absorb all your sweat, get really wet, and either overheat you or make you cold. Cotton socks are more likely to cause blisters, as a result. Rather, you want that fancy (generally lycra) looking running stuff. Those materials produce less friction and get rid of your sweat. They’ll naturally keep you at more the right temperature, too.

3. Use the “right” stride when you run. Without getting into the whole barefoot running thing, after reading a bunch of literature it is quite clear that you do NOT want to run by striking down with your heel, with your foot far out in front of you. Rather, you want to strike mid-foot. The best way to think of this is “keep your feet under you”. When running, if you stand up straight, don’t look down, and lean forward to gain speed, you’ll see that your feet naturally strike at about mid-foot directly under you. You get a lot more natural shock absorption this way.

4. Start off with the right distance and pace. I initially did way too much distance. My heart and lungs were in great shape from biking, as were the biking-related muscles in my legs. But the running related stuff – how much stress my shins were used to, the muscles related to running, my feet, etc, were in pretty bad shape. If you’re just getting started from the couch, a plan I’ve found to help get you to the point where you’re running 3 miles (or a 5k) is here from Cool Running: http://bit.ly/tqoTG4. If your situation is more like mine, where you were already in pretty good shape, but not for running, I found that starting with a 2.5 mile run on flat surface, at about a 10 minute per mile pace (6 miles / hour) was about right. I then took a day off. Then day 3 I did 3 miles at 6.4 miles / hour. Then another day off. Then day 5 was 4 miles at 6.5 miles / hour.

5. Stretch! You should technically do so after a 3-5 minute warm-up walk, and definitely should do so after your run. Some of the worst pain I’ve had from biking has come from a lack of stretching. My gut is that it’s doubly important, particularly post run, when running. Without going into a ton of detail, here’s a great link from Cool Running that goes over stretches that I’ve found work really well: http://bit.ly/tUaCne. I’d only add this one, http://bit.ly/v0TxDC, an IT band stretch.

I’m pretty sure those are the basics to get you running without a ton of pain. I’ll update the post if I discover other key points.