If you need a new sport or hobby that won’t break the bank and will provide you with challenges, confidence, and a community of like-minded, crazy-supportive people, you need to start running. Anyone can become a runner, and the only upfront investment is the cost of a fresh pair of running shoes.
Running is wonderful because it doesn’t cost too much to do and for many people, it provides an excellent outlet for a range of emotions that might otherwise manifest themselves in ways that aren’t exactly beneficial to your physical or fiscal health. If you have lots of time on your hands, you may be prone to boredom spending. Running will fix that. If you resort to spending lots of money on new things when you feel down or are prone to seeking comfort in your favorite tasty snacks when you’re upset, you’re only creating a vicious cycle where these bad behaviors only make you feel worse than you originally did. Running will fix that. If you’re missing out on opportunities for social interactions for any reason, you may eventually start feeling isolated and lonely. Running will fix that.
And before you say you’re not a runner or you can’t run – stop that negative thinking! It doesn’t matter if you run five feet or fifty miles. If you run, you are a runner. As a runner, you’ll constantly be surrounded by all kinds of different people. Different ages, different backgrounds, different fitness levels, different motivations for getting out and taking a run. There will always be someone ahead of you, and someone behind you. And that’s okay! Everyone is at a different point in their experience and training, but we’re all out there enjoying the same thing, enduring the same pain, together.
That’s what makes a community of runners so special and unique. You can be the fastest person out there or you can be regularly outstripped by snails, and you’re going to experience the same highs and lows together.
Now that I’ve convinced you, let’s look at how beginning runners can get started – without breaking the bank.
What Frugal Runners Need to Get Started
You need a properly-fitted pair of running shoes.
Really, that is all you need to become a runner! Don’t try to squeak by with some old sneakers you found abandoned in the back of your closet. Go to a running store and ask for helping picking out a decent pair of shoes (and do a bit of research on your own before you head in). There are a million different kinds of shoes you can try, and a million different opinions on which one is the “best.”
Personally, I prefer minimalist footwear because it encourages me to land with a midfoot strike instead of smacking into the ground with my heel first.
As for other apparel? Honestly, you don’t need it. You don’t need fancy shorts or technical t-shirts, and some brands (*cough* Nike *cough*) are criminally overpriced. It is smart to wear a shirt that wicks moisture (and to avoid cotton) when it’s hot out, but you don’t need to go and buy a $40 technical running shirt and a pair of $60 running shorts. When you’re starting out, head to Target and buy one of their activewear-brand tanks and shorts or tights. In our local store, I’ve never spent more than $20 on a piece of clothing made specifically for activities like running.
So, to review:
- Decent pair of running shoes
- Inexpensive, non-brand-name workout tops and bottoms (for hot weather, avoid cotton)
Got it? Good! You’re ready to roll!
Avoid Injury – and a Big Medical Bill – by Starting Smart
When you’re new to running, the most important training advice you can hear and remember is to start slow. A couch-to-5k program is a great way to slowly work your way to running for 30 minutes at a time – or the average time it takes for someone to run a 5k race (which is 3.1 miles).
These programs are available as smartphone apps and there are even small ebooks available on Amazon that will walk you through about 8 weeks of workouts. They all progress slowly, which allows you to build up the strength and stamina you’ll need to run faster and for longer distances.
If you get impatient, you will pay for it. Too-much-to-soon or overuse injuries are really common in new runners and cause huge setbacks that are often discouraging and demoralizing. You may experience anything from shin splints to stress fractures if you push yourself without giving the bones, tendons, and ligaments in your legs time to adjust to the new load and stresses you’re exerting on them. If you need more reason to be patient consider this: once you have tendonitis, for example, you always have tendonitis. You can manage it, of course, but in the future you’ll be prone to re-aggravating it. And stress fractures? You’re looking at 6 to 8 weeks of not being able to do any impact activity (which includes “excessive walking”) if you’re lucky. If you’re not, that’s 6 to 8 weeks getting to walk around with an air cast. They aren’t cheap and it isn’t fun to try to hobble around everywhere with a moonboot.
So choose a basic, extreme beginner running program and stick with it. Don’t rush things and be sure to celebrate every little bit of progress. Remember, slow progress leads to steady progress – and steady, regular improvement is the name of the game with running.
Put Good In and Get Good Out
As a runner, you’re an athlete, and your diet does matter. If you don’t eat properly, you’re going to have a difficult time feeling great during a run and you won’t be able to make progress. Food is fuel, so give your body what it needs to perform and function well.
Don’t think you have to start spending big bucks at the grocery store. You simply need to remember that the better you eat, the better you feel. Follow a few basic rules and you should be alright.
- Eat whole foods. If you need help deciding what is a real, whole food and what is a food product, use this general rule of thumb: if it has more than five ingredients, it’s not actually food. Don’t eat (or buy) it.
- Veggies are good for you. Aim to eat the rainbow!
- Although I’m a vegetarian, I understand some folks like their meats. And that’s okay – just try to avoid stuff that’s processed and aim to eat more vegetables, legumes, and grains than meats.
- Don’t feel like you need a bunch of fancy energy bars or gels. While energy gel is handy for a race, for basic training you don’t need it. And go for natural snacks over processed bars. Try something like nuts or homemade oatmeal bars for a portable, healthy, energizing snack.
- No processed foods! Drop the Cheez-Its and put the Oreos back where they came from. And don’t even think about soda. If you need something to crunch on, try natural veggie chips (I love sweet potato chips from time to time!). If you gotta have something sweet, pick up a dark chocolate bar.
By adhering to these guidelines, you’ll not only be healthier and run-ready – but you may actually see some savings in your grocery bills. Food runs get a lot cheaper when you’re only buying real food and skipping all the processed junk.
Show Off Your Stuff – Run Your First Race!
Once you’ve been running regularly for at least two months, consider signing up for a local 5k! Organizations hold races like this all the time and many are put on to benefit a cause or charity. The cost to run is usually around $25, and your entry fee will include a goodie bag complete with race t-shirt and assorted items usually donated by various sponsors. Smaller events might be made up of about fifty people, while bigger and well-known races can have hundreds (even thousands) of participants.
They all function in pretty much the same way, though. They are all high-energy, fun, and friendly gatherings that welcome runners of all experience and skill levels. Some people there will undoubtedly be running 5 minute miles, while others will walk the entire course. No matter where you’re at, you’ll fit in to some part of the crowd.
Be sure to arrive about an hour before the race starts. Give yourself plenty of time to park, head to the registration table to grab your race bib, and to settle into whatever you need your pre-race routine to be. Some people do extensive warm ups while others hang out and catch up with friends and fellow runners. When the event organizers announce that it’s time to head to the start line, place yourself in the pack according to your pace. The faster runners will be at the very front – unless you’re also speedy, settle in somewhere behind them. Don’t place yourself at the back if you plan to run at a moderate pace, however. If there are slower people in front of them, you’ll waste a lot of energy at the start trying to weave around the crowd.
No matter where you finish, at the end of the race there’s always a positive and happy atmosphere waiting for you. People will be lined up and cheering you and all the other racers on to the end. The cool thing is that, even though you’re technically running with a bunch of other people and getting to feed off that awesome energy that builds up when you run with a pack, you’re only truly competing against yourself. At the end of the day, whenever you finish you’ve accomplished something big – and before you get home, you’ll probably start thinking about when you can do it again!
Have a specific question about getting started as a frugal runner? Ask me in the comments!