One of the coolest things about running is that everyone has what they need to run in their closet. No special equipment is required. That said, when I was at my first 5k, I was sure that there was going to be some secret knowledge that everyone else had and I didn't. Of course, I was just nervous, the only thing I didn't have at that point was experience. If you are a new runner or taking up running, the best thing to do to get better is to run miles.
Walk/run. If you are starting out and running for a distance is tough, consider walk/run. Jeff Galloway and others have built entire training regimens around this. The basic idea is to walk for a specified time (say five minutes to start) and then run for one minute. As you build up endurance, the walk time should shorten and the run time should get longer. I should say that I did not do this starting out (I just ran), but this system has many followers. The very cool thing about this system is that as you build up, you get that sense of accomplishment. It is cool to be able to think how just two months ago you were at five minute walk and one minute run, but now you are four minute walk and two minute run!
Mix it up. For my first three years of running, I would get up early (which is tough for me) and run laps of my neighborhood. I got to see some great sights with falling stars, bats buzzing me and beautiful star-lit mornings.
However, after three years, I knew the every crack in the pavement and every leaning mailbox. I started having more and more trouble getting up early. The reason? I was bored. I am not a morning person anyway, but when I got bored with the route it took away another piece of my motivation. My advice to new runners? Find four routes minimum. Personally, I like trails more than roads and I have options for both. I do like running the local roads by my house and the idea of stepping out the front door and going for a run has greater appeal than driving and parking and then running. So I mix it up. I am fortunate enough to be able to run at lunch and even there I have three different routes.
Mixing it up gives a runner different challenges (hilly/flat), different surfaces (paved/gravel/trail) and keeps your mind engaged as well. It will not take long for you to find out that you have preferences...put in a little bit of effort to find those preferences and find place that fit those preferences. You will stay motivated and you will keep running. It will pay off.
Keep a log. As you run, you will get better and better at running. If you keep a log, you give yourself a place to check off and say “Look what I did today!” But also, fast forward to a year later, looking back and seeing your old miles and your old comments will amaze you. One part of you will say, “...that seems so easy now...” and another part of you will rewind to the rain storm you ran in or the deer you saw while running in the woods.
The other part of keeping a log is once you decide to run a race, you can use it to track your progress. It is easy to find free training schedules (a gift of the Internet) that you can use with your schedule to get ready for a race.
Speaking of Internet training schedules, they are abundant and many are free. If you choose to train for a specific distance race, I recommend being choosy. What I mean by that, choose one that make sense to you. Some of the training schedules recommend so many minutes of running (Example: Tuesday - week 2, run 15 minutes). If you run so many minutes, you are going to cover one set of miles if you are brand new to running and it will mean a whole different set of miles with more experience. That is the beauty of the time-based schedules, they fit at many experience levels.
Other schedules will say run a certain distance (Example: Tuesday – week 2,run 3 miles). Well, if you are brand-new, that distance may not make sense. Make sure the training schedule fits you. Lastly, there are some training schedules that are complicated. If you want complicated that is ok, but if it just confuses you, try a different training plan. Running never has to be complicated.
Listen to your body. A new runner might be running three days a week and may build into more. If you legs or joints hurt, take a day off. It is ok to take a day off. Also, if you feel sore the day after a run, it may be from lactic acid. Lactic acid is a by-product of exerting yourself. As you run more and more, your muscles will get better and better at getting rid of it. By walking or taking in a light run it will help get build blood flow to remove the lactic acid and you should feel less sore.
If you are sore after three days of rest or it hurts to run, see your doctor. If your body is just getting used to a new level of endurance, rest should fix soreness. If not, trust your doctor.
After some set period of time, say six months, of continuous running, go buy a pair of shoes from a running store that actually fits you and pays attention to your feet and stride. They say it takes three weeks to form a habit, if you have been serious about getting out there for six months, you are serious enough to invest in a good fitting and a good pair of shoes. Many times when I can feel stiffness in my joints, I will realize that I am overdue for a new pair of shoes. I don't want to be cliché say you deserve a good pair of shoes, but if you are going to run and stay injury-free, shoes are a good start. The great part is that any other equipment: socks, GPS, dry-weave clothes; are completely optional. I strongly recommend investing in a good pair of shoes from a place that actually looks at you run.
Find a friend. It is very cool to have someone to bounce ideas off of and talk up running. If you really don't know anyone who runs, join a local running club. Running clubs can offer insights into local running venues, the local running stores and local races. Also, if you go to your first race and you know Joe and Jan from your club, chatting with them will make you that much less nervous waiting at the start. I will never forget being at a local (and very small) 5k, and a group of ladies showed up from one of the local gyms. They had matching t-shirts and it was most of their first 5k's. They had a blast. They all ran and finished. These were not fast runners, but they were outside, enjoying the challenge, laughing and encouraging each other. It made my day to see them have so much fun.
Set a goal. If you set a goal to be in a race, you will train that much harder to get ready. I ran my first 10k at the Peachtree Road Race. If you are not familiar, the Peachtree is a 10k that goes down Peachtree street in Atlanta. There are 55,000 people in the race. That is a bunch of folks. I was scared to death that I was not going to finish. I had run a few 5k's...and not really set any land-speed records, but the Peachtree was a daunting challenge to me...I ran my training runs like never before. I would wake up in a cold sweat, before my alarm...dreaming of not finishing the race. Well, I did train and I did finish...and back to an earlier comment...I really wish I had someone to hang out with at the start because it was a long wait!
Also, the goal does not have to be to run in a race. It could be to run a certain distance without walking or to run so far in a certain amount of time. Since it is your goal, make sure it is something important to you.
Gear. Ok, I did say that the shoes are the only real piece of gear that you should worry about, but there is a secret piece of gear that most people use once they find it. Compression shorts. Compression shorts are underwear for people who run. These shorts prevent chafing in sensitive areas...male or female, it doesn't matter. You can wear whatever you want over these shorts, and no one sees the brand name on your compression shorts (i.e. don't pay brand name prices). My wife always finds these at the end-of-season close outs and buys all she can. I highly recommend them.
Celebrate! So many times I have sat down after a long run and been completely exhausted, but I have a smile on my face. I feel so good writing down my miles afterward. Celebrate your running. If you make some milestone or run farther than ever before, call your Mom (or Dad/Daughter/someone special), tell them what a great thing you did. Celebrate the fact that you did it! No one else ran the miles for you. No one else built the miles to propel you to a new distance. Give your self a big pat on the back. Post it on Face book, Write it on your cubicle wall. Post it on the refrigerator. Celebrate running!