Read more from Slate’s Cheapskate’s Guide to Hobbies. In need of some calm in your life? Take up yoga. Love cooking? Bread baking is enormously gratifying. Seeking something to do with your hands to stay off your phone? Try sashiko, a simple, ancient Japanese needlecraft.
My adult obsession with running started a few years after college. I’d spent years being envious of serious, long-distance runners. So I impulsively signed up for a half-marathon. I began worrying about my decision almost immediately; although I had run competitively in high school, I’d never completed a race longer than a 5K. But the race entry fee wasn’t cheap, so I stuck with training. Race day arrived, and I wondered whether I could handle the strain of so many miles. When the number on the course started counting past 10—which was the furthest I had run during training and had taken enormous effort—I felt like I might as well be running into another dimension. Yet I finished, and I was overcome with blissful exhaustion. I napped and ate and felt high.
This sense of accomplishment is what makes running such a satisfying hobby. There is a literal finish line to work toward. It also allows for ample adventure—it’s a fantastic way to explore a new place when traveling—and time to zone out, especially amid a lot of stress. And you don’t need to be a natural athlete to be good at it. I initially ran out of obligation—my middle school required students to play sports, and track sounded doable. There was no ball to drop, no plays that require telekinetic levels of camaraderie.
Running isn’t cheap, per se. Races are easily $100 a pop. Shoes need regular replacing. You’ll want to cross-train to keep your body healthy, which can include things like $20 yoga classes, and if you get injured, there could be physical therapy bills. But getting started doesn’t require a ton of specialized stuff. You don’t need to purchase a ticket to run around your own neighborhood. Stylish shorts won’t make you any faster. Fancy watches that track your miles for you can be nice, but they are very far from required. If you’re considering taking up running, here are the basics that will get you started, along with some extras.
First, a Word on Training
If you’re a goal-oriented person, or a runner looking to up your game, you may want to tackle a race. You’ll need to train. My very scientific process for finding a training plan is to Google “[race length] training plan” and pick one that looks good from a trusted source like Runner’s World, Hal Higdon, or the New York Road Runners. Since that first half-marathon, I’ve run six more, plus two marathons, and here is how I train: I don’t for many weeks. Then I sign up for a race and download a training plan, of which I complete half to two-thirds (is this truly advisable? I am not a doctor). Sometimes I prep for a Sunday long run by declining weekend invites and eating a lot of pasta; sometimes I try to forget about the run, and have a beer, and then remember at 8 p.m. that I really will feel better and more prepared for the race if I do the long run, and so I run buzzed. I balance out my running with some yoga and walks with my dog. This is all to say that there are as many ways to train as there are runners—find the method that suits you.
You can also join a local running group (try looking here and here)—in my experience, if they say they are friendly to all running levels, they really are. Keep track of your mileage in a notebook, a Google doc, or a free service like Map My Run (which is also handy for figuring out the length of new routes). For camaraderie with less commitment, you can attend a treadmill class in person (bonus: the teachers can answer Q’s about training) or even virtually with the Peloton app.
If you want to try your hand at running, but you’re a little intimidated to get started, start slowly. In fact, don’t even pressure yourself to run: schedule time to leave the house for 30 minutes while wearing your running shoes. Jog for a few minutes, and then walk, and then run when you feel like jogging again. Do this for a few weeks, and you’ll find yourself jogging for longer and longer.
Remember that even the best runners in the world have days when getting out the door feels like an insurmountable push: It’s raining, you’d rather eat chips, Fleabag isn’t going to watch itself. I’ve been on a lot of runs, including some 20 miles long that feel wonderfully soothing and one-milers when I begrudgingly force myself to get going only to find that, Yeah, this run is unsalvageable crap. Every time this has happened, I’ve wondered how I can be so practiced yet still so incompetent. But I try to channel Desi Linden, the woman who won the 2018 Boston Marathon and pinned the following to her Twitter profile: “Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell.”
What You’ll Need
If you resolve to buy nothing else to start your running hobby, buy good (expensive) shoes. Run in them naked, I don’t care, but if you run in your street shoes, or the gym shoes that you used to train for a half-marathon back in college, you risk injuring yourself. Which is a lot more expensive than pricey running shoes. All people run differently, and therefore have different footwear needs. Go to a local running store where they will examine your gait and recommend a couple of different options. You’ll need to buy new shoes every 300 to 500 miles (though shoe companies might push the lower end of that), at which point you can choose to go online where they might be cheaper, especially if you get last season’s colors!
Running involves a lot of laundry (and in a pinch, even rewearing smelly clothes). What you do not want to rewear, ever, are socks. No-show socks are the most comfortable. I buy them in bulk. I like these Puma socks, which are just a few bucks a pair.
You do not need special socks (see above), but thick squishy socks sure are nice. Especially if they are neon yellow or pink. My mom often gives me a pair or two of these Balega socks for Christmas, and I wear them when my feet need some extra motivation for getting out the door.
These are a godsend for my inner thighs on long, sweaty summer runs, when they otherwise become a red chaffed mess. Incredibly painful! Wear them alone or under other shorts.
You don’t need any particularly fancy tops. Many of mine are Lululemon tanks I bought on second-hand sites like ThredUp. The best shirts are perhaps those you get included with the registration fee from running races (some fit better than others, finding a perfect one is part of the game). But you do want something noncotton; it makes sweating much more comfortable. If you don’t have anything like that around, Target’s Champion line has some inexpensive options.
If you have boobs, you will need a sports bra; duh. After years of searching, I finally found my favorite while helping my former colleague Anna Perling test them for a Wirecutter guide. For a sports bra so inexpensive with relatively little fabric, it’s shockingly supportive. It causes less chaffing than other bras I’ve owned, too. Your sport bra needs will vary based on your size, though (this one is for C cups and up). If you’re going to spend more than a few months running, you might well go on your own journey to find the perfect bra; Perling can walk you through the process here.
Buy Champion women’s spot comfort bra on Amazon: $20.24 and up
Holding your phone in your hand or placing it on an arm strap can affect your running form, and it can also be uncomfortable, which is why I like running belts. Ultramarathoner and Slate senior managing editor Meg Wiegand swears by the FlipBelt. Her secret to prevent running belts from sliding up on your skin as you move? “Make sure it sits right on top of your shorts band.”
Buy FlipBelt on Amazon: $27.98
Listening to music and podcasts elevates the joy of running for me. If you don’t already have headphones that will stay in your ears while you run, try a pair of inexpensive Bluetooth headphones (not having a cord that gets tangled = joy).
Designed for running, these snug, grippy shades stay in place while you move. Devotee Bill Carey, Slate’s senior director for strategy, notes that the price is also a major selling point: “They’re cheap enough that it wouldn’t be devastating if I accidentally dropped and broke them.”
Buy Goodr sunglasses: $25
If it’s cool out, gloves add warmth while also being extremely easy to remove and carry. If it’s super cold out, gloves can make or break your ability to feel your fingers. I bought these a year ago because they have good reviews and won’t be expensive to replace when I inevitably lose them. They have not disappointed.
Buy running gloves on Amazon: $16.99
One Last Thing
You’ll find your own reason for running. Maybe it’s to explore your own neighborhood a few times a week; maybe you want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Personally, I love running in races but not competition. I love running in a giant crowd. I love people cheering. I love getting a medal to add to my stack of medals. I love posing in front of the little step and repeat. I even love getting my photo taken during the race, which they will try to sell to you after for a lot of money. (The secret to looking OK is to throw your hands up like you are on a roller coaster.) When I’m racing, I try to tune out my time, listen to my body, and focus on how nice it will feel to grab some Gatorade at the next hydration station. I only have so many runs here on Earth.
I want to enjoy this one.
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