I have been a hard core runner for over 10 years.  I’ve run distances from the 5k to the marathon.  I’ve had the good fortune of learning the dos and don’ts from some fantastic people.  However, I’ve learned just as much, if not more, from observing the mistakes of many new runner’s first experience with the longer distances.

If you’re an aspiring runner and are considering making the leap to your first marathon, there are many things to consider before getting started.  You might think that good old American consumerism is behind the recent boom in the running equipment industry, but don’t let that fool you. There are many reasons to think long and hard about how you prepare yourself.

The Problem

Countless stories blanket the Internet, depicting poorly prepared runners and the myriad of injuries they’ve suffered.  They launch into a race half-cocked, without proper running shoes, running clothing, or any of the other bare necessity’s for participating in an event of this length.

The folks I’m talking about, these are your gun ho runners.  These are the folks that saw Oprah or Lance Armstrong set a goal to run the New York City or the Marine Corp Marathons and thought, “That doesn’t look so hard”.  These are the people you have to watch out for.

Make no mistake, you run the risk of serious injury, sometimes even life threatening injury, if you don’t equip yourself properly.

It might seem obvious, but the first thing you want to put some serious thought into is the brand and style of running shoes you plan to wear.  I can’t tell you how many runners have come to me complaining of sore feet, horrible shin-splints, injured knees, and hips.  All of these things could have been prevented with just a little bit of knowledge.

Many folks make the mistake of running out to their local Sporting Goods or Department store, finding a pair of running shoes they like the looks of, and maybe asking the advice of the nearest minimum wage store clerk.

The Solution

If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a million times.

Don’t get your running shoes from a general sporting goods or department store!

In just about every area of the country you can find what I like to call your “Runner’s Store”.  There are a few popular chain stores, but the best are the ones you’ve probably never heard of.  I recommend finding one by querying your local running club.  Even if you don’t plan on running with the club I assure you they’ll be happy to help.

Once you get to the store, tell the clerk you are a first time marathon hopeful and that you’d like to be properly fitted for a pair of running shoes.  More often than not they’ll be equipped to have you run on a treadmill for a few yards, with a camera pointed at your feet, for some rudimentary gait analysis.

They’ll be looking for the way your feet strike the ground and roll through your stride.  They’ll typically recommend a few different models of either Stability, Motion Control or Neutral running shoes for you to try.  If they know their stuff they also recommend you get a shoe that is a full size larger than what you typically wear.  You’re getting ready to put your feet through a great deal of punishment, they will swell.

You may need to try several on before finding a pair that the clerk feels meet the needs of your foot strike but also feel comfortable to you in the top of the foot.  Keep trying!  It is very important to ensure your training shoes do their job. These are the only pair of feet you’ve got.

Next Steps

Finally, be sure that you don’t buy a brand new pair of running shoes the week before a race.  If you’re training properly, you’ll want to begin a training plan at least 12-16 weeks in advance of the big day.

Get your new shoes early in that cycle and put a decent amount of miles on them.  You may find that after getting them out of the store and onto the road that you’ve made the wrong choice.  Don’t be afraid to take them back and try other shoes until you feel comfortable.

In our next article we’ll highlight the second most important piece of running equipment, often over looked by new marathon runners.  The “water wicking” running shirt and shorts.