In his decade as a University of Washington running coach, Greg Metcalf has taken home a national championship with his women’s cross-country team and churned out 65 All-American distance runners. Before that, he was a two-time All-American himself on the verge of qualifying for the 1996 Olympic Trials. Not everyone starts running the way Metcalf did—trailing after his dad as a kid, first around the block, then around the neighborhood, and then in local 5ks—but there is a right way to begin. 

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. While recent research says caffeine isn’t as bad for hydration as was once thought, your three-cup coffee habit isn’t going to hydrate you properly for that morning jog. But practice great hydration (read: at least eight glasses of water a day, including at least one glass an hour before jogging) and you’ll be light-years ahead of most recreational athletes.

2. It gets better. After running for a month, you get through the initial soreness—through the “Gosh, I feel terrible all the time.” Your body adapts to the exercise and it becomes exponentially easier.

3. Use the buddy system.  If you’re still having trouble getting started—or maintaining a schedule—hold yourself accountable to friendly strangers by joining a group. Local running stores like Super Jock n’ Jill and Born to Run both organize regular runs for veterans and wheezing first-timers alike.