YOU CAN RUN pretty much anywhere, with pretty much no equipment. So it must be easy to start—just put one foot in front of the other, right?

Not quite.

Starting a new training program, like most things, is stepping into unfamiliar territory. You’re eager but unsure, excited but potentially error-prone. Most people—especially men—start out too hard, which leads to unnecessary fatigue and possible injury; or they just burn out, feeling that the last thing they want to do is go out for another plodding, painful run.

Getting past that early period is the key to both running’s benefits and pleasures.

Figure out why you’re running

You may want to start running to make your heart stronger, to up your endurance for other sports, or even just to fit into your tux again. Those are all worthy goals—and setting them is a valuable aid to getting where you want to go.

If you like a challenge, your goal might be running the local 5K, or something more ambitious, like finishing a Tough Mudder obstacle run or qualifying for the Boston Marathon. A typical beginner who trains properly—without overdoing it—can safely finish a 5K after about three months, and a marathon after a year.

Whatever you decide to aim for, committing to it will help your progress immensely. Those who don’t set goals tend to plateau; and while a short, easy run a few times a week is better than nothing, it’s not nearly as exciting as looking up at—then reaching—the next level. And the next.