As a parent, you have probably experienced the wonderment of the huge amount of influence (positive or negative) of the first close friends your children have over them. It’s natural. Someone from your peer group is likely to have greater sway with someone than, say, a mom or dad.

So, too, in running.

As a runner, we have incredible influence over our non-running friends—whether we realize it or not. We are a paragon of such positives as diet, flexibility, exercise patterns and commitment. To us, going for a long run on Saturday may be habitual; to a non-running friend, the very act of getting out of bed on Sunday and doing anything before pro football comes on TV may seem superhuman.

Our positive approach to life and exercise is something our non-running friends look on with admiration and envy. Although they may not always express it in those terms, but our friends probably wish they could run also run and join us.

Quite obviously, they could. But either they don’t know how to begin or are too intimidated to ask for advice on what steps they can take to start running.

It is certainly possible—maybe even probable—that with a little bit of encouragement on our part (and some sensitive mentoring), we can help our friends get started on the road to fitness and better health by running. It’s worth a try.

But helping someone to start running isn’t quite as simple as taking a non-runner out for an easy five-mile run and then inviting them to go long with you the next weekend. You didn’t start running that way—and neither should your friends.

Instead, the key to helping a beginner get going is to hold them back. Most beginners (who aren’t overweight or smokers) are fit enough to start running and often run faster or farther than they should at first. They might even be capable of doing that five-miler with you, but doing so right out of the box will bring on soreness and possibly pain.

The idea is to start someone on a running program by keeping it short and fun. Run with your beginning friends, but put a throttle on the runs. Start slowly, keep it conversational and exceptionally easy. Avoid all hills. Show them how to stretch after running. Emphasize the importance of staying properly hydrated. Stress the value of good running shoes.

Finally, don’t oversell it. We all know running is great, but don’t preach continually about running as the greatest thing your friend will ever do. Allow your friends to discover that on their own.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for introducing someone to running:

  1. Do keep your tone positive and encouraging.
  2. Don’t focus on what your friend is doing wrong.
  3. Don’t run at your normal pace and expect your friend to keep up.
  4. Do go slowly at a comfortable, conversational pace dictated by your friend.
  5. Do insist on taking frequent walk and water breaks.
  6. Don’t try to push your friend to run every step of the way.
  7. Do stress the benefits of running such as weight control, stress relief, better self-esteem and fun.
  8. Don’t preach that running will make every aspect of your friend’s life better.
  9. Do take your friend to a half marathon or marathon to watch.
  10. Don’t take your friend to a half marathon or marathon to run.
  11. Do allow your friend to progress at his/her own rate.
  12. Don’t impose any undue expectations.
  13. Do talk about any problems your friend might be experiencing and work out solutions to solve them.
  14. Don’t ignore roadblocks. Every runner will have some.
  15. Do discuss your friend’s running needs.
  16. Don’t talk about yourself and your races.