The start of any New Year sees would-be runners digging out old sports kit, lacing up any trainers they have to hand, and heading out the door in a bid to reclaim their youth. It normally ends in tears.
Too far too fast or running with insufficient kit is a good way to sabotage any New Year resolutions. When it comes to “How to start running for beginners”, there are a few basic preparations required before attempting your first run.
Read on to find out everything you need to know to launch your new running program…
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How To Start Running Part 1 – Preparations
My father once hit a mid-life crisis and decided to take up running. He wasn’t over-weight but his long spindly legs were unused to any sport and instead of buying proper running shoes, he dug out a pair of old canvas tennis pumps.
Two miles down the disused railway track where we lived, his knees started hurting and he limped back to the house. He hasn’t run since.
Make sure this doesn’t happen to you by following a few tips to start running:
Get A Check Up
If in doubt, it’s always worth checking in with your doctor before starting an exercise program. You may feel fine, but there’s always the possibility of underlying health issues.
This guide is a good checklist if you have any doubts about starting to run. It’s possible to be unaware of cardiovascular disease and be at higher risk of suffering a heart attack. Most people can cope with moderate activity such as brisk walking but any new exercise plan is a good reason to schedule a check-up.
Do something about those wobbly legs
Even jogging around the block is physically demanding if you haven’t run since you were a child. Yes, running is natural, but as adults, we spend far too much time sitting around and our legs lack the muscles to cope with a run.
Most new runners will find it’s better to start with a walking plan. Try walking a few miles every day before you launch into running.
✅Yoga is a good way to build leg strength and stretch out the muscles that naturally tighten as you run. I find this class from Yoga Download really helps.
Lose Weight First
Okay, I know, you’re starting running to lose weight! Yet running when you have a lot of weight to lose is discouragingly hard work and puts a lot of stress on your joints.
It can be better to start with a walking weight loss plan first and make a conscious effort to eat better.
Losing weight is 80% about what you eat. Now I’m all for exercising more, and a great believer in exercise helping you to stay on track with your weight loss plans. It’s just that the saying you can’t outrun your diet is true.
That’s why not all runners are super slim! If you want to lose weight, combine exercise with quitting sugar, cutting back on junk food, or trying out a plant-based diet.
✅ I followed this 21-Day Plant-Based Diet last summer and loved the results. It’s an excellent way to shed a few pounds and rapidly improve your eating habits.
Invest In Some Running Shoes
You can get by with just about any comfortable clothing for the first few runs but you do need some decent running shoes. Take a trip to your local running shoe shop, but it could leave you baffled by science and worrying about your running gait.
By all means, listen to the expert advice, but bear in mind that as a novice runner, your running gait will change over the next few months and years as your muscles strengthen.
I used to own an outdoor store selling running shoes. My advice was to always prioritize comfort. It turns out my views are backed by science. This study shows that if you base shoe selection on comfort, you reduce the risk of injury.
✅ It’s always a good idea to visit an independent running store for your first pair of shoes. If that’s not possible get your shoes online but make sure you test them out for comfort around the house before heading outside.
Use A Sports Bra
Using a sports bra isn’t just advised for women with larger cup sizes. It’s good advice for all women. Make sure you select a High Impact Sports Bra.
Sports bras are essential for female runners to protect the Cooper’s ligaments that support the breasts from stretching. It’s also so much more comfortable!
How To Start Running Part 2 – Your First Run
There’s no easy way to say this – your first run is going to hurt. You can build up to running with a walking plan, do everything on the preparation list and that first run is still going to be tough.
Hang in there! Running does get easier. These tips will get you through your first run and (hopefully) coming back for more…
Warm Up First
It’s always important to warm up before you start running. I’d love to tell you I always start my runs with a dynamic stretching routine. I’m not always that disciplined but I do always start off slowly and warm up before hitting my stride.
This is one of the best dynamic stretching warm-up routines I’ve come across. Easy to do, you could even complete this routine in the parking lot while chatting to friends!
Find Your Running Form
There’s a right way and a wrong way to run. As small children, we run naturally. As adults, our posture has been compromised and new runners often have bad habits.
The big no-no is over-striding. This is where your foot lands too far forward from your body when you run.
It’s a bit like putting a brake on. You’re landing hard on your heel with a straight knee increasing your risk of knee injuries.
One tip to avoid over-striding is to increase your cadence. Your cadence is the number of steps you take per minute.
This isn’t the same as running faster. You’re taking more frequent smaller steps but you can still be running at an easy pace.
For your first few runs don’t worry about any numbers for cadence. Just aim for a fast leg turnover with frequent smaller steps.
Sagging At The Hips
The other big error you see beginner runners make is sagging at the hips. Runners get tired, their posture slumps and the bum sticks out.
If you ever find yourself doing this – switch to walking, recover and try again.
Ideally, stand tall with a good posture and lean slightly into your run from your ankles. Keep your head slightly forward, with your chin down, and focus your eyes a few meters ahead. (Not at your feet!) Your hips should be in line with the rest of your body.
Do this correctly and it will feel as if your hips are pushed slightly forward.
Arms Flailing And Heels Kicking Out
I have no idea why but so many beginner runners, especially women, run like Phoebe from Friends:
Arms flailing and heels flicking out. It may look fun but it’s a huge waste of energy! Ideally, keep your arms bent at the elbow at around 90 degrees.
Shoulders should be level, and relaxed, (not pushed up around your ears). Swing your arms as you run parallel to your body.
Don’t Be Afraid To Walk
It’s your first run. Be kind to your body. Taking walking breaks is definitely allowed.
Alternating running with walking gives you the chance to catch your breath, get your pulse rate under control, and give your joints and muscles a break.
Try To Breathe From Your Gut
Learning how to breathe is often the hardest part for new runners. It’s a lot easier when you master how to breathe from your diaphragm (belly) upwards with long slow breaths.
This article will teach you how to breathe while running.
Keep your First Run Short
It’s better to get off to a good start by starting with a short run. A distance that won’t tax your body too much and will see you raring to go and ready for more a day or two later.
There are no prizes for sprinting for the finish line when you’re training! It’s best to cool down properly by walking or running slowly for the last few minutes.
Make sure you finish off your training run with some static stretches.
How To Start Running Part 3: The First Few Weeks
The biggest challenge for new runners is to get through those first few weeks. To survive until running starts to feel easier and FUN!
Don’t Try And Run Too Fast
I always love running this time of year! First week in January you know you’re going to overtake a 20-something, usually male, who blasted past you a mile or so earlier and is now completely out of puff.
It’s good for my ego but it’s a lot better for yours, as a beginner, if you learn how to pace yourself. Start off slowly.
Get a few runs under your belt at your target distance before you start ramping up the speed.
If you ran competitive sport at school in the distant past I know it’s hard to slow down. Try and visualize that you’ve just done a hard session on the track and you’re going for a cool-down lap.
Yes that slow.
Get through your first few weeks running then you can start to up the ante. Going from the couch to running hard and fast will just risk injury.
Turn Off Strava
You don’t need to know how far you’ve run for the first few weeks. Base your runs on time rather than distance.
This helps you adjust your distance naturally based on how you’re feeling. Targets will come later.
😍 In case you’re blissfully unaware Strava is a popular app for tracking your runs. You can even compare your times with other runners. It should really carry a health warning – Strava gets extremely addictive!
Aim To Run Three Days A Week
It takes regular running to build a habit and people who run less than three times a week are more likely to quit.
Regular runs will help you build good running fitness.
Some people run every day, and others will find they need rest days. If possible, aim for active rest where you still do some physical activity such as walking, cycling, or swimming.
Get To The Ninth Run
The ninth run, at the end of your third week is a big milestone. Three weeks into a new habit is long enough to make a difference.
You should be feeling energized, stronger and be benefiting from some running fitness.
Follow A Plan
It’s not essential but most new runners will benefit from following a training plan. The most popular running plan for beginners is the Couch To 5K Program.
It doesn’t work for everyone and my article suggests how you can adapt the plan, making the program faster or slower depending on your current level of fitness.
How To Start Running Part 4: Becoming A Runner
With the first 3 weeks under your belt, your aim is to make the habit stick. You don’t want to waste the fitness you’ve built up, so you need a plan to stay motivated and on-track.
Start Running With A Buddy
One of the best ways to stay motivated is to find a running buddy – someone to hold you accountable. A person you’ll let down badly if you don’t show up for your run.
It may be a little difficult finding someone to run with at the moment so an alternative could be signing up for a virtual challenge.
Enter A Race
If you’re following the Couch To 5K Plan, having a race to aim for is a terrific way to keep on track. The idea of racing may sound intimidating, but most events happily welcome beginner runners.
Aim to complete the race rather than focus on a time. There will be plenty of opportunities to improve your times in the future. Right now the aim is to enjoy your race and get a sense of satisfaction from finishing.
Get Your Family Onboard
It helps to have an understanding family. Explain your reasons for taking up running, such as health or carving out some “me-time”.
If you can get them onboard it’s going to be much easier to keep to regular runs.
Find some variety
Running the same route over and over again can quickly become boring. Try and find new trails and mix it up with your running distances.
If you have limited options, just running your regular route in reverse can add interest.
Always tell someone where you’re going, and if you’re running in areas where you’re worried about your personal safety, stick to well-lit streets.
This could be a good time to run with a buddy or small group.
Embrace The Bad Runs
Not every run is going to be brilliant. Sometimes you’re tired after a long day and running is the last thing you want to do.
I find runs can often be a “pick-me-up” but every now and then you have one where you’re tired setting off, tired all the way around, and feel drained at the finish.
Accept it’s not your day, walk a bit or shorten your run. There’s always tomorrow.
If your running plan is pushing you too hard, you can always go back and repeat an easier week.
I find the best plans work on a 3 week rota – one week easy, one week medium, one week hard then back to one week easy. This builds in a chance to recover.
When you hit a milestone, give yourself a treat. It could be anything – a new running vest, a race entry, or something totally unrelated to running. Whatever it is, tell yourself you deserve it.
A lot of effort goes into running and becoming fitter, healthier and stronger. Celebrate the small gains.
It’s often tempting as a beginner runner to compare yourself unfavorably with other runners. DON’T. The only person you should be comparing yourself with is your former self.
If a few weeks ago you could barely make it round the block and now you can run a couple of miles – you are a winner. Being a slow runner just means there’s room for improvement…
Be proud of yourself! You’re taking those difficult first steps towards becoming a runner. Hopefully this guide “how to start running” is helpful but if you only take away one piece of advice, let it be “work on a positive attitude”.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to perform. Enjoy your running. You’re going way faster than everyone who’s sat on the couch!