Are you ready to lace up your shoes and hit the pavement for your next cardio workout? If you’re looking for guidance on how to start running, we’ve got you covered.
From expert tips and training plans to running gear and how to stay motivated, this beginner’s running guide is packed with information to help get you started.
What are the health benefits of running?
Ask any runner what the benefits of running are, and you’ll likely get a long list of physical and mental perks, including increased energy, reduced stress, improved mood, stronger muscles, weight loss, and a decrease in risk factors of certain diseases, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
But if you’re new to running, you might be wondering if the benefits you hear all of your running friends boast about are really true. The good news is, most of them are.
And there are plenty of studies to back up the claims about the physical and mental health benefits of running.
- For people who have high blood pressure (hypertension), aerobic exercise may be a good alternative to pharmaceuticals for lowering blood pressure.
- If you run outdoors, the natural environment of forests and parks may cut your risk of suffering from poor mental health in half, according to researchers at the University of Glasgow.
- Running is not as bad on your knees as you might think. In fact, a 2016 study found that the more people run, the less likely they are to suffer from knee pain.
- Hitting the pavement also helps you sleep better, according to one study.
- But probably one of the most compelling health perks of running comes from the cardiovascular benefits. Researchers say running—even short durations—can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
What are the training options for beginning runners?
Now that you understand the awesome physical and mental health benefits of running, it’s time to get started. As with any other form of exercise, there are tons of ways to begin your running journey.
While it may be tempting to go all out right away, Hall says the rule of thumb is to start gradually, especially if you’re new to cardio workouts. “Ideally, you want to start with one to three miles, even if it means inserting walking breaks into your workout and just running a few minutes at a time,” she explains.
When you’re ready to step it up, Hall recommends boosting your overall volume of weekly running by 10 percent—an increment that should be small enough to help you avoid injury. But if you can’t add more exercise to your week, she says to gradually increase the length of all runs and workouts so you can get used to spending more time on your feet.
Your running goals will determine how much you should run each week. “If you’re attempting to run your first 5K, for example, two to three times per week should suffice,” says Hall. But if your goal is to run faster, Hall says you need to aim for at least four days per week.
Legendary running coach Jeff Galloway gives similar advice and says that running every other day allows for recovery and physiological improvements to occur.
Galloway’s running method, Run Walk Run, is an excellent way for new runners to get started on a training plan. “My Run Walk Run method gives you control over the running experience,” he explains. “By adjusting the amounts of running and walking from the beginning it is possible to avoid injuries, exhaustion,” and burnout, Galloway adds. Here is a sample Run Walk Run training plan for a beginner.
Start with a warmup walk of three to five minutes. Ease into five to 15 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking from the beginning of the workout. Depending on your one-mile time, Galloway recommends the following breakdown of running followed by walking:
- 18 min/mile: run 5 sec/walk 30 sec
- 16–17 min/mile: run 7–10 sec/walk 30 sec
- 15 sec/mile: run 12–15 sec/walk 30 sec
- 13–14 min/mile: run 15 sec/walk 15 sec or 20/20 or 30/30
- 11–12 min/mile: run 30 sec/walk 15 or 40/20 or 60/30
- 10 min/mile: run 60–90 sec/walk 30 sec
- 9 min/mile: run 90–120 sec/walk 30 sec
“After a week or so, if all is well, either add five seconds to the run segment or subtract five seconds from the walk if you want to step up,” says Galloway. He recommends increasing your distance by using a very gentle strategy of five to 15 seconds running followed by 30 seconds of walking and increasing by half a mile every 14 days.
Galloway, who began using this method in all of his runs in 1978, says he still uses the techniques for his training and races. In fact, he qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2013 by running 30 seconds/walking 15 seconds.
How do you incorporate running into an overall fitness program?
If your overall fitness routine includes other actives such as cycling, weight training, yoga, or boot camp–style classes, you might be wondering how in the world you’re going to squeeze in a few days of running. The good news is, with some planning and knowledge of how to pair certain activities together, you can create a balanced and effective exercise program that includes lacing up your running shoes.
Hall recommends carving out time each week for strength training, especially if you want to keep running for the long haul. Core strength is one area she focuses on and tells new runners to spend some time training.
“Having a strong core helps keep your body from collapsing like an accordion,” Hall explains. Spending time strengthening your core and gluteal muscles will help you engage them as you run, which takes some of the load off your lower legs.
Starting out, it’s wise to have one day in between runs. If your goal is to run three days each week, for example, set a schedule that allows you to run on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. You can use your “off days” for other workouts, such as strength training, yoga, cycling, swimming, or other cross-training activities. But if three days feels like too much, aim for two days each week.
How do you set realistic goals for running?
The one thing any seasoned runner will tell you is to go slow. This advice applies not only to the speed at which you start running but also to the overall goals you set.
There are a variety of race distances available, which makes it easy to find a few that work best for you. When you’re just beginning, the general rule of thumb is to start with a 5K race. This distance seems to be the sweet spot for most beginning runners because it’s not too much to take on, yet it’s enough to feel like an accomplishment.
If you need some accountability when training for a race, you can partner with a friend, join a running club, or use a training app to help you stay on track. Just make sure you allow yourself enough time to train for your first race.
Many runners use Hal Higdon’s training plans when preparing for a race. Higdon recommends that novices follow an eight-week training plan. He has several other training plans for various distances. For example, his website says to allow 12 weeks when training for a half marathon.
How do you stay motivated?
Even the best runners have peaks and valleys in their training. The key to not letting a bad run (or series of not-so-great runs) get you down, Hall says, is to remind yourself that when you’re getting stronger, you will have days when your muscles are tired and need to recover. “When that happens, focus on running the right effort rather than a certain pace,” she explains.
Hall suggests that you can view these runs as a good reminder to pay attention to sleep and nutrition to give your body what it needs. “It’s also a good way to build mental toughness for when you come to that point in the race where your body wants to quit,” she adds.
Galloway recommends taking your focus off of speed or the negative effects and instead to look forward to your next run. He also recommends running with a friend or choosing a scenic location with a gentle pace and strategy for your next run to help pull you out of a rut.
After you’ve been running for a while, you might begin to wonder if there are ways to change up your workouts.
Here are some ideas from Galloway:
- One run can be long and gentle, in a scenic area if available, every 14 days. Pace should be three to four minutes/mile slower than when running a 5K. Gradually increase by half a mile on each run as desired.
- One 30–45 min run can include form-improvement drills and race pace (quarter mile) segments. You can learn how to stay on pace while trying out various Run Walk Run strategies.
- Another 30–45 min run could include the drills and some hill running to build strength.
What about running gear? Do you need it?
One of the appeals of running is not having to invest in a lot of gear. At a minimum, you need a decent pair of running shoes. Choosing the right shoe for you does require spending time with someone who understands how running shoes should fit.
Bruce Pinker, a foot and ankle surgeon who is board certified by the American Board of Podiatric Medicine, says the size number is not as important as the way the shoe holds the foot. That’s because a size 9 in one brand may fit like a size 9.5 in another brand.
“There should be ⅜ inch from the tip of the longest toe to the end of the shoe, and the width should be snug but not tight,” he explains. “New running shoes need to be broken in gradually and should be walked in for several hours (depending on the style and brand) before running,” he adds.
Pinker also points out that running shoes need to be replaced after 300 to 500 miles of use, as the midsole breaks down. The midsole provides cushion and shock absorption, and replacing the shoes can help prevent injury.
After you find the right shoes, clothing comes next. Generally speaking, stick with what feels comfortable. That said, if you’re exercising in hot or cold climates, make sure you’re wearing clothing that supports the weather. Most new runners will purchase running pants or shorts, socks, and a sweat-wicking shirt. Most women will also want to wear a supportive sports bra.
Whether to invest in a GPS watch is up to you. You may want to wait a few months to make sure you plan on running for the long haul before spending a few hundred dollars on a watch. There are apps on your phone that can track the distance of your run—as long as you bring your phone with you. That said, a good GPS watch that also tracks your heart rate is a nice addition to a running program.
Now that you have the basics on how to start running, it’s time to lace up your shoes and get outside. And always remember, if you have any questions or concerns about your health and starting a new exercise program, make sure to check with your doctor before your first run.