Last week, I introduced the Beginner’s Guide series with my post on How to Start Running. This week, I want to discuss some of the best beginner running plans for how to start running or racing, along with offering some practical tips to help you choose to a beginner running plan and how to stick to it.
Having a plan is essential for achieving a goal. You don’t pursue a college or graduate degree, for example, without a plan of what you are going to study and which classes fulfill the requirements. Having a plan for any goal gives you not only a clear understanding of what you need to do to achieve your goal, but it keeps you accountable – you know whether or not you’re on the right track. A plan then is important for running because it clearly tells you what you need to do each day and each week. You can tell if you’re doing the right things to pursue your goal easily – did you run for the time or distance specified? I also really like following a plan because it removes the guesswork from each day’s workout. I know what I have to do, which means I don’t waste time figuring how far or fast I want to run.
It can be overwhelming, however, to try to choose a plan. It is easy to find a beginner level running plan, since there are hundreds of beginner plans out there. However, some of those plans are not well formulated – they start too hard, demand too much, or progress too quickly. Since each runner is different, I encourage new runners to specifically list their goals and what they want from their running plan. How many days a week do you want to run? Do you want to include strength training or cross training? What is your current fitness level? What is your goal – to run thirty minutes straight? To run a 5K or 10K? To lose weight? How much time a day can you devote to running? All of these are important questions to ask yourself before you pick a plan. Having a plan that fits your needs makes you more likely to stick with the plan and with running in the long-term.
For example, when Ryan started running, we developed a plan based on his needs. He wanted to run three days a week so that he could include strength training or outdoor activities on other days. Since he is an avid disc golfer (which involves a significant amount hiking, usually around 5 miles at the local course), he had a good level of fitness. From this, we were able to develop a plan that used both run-walk intervals and, because of his fitness base, incorporated some interval-style speed work.
When Ryan finished his first plan, we worked together to reassess his goals. He decided to add a fourth day of running and to focus on being able to run for thirty minutes straight. He also has his eye on running our local Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving, so we are continuing to include speed work in his plan. Each time you successfully complete a plan, take some time to reassess your goals. Are you ready to race, and if so, what distance? Do you want to increase your weekly mileage or starting adding speed work?
A good beginner running plan will usually feature three to four days of running each week. You want to run three days at least because frequency is important for improving in both general health and fitness and in your specific running goals. Five or more days is too much stress on the joints and muscles for new runners – you need to give your body time to recover from the workouts, since it is during the recovery that your muscles actually get stronger. Running too many miles or too frequently too soon will quickly lead to an overuse injury such as pulled or strained muscles, severe soreness and fatigue, runner’s knee, or shin splints. Those are all no fun and will sideline you from running and other activities, so you want to ease comfortably into running.
A great way to prevent injury is to choose a plan that uses the run-walk method. I heavily encourage new runners, even if you were athletic earlier in life, to choose run-walk plans to begin running. The walk intervals prevent too much stress on your joints by reducing impact, but still puts your body through the same range of motion as running. This means that it adapts your body to the action of running without putting you at risk for injury. I also firmly believe, as I mentioned in the previous beginner’s guide post, that run-walk intervals also mentally train the new runner. It is a lot less daunting for a new runner to repeat running for two minutes and walking for two minutes for a half of an hour than to run for half an hour straight.
Especially for new runners, a good plan should not have prescribed minutes per mile paces or miles per hour speeds. Rather, the running plan should be adaptable for your own pace. As a new runner, you want to try to maintain a comfortable pace. Do not worry about hitting a certain speed – it’s more important that you have a strong workout that encourage you to keep running rather than hit a ten-minute-mile pace only to burn out and not do the rest of your runs that week. The best way to tell if you’re running at a comfortable pace is to check your breathing. If you are gasping for air, you want to slow down your pace. If you are able to speak in short sentences, then you are at a comfortable pace.
So what plans do I recommend for beginner runners? Here’s a list of my favorite beginner running plans, sorted by just starting to run, training for a 5K, and training for a 10K.
Beginner running plans to start running with no goal race:
– Amby Burfoot’s 8 Week Beginner’s Program over at Runner’s World’s page for beginners. This eight week plans features four days of run-walk intervals and two days of walking. You begin with 10 intervals of running for one minute and walking for two minutes; by the end of the eighth week, you can run for thirty minutes straight (2-3 miles). Its author, Amby Burfoot, was a competitive runner – he won the Boston Marathon in 1968 – and now works as an author and editor-at-large at Runner’s World.
– Women’s Health Magazine’s 6 Week Run-Walk Program. This plan begins easier than Burfoot’s plan, but progresses at a much quicker rate. Over the course of six weeks, you progress from three intervals of run one minute and walk one minute to running thirty minutes without walking. This plan features four days of running and two days of strength training.
– Coach Jenny Hadfield’s Zero to Running Plan: Jenny Hadfield has a MS in Exercise Science and writes for Runner’s World and Women’s Running, along with offering coaching services. Her free plans are great for runners of all levels, especially beginners. This plan features three days of running and two cross-training days. Of all these listed plans, this plan is best for those without a fitness base, as she begins with 30 second of running and 3 minutes of walking repeated over the course of 21 minutes. The plan will guide you to be able to run for thirty minutes straight.
5K/10K Beginner Running Plans
If you want to race, it is best to begin with a 5K or 10K. Half and full marathons require a strong running base, so if those are your ultimate goal, first try training for a 5K or 10K.
– Jeff Galloway’s 5K/10K Plan. Jeff Galloway was also a competitive runner back in the 1960s and 1970s. He developed the incredibly popular Galloway Run Walk Run Method in the 1970s, and works as the official coach for the RunDisney races. The Galloway Method features three days of running and three days of walking. He also writes a great monthly column for Runner’s World that offers advice for new runners.
– Hal Higdon’s Novice 5K Plan. Hal Higdon is considered one of the greats of marathon coaching, but he provides plans for all distances and levels of runners. This plan does not use the run-walk method. Instead, it begins with 1.5 miles of running and progresses over 8 weeks to three miles. It features three days of running, one day of a long walk, and two optional run-walk days.
– Jenny Hadfield’s 5K Beginning Run Plan: This plan is best for new runners who have a strong fitness base from other sports or activities. It includes four days of running, and one of those days includes “pick-ups” in speed during the run. She also incorporates two days of strength training into the plan. You begin with 25 minutes of easy running and work up to a weekly long run of 45 minutes.
Check back next week for the next Beginner’s Guide post – how to warm-up, cool-down, and stretch!
Please let me know if you have any questions about how to choose a beginner running plan! I am more than glad to help you in any aspect of running, so send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or contact me through my Facebook page!
Note: I am not a certified coach nor a personal trainer. If you are beginning a new fitness plan, please consult your physicians to make sure that you do not have any existing health conditions.
Questions of the Day:
New runners – are you currently using a specific plan? What did you think of it?
How did you start running?
I started three days a week, three miles on the treadmill, after months of Pilates, jump rope, and strength training.
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