Running attracts new participants each year because of its simplicity. You do not need a gym membership, a team, or very expensive equipment; you simply need a pair of shoes, some athletic clothing, and the outdoors. However, starting can be trickier than it seems. Too often, new runners are deterred by the intensity of running or injury. With these beginner tips, you can successfully start running – and keep running for as long as you wish.
1. Start with Run-Walk Intervals
If running for 3 miles straight or even a mile straight sounds intimidating, there’s no need to worry. Run-walk intervals are a proven method for beginning a lifelong habit of running. Run-walk intervals are the best way to start running without causing injury or overtaxing your body so much that you quit before you get into a running routine.
When you run, you don’t just work your cardiovascular system; running also places stress on your joints, bones, and muscles. Even if you have good cardio fitness from the elliptical, spinning, or another non-running activity, taking brief scheduled walk breaks during your runs will prevent you from overstressing your musculoskeletal system. You’ll minimize the risk of common injuries such as shin splints, IT band syndrome, and runner’s knee—and by staying injury-free, you can keep on running!
Run-walk intervals also control the effort of your run. Running is hard, but each run doesn’t need to be (nor should be) a gut-busting effort. Walk breaks help you control your breathing and keep your pace under control, so you aren’t struggling to finish by the end.
The length of the run intervals and walk intervals depends on your current level of fitness. If you are new to exercise in general, you may start with 30 to 60 seconds of running and 1-2 minutes of walking. Those with a good fitness base from other sports or activities can start with longer intervals of running and 1 minute of walking.
Allow yourself time to adapt to the intervals before increasing them. For many beginners, this means maintaining the same duration of run-walk intervals for a couple of weeks before progressing. For runners with a background in other sports, they may be able to progress more quickly to continuous running.
Whatever your approach, be conservative. Most injuries, especially for beginners, are caused by doing too much, too hard, too soon.
2. Keep Your Effort Easy
Running doesn’t mean you have to sprint at your maximum effort. In fact, you should not push every run at a hard effort. Running is most beneficial and enjoyable when done at an easy to moderate intensity. You will stick with the sport longer and stay injury-free if you avoid treating every run like a race. Easy running is used by all runners, not just beginners; it’s a skill you have to learn at some point, so you might as well learn it early!
How do you know if you are running easy enough? You can gauge your effort using your breathing rate and heart rate. Easy effort means you could carry on a conversation with a running partner. Your breathing should only be slightly labored; if you are gasping for air, slow down or use more frequent walk intervals. If you are using heart rate, aim for 65-75% of your max heart rate.
3. Build Your Base First
While social media and the running blog world may be full of runners sharing 70+ mile weeks, marathon races, and crazy speed workouts, no one starts out there. Focus on building your base first before tackling races, speed workouts, and long-distance running.
Start with 20-30 minutes of easy running or run-walk intervals two to three times per week. There’s no need to run every day, especially when you first start out! Your body needs rest days to recover and adapt to the new training load. Allow yourself several weeks to gradually increase your mileage (following these general guidelines to increasing mileage).
This means you should wait until you have a few months of running (or run-walking) as a base before you decide to train for a half marathon or marathon. There will always be time to race, but those first few months of running are critical for adapting your musculoskeletal system to the physiological demands of running. By spending a few months developing your running routine, strengthening your muscles and joints, and building your aerobic base, you’ll reduce your risk of injury later. (Once you are ready for your first half, reference this post for first-time half marathoners!)
4. Introduce Faster Running Gradually
Once you can comfortably handle 15-20 miles per week and have been running for at least three months, then you can gradually introduce faster running. You will not be ready for challenging workouts on the track. However, you can add in short intervals of faster running with equal time or slightly longer recovery intervals.
For example, a great speed workout for a new runner is a fartlek run. Spend 10 minutes or about 1 mile warming up with easy running. After you have warmed up, alternate between 1 minute of faster running and 2 minutes of easy running for about 15-20 minutes (5-7 repeats total). Then cool down with 5-10 minutes of easy running. You can also try one of these speed workouts for beginner runners.
As with when you first introduced running, you want to avoid the trap of doing too much too soon. Only do speedwork once per week and always follow your hard workout day with an easy run or rest day.
5. Keep a Training Log
You may have a running buddy or a coach to keep you accountable, but ultimately you need to be accountable to yourself.
A training log lets you track your progress and see how far you’ve come—which is why it’s a must-have for any new runner. When you can look back and see visible progress over the past month, you are more likely to keep running and pushing yourself a little bit more each week.
You can track your runs with a paper journal, GPS watch, or a running app such as Strava Make a note of your distance, time, pace, how you felt, the weather, and any other important detail (my theory: no detail is too small!). Over time, your training log will show visible progress – and keep you motivated to keep running.
6. Invest in Injury Prevention
Speaking of injury, a strong core, hips, and glutes will help you stay injury-free in your running. You can do strength training with weights, do one of these injury prevention workouts for runners, or you can try the following simple exercises at home.
Begin with 1 set of 10 reps of each exercise. Complete them after a run or on your non-running days and you’re well on your way to becoming a stronger runner.
Glute Bridges: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor near your butt. Squeeze your glutes and raise your hips up, so that your torso forms a straight diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders. Keep your hips even. Pause, then slowly lower down to complete one rep.
Side Lying Leg Lifts: Lie on your right side with your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet all stacked. Your body should be in a straight line. Prop your head up in your right hand or rest it on your right arm. Slowly raise your left leg up as high as you can without wobbling in your hips or torso, pause, and then slowly lower down to complete one rep. Complete all reps on your right side, then repeat on your left side.
Forearm Plank: Come into a raised push up position, then lower down onto your forearms. Your body should form a straight line. Pull in your navel to engage your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes, and hold the plank for 30 seconds.
How did you start running?
What advice would you give a new runner?
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