Last update: January 2022
Beginning a running program is relatively simple: Lace up a pair of running shoes and head out the door. Days 2, 3, and 4: Repeat. Pretty easy, yes?
But what about days 5, 6, and 7, when your body begins to rebel? Your calves are sore, you’re pressed for time, and you’re muttering to yourself, “Tell me again why this is a good idea?”
The whys behind running are numerous. Weight loss, a competitive spirit, making new friends, and wanting to keep up with your children (or grandchildren!) are a few of the excellent reasons to start a running program.
Starting to run is not the issue. Sticking to it is the crux of the matter. The following running tips will help you as a beginner runner, make running enjoyable, and increase your likelihood of success. And here’s a little secret: While they might tweak things a bit, most experienced runners follow these same running tips.
Benefits of running
Running appeals to many people because it’s easy to get started and doesn’t cost much. Plus, runners have the flexibility to run whenever it fits their schedule. Running is a good fit if you’re concerned about your overall health. From improving sleep to reducing knee and hip arthritis, the health benefits of starting a running program are many:
- Improves heart health
- Weight loss
- Strengthens muscles
- Builds strong bones
- Increased lung capacity
- Relieves stress
- Lowers blood pressure
In addition to the health benefits, many seasoned runners say that running taught them that effort produces results. Whether it’s completing a half marathon, graduating from college, or handling an illness, they’ve learned an important life lesson: that perseverance brings reward.
Tips for running for beginners
Before you start running, here are a few running tips to consider to ensure that you have an enjoyable running experience.
1. Plan your run, run your plan
One of the hallmarks of The A-Team, a 1980s TV series, is the infamous catchphrase of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith (played by actor George Peppard): “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Following a training plan encourages discipline and commitment. It provides motivation when challenges arise or life throws you a curve. If you stick with it week in and week out, you’ll soon have a successful running habit.
Create a training plan
A training schedule provides structure and takes the guesswork out of what you need to do each day. It safeguards you from adding mileage too quickly and builds in rest days. If you follow a training plan created by a running coach, it assures you that you’ll peak in time for race day.
Track your progress
Tracking your progress is as valuable as creating a schedule. Writing down information such as distance, time, route, and weather conditions provides a means of comparison as you advance toward your goals. Many runners also note heart rate, training zone, and how they felt during and after their run for added insight on their fitness level.
Reviewing your progress week after week increases self-confidence and provides inspiration. Analyzing your training log helps you know whether your training plan was successful and highlights areas for improvement. That’s when you, too, can say “I love it when a plan comes together.”
2. Dress for success
As you continue your running journey, you’ll find yourself running in all kinds of weather. Dressing appropriately increases comfort, enhances performance, and protects against extreme conditions.
Hot weather running
Loose, light-colored clothing helps your body cool down naturally. Synthetic materials wick sweat away from your skin and aid in evaporation. Wear a visor, not a hat, so that body heat escapes through your head. An ice bandana around your neck cools the blood traveling to and from your brain and provides relief as the ice melts.
Cold weather running
Dress in layers, starting with a base layer of a synthetic material that wicks away sweat. An outer layer of Gore-Tex or nylon resists wind and rain while allowing moisture and heat to escape. If it’s frigid, add an inner layer for extra protection. Wear a head covering and mittens or gloves to prevent heat loss. Socks with good wicking capability prevent blisters (wool is good).
3. Input improves output
Hopefully, you’re already eating healthy and nutritious meals. If not, as a beginner runner, you might have to overhaul your dietary habits. Whether you’re just starting to develop a running habit or are a seasoned veteran, what you put into your body tremendously affects your performance, enjoyment, and ultimately your success.
Regardless of the temperature, if you run, you sweat. When you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes. Proper hydration is essential before, during, and after running to prevent muscle cramps, fatigue, lightheadedness, and other symptoms.
According to the American Council on Exercise, most people find water is the best way to hydrate. If you’re running longer than 60 minutes, sports drinks help replenish electrolytes. ACE offers these guidelines for hydrating properly:
- 2 hours before: 17 to 20 ounces of water
- During: 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes
- After: 16 to 24 ounces of fluids for every pound of bodyweight you lose during your run
Fuel your body
Many new runners think that since running burns lots of calories, they can eat whatever they want. While it doesn’t hurt to have an occasional doughnut, on the whole, you should eat a balanced diet focused on whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. There are, however, a few things specific to fueling your body for running.
Whether you run in the morning or at night, starting your run on an empty stomach decreases performance and leaves you lethargic. As a beginner runner, you’ll need to experiment a bit to find the combination of foods and timing that ensures you’ll have a strong run and quick recovery. Here are a few guidelines you can use if you’re a new runner:
- 2 hours before: Go for high carbohydrate and low protein, fat, and fiber foods. Peanut butter on a bagel, cold cereal with milk, or a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread are excellent pre-run choices.
- During: For runs longer than 90 minutes, aim for 100 calories after 60 minutes and an additional 100 calories every 45 minutes. Candy, energy gels, and sports bars are good options.
- After: Within 30 minutes, eat some carbs and proteins to restore muscle glycogen. Try for a 3 to 1 ratio of carbs to proteins.
4. Choose the right shoes
Choosing the proper running shoes plays a vital role in your success as a beginner runner. Shoes can affect your running mechanics and lead to potential injuries such as shin splints. Cushioning, fit, and heel height are among the things to consider, but it’s bewildering when you go to a running store and try to choose from among the many brands available. We’ve compiled a selection of the best running shoes to help you cut through the confusion.
5. Head in the right direction
Runners who have a choice can enhance their run by adjusting their route to the weather. In cold temperatures, start out running into the wind. You’ll begin to sweat as you run, and it’s incredibly uncomfortable running into an icy wind with damp clothing. A tailwind on the return trip reduces the chilling effect. Other runners find that it also helps them run faster.
In hot weather, run into the wind on the return trip and use the wind to cool your body. Choose a route that offers shade, especially during the last half of your run, and don’t forget the sunscreen.
Cross-training gives your running muscles a break and boosts overall fitness. It speeds your recovery, improves cardio, and strengthens different muscle sets. Swimming, yoga, and cycling are excellent cross-training activities that help you stay injury-free. Mixing up activities is also a key element in preventing boredom and burnout.
7. Stretch before you go
Stretching is an essential part of running. It keeps your muscles flexible, which enhances the range of motion. Taking five minutes to warm up before running gets your blood flowing and helps avoid injury. A post-run stretch lengthens tight muscles and improves mobility. Yale University’s Dr. Elizabeth Gardner says that while stretching is essential, it’s also important to do the right kind of stretching.
Static stretching is stationary and involves moving a joint as far as it will go comfortably and holding it for 30 seconds. Examples of static stretching include bending over to touch your toes, hip flexor stretch, and triceps stretch. Do static stretches after your run to remove lactic acid buildup and prevent post-run pain and stiffness. Hold the stretch gently and avoid bouncing. Post-run stretching also allows time for your heart rate to return to normal gradually.
Dynamic stretching involves movement. Gentle arm or leg swings, walking leg lunges, and jumping jacks are examples of dynamic stretching. These motions activate the muscles that you’ll use during your run, causing them to contract and warm up before you start running. Dynamic stretches also increase your heart rate and blood flow to your muscles, both of which prepare you for your run.
8. Strengthen those muscles
Strength training for beginner runners doesn’t mean powerlifting excessive weight one or two times. Instead, it means lifting lighter weights and doing more repetitions (endurance training). You can also use your body weight to get stronger (functional training). Examples of functional training include leg lunges, planks, and squats. Both kinds of training reduce your risk of injury.
9. Pay attention to form
Proper running form makes you a more efficient runner and aids in injury prevention, but a good running form doesn’t necessarily mean altering your natural stride. Here are a few tips that improve your running form and help you get the most out of your run the entire distance:
- Look ahead, not at your feet
- Don’t slouch — tighten your core and keep your back straight to enhance breathing and avoid lower back pain
- Practice proper arm movement — arms should swing front to back from the shoulder, not across your body
- Hold your hands at waist level — holding them higher increases neck and shoulder tension
- Relax — turn your head from side to side or raise your arms above your head to relieve shoulder and neck tension
What does a beginner running program look like?
Whether you’re eager to toe the starting line at half marathons or merely want to get moving to feel better, keep in mind the following:
- Run only three days a week
- It’s okay to take walking breaks
- Don’t skip rest days
- Try for one long run a week
- Cross-train or strength train once or twice a week
Now that you’re prepared and ready to go, how do you choose a plan? Your training plan can come from a certified running coach, or you can create your own. Here’s a plan designed for beginning runners that follows the run-walk method popularized by Olympian Jeff Galloway. The run/walk technique alternates segments of running with walking and is a great way to ease into a running program.
|Week||Option 1: Time-Based Plan||Option 2: Distance-Based Plan|
|1||Days 1, 2, and 3: walk 30 minutes||Days 1, 2, and 3: walk 1 mile|
|2||Days 1, 2, and 3: walk 10 minutes, alternate 1 minute of jogging with 1 minute of walking for 10 minutes, walk 10 minutes||Days 1 and 2: walk 10 minutes, alternate 1 minute of jogging with 1 minute of walking for ½ mile, walk 10 minutes|
Day 3: walk 1.5 miles
|3||Days 1, 2, and 3: walk 5 minutes, alternate 1 minute of jogging with 2 minutes of walking for 21 minutes, walk 5 minutes||Days 1 and 2: walk 5 minutes, alternate 1 minute of jogging with 2 minutes of walking for 1 mile, walk 5 minutes|
Day 3: walk 2 miles
|4||Days 1 and 2: walk 5 minutes, alternate 5 minutes of jogging with 1 minute of walking for 23 minutes, walk 10 minutes|
Day 3: run-walk for 30 minutes
|Days 1 and 2: walk 5 minutes, alternate 5 minutes of jogging with 1 minute of walking for 1 mile, walk 5 minutes|
Day 3: walk 2.5 miles
|5||Days 1, 2, and 3: jog for 30 minutes||Days 1 and 2: jog for 30 minutes|
Day 3: walk 3 miles
|6||Days 1 and 2: jog for 30 minutes|
Day 3: jog for 40 minutes
|Days 1 and 2: jog for 30 minutes|
Day 3: Walk 3.5 miles
Runners start at different levels and run at different paces, so it’s okay to modify these beginner running plans. If your body is tired on your next run day, or you have difficulty catching your breath, increase the walk breaks. If you feel refreshed, increase the jogging intervals or go a longer distance.
As you start running, your body needs time to adapt to training stress. The goal is to increase your weekly mileage and longer distances gradually so that you stay injury-free.
Regardless of why you started running, these running tips offer a safe way to achieve success. As you progress, a personal trainer can provide support and expertise if your goals include longer races or faster race times.
Are you getting older and worried about starting running? See our article How to Start Running at 50 (and Beyond).
Logging miles is great, but most runners want to improve at some point. Alternating intervals with medium to longer distances at a conversational pace increases your aerobic and lactate thresholds and enables you to run farther and faster.
If you’re relatively inactive, start with 20 to 30 minutes of running three times a week. Follow the run-walk method. As you progress, add 10 minutes to one of your runs. As your body adapts to the long distance, add five minutes to the other two runs. Repeat this sequence over the upcoming weeks, gradually increasing your distance. In general, your long run should be about 30% of your weekly mileage to avoid the risk of injury.
Beginner runners should start with a walking program, progress to jogging, and then move on to running. New runners can start with a run-walk program if they’re reasonably fit, gradually increasing the length of their running intervals.
Starting to run is hard. You’re asking your body to do something new, engaging muscles that don’t typically get a workout and breathing hard to suck in enough oxygen. The only way running gets easier is by staying consistent. Taking a walk break, making sure your training schedule provides plenty of rest, and building mileage gradually helps your body adapt and ultimately reach the finish line.
Shoot for three to four days of running a week. Rest is essential if you want to stay healthy and get to the start line of your half marathon refreshed and ready to go the entire distance. Allow at least one complete rest day a week, preferably two.
If you sign up for a road running event, you’ll want to log most of your weekly mileage on pavement, but mixing up your running surface relieves the boredom of the same running routine. Treadmill running is great for inclement weather and provides greater control over pace and intensity. A track offers a cushioned surface for speed workouts. A long run on trails strengthens stabilizer muscles and allows for quicker recovery.