How to Start Running: 11 Tips for Beginners
In theory, running is one of the simplest workouts — all you need is a good pair of shoes and the motivation to put one foot in front of the other. But if you’ve never followed a training plan before, or it’s been ages since you hit the pavement, you may be wondering how to start running. Here are 11 of the best running tips for beginners.
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1. Give Yourself Time
Running might be natural, but it’s still hard work — so don’t go in with unrealistic expectations. “I often see runners at the start of a training program get really disappointed at how hard it is, how slow they’re going, or how far they’re able to run,” says Carl Leivers, a USA Track and Field certified coach based in Atlanta. It may take three to six weeks before your training plan starts to feel a little easier, he adds, so stick with it.
2. Get the Right Shoes
“The single most important purchase a runner will make is their footwear,” says Chris Forti, the RRCA-certified coach of the Dashing Whippets race team in New York City. To find the best running shoes for you, visit a running specialty store with a knowledgeable staff and a wide selection of quality footwear. The staff will ask about your injury history and do a gait analysis to identify which shoes might work well for you.
From there, research suggests letting comfort be your guide — people tend to choose the shoes that best support their unique movement patterns because they are also the most comfortable. Leivers says to plan on spending around $100 for a shoe with the shock absorption, support, and durability you need if you’re racking up mileage.
3. Plan Your Running Route
Sure, you can always run on a treadmill. But one of the great things about running is that it lets you explore the outdoors — whether you prefer a quiet, wooded running trail or the hustle and bustle of a city running route. For beginners, Leivers recommends starting with a relatively flat route — that way, you can build up your cardiovascular endurance without worrying about burning out your legs on hills.
Choose a safe route that doesn’t have too many traffic lights, so you’re not stopping at every block. It also helps if the route is easily accessible — if you have to drive 20 minutes just to start your run, you’ll be more inclined to skip it than if you just have to walk out your front door.
4. Try a Run/Walk Approach
You might be wondering how to start running if you can barely run half a mile without stopping to catch your breath. Try alternating periods of running and walking — not only is this a less daunting approach to running for beginners, but it can also help reduce fatigue and soreness.
“I’m definitely a proponent of the run/walk method, especially for new runners,” Leivers says. “I may have someone jog for 60 seconds and then walk for 60 seconds, and repeat that ten times.” As you get into better shape, you can increase the running portion of the intervals — for example, run two minutes and walk one minute.
5. Practice Good Running Form
Research suggests that an efficient gait may help to reduce the risk of common running injuries. While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to running form, there are a few general rules you should follow, according to John Goldthorp, an RRCA-certified coach and ACE-certified personal trainer:
- Run tall and as relaxed as possible.
- Maintain a slight forward lean.
- Avoid locking your knees.
- Keep your body relaxed — tense shoulders and clenched fists are surefire ways to waste precious energy.
Check out our full guide on how to improve your running form for maximum efficiency.
6. Register for a Race
It’s no secret that setting a clear and attainable goal can help you stay motivated. That’s why one of the best running tips for beginners is to put a race on the calendar, then commit to a training plan. “Having that concrete goal, as well as paying the entry fee and spending money on shoes, might be some of the things that make you stick with the training,” Leivers says.
Signing up for a race also gives you a clear point in time where you can assess your progress, Forti says — but, he adds, “It’s also important to remember that a single race or performance doesn’t define your fitness.”
7. Track Your Workouts
Use a running app to track your runs, share your successes, swap tips with other runners, and create challenges with friends. Or for a low-tech solution, record your mileage on your calendar. “I love tracking my training because I can look back and see where I made progress or made mistakes,” Goldthorp says. Seeing how much you’ve accomplished can help you stay motivated to keep making strides.
8. Stay Hydrated
Proper hydration is key for overall health, but it’s especially crucial for running performance. “Our bodies just don’t function well when we aren’t well hydrated,” Leivers says. So how much water should you drink on a daily basis? A good rule of thumb is to aim for half your body weight in ounces — and beyond that, listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty. When you’re just getting started with running, you might find you need more water than usual, due to increased fluid loss through sweat.
9. Fuel Properly
As for nutrition, there’s no one perfect diet for runners. If you’re just starting to run — i.e., you’re not training for a marathon — focus on eating enough calories with a good balance of protein, carbs, and fats. However, it’s also important to avoid falling into the trap of overeating when you feel “rungry.”
“In my experience, people vastly overestimate how many calories they’re burning when they run,” Leivers says. “Generally speaking, you burn about 100 calories per mile — so if your goal is to lose weight, be mindful that you’re not burning a ton of calories.”
10. Listen to Your Body
Honing your body awareness is a vital step to becoming a healthy runner. So how can you tell if you’re injured or just sore?
Your muscles may feel a bit sore after a run, but that soreness will typically subside within two to three days, Goldthorp says. More persistent pain may be a sign that you need to ease up or take a rest day. And if you feel sharp or intense pain during a run, you may be dealing with a running injury.
For pain, Forti recommends the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Back off running for a few days, and if the pain lingers, talk to a doctor.
11. Do More Than Just Running
“A huge mistake runners make is to only run,” Goldthorp says. Ideally, your weekly workout routine should also include:
- Strength training. Research suggests that strength training a couple of times a week can help improve speed and running economy. (Here are 10 of the best strength training exercises for runners.)
- Cross training. Consider swapping one run each week for another cardiovascular activity like swimming or biking.
- Stretching. Incorporate mobility work such as yoga and dynamic stretching in your routine, as it can help improve recovery.
Not sure how to squeeze everything into your workout schedule? Try our 8-Week Running for Weight Loss Program.