There’s no arguing that running is a great way to lose weight, boost your mood, improve cardiovascular health, and enhance overall fitness — science says so, after all. And in theory, it’s also one of the simplest activities to do. All it takes 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 running training plan or it’s been a while since you’ve hit the pavement, you might not know how to start running to ensure success.
First of all, don’t go in with unrealistic expectations. Running might be natural, but it’s still hard work. “I often see runners at the start of a training program get really disappointed at how hard it is, how slow they are going, or how far they are able to run,” said Carl Leivers, a USA Track and Field-certified coach based in Atlanta. He recommends giving a running training plan three to six weeks before hanging up your shoes, saying that around that point, things typically start to feel a bit easier. So stick with running for a month or two if you want to give it a fair shot at becoming a part of your regular workout routine. Here are our top running tips for beginners to help you get going.
How to Start Running: 9 Tips for Beginners
1. Get the right shoe
“The single most important purchase a runner will make is their footwear,” said Chris Forti, the RRCA-certified coach of the Dashing Whippets race team in New York City. While a running shirt weaved with technical moisture-wicking fibers can make you more comfortable, a good pair of shoes can actually help thwart injury.
To pick the best running shoes for beginners, start by visiting a running specialty store with a knowledgeable staff and a wide selection of quality footwear. Leivers says to plan on spending about $100. “Most of the bigger brands make $60 dollar shoes, but they don’t have the same shock absorption, support, and durability that a $100 pair typically has,” he says.
Staff at a running specialty store will likely ask about your injury history and do a gait analysis to identify a small number of models they think will 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.
2. Pick a running route (or a few routes)
Sure, you can always run on a treadmill, but one of the great things about running is that it lets you explore the outdoors. If you enjoy being one with nature, pick a quiet, wooded trail. If you prefer some hustle and bustle, choose a city path. Or, you can alternate between different kinds of paths to stave off boredom. But no matter what route you choose, make sure it’s safe and doesn’t have you stopping at traffic lights on every block. It also helps if the route is easily accessible — if you have to drive 20 minutes to start your run, it’s easier to skip it than if you just have to walk out your door.
Leivers recommends starting with a relatively flat route if possible, so your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems can improve in tandem. You want to avoid burning out your legs by climbing a hill, but still having plenty of juice left in your cardiovascular endurance.
3. Start with a run/walk approach
Rather than going for a three-mile run right out of the gates, start by alternating intervals of running and walking. Not only is this less daunting for a beginner, this approach 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 run/walk intervals (e.g., alternate running for two or more minutes and walking for 60 seconds).
4. Practice good running form
Studies from exercise physiology labs around the world suggest that a good gait can help prevent a number of common running injuries, like knee pain and stress fractures in the shins. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for proper running form, there are a few general rules you should follow.
John Goldthorp, an RRCA-certified coach and ACE-certified personal trainer, tells runners to “run tall and as relaxed as possible,” while keeping a slight forward lean in your torso, and avoid locking your knees. You should also 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.
5. Set goals
When it comes to motivation, the benefits of setting goals are undisputed. One of the easiest ways to do this with running is to put a race on the calendar. Leivers tells his runners to pick a 5K that is eight to 12 weeks out from the start of training. “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 beginning and culmination to your 5K running plan, Forti says. This gives you a set amount of time where you can see what improvements were made, and you can asses what worked and what didn’t with your training. “However, it’s also important to remember that a single race or performance doesn’t define your fitness,” Forti says.
Take a look at our eight-week running guide to help you get started with your running goal.
6. Track your progress
Having a record of your performance allows you to see how far you’ve come in your training. “I love tracking my training because I can look back and see where I made progress or made mistakes,” Goldthorp says. Whether you write down your runs on a calendar or you choose a higher-tech solution like a running app, keeping track of what you’ve accomplished can help you stay motivated to continue making strides with your running training.
“These days with all the great training apps, there’s also a social element that can be very fun and motivating,” Goldthorp adds. Many running apps allow you to share your runs with followers, create challenges with friends, and join clubs within the apps, providing a platform where you can have conversations with other runners, swap tips, and offer up encouragement.
7. Hydrate and fuel properly
Proper hydration is great for overall health, but it’s also crucial for running performance. “Our bodies just don’t function well when we aren’t well hydrated,” said Leivers. So how much water should you drink on a daily basis? To start, Openfit suggests half your body weight in ounces. After that, listen to your body and drink when you’re thirsty. When you start running, you might find you need more water than usual, due to increased fluid loss through sweat.
As for nutrition, there’s no one perfect diet for runners. If you’re just starting to run (i.e., not training for a marathon), all you’ll need to focus on is eating enough calories with a good ratio of protein to carbs to fats (figure out how many calories you should eat with this guide). It is, however, important to avoid falling into the trap of overeating if you’re hoping to lose weight with your running routine. “In my experience, people vastly overestimate how many calories they are burning when they run,” Leivers adds. “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.”
8. Listen to your body
Honing your body awareness is a vital step to becoming a healthy runner. Physical cues, like persistently tight quads or sore calves, will alert you when you need to back off or take a rest day. Goldthorp says that learning to listen to your body can help you discern the difference between soreness and impending injury. “General soreness subsides within about two to three days,” he says.
Pain that hurts for a longer period of time could indicate an injury. Forti explains that the most common injuries from running are achilles tendonitis (characterized by pain at the back of your ankle), illiotibial band syndrome (characterized by pain on the outer part of your quad), and plantar fasciitis (characterized by pain on the bottom of your heel). “If you are feeling pain in these areas, follow RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), and back off running for a couple days,” Forti says. “If the pain lingers, seek professional help from an orthopedist who specializes in running.”
9. Don’t forget to cross-train
“A huge mistake runners make is to only run,” Goldthorp says. Studies show that including strength training in your program can not only enhance your running speed, running economy, power output, and time to exhaustion, but also reduce your risk of injury. You should also consider incorporating mobility work such as foam rolling and dynamic stretching in your routine, as it can help improve recovery and reduce muscle soreness. “Cross-training can also help prevent injuries and make you a stronger athlete,” Forti says.
Putting this advice into practice is easier than it might sound. Many people see results with as little as 30 minutes of strength training two to three times per week, and by swapping a run for another cardiovascular activity like swimming or biking once or twice a week.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!
Running can be done almost anywhere with little equipment, making it a great form of exercise. But to be successful, there are a few essential things you need, like a good pair of shoes and a safe running route. Focus on good running form and start slow with a run/walk approach to ease into it and reduce your risk of injury. Sign up for a race to give yourself a goal, and in almost no time at all, you’ll be a true runner.