This guide is not intended to be for anyone who is currently inspired to train for a marathon or an ultramarathon. This guide is not intended for anyone who used to run in high school and is hoping to get back at it.
This post is for people who just have an interest in running for exercise and want basic strategies to get you going for your first two or three miles. By the time you can run up to two or three miles without stopping you’ll be able to research methods for training for longer distances on your own.
There are so many benefits to running: a clear mind, a stronger heart, weight loss, learning discipline, getting outside, and more energy.
I originally started running while I was training to be a dispatcher and needed a way to get everything that had happened out of my head. I wasn’t going very far at all back then (still am not going very far) but by the time I had finished angrily huffing around my neighborhood I couldn’t even remember what I was upset about at the beginning of the run. I realized then that running was the best form of meditation I could find. When I got upset at work I could rely on my after-work run to help me let go of whatever emotions I was holding onto.
Then running became a cheap way to stay in shape and explore my community. Now it has become a good way to challenge myself and see how far I can go.
I go through phases in my running. I generally don’t run in January or February because it gets too cold and slippery and I hate running on a treadmill. Sometimes I’ll stop for two months and just pick it back up again. I’m a runner regardless, and you can be too.
The things you need to consider when you decide to start running are simple: shoes, clothes and location.
You can run in the tennis shoes you have in your closet, sure, but you’re going to have a better time running in shoes designed for running. Personally, I run in Brooks and Hokas for paved trails and sidewalks, and Merrils for dirt trails. Running shoes are an addiction of mine and I am constantly browsing for new models.
You can probably find a running store near you that will check out your gait and tell you if you need a cushioned shoe or a shoe meant to stabilize your ankle. Or you can just buy a few pairs of shoes (expensive) and figure out which one you like best and buy that kind from then on. I prefer really cushiony shoes because my knees act up if I run on pavement for too long.
If you do go the shoe store route, don’t be pressured into buying custom insoles unless you have super flat arches. You will probably be able to run just with the shoe alone. I have never noticed a super great improvement with custom insoles but if you feel like you want them, go right ahead. It can’t cause any harm.
Once you have some shoes you are comfortable in, all you need next is something comfy to run in. For guys this can be some basketball shorts or whatever. Women might need to consider the good ol’ chub rub. Personally, my thighs rub together while I’m running and chafe. I have to wear something that covers my legs down to my knees in order to not chafe and cause injuries. I’d also suggest something form fitting so that you don’t have a bunch of fabric bunching up between your legs. That’s just annoying.
Once you have your shoes and clothes figured out, find a place to run. Most people can probably run around their neighborhood but if your neighborhood is very hilly I would suggest finding a place that is more flat just because running up hills can be hard if you are also building up your cardio. If you want to run on trails, just make sure there aren’t many rocky areas because you don’t want to twist an ankle just as you’re starting out and be forced to stay off your foot for a few weeks.
If you’re thinking “screw it, I’m going to just do whatever” ok, that’s cool. I’m not your mom. Run wherever you want.
So, how do you actually start running? First, set a reasonable goal. One mile without stopping is a very reasonable goal.
There are a few ways you can work up to one mile:
- Just go. Run as far as you can (until you literally cannot go any further) and then walk until you recover. Once recovered, run until you can’t run any more and then walk to recover. Repeat until you’ve reached a mile. At no point should you EVER feel as if you are going to pass out. And honestly, you shouldn’t be running all that fast. Don’t sprint, don’t “go for it”, just keep it at a nice pace that you can more or less maintain. Over time the recovery walks will be less and less as your heart gets stronger.
- Run one minute, walk one minute. Repeat until you have gone a mile. Do this for a week and then run one minute, walk thirty seconds. Repeat for a mile. Do this for a week or until you feel as if it is too easy. Once it is too easy, keep shortening the walk breaks until you are running the entire mile.
- If you feel as if running a mile is way too intimidating, try walking it first. Walking is a really good way to get cardio in if running just isn’t something you’re ready for. Once you feel comfortable walking a mile, run just a little bit during the first half of the mile, walk the second half. Keep adding more and more running until you can run the whole thing.
Remember: You aren’t competing with anyone other than yourself. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far anyone else is going. Being jealous of them or worrying what they think about you will only hold you back. You need to focus on yourself and improving your times and distances. Believe me when I say that no one cares how far YOU are going or how fast you are going, they are only thinking about themselves and their times and their distances. No one thinks about you as much as you think they do. You aren’t that important to other people. So don’t worry about them.
Important caveat: If you are obese or borderline obese, please do not start a running program without first talking to a doctor. Your heart might not be able to take the stress. I am in no way a specialist in this area and I don’t claim to be. This program is designed for people who are capable of walking at least a mile.
Important things to know:
- When you are just starting out don’t run more than 4 times a week. Three is actually preferred. If this is new for your body it will need time to adjust. You’ll probably be sore the next day. Rest time is recovery time is muscle development time. I know some people will be frustrated by this but if you aren’t careful you’ll hurt yourself and be out of commission for several weeks and that just sucks.
- Fuel yourself properly. Make sure you eat a good amount of GOOD food. Especially if you are running for weight loss. You’ll need vegetables, and a good amount. Don’t skimp on fresh veggies. You body needs the nutrients and the carbs in order to fuel itself.
- Don’t overestimate the calories you are burning. A one mile run, depending on your weight, will only burn 100-150 calories. That’s it. And that’s less than 2 Oreos. That’s less than 1/2 cup of rice. That’s less than a coke. That’s less than a cider or a cocktail. In fact, it is best if you don’t EVER say “I ran today so I can eat whatever I want” because you are going to just gain weight that way. Be very, very aware of how much you are actually burning. Rule of thumb is 100 calories per mile more or less.
- Learn the difference between pain and injury. There are sometimes little nagging pains that’ll plague you during a bad run. Sometimes the outside of my foot hurts. Sometimes I chose the wrong shoes for the trail and my knee can pinch a little. Sometimes my hip crease just throws a fit. These are things I can run through. These are things that aren’t going to cause lasting damage. BUT if something HURTS and you can tell that it isn’t normal and it isn’t just a little twinge, consider stopping for the day and letting yourself rest. Pay particular attention to ankles, knees and shins. Ongoing shin splints are NOT normal and you need to look at your shoes or your form (find a running coach near you).
- DON’T RUN TOO FAST. A lot of people complain about not being able to go further or that they can barely breathe. IF YOU CAN’T BREATHE YOU ARE GOING TOO FAST. SLOW THE HECK DOWN. That is the BEST tip I was ever given as a beginning runner. I was always miserable on my runs because I was constantly out of breath and just gasping for air. Then someone just said “You gotta slow down, Liz” and I did and it has been much, much better. Remember, you aren’t racing other people, you’re trying to improve your health. Go at a pace that will let you breathe, that you feel comfortable with and that feels natural. Don’t worry about how fast that is at the beginning. There will be time for speed work later.
- The point is to improve. Sometimes during the run itself you’ll be annoyed with yourself or angry that it is so hard. There will always be a variety of emotions that you experience while working out. That’s fine. Do whatever you need to do with them but don’t let them control you. Running is very, very mental. If you continue to tell yourself “this is too hard!” then yes, it will be too hard and you won’t accomplish it. Don’t give in.
Once you’ve got a mile solid you can either work on improving that time or add on additional distance to work up to longer runs. If you add on distance, only add 10-15% of your previous distance per week. So if you can run a mile comfortably and you want to go further, go 1.10 to 1.15 miles the next week. Do that distance until you’re comfortable again and then add another 10-15%. I know this seems ridiculously slow but you’re trying to not hurt yourself during this process. If you just add on another mile your legs will not be prepared and you can hurt yourself.
For people who would like to run a 5k, there is an app called C25K or Couch to 5K which will give you specific runs to do that will help you get to a 5k in about eight weeks. A lot of people have had good success with the app.
If you want a more social running experience or you feel motivated being around other people, consider joining a running club in your area. Running has become quite a popular sport in recent years and most states/cities/counties will have a running club that accommodates beginning runners, sets up races and has group runs. They’ll also be able to help you find a running coach and you can get tips and pointers from more experienced runners.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions please feel free to drop them below!