How to Start Running: A Complete Guide for Beginner Runners

Friends, I’ve been running most my life (since I was 6 years old) but I have had to learn how to start running many times—especially recently.

First, it was the two beautiful children I had.

Then, once I aced postpartum running, it was a torn hamstring that required about a year and half of rehabilitation.

Then, this spring, I got pleurisy from my second Covid-19 vaccine shot which took me out of the sport for about a month (and counting…).

Each layoff has meant that I had to start running all over again, so I consider myself a bit of an expert on the topic of how to start running (IMHO).

Whether you’re a beginner runner or taken time away due to having babies, an injury, illness or life craziness, this Running for Beginners Guide will help you! To bolster my personal experience, I talked with experts all over the globe and curated the best tips to set you up for success for your running journey mentally and physically.

how to start running
Pin these beginner running tips for later!

Why should I start running?

Runners come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common—they LOVE to run! That’s why the running community is such a robust, supportive one. We are all out there doing this crazy thing together, no matter the elements or challenges (ahem, childbirth).

That’s because we get some many physical and mental benefits from it. And, it’s so simple, as Nick Karwoski, a ranked former US National Team Triathlete at personal training service, Tagalong with a Pro, points out:“Running is a great activity for people to pick up for two main reasons: 1) it’s a great form of exercise and 2) it doesn’t get any easier than throwing a pair of shoes on and walking out your front door. No gym. No equipment. And, the weather is getting warmer now, so there really are no excuses!” 

We are born to love to run. We see it in our children from the moment they figure out how. They are giddy with excitement from the empowering feeling of making their bodies MOVE.

And, as we grow older, running has wonderful fringe benefits like needing to EAT a lot of delicious food to fuel our performance.

Runners are almost as passionate about eating as they are about running. That’s because to be a healthy runner, you must fuel yourself with good food! Otherwise, you will get injured, sick, and your performance will suffer.

So, should I eat before I run?

In most cases, yes! Typically, if your run is going to last longer than 30 minutes, it’s a good idea to grab a carb-dense snack of 200 to 300 calories before you head out the door.

Michelle Howell, professional runner and coach at Tagalong, says new runners should never eat within an hour of their run.

“No one wants to be halfway through a run and feel like they’re going to throw up, which is the worst-case scenario when you eat too close in time to your run,” she warns.  

Avoid heavy meals and make sure you give yourself about two hours to digest the food.  Otherwise, your stomach will lack the blood flow needed to digest when you’re running since the blood is going to your arms and legs instead.

This can lead to tummy troubles, warns Sarah Schlichter, mother runner and nutritionist at Nutrition for Running.

Sarah suggests simple foods such as:

  • oatmeal
  • bagel
  • waffles
  • toast
  • a banana with peanut butter
  • or a glass of juice

Related: How to Train Your Gut to Avoid Runner’s Trots

running tips for beginners
Pin these nutrition tips for runners for later!

Should I eat after I run?

In most cases, yes! Especially for runs lasting longer than 30 minutes.

“After a workout, runners should look to include a combination of carbohydrates and protein to help minimize muscle breakdown and start the muscle repair and glycogen restoration processes,” says Sarah.

Aim to eat or drink something rich in carbs and protein within 30 minutes of your workout. Some examples include:

  • chocolate milk
  • a sandwich
  • a protein smoothie, or
  • yogurt with fruit

What should I drink before I run?

Aim to drink 8-10 ounces of water or an electrolyte drink like Gatorade or Nuun 30-60 minutes before your run. Hydration will need to be increased as your mileage increases or as the weather gets hotter. Drink to thirst and continue to drink throughout your runs, especially on hot and humid days.

If you tend to sweat a lot, pay extra attention to your hydration. You may need to drink more before and after.

What should I drink after I run?

Hydration tips for runners
Drink water or electrolyte drinks like Nuun before and after you run.

Replenishing fluids loss is crucial, notes Jordan Duncan, owner of Silverdale Sport & Spine.

“The best way to know how much to consume is to weigh yourself before and after running to calculate your fluid loss. A loss of one kilogram is equal to one liter of fluid. Once you have this number, you should aim to drink the equivalent of 1.5 times this fluid deficit within four hours of running.”

Do this with water or an electrolyte drink.

What gear do I need to start running?

No need to get fancy with lots of expensive gear. The only thing you truly need is a good pair of running shoes. Otherwise, you risk injury.

“Go to your local specialty running shoe store, get fit properly, and try on different brands and sizes of shoes.  Don’t go in with a preconceived notion of what you want; you will be surprised how often people leave with shoes they have no intention of trying on,” advises Tagalong’s Peter Sherry, a shoe store owner and winner of the 2003 Marine Corps Marathon.

Ideally, the shoe store will have a 30-day return policy so you can give your new kicks a spin. I have returned many a pair of shoes in my day because it’s tough to tell how they are truly going to feel just jogging around the store or on the sidewalk for a few hundred yards.

After you’ve accumulated 400-500 miles on your shoes, it’s time to get new ones! Not switching running shoes has led to many injuries, so keep track of their mileage!

all you need are running shoes
The only gear you need to start running are running shoes.

How can I set running goals?

Setting a goal is the key to start running and staying motivated to run. And the key to successfully setting a goal, is to not make it too BIG or vague. Saying you want to run a marathon or be in the shape of your life is wonderful to dream about but not helpful when you’re just getting started.

You need to set the roadmap to get to that lofty goal and focus on the steppingstones along the way.

Related: How to Set Running Goals in 2021

“When I’m setting goals, I always look at what I ultimately want to achieve, before breaking that down into smaller, more manageable steps that can then be fit into a timescale, essentially giving myself a blueprint for personal success,” explains Chris Allsobrook, personal trainer at Origym Centre for Excellence.  

If you want to run a marathon one day and are just getting started on your running journey, then it makes sense to start with training for a 5k and work your way up. If you want to qualify for Boston, then it makes sense to plan several races ahead of your goal race to prep the body and mind.

I want to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Trials Marathon. However, I know that I probably won’t do so in my marathon this fall. I view my 2021 marathon as a “process goal” that gets me closer to the destination.

Chris suggests outlining your goals by week and having a partner to help track your goals with who can be a fellow runner, partner, co-worker, or running coach. Using an app like Strava or MyFitnessPal can also help track your progress.

If you’re interested in a coach, check out The Mother Runners Coaching Services.

How can I stay motivated to run?

Running for beginners
Finding a running partner or group is a great way to keep you motivated and consistent with your running.

With a long road map to your ultimate goal, you may risk losing motivation. That’s why it is paramount to set the mini-goals along the way and celebrate them! This will help you learn to love the process which lies at the heart of running.

Running mirrors life in a lot of ways and it’s full of joy and disappointment because there are so many variables. Your goal race could have terrible weather. You could get injured. You could have an inexplicable bad day. OR, you could have the race of your life and feel like you are flying.

Either way, if you find yourself losing motivation, dive into the swell of the running community.

Link up with a running club, find a running buddy, go cheer on a race, listen to running podcasts or read inspirational running stories like those on my Instagram.

“When you’re down, or you’ve lost focus on the reason you’re striving to run, it can be immensely helpful to be surrounded by people who have been there and can offer sage advice on how to get going again,” shares Chris.

Related: 3 Surefire Ways to Become a Runner

How do I start running?

 Once you’ve got your shoes on your feet and a goal in your heart, it’s time to hit the pavement (aka start running). 

But not too fast.

The number one mistake beginner runners make when they start running is doing too much too soon. Your body needs time to adapt and thus, you need to walk before you run—e.g. employ the run/walk method.

“By using a ratio of running to walking (this ratio can be adjusted based on a multitude of factors, including your overall fitness level, and the amount of time you can devote to running), you’ll be able to gradually adjust how much you can run over a period of time, until the ratio is balanced more in favor running than in favor of walking,” notes Chris.

If you’ve never run before. Start with walking, advises Dr. Chris Raynor, physical therapist at Medicine in Motion.

how to start running
Here’s how to start running without getting hurt.

Beginner Runner’s schedule to start running

  • Aim to be able to walk 2 miles before you begin the run/walk method.
  • Then, begin a run/walk interval of 30 seconds/2 minutes or 1 min run/3 min walk.
  • Or, once you’re able to run/walk 3 miles with no difficulty, then try a 1-mile run.
  • Gradually increase your mileage each week. If you’re able to run 1-mile without stopping, aim for 1.5 miles. If you’re still doing run/walk intervals, lengthen your run time or shorten your walk time based on feel.
  • Recreational runners should aim to run a total of 3 days a week every other day, with cross-training days in between and at least one strength-training session.

This schedule will minimize the risk of injury while strengthening your cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems.

Remember that consistency is key! If you don’t stick to a schedule, key biological adaptations will not happen. Running progress takes commitment. That’s why runners are so crazy, they’ll run rain, sleet, or snow!

Also, if you want to progress your weekly mileage, spread it out over the week. Add a fourth day of running and so on. This will be less taxing on the body while increasing adaptations.

10 running tips for beginners
Pin these running tips for beginners for later!

10 Running Tips for Beginners

While running is simple, beginner runners often make mistakes by either getting carried away or getting discouraged.

Avoid common beginner runner mistakes with these tips to set yourself up for success to become a runner.

Make a schedule.

As noted, consistency is key. Don’t wait for windows to run to magically appear in your day. Schedule your runs! That’s what Jeff Parke, owner of Top Fitness Magazine, does—along with most long-term mother runners.

“It’s beneficial to set aside 30 minutes three days a week to run when you’re getting started. Stick to the days you set aside and don’t let anything distract you,” says Jeff.

Most mother runners find success running first thing in the morning before anyone else is up. They also invest in a treadmill and a running stroller to add flexibility for running with their kids.

“Running with the stroller was a great way to bond with my kids as I try to make it a learning session,” shares occupational therapist Erika Chapman Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. “We talked about the trees and wildlife. My kids were always interested to learn about the world around them, and I felt like I was providing a good example for them to be interested in nature and staying active.”

Keep it simple.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money, drive far away, or get caught up in gadgets and data to run. The amazing workout and opportunity for a mind/body transformation lie outside your doorstep.

So, don’t make it harder (or more expensive) than it has to be!

“The human body is made to move. If you’ve ever seen a kid on a playground jog around as they play, then you’ve seen this reality in motion. All you need are some clothes, a good pair of shoes, and a desire to get out the door,” Meghan Hicks at popular running site iRunFar reminds us.

Start slow.

Starting out too fast and running too much too soon is a surefire way to torpedo your running either with discouragement or injury. You need to work up to your goals. Start with a run/walk method (see above) and ensure you keep your run intervals at a conversational pace.

Run/walk every other day. Mix up your routes, run with friends or listen to music and podcasts to keep things interesting. If you feel like you’re out of breath, you need so SLOW DOWN, says director of training program for the Pittsburgh area’s Fleet Feet, Timothy Lyman:

“What’s happening when you get out of breath is that the runner’s heart rate shoots into an anaerobic zone, and they go into what’s called oxygen debt. Once you are in oxygen debt, it takes extra time to “settle” that debt, which is why people typically wind up frustrated,” he explains.

Start at 70-80 percent your max effort to avoid oxygen debt.

Relax.

Lots of new runners run rigid. Try to relax.

Relax your shoulders with them down and back. Stay tall with your back straight and a slight forward tilt, your arms swinging by your sides, and your feet beneath you when you run.

“This not only means that you can mitigate your chances of injury, but you’ll also start to see more pronounced effects, such as muscle gain and weight loss,” suggests Chris.

Run by time not distance.

Lisa Mitro, a physical therapist at Running with Goldens, advises new runners not to get caught up in GPS technology that counts pretty much every metric imaginable. Just get out there and run for time.

“Time is always accurate. Measured distances are not,” she explains. “Some days you will feel good, others not so good. Let the time be the judge and not how far or short you run.”

Thus, using time as your gauge will allow you to enjoy the run more.

Enjoy the journey.

Getting caught up in data including distance can lead you to lose sight of what’s important—you are running because you CAN; because it’s good for you; because it’s something you enjoy.

I like mother runner Natalie Cecconi of The Running Outfitters’s fresh take:

“Running gets me outside in the fresh air and sunshine (even in the winter it is great). It is a great time to listen to music on my way, think about what I have to do the next day/week, or just clear my head. I love to see how far I can make it in a workout and on the way back I’ll slow down my pace and enjoy all the sights, smells and sounds of what my neighborhood has to offer.”

Your “why” doesn’t have to get complicated. Just run.

Don’t forget to warm-up and cool-down.

Every new runner should start and end their runs with a walk. This readies the body for the impact of running and returns the cardiovascular system to homeostasis, minimizing the risk of injury.

In addition to walking, runners can add dynamic stretching as a warm-up and static stretching as a cool down, suggests Karowski.

“Dynamic stretching can be a great way to keep the body loose before a high impact sport like running will help prevent any injury especially if you intend on upping the mileage,” he notes.

Give it time.

It takes time to form a new habit—anywhere from 30 days to 3 months—especially one as hard as running regularly. Don’t be hard on yourself. Instead, remember each day is a new day to continue your running journey.

“Instead of thinking of a timeline to make or break a new habit, it’s a much better idea to take your goal, break it in half, and break it in half again then compassionately ask yourself how you can keep moving forward,” advises new mom and dietitian Jessi Holden at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Keep going.

The first month or so of running can feel hard. You may feel some aches and pains as your body adapts to the new stimulus. You may have days where breathing feels hard.

Stick with it, and you’ll notice you can control your breathing more, you can go faster, and you can go farther.

I often think of how much potential isn’t realized because people shy away from running after those first few tough weeks. Even experienced or elite runners may feel sluggish after a long break starting out.

The biological changes have to happen in order for it to feel easier. But each run gets you closer to that. You need to give your body and yourself a chance.

Be proud of yourself.

This leads me to my final tip, no matter how far or fast you run, be proud.

Each day you get out there, you are bettering yourself.

“Even those of us that come from an exercise background have days where we struggle with motivation, with energy levels, or just with life in general,” says Chris. “We all have bad days, and it’s how we come back from these that determine how successful we are in what we want to achieve, whether that’s with regards to running or life.”

Related: 7 Science-backed Reasons Running Makes You a GOOD Mom

He’s completely right. Bad runs and bad days happen to all people. Don’t let them discourage you. Keep getting out there, because even the tough times make us stronger.

 

 

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