How to Start Running: A Complete Guide for Beginner Runners

Learning how to start running can feel daunting. I make it simple with running tips for beginners that make running really as easy as putting on your shoes, and walking out the door. Most beginner runners should start with run-walk intervals and run every other day. Learn how to start running with my simple running tips.

UPDATED January 5, 2023: While I am a certified running coach who has helped dozens of people start running, I have also had to start running many times in my life. I’ve been a lifelong runner but due to events like having babies, getting illness, and suffering from three major running injuries in recent years that required months off, I’ve had to take long breaks from running.

Learn how to start running in 5 easy steps.
woman running in black sports bra and red shorts
I have had to restart running several times in the past decade.

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).

Related: Free Beginner Running Program

Whether you’re a beginner runner or have taken time away due to having babies, an injury, illness, or life craziness, this Running for Beginners Guide will help you! (And be sure to check out my FREE Beginner Running Plan).

To bolster my personal experience, I talked with experts all over the globe and curated the best tips to set you up for success in your running journey mentally and physically.

Related: Running Program for Beginners

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).

Related: How Running Makes You Happy

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

That’s because we get some many physical and mental health benefits from it. And, it’s so simple, as Nick Karwoski, a ranked former US National Team Triathlete at 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!” 

Related: 7 Tips to Not HATE Running & Become a Runner

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.

Related: 5 Ways to Find Time to Run

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.

Related: How to Answer Every Runner’s Question: WHY AM I DOING THIS?

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.

Schlichter 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
Begin your running journey with ease with my ultimate beginner’s guide to running, offering simple, practical tips to help you get started. Perfect for those who find running daunting, this guide introduces a beginner-friendly run-walk method. Start slow and steady, running at a comfortable pace, and walking to recover. This ensures a balanced introduction to running, setting you up for long-term success. #runningforbeginners

Should I eat after I run?

In most cases, yes! Especially for runs lasting longer than 60 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 Schlichter.

Related: 18 Healthy Meals for Runners

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

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

Related: 20+ Snacks for Runners

What should I drink before I run?

Aim to drink about 16 ounces of water with about 400mg of sodium 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.

Related: A Sport Rd’s Hydration Guide for Runners

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.

Related: The Best Sports Drinks for Runners

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. Don’t just wear old sneakers you have in your closet. Find the best running shoes for you. Otherwise, you increase your risk of injury.

“Go to your local running specialty 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.

Related: When to Replace Your Running Shoes

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!

You’ll also want some anti-blister socks and moisture-wicking clothing. Stay away from anything cotton which will absorb your sweat and make you feel sticky and heavy!

Related: How to Get Into Running & Make it a Habit

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 a running routine and sticking with it. And the key to successfully setting a running 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 stepping stones along the way.

Related: How to Set Running Goals

“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 to longer distances. 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.

Related: Good Process Goals for Runners

Allsobrook 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 certified running coach who can design a customized running plan, 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 inexplicably 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.

Related: How to Get Your Running Motivation Back

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 Allsobrook.

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). Remember, the hardest part to starting to run, is getting started.

Beginner runners should stick to two main goals:

  1. Start with a run/walk method.
  2. Run every other day.

The run/walk method

Most beginner runner should start with a walk/run program. This can be very informal with running at a comfortable, conversational pace and then walking when you feel tired. Then start running again when you feel recovered.

Or, new runners can try a more specific run/walk plan with specified run/walk ratios. A good starting point is running for 1 minute, walking for 1 minute. If that seems too hard, you can try 30 second run/30-60 second walk intervals. If that is too easy, bump up to 2 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking. Feel free to play around with it. There is no wrong way to do run/walk intervals.

Ideally, your first run session would look like this:

  • Walk for 5-10 minutes to warm-up.
  • Run 1 minute, walk 1 minute 10-15 times
  • Walk for 5-10 minutes to cool-down.

When you feel comfortable with your current interval, start elongating the run portion by about 30 seconds, and shortening the walk portion.

Jeff Galloway, the famed running coach who popularized run/walk training programs, suggests the following run: walk intervals for specific paces:

  • 8 min/mi—4: 35 seconds
  • 9 min/mi— 4: 1
  • 10 min/mi—-3:1
  • 11 min/mi—2:30-1
  • 12 min/mi—-2:1
  • 13 min/mi—-1:1
  • 14 min/mi—30 sec run/30 sec walk
  • 15 min/mi—30 sec/45 sec
  • 16 min/mi—30 sec/60 sec

Run Every Other Day

The number one mistake beginner runners make when they start running is doing too much too soon. Remember that stress + rest = success. Your body needs time to adapt and take rest days after each run day.

Your body rebuilds in the rest period. So on the days in between running, you can cross-train with an activity such as walking, yoga, cycling, hiking, rowing, or the elliptical. When you don’t have a lot of muscle soreness from running anymore (because you will in the beginning!), you can add a day of running.

See how you feel with two consecutive run days. Hold that steady for at least a month, and then add another day of running.

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

Sample Running Schedule for Beginners

  • 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. It sets you up for success for that first run. Also don’t forget to warm up and cool down.

Related: 5 Minute Warm Up for Runners

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 and do longer runs, start by spreading runs out over the week with rest days in between. Add a fourth day of running and so on. This will be less taxing on the body while increasing adaptations.

What is the right way to run?

10 running tips for beginners pin

Everyone has their own running style but in general proper running form is running with your:

  • your head is over your shoulders,
  • shoulders are over your hips,
  • hips are over mid-foot,
  • feet are landing under your bent knee (slightly ahead of your center of gravity),
  • arms are bent at 90-degrees, relaxed, and swinging near your sides,
  • a slight forward lean of 4-8 degrees,
  • and fingers are lightly placed together like you’re holding one potato chip between your index finger and thumb.
  • Your steps are quick and soft (cadence is 170-180).

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.”

Related: 5-Minute Warm-up Routine for Runners

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–and also avoid injury. 

Related: Benefits of an Easy Running Pace

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,” Dr. Chris Raynor, physical therapist at Medicine in Motion..

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.

Related: Moblity Routine for Runners

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.

If you want guidance with your running or 5k goals, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

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