How To Start Running
Have you ever thought about becoming a runner? I do all the time but it has taken me a long time to actually get started on it. I tried several times but I always ended up quitting for some reason or another. This time has been different for me and if you want to start running I can help.
Starting running is actually the easy part. It is keeping running that is hard. This post will go over everything you need to know to go from an absolute beginner to a runner. Let’s get started.
Why Do You Want to Start Running?
Before you start working on becoming a runner it might help to think about why you want to start running. This is an important step to reaching any goal. You don’t have to write it down but spend some time thinking about why you want to be a runner.
The better you visualize why you’re starting to run the better your odds at success will be. This might seem like a weird way to start a guide on running. I promise that when your training gets difficult it will be very important to understand why you started. That could be the only thing that keeps you from quitting.
Benefits of Running
Now that you have started thinking about why you are getting started let’s talk about the benefits that running will give you. It will take some time to achieve most of these benefits but it is worth it.
Let’s start with the top reason people start running. Weight Loss. This might come as a shock but I do not recommend running if all you want is to lose weight. There are much easier ways to achieve a calorie deficit. If all you want is to lose weight you will be more successful if you avoid running.
Instead of running, fix your diet, start exercising, and try to walk more. I wrote about using running for weight loss and the conclusion is that it’s not very effective. The simple truth is that you cannot outrun a bad diet.
Still there? Good. Since I didn’t scare you off let’s talk about the positives of losing weight by running. Everything I said is still true. If you’re still interested I will say that if you add running to a healthy diet and exercise plan you will lose more weight. If you just look at calories burned per hour it’s not great but there are other benefits as well.
Alright, let’s talk about the good stuff that running will do for your body. For starters runners, in general, live longer and have lower risks of cardiovascular death. One study calculated that running even a couple of times a week amounted to a 3-year life expectancy benefit.
In addition to living longer, you will also be healthier. Running is a great full-body workout. You will get stronger joints, denser bones, tighter muscles, and won’t be out of breath from walking to the office anymore. That last one might just be me.
Seriously though, if you are wanting to increase your stamina then running is a great way to do it.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
If you talk to a runner it becomes very clear how great running has been for them. I know many runners who see running as being a type of therapy. I won’t say that I have achieved that level of running yet but it is hard to argue with so many compelling stories.
The mental and emotional benefits of running have been known for a long time. Back in 1977 The Complete Book of Running listed several psychological benefits. Among them were increased self-esteem, mood improvements, stress relief, the runner high. Running has also been shown to increase the attention span and impulse control of children with learning disabilities.
The Running Community
This is a huge benefit of running and I think it’s easily overlooked. The running community is friendly and accepting of new runners. Anytime you need advice, have a question, or just need motivation they will be there for you.
There are a lot of ways to get in touch with the running community. There are probably local running clubs that you can join. Online you can find runners on Reddit and Twitter. We keep a Twitter List of runners that you are welcome to check out as well.
If you are looking for a way to challenge yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally then running might be perfect for you. If you are looking for organized races, informal challenges, or just to push yourself running offers it all. I am not going to go into this more here but I’ll be writing a bit more on this later.
Setting Your Running Goals
Alright, so you’re all in on becoming a runner. You know why you want to do this, you know how awesome it’s going to be, and your ready to hit the track. All we need to do is decide what our beginner goals are going to be.
That’s right, it’s goal-setting time. I’m excited too.
The reason we are setting some beginning goals is so that you have something to push for and achieve. Because of that, we want to set a short term goal and one longer-term goal. As we achieve the short term goal we will make another and then another. Eventually, we will beat our longer-term goal without ever really trying to.
To do that we need to talk about what success looks like for you. Try and imagine what would make you feel proud of your accomplishment that you could achieve in only a couple of weeks. It will be very dependent on your current fitness level and why you are running.
Since it’s so personal I can’t really help much. Instead, I’ll share what my beginner goal was. Personally, I have a hard time keeping my running going for more than a couple of weeks. So my initial goal was to run 3 times a week and not skip 2 runs in a row. That goal kept me going and at almost 3 months running it is still my main goal.
We wrote a good blog post on setting and achieving goals. Everything in that post also relates to running. If you feel like you might need help I would recommend giving that post a quick read.
How to Deal With Setbacks
It is a fact of both life and running that setbacks will happen. Hopefully, they don’t come in the form of injury. We are going to cover how to avoid injury but for now, let’s talk about how to deal with setbacks.
Setbacks suck, and they happen to everybody. When they happen it is important that you don’t let them end your running journey. Whatever the setback there is a way to handle it and get past it. This is why it is so important that we understand why we are running.
Alternatives to Running
You may find that you can’t run for a while. This can really suck if you are just starting to find your groove and hit those initial goals. Luckily there are plenty of ways that you can keep the gains you achieved even when you can’t run.
Your primary focus will need to be on staying in running shape as much as possible. This means stretching, exercising, and getting as much cardio as possible. There are a lot of really good cardio workouts that aren’t running. Find some that you like and keep working. Often you can return to running in as good of shape as you left.
Finding The Right Running Plan
Finally, let’s talk about getting started running. All the other stuff is really important but now we can focus on how to actually get started. Are you ready? Let’s go.
I have been using the Couch to 5k program from the makers of Zombies,Run. Of all the programs I have ever tried this is by far my favorite. It is a free phone app that coaches you from absolute beginner to running a 5k. Each run has a fun story that really keeps me interested. I wouldn’t recommend anything else.
Pre-Run Warm Up
Getting your body ready to run is critical if you want to avoid injury. It will also let you work harder so you will get more out of your run. The key to a good pre-run warm-up is to slowly raise your heart rate. I start with a 10-minute walk.
For the first 5 minutes, I start out slow and gradually increase my walking pace. For the last 5 minutes of my warm-up, I walk faster than my normal walking pace. My goal is to be ready to start running after 10 minutes but not out of breath.
I don’t normally stretch before I run. I do yoga frequently so maybe that is why I don’t need it. You should pay attention to your body and do what is necessary to get ready to run. If you feel tight I would recommend some gentle stretches after your warm-up.
I am not a running coach but I do want to share a couple of videos that helped me fix my running form. I used to have really bad shin splints but after working on my form they have mostly gone away.
Post-Run Cool Down
My cool-down after running is pretty much the reverse of my warm-up routine. After I finish my run I spend a good 10-15 minutes walking. Your goal should be to gradually bring your heart rate and breathing back to normal.
After you finish cooling down I strongly recommend taking another 5 minutes or so for stretching. This will help your muscles recover faster and will reduce the amount of lactic acid. This should help avoid muscle pain. I will swear by my foam rollers for this. I wrote up a buyers guide but the one below is my favorite.
Don’t Skip Rest Days
It is really important not to skip rest days. Your muscles are probably not used to all the activity and will need some time to recover fully. If you keep working them before they have time to recuperate they won’t be able to develop as quickly. You will also increase your risk of injury if you overwork yourself.
Speaking of injury there are a lot of things you can do to reduce your risk besides getting plenty of rest. It isn’t possible to completely eliminate the risk but we can address some of the best options.
Speak With Your Health Care Provider
This is very important. Before you start running you should get a physical check-up from your health care provider. They may be able to detect risks that you wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. This is important whenever you change anything about your health and fitness routine.
Listening To Your Body
Your body is going to try and give you feedback about what is going on with it. It is up to you to listen. Our culture sometimes gives us the message that we should “push through” these things. Ignore that nonsense.
Pain, stiffness, or other sensations are a signal that something is wrong. If something hurts or doesn’t feel “right” stop right away and try to figure out why. Speak with experts, reach out to the running community, or talk with a doctor.
Most of the time the cause can be corrected but sometimes it is a warning of something serious. But even when its really something minor it will get worse if ignored. Minor problems can become very serious over time if not corrected. Minor pain can often be treated naturally.
Common Running Injuries
When you first start running there are some injuries that are very common. We have written details guides on two of those. They are IT band Pain (pain on the outside of the knee) and shin splints (pain in the front of the shin). Both of these can really suck the joy out of running.
If you are having either of these symptoms I highly recommend reading those guides. They detail how to recover from them as well as how to avoid them. For both the primary prevention will be strength building, correct running gait, and stretching.
Exercises for Runners
Runners, like everybody, will benefit from strength building. Running is a full-body exercise so any exercises you do will help. There are a few that are more helpful for running though. Since I suck at describing exercises I found this nice video to help you out.
Starting Running Gear
Don’t buy anything yet that you can put off until later. At least not until you know exactly what you need. The only way you can really know exactly what you need is to hire a running coach or get some experience. If you can afford a running coach do that. Otherwise, getting experience is free.
Here is What You *Might* Need To Buy Right Now.
If you have some athletic shoes that are in good shape that may work for now. It is going to depend a lot on the type of shoe and where you will be running. If you need shoes, go to a shoe store and try them until you find what you need. Never buy shoes without trying them first.
With one exception I will say you can run in anything loose and comfortable. That exception is for your safety if you are running in public where there might be traffic. Wear something reflective so that traffic can see you better.
The vest below is really nice. It has a pocket and fits over most light shirts. The best part is you only sort of look like a dork wearing it. Seriously though the extra viability could literally save your life so it is money well spent. If you don’t like the neon green they also have several other colors.
Running Watches, Wearables, Smart Anything
You do not need this. Unless money isn’t a concern I would highly recommend putting anything in this category off. Potentially forever. I love gadgets and if I can keep running until next August I’ll be treating myself to one for my birthday. Until then I can run perfectly fine without anything and so can you.
Since you are just now starting out I wouldn’t suggest buying any exercise equipment. There is some really good stuff if you are recovering from an injury. If you don’t need that I would consider anything else a “nice to have”. You can become an excellent runner without spending a dime on exercise equipment.
Thanks for Reading
As you can guess I put a lot of work into this guide and I really appreciate that you have taken your time to read it. You should go ahead and bookmark it because I will be adding to it as I learn more. Also, if it was at all helpful I would love to hear from you in the comments. Please share this with your friends as well. Thanks again!
Great article, I guess I never thought about all the things you need to do before you start running. It definitely has a lot of benefits but also takes a lot of time.
I love that you mention the running community as a benefit! You’re so right, it’s often overlooked. Great post!
Love this! Thank you for sharing!