My Guide to Starting Running
Lace up trainers. Go outside. Put one foot in front of the other. Voila.
It sounds simple, doesn't it. But in reality, there are many, many barriers that can stop us taking that simple first step to start running.
Here's my guide to getting started.
I don’t remember my first ever run, if I’m totally honest. I vaguely remember being made to run around the block in secondary school, lungs burning, and taking a shortcut to get me back quicker. That put me off for a long time.
I remember the fear of starting out again when I was an adult, crying as my fiancé led me around a 1.5 kilometre loop in training for my first 5k. He’s now my husband, so it can’t have been too traumatic an experience.
I remember vividly however the day running changed my life. It was the day I took up running properly for the second time in adult life, at the age of 29. A measured, conscious decision to become a runner instead of a dieter.
Starting out running can often be daunting when you’re brand new. I sense the fear in people’s emails when they get in touch with me, enquiring if we’ll be too fast for them? I sense the apology – “I don’t want to hold anyone up”; “Im very unfit”. There are always lots of questions: How often should I train? What should I wear? How do I learn to breathe without sounding like I’m hyperventilating? And what on earth do I do with my arms?
I still class myself as a relatively new runner. Since taking it up as a lifestyle choice, I’ve been running regularly for only 8 years. However, in that time, I’ve helped many people start their own running journeys, so I thought I’d share my top tips for getting started.
First things first, if you feel completely out of shape, or you’re worried in any way, please see your GP before you start running. You might even want to start with just walking to build up your fitness levels first. Build up to 30 minutes of walking before you attempt to start running.
The only things you NEED to run are a decent pair of running shoes and a decent sports bra (ladies only!) Even a running watch is not a necessity as there are plenty of free running apps if you want to track your distance and pace. I would advise going to a running shop to buy running shoes so they can be fitted for comfort and even a gait analysis which involves running on a treadmill to ensure the shoes you buy are giving you adequate support. Whilst well fitted running shoes will initially seem expensive, they will cost you significantly less than physiotherapy sessions if you injure yourself through wearing incorrect footwear. It’s advisable to replace shoes every 300-500 miles as they do wear down. A well fitting sports bra is also a must for the ladies, and boobydoo can give you advice on fit and the right kind of sports bra for you.
I’m not talking sports bras again, don’t worry. I’m talking friends, running buddies, even a club. Finding somebody at a similar level to you, to help keep you motivated will be the best thing you ever do. Many running clubs offer beginner programmes, and if you do find yourself starting on your own, there are many decent Couch to 5k apps you can download onto your smartphone. This brings me onto another very important point, and that is if you are a female running alone, please always carry a phone, tell somebody your route and let them know what time you will be expected home. Choose a route that’s familiar to you, where you feel safe.
Listen to your body
Your body is very good at telling you what it likes and what is doesn’t. While running may be uncomfortable to start with as you build your fitness, assess your body carefully for any sharp pain, or dull aches when you’re running, and don’t try to do too much too soon. The key is building up to running very gradually, so be careful not too do too much. 3 times a week is ample when you’re starting out, with a rest day in between each run. This approach is also key to not losing motivation.
Don’t compare yourself to others
We were all beginners once, so just do what you can do and don’t try to push yourself too hard. Don’t give up either. Try it for 4 weeks and see what a difference regular running makes to you. Remember that if you run, you’re a runner (I wrote a whole separate blog about this).
Run/walking (4-6 weeks)
Always start with a brisk walk or a slow jog for at least 10 minutes. This warms your muscles up and raises your heartrate, getting your body ready for exercise. And never do static stretches before exercise as these are likely to injure you if your muscles are cold. Once you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes, add in some running intervals of one to two minutes at a pace that feels comfortable. If you’re getting out of breath, slow it down or take a walk break. Aim for 2-3 sessions a week over this period, each time making the running intervals longer, and the walk breaks shorter. Consistency is key here – don’t try to go too fast or too far, just focus on continuous running. You’re building fitness here and are trying to avoid common beginner injuries caused by too much too soon. At the end of each session, walk for 5 minutes to bring your heartrate back down, and stretch out your hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles.
I see lots of runners at this stage complain that running is hard. A lot of them are simply trying to run too fast, then give up because it hurts. Don’t worry about speed as a beginner, just go at a pace that feels comfortable, where you could have a conversation.
Set yourself a goal
Once you feel comfortable running for 15 or 20 minutes, and are used to that slightly uncomfortable feeling as your body warms up and prepares for exercise, why not set yourself a goal to achieve within the next 4 weeks. It could be to run continuously for 30 minutes; it could be to visit your local parkrun and see how you fare over the 5k distance; or it could be to join a running club for additional support if you haven’t made that step already. Keeping a training diary can also help keep you motivated at this stage, because every run will be different depending on the time of day, what you have eaten that day or the previous day, or how well hydrated you are. A training journal will help you understand when you run at your best.
Now is a good time to also mix up your training a little bit – vary your routes and the terrain as I guarantee you’ll be starting to enjoy running!
You will now have been running for approximately 8-10 weeks and you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come. Now is the time to focus on what you want to achieve next and perhaps set a new goal, or introduce some speed to your training. Be realistic in what you want to achieve as remember you are still very new to running. Trying to do too much too soon is likely to lead to injury and disappointment, so keep it fun.