Get Started: 30 Essential Tips

Start your journey to becoming a runner with 30 of our top tips


Posted: 14 January 2011
by Selene Yeager

Credit: Alan Thornton/ Getty Images

Running has the power to change your life. It will make you fitter, healthier and happier. Here's 30 tips to help you get (and stay) on track to a brighter future.

1. Start by walking

Whether you're fresh off the couch or coming from another sport, running takes time to break into. "Every able-bodied person can be a runner," says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach and author of Cross-Training (£12.99, Simon and Schuster). "Just start slowly and build up gradually."

Most coaches agree that the best way to become a runner is with a run-walk programme: begin by adding small segments of running to your regular walk. "Start with four to five minutes of walking," says running coach Christine Hinton (therunningcoach.com). "Then alternate with some running, always ending with a walking segment to cool down."

2. Use our run/walk schedule

Here's our 10-week run/walk schedule. Aim to run at a pace where you can easily hold a conversation - and do it three days a week, with rest days in between. Over time, you can work up to running four to five days.

Start and finish each workout with five minutes of walking. Then, alternate the following run/walk ratios for 30 minutes:

Week 1:
Two minutes running/four minutes walking
Week 2: Three minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 3: Four minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 4: Five minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 5: Seven minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 6: Eight minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 7: Nine minutes running/one minute walking
Week 8: Thirteen minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 9: Fourteen minutes running/one minute walking
Week 10: Run the whole time

3. Walk if it hurts

If you're sore before the end of your run, then the workout session is too long, too fast or too hard. Ease to a walk to allow your muscles time to heal, says exercise physiologist and coach Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover (runningcoach.com).

4. Feel like a runner

"If you're running, no matter how much or how slow, you're a runner," says Andrew Kastor, coach of the ING New York City Marathon online training programme.

5. Warm-up properly

Treat yourself like a runner - from day one. That means taking time to properly warm up and cool down. "A good warm-up makes it much easier to get going and keep going," says Kastor. "And it's much more than just boosting blood flow to your muscles."

Your neuromuscular system, which involves your brain telling your muscles how to contract, gets up to speed. Then, your body starts churning out fat-burning enzymes, which help your aerobic system work more efficiently. Also, synovial fluid (the lubricant in your joints) warms up, helping your body to move easily. "Too many beginners skip this step without realising how much more effortless it makes the whole workout feel," says Kastor.

6. Then cool down after running

Cooling down, while less critical than warming up, allows your body to gradually adjust from running to a resting state. "Just a few minutes of walking is all you need to let your heart rate return to normal and for your body to clear out any metabolic  waste created during your efforts," says Kastor.

7. Don't worry if you ache a little

If you ease into running, your post-run discomfort shouldn't be debilitating. If it is, return to walking and running. However, don't let a little soreness or achiness scare you off.

"It's just a sign that you're progressing," says Kastor. However, the ache shouldn't last from one run to the next, he cautions: "Typical soreness should fade as you warm up. If it doesn't, cut your workout short. Do a little cross-training for a couple of days to let that sensation dissipate, so you don't become injured."

8. Take notice of sharp pain

Some minor aches and pains are common, and rest should clear them up. Back off by walking or riding a bike for a few days, ice the area a few times a day and take anti-inflammatories as needed. If you experience sudden, sharp pain while you're exercising, try walking it out for a few minutes. If the pain doesn't ease, stop immediately and head home. If the discomfort persists, see a podiatrist or an orthopaedist.

9. Simple warm-ups

Spend five to 10 minutes on these simple movements to prepare your body for your run and help prevent injury

Walking:
Simply walk at a moderate pace to get your body going.
Active Stretching: Do stationary side lunges, walking lunges, some skipping, and heel flicks (jog on the spot, bringing your heel high as though you're trying to kick your bum).

10. Mix up your running terrain

Runners often have strong opinions about where to run. The best solution for you as a new runner may be to simply mix it up, says Glover. "Soft surfaces are not necessarily better," she says.

"Treadmills and dirt may seem 'softer' and therefore safer, but they have their issues. A treadmill gives a slight shimmy when the belt impacts the base, which can contribute to shin problems. Dirt and trails can be uneven and have dangerous holes and ruts. Keep it varied: maybe hit the pavement one day, a Tarmacked road the next, and a country trail at the weekend."

11. Keep safe on the road

For starters, you should be running against, not with, the flow of traffic. But don't assume a driver can see you. Stretch out a hand and make eye contact at junctions. If you're at a red light, it's a good idea to let drivers know which way you're going, especially if you'll be turning in front of them.

12. Enjoy a stone-free run

If you often get stones in your shoes, it's time to do a quick trainer check. Are the stones sneaking in  through the back? If so, there may be a gap in your heel. A strategically placed cosmetic sponge pad can help seal it up. If they're creeping in the sides, lace your shoes snugly, using all the holes. Lastly, if you're ready for another pair and you run mainly off-road, buy trail shoes, which have a gusseted tongue (meaning the seams are sealed to eliminate any gaps).  This keeps pebbles and other trail debris out of the shoe.

13. Watch Your Form...

Running is a natural movement, so good running form should feel natural, says Bakoulis. "Some of the best runners in the world have terrible form!" she says. "But that's not to say that you shouldn't strive to start out with good posture habits."

14. ...Head

Keep it up - your eyes should be looking straight ahead. Keep your chin up and back, not dropped towards your chest or jutting out in front of you.

15. ...Shoulders

One word: relax. Many runners tense their shoulders so they creep toward their ears. This causes fatigue and slows you down. Shake out your arms and keep your shoulders low and loose.

16. ...Arms

"Your legs do what your arms tell them to do, so you want your arm swing to drive your legs forwards in a straight line," says Kastor. That means swinging your arms forward and back, not across your body. Keep your elbows bent about 90 degrees and cup your hands into loose fists with your fingers lightly touching your palms.

17. ...Torso

Run tall, so that your back is  comfortably straight. Avoid leaning forwards from the waist.

18. ...Hips

These should be pointed straight ahead, not tilted forwards or backwards.

19. ...Legs and feet

Your feet should feel quick and light, says Kastor. "You want to be springy, like you're popping off the ground." Shorten your stride so your feet land directly beneath your body. Land on your heel to midfoot and push off through the ball of your foot.

20. Feel confident when you run

No one will know you are a beginner - unless you broadcast it by looking around, apologising and announcing that you're not really a proper runner yet. Seriously, everyone has their own style of running, and many experienced athletes have bad form.

21. And if you shuffle, don't worry

"Shuffling is not bad," says Bakoulis. "It's efficient to not use extra energy, and lifting your knees high is not moving you forward. Some of the best runners shuffle." The only danger is tripping. Watch out for that.

22. Follow the 10 per cent rule

It's easy to overdo it on the days you feel good, or when you're running with a faster friend. But doing too much, too soon, is a classic amateurs' mistake that can lead to injury and burnout.

"When you're first starting out, your goal should just be to have fun and run every other day," says Glover. Once you're running consistently, you can add days until you're running five times a week or more. Increase your time/distance by a maximum of 10 per cent from week to week. Check out our guide below.

If you ran for 90 minutes this week - next week run for 99 minutes.   
If you ran for 120 minutes this week - next week run for 132 minutes.
If you ran for 150 minutes this week - next week run for 165 minutes.

23. Go running, even when your head says 'no'

 Some days your legs may say yes, but your head says no. Give yourself 10 minutes to warm up, suggests Kastor. "A good warm-up helps you let go of stress and allows the chemical reactions in your brain to change your mental state from 'no' to 'yes'," he says. "That's why those first few steps are often the hardest: your mental state hasn't warmed up to the run yet."

24. Don't fret if you miss a few runs

The good news is that you don't lose fitness that quickly. "Just pick up from where you left off in your schedule," says Hinton. "If you miss more than a few runs, just repeat the planned week from the beginning." If you're feeling rusty from a few missed sessions, slow down your pace (or take more walk breaks) and just keep going. You'll be back on track in no time.

25. Invest in proper running shoes

The beauty of running is in its simplicity. All you need is a good pair of shoes to get you - and keep you - on the road. Go to a specialist running shop, where trained professionals will evaluate your feet, watch you run, recommend the right shoes for your running gait, and then let you go for a test run. With all the expert advice, you'll leave with a comfortable pair of shoes that will have you running pain- and injury-free.

26. Monitor progress with a training log

A simple journal offers insight into how far you've come, what's working (and what's not), and keeps you on track to meet your goals. Some items to consider logging are the type of run (duration/mileage), effort level, fuel, the weather and how you felt. You can find a free training diary at fetch everyone.

27. Find a running partner

It's worth thinking about getting yourself an exercise partner because it improves  the odds that you'll stick with your workout plan. Here's why: your run flies by when you're chatting away to a friend, and knowing a partner is waiting for you is great motivation to leave the comfort of your armchair.

28. Run to the beat

If you've ever taken an aerobics class, you know the powerful effect music can have on performance. "Certain types of music can help lower the perception of fatigue and enhance feelings of vigour and excitement," says sports and exercise psychologist Costas Karageorghis, of London's Brunel University. Just be sure to keep the volume low so you're constantly aware of your surroundings.

29. Don't be put off by falling behind when you join a running club

"Everyone has been a beginner at some point," says Kastor, so people will understand. "You're bound to have a day where you fall behind, and that's OK." Experienced runners are encouraging, and are usually happy to slow down on a run every now and then to help you out and keep you in the sport, he says. The key for the long term is finding a group that includes members who run your pace.

30. Find the right running pace for you

To calculate your regular running pace, time yourself running comfortably for one mile. You can measure out a mile by driving your car and using the distance gauge, measuring the distance online using a mapping tool (such as mapmyrun.com) or going to a local 400m track and running four laps.

Your resulting time on the track will be slightly faster than your minutes-per-mile pace, because the track is measured in metres not miles, and is shorter by about nine metres.

Plus, tracks are flat and springy, which means you'll always run faster there than on the road. Once you've worked out your pace, you can use online pace calculators to determine what your finish time should be for longer distances - which is useful if you've got a race coming up. Just plug in your pace and target distance. Find our pace calculator here.


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