Start Running Now: Our Get-Going Guide

Anyone can become a runner - never mind the excuses, the weather or the bag of crisps calling your name. Here, a team of experts shows you how



by Amby Burfoot

So you want to start running? You've heard it's inexpensive, great for your health, the best way to lose weight (and keep it off). You've got friends who run, and they're trim, happy, centred and productive.

Running also looks like a straightforward enough sport. There's only one thing that's bothering you: if running's so simple, why do you have so many questions? You're not alone.

Every beginner worries about how to get started and has a lot to ask - about how to get motivated, what to eat, how to avoid injuries and when, where and how much to run. No problem. We've got the answers - from experts who have been teaching beginners for years, and from others who've certainly been around the block. Every runner began with a first step. You can, too.

Inspiration | Nutrition | Injury Prevention | Gear | Training

INSPIRATION

Make all the excuses you want. Then get on with it

You don't have time; you don't have the energy; it's too cold/hot/rainy; the dog ate your shoelaces. Uh-huh. Now go out and run. Online running coach Dean Hebert has heard so many excuses from his runners that he assembled them into a book: Coach, I Didn't Run Because...Excuses Not to Run and How to Overcome Them (£9.99, Authorhouse). "These excuses are real to people, and I don't diminish them," says Hebert. "I tell my beginner runners to concentrate on the one reason that brought them to running in the first place. A clear focus can work magic on your motivation."

Keep track

Keeping a written diary is a highly successful way to stick with an exercise or diet programme. It doesn't have to be fancy or sophisticated. Indeed, where you place the diary might be more important than what you write in it. Put a calendar on your fridge or in front of your computer, write down every time you complete a run and how far/for how long you ran, and take pride in watching those numbers build up. (Or feel guilty when they don't! That'll get you out.)

Keep at it

Some runners win gold medals and set world records, but no runner has ever done every workout he or she planned. You won't either. Stuff happens, life gets in the way, but you can deal with it as long as you stay focused on the big picture. Shrug off the bad days, get back on the programme, and you'll still achieve your goals. Remaining persistent is crucial to improved running. "When beginners get discouraged or hit a plateau, I tell them to remember the time and effort invested and the progress they've made," says beginners' coach Jane Serues. "You don't want to slide backwards, you want to keep working towards the progress ahead."

Find a fitness friend
Beginners' running coaches agree that one of the best ways to stick with your exercise programme is to get a training partner. When someone is counting on you as much as you're counting on them, it's much tougher to blow out a workout. But it has to be someone of similar ability who is supportive, not competitive with you. "We emphasise the emotional power of training partners," says Serues. "One or two partners is good. Three or four is even better."

NUTRITION

Pass on the extra carbs

Bread, bagels, pasta, potatoes and pancakes - you just can't get enough, right? Wrong, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of Nancy Clark's Food Guide for New Runners (£12.95, Meyer & Meyer Sport). Running two or three miles at an easy pace will burn 200 to 300 calories, an amount so modest that it doesn't demand lumberjack portions of carbs (or anything else) before or after. Clark advocates eating healthy foods throughout the day, and having a small snack an hour or two before you run. "Exercisers shouldn't skip meals early in the day or try to run on fumes," she says. "But you don't require special foods after a workout - just a snack that offers a few carbs and a little protein."

Drink water. But only when you're thirsty

Yes, runners sweat a lot. Yes, they need to consume water, sugar and electrolytes (ionised salts in blood, tissue and cells) when they run for 90 minutes or more, particularly in warm weather. But unless you're training for a marathon this spring (which you shouldn't be), you don't need sports drinks and an advanced hydration strategy. Sip a little water before your workout and a little more after. And skip the extra calories in sweetened drinks. "Beginner runners don't need a sports drink, because they're not running far enough," notes Clark.

Eat real food

Runners, even beginners, tend to be driven, results-orientated people. When promised short-cuts, miracle cures and unbelievable benefits from supplement and 'superfood' manufacturers, they're easily swayed. However, eating standard, simple, unprocessed natural foods will give you the same end results. "Every time one of those vitamin or supplement studies produces a negative result, I am reassured that focusing on quality calories is the best advice," says Clark. "I've always believed that the healthiest foods are
the real foods - the quality vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and
lean proteins packed with everything runners need."

If you want to lose weight...

Sorry, but you won't automatically drop five pounds just because you run, says Clark. You also have to reduce your daily food intake. Each mile you run burns roughly 100 calories. Cut out a biscuit or two every day, and you can add another 100 calories to your weight-loss effort. "Reducing calorie consumption by just 100 calories a day will theoretically give you a 4.5kg weight loss by the end of the year," Clark says. "Drop 200 calories a day, and you'll lose 9kg (around one and a half stone)." Clark suggests cutting calories by eating smaller portions and fewer fried foods.

INJURY PREVENTION

Stretch after you run, not before

Runners have long believed that stretching will give them a longer, smoother stride and reduce their risk of injuries. However, in recent years research has failed to prove either point. Beginner-specialist coaches Budd Coates and Jeff Galloway say they've never advocated stretching for their runners, and the runners haven't developed injuries. Dr Lewis Maharam adds: "A pre-workout stretching routine doesn't prevent injuries or improve performance, so there's no reason to do it. The time to do your stretching is after your run, or even later in the evening." Stretch (without straining) your calves, quads and hamstrings for a total of 10 to 15 minutes.

Expect a little tenderness

Sure, runners have to deal with occasional aches and pains. Especially beginners. However, these are temporary complaints, and don't lead to long-term damage. Last summer, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a study on a group of runners in their mid-70s who had been running for several decades. They were found to have better function and overall health and fewer disabilities than similar individuals who were not runners. When you experience mild aches and pains, follow the tried-and-true RICE prescription: rest, ice, compression, elevation and don't overuse pain medication and anti-inflammatories.

You're (almost certainly) not going to die

Yes, heart attacks happen, and they make headlines. But these events are extremely rare, averaging about one for every 800,000 half-hour workouts. Meanwhile, it's a well-established medical fact that runners and other highly fit individuals have a 50 per cent lower risk of heart attack than non-exercisers. It's more dangerous to sit in front of your TV. The heart is a muscle. If you don't exercise it, it becomes weak and flabby. Still, every runner should know the signs of a heart attack: unusual shortness of breath; chest, arm or neck tightness; nausea; and a cold sweat. If you experience these, stop immediately and call your doctor.

GEAR

Wear the right shoes

You don't really need a new pair of running shoes when you begin running. You can run in your regular trainers or walking shoes. But when you're ready, the right pair will make your runs more comfortable, while adding extra injury-prevention features. Selecting these shoes can be a complicated process. That's why it's a good idea to go to a specialist running store. The experienced staff will make sure you get shoes that fit properly and provide the biomechanical support you need. "We'll show you what we see, enabling you to make the right choice," says David Newman, general manager of Runner's Need (runnersneed.co.uk). Expect to pay from £50 to £80.

Wear polyester

You don't need a lot of expensive gear to run, which is good news in a recession. That said, you'll never regret the cash you spend on breathable socks, and even shirts and shorts. These garments, made from polyester fabrics, are a world apart from the scratchy material your dad ran cross-country in. The best are lightweight, soft and non-chafing. "You want the clothes to wick moisture away - cotton holds moisture and stays wet, which causes rashes and blistering," says Gilly Wight, branch manager of Up and Running in Leeds (upandrunning.co.uk).

Forget about gadgets

Heart-rate monitors, GPS watches, accelerometers that tell you how fast you're going - none of these glitzy products are really necessary for your first efforts. All you really need is a watch with a stopwatch function, available for as little as £8.99 at argos.co.uk, to help you keep track of your walking and running intervals. Don't worry about other fancy gizmos. But if listening to your iPod makes your runs go better, by all means take it with you - as long as you run in a safe place and are aware of traffic.

TRAINING

Start slow

Most beginners worry that they're not improving fast enough. Don't compare yourself with others. Every runner gets into shape according to their own body's schedule. Physiologists have calculated that any and all running paces are fast enough to put you into the moderate-to-vigorous aerobic zone that delivers health benefits. So take your time and focus on going further, not faster. "We tell people that they didn't get out of shape in five weeks, and they're not going to get back in shape in five weeks," says Bob Glover.

Go slower

If you feel out of breath or sick, you're running too fast, a mistake made by most beginners. "A lot of people think that they have to go at least a mile at a time, and at a fast pace," says Budd Coates. "I always tell my beginners to slow down and take more walk breaks." You'll learn that running should be a relaxed activity, and that you should 'train, not strain'. And, yes, beginning running includes lots of walking.

Run tall and relaxed

For the most part, you don't have to worry about your technique. That said, experts agree that you should run tall (not slouched) and straight (not leaning far forward or backward). Don't over-stride; that could put extra strain on your knees. "Run with your eyes focused about nine feet ahead," says Jane Serues. "Let your arms relax and take a natural, comfortable stride."

Whenever and wherever

Is there a best time and place to run? Sure: whenever and wherever is most convenient. Finding ways to fit workouts into your schedule is more important than fretting over the when/where questions. The streets around your house, a local track, the park, a treadmill - they're all good. Beginners should stick to relatively flat running as hills dramatically increase the muscular and aerobic strain of a run. So get out there and enjoy calling yourself a runner!



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Discuss this article

Good article.  I need to get back into the running but have just not been able to due to all the 'stuff' going on in my life. 

Good advice and common sense.  I advocate the Cadence Revolution-which is a free podcast from the US.  The music is for spinning but you get the warm up...constant steady beat for a good run...and 10 minutes of warm down.  Try it-its great!

Gayna  


Posted: 17/01/2010 at 12:55

Thanks for this. As a new runner it has inspired me and given plenty of tips - namely to enjoy running and not fret about the technicalities too much at this time.  I'm just starting to enjoy it - its tough, but will be worth it in the long run

 Symone


Posted: 26/01/2010 at 14:00

Thanks for this - never heard of stretching after the run.  

I've just started and am quite enjoying it -  up to a  fairly slow 3 miles - but an hours later and my calf muscles are quite painful.   My son commented that I seem 30 years older after my running as I slowly creep up the stairs.

 Going to try this advice


Posted: 17/02/2010 at 23:43

I have been out of running for a few months now, due to an injury, and am slowly working my way back up. Not sure what the reason for my injury was, though it started on the day that I got new trainers. I went to the physio and they say I have a muscle imbalance in my legs. I think it would be best if I went to a running shop that could help me with my running needs. However, I live near Chelmsford in Essex and am not sure if there is a shop near me?
Posted: 18/02/2010 at 17:54

Good article.  One thing beginners need to know is that their body will adapt to jogging/running.  The body adapts to everything that it is thrown at it.  Consider that if you sit in a chair all day every day then there are no physical demands on the heart, lungs or muscles.  Take that body out and ask it to jog five miles and it is going to protest BIG style!  However, take it out and exercise sensibly (as per Runners World advice) and slowly increase the  mileage/time and before you know it your body will be adapting and changing.  For example your heart will be stronger as will all your muscles and connective tissues.  Your lungs will have increased their ability to provide your body with oxygen and you won't be feeling so out of puff.

All in all, walking and running are perfectly natural and our body has evolved to do it in the most efficient way.  Enjoy it!

Another thing I tell my clients:  To start with you are going to feel the effects of asking your body to do something different.  Take it easy and give your lungs and heart the time to 'hand-shake' with each other and work with each other.  If you start out too hard your heart is going to demand more oxygen than your lungs can provide and you will feel breathless and aware that your heart is banging round your chest like a Guns n Roses drummer!  Slow down (walk) wait until you can speak in paragraphs and then gently up the pace until you can speak in sentences.  This is where you want to be.  Your heart and lungs start working together and you will stop feeling concerned that you are not doing it right and will start to enjoy it.

ps:  It's also normal to sweat!  Nike do a great range of dri-fit clothing to make running more comfortable and less noticeable.

I hope this has been of some help


Posted: 24/02/2010 at 09:41

   I wish i had joined this site a week ago... ive just started running again at 43 years old and went off like a rocket!! lol... i ran 5 miles in 45 minits and boy am i paying the price. now i have read the help on here it makes so much sence not to go hammer and tongue at it... i need to be ready for a half marathon on june 13th... am i going to be pushing myself for that or is it quite do,able...anyway thanks for the posts they have helped.
Posted: 20/03/2010 at 15:13

This was a big help to me, I am a first time runner and my weight is just under 17st so slow and steady is key for me, I do time myself and see how far each run takes me, this is a great way to see if I am increasing or decreasing, three weeks in i have done my 1st mile in under 12mins, that was my first goal, the next is the 2nd mile, I am too training for next years half marathon in Bath.

this web site has been the best all rounder runners guide, thanks and well done.


Posted: 26/03/2010 at 20:55

Good article. I'm 34 and have decided to get back into shape (was I ever in shape?) after subjecting my body to 17 years of alcohol and tobacco abuse.

I've been off the nicotine for 3 months and am almost able to run a 1/2 mile without stopping. I'm realistic and the advice on here helps with that. 

Cheers,

Stewart. 


Posted: 07/04/2010 at 12:52

good advise thank you
Posted: 17/04/2010 at 13:48

Read this article a couple of weeks after starting running for the first time in a very very long time, dont feel so bad at having to stop and walk so much now. IDspite knowing about stetching from my days lifting weights I still have a habit of skipping it and enerally feel it when starting my runs, stiff tendons and muscles do not like the sudden activity.

Only point I would pick up on is the heart attack advice, if you get the symptons of a heart attack which in addition can include severe pain in the middle of the chest along with the high temperature then call an ambulance immediately not your doctor. The hospitals really do prefer it that you waste their time and be wrong than to lay some where having a heart attack because you didnt know for sure if you should call them.  Speed is key in treating it!


Posted: 04/05/2010 at 23:11

Just starting running again in late April of this year , I'm 41 and have been promising myself that I get out and do a bit more , I already coach a mini football side and enjoy it alot . I used to run quite regularly in my school and teen days , and gave up playing football myself when the kids were born nearly 13 years ago , but now they are starting to grow up , I felt the urge again to get out on the road , plus watching the London Marathon , Great North Run etc on TV , starting to inspire me and when my partners mother passed away in March '09 , the motvation was there to do it for the charity hospice that looked after her , although it took another 12 months approx to get me back into it . I been steadily getting quicker over the same 3.34 mile course that I've got mapped out Google Earth , down to 7 min 50 secs a mile at the moment and when I plateau , I'll increase the mileage , is that the correct way doing it ? I've been lucky enough to get into the ballot for the London Marathon next April [125000 applied for approx 36000 places , fingers crossed] but to get a guaranteed place with the big charities , it's £100 up front and a minimum sponsorship of £2000 , a tad out of my range I think , any better way of getting in . I want get upto the standard where I feel comfortable within myself and will try and use the advice/training programmes from this website , whats the best one to go for ?
Posted: 08/06/2010 at 08:26

started 8 week beginners program, got to week three an struggled to jog for 3 mins off 1 min rest, so went back to week 2, sorely disapointed!! would it be ok to try again to jog 3 mins but off 2 mins rest for a week?? i am an absolute beginner,also suffering with extremly tight calfs even tho i am warming up for 10 mins and doing stretches before and after. please guide me through this with advice, all gratefully appreciated.
Posted: 09/06/2010 at 23:31

4 weeks in, after 25 years of pen pushing and heavy smoking I have shed 2 stone and feel almost ready for my first 5K race which I will be booking today and runing in July.

I was inspired to take this first step (pun intended) in reclaiming both my body and my identity after a devastatingly shocking and unexpected change in my life. 

I am far from a 'natural' runner and have struggled with the aerobic side but am really enjoying it, benefiting from the advice of articles like this one and have lurked in the forum soaking up all the encouragement on offer to us beginners.

I wish everyone posting here the very best of luck (including me) and would like to thank all those who have been in our position (sometimes many years ago) who find the time and patience to help us on our way.

Thankyou


Posted: 24/06/2010 at 21:48

ive only started back running a few weeks used to run years ago how many months would it take before i could race in the l marathon or am i just kidding my self
Posted: 12/07/2010 at 20:25

I left the army 2 years ago and havent done any cv exercise since. Im a lorry driver by trade now so i always said i never wanted the typical sterotypical body of a lorry driver. I have been putting on weight recently so i decided i would start running again as its in my opinion in this modern age it is compleatly underated compared to all the modern fitness idears of today.And all is costs is the price of a pair of trainers. Went for my first run yesterday after 2 years and thought id test the waters. Ran 6 miles fairly slow ill admit but still pretty impressed with myself. If im going to give advice it will be just make sure you give the stretches the same effort you give your run.Yourbody will thank you. Looking forward to running again now and hopefully soon be entering some comps. Goodluck people and as long as your enjoying it your doing things right.
Posted: 23/08/2010 at 19:44

If you have to take a little longer on a program that it says, don't fret. These are guides only. Also if you struggle with 3mins jogging and can manage 2mins then try 2.5 mins jogging or 2mins 15secs, whatever you can manage. I'm only a beginner myself but found breaking down things into really small pieces has helped. wish I could take more of my advice
Posted: 11/09/2010 at 15:47

Being realistic with your abilities and adding variety to your training session whatever your level can help improve performance and more importantly for beginners shape and muscle tone.

Full article: http://www.rebootdorset.com/?page_id=1002

Enjoy and achieve your full potentail!!!!


Posted: 05/10/2010 at 08:38


s q
i am due to run the birmingahm half marathon which my manager at work roped me into. i have a baby due in the first week of april the marathon is not till october i think i have never run before. well when i was younger. how should i go about this what? training, eating? please help!
Posted: 14/12/2010 at 11:52

Has anyone experienced pain in shins when trying to start running again?

tips on how to push yourself past the three mile barrier when in the past you have managed thirteen.


Posted: 19/12/2010 at 19:53

Thankyou to everyone on here. I am 47 and have embarked on the get fit journey. I have started to run and can manage just over a mile and im thrilled with that. I used to always walk a few miles with my dog. Yet running is so different. Unfortunately my dog doesnt want to run with me, I have to pull her...a retired greyhound..lol good luck to everyone x
Posted: 20/04/2011 at 10:39

Hi Zena, I've been running for about 6 months (I'm a repeat beginner!) and I've had my ups and downs. I think what has spurred me on is forcing myself to do races so I've always got something to aim for. Have a look around and see what's going on in your area and just sign up to events. If you can already manage a mile, maybe see if there is a 5km you can do in a few months?

I have a 4 year old lurcher and a collie - the collie is always miles ahead and the lurcher just plods behind me. It's good fun though

Good luck!


Posted: 20/04/2011 at 11:34

This article was a good read. I started running a few weeks ago, having not done any regular running for years. It was hard work the first two or three times, but even by run five I really noticed an improvement. Most importantly, I just enjoy being out in the fresh air and running through the fields and woodland.
Posted: 22/09/2011 at 20:18

Very good article, I'll take some of this input for my trainings...

I've been using the resources I found in http://www.starting-to-run.com, quite interesting information also...

I'm ready for my first half-marathon in 3 weeks!


Posted: 05/04/2012 at 18:14

Hi runners,

Great article! I've been using some of this, but other parts are brand new for me!

Another site I recommend is www.fromthecouchto5k.com that brings very good input for runners!

All the best to you, time for a morning 10k!

Carrol

 


Posted: 08/05/2012 at 05:21

Great article, but don't forget to have a look at www.start-to-run.com for more information on getting started with running! "Start to run" is a Belgian running program which has helped thousands of people!


Posted: 30/04/2013 at 09:06

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