The 15 Beginner Essentials - Preview

A preview for non-subscribers: the first 5 of the 15 waffle-free things all new runners need to know

Posted: 12 November 2004
by Joe Henderson

For the past two years, I’ve been teaching a class for novice runners on a university campus. But this is no typical college course – we spend more time running together than discussing and debating.

The group meets twice a week for 50 minutes at a time. For homework, I suggest that class members do an additional run or two each week.

For that course, I’ve shrunk the lectures I’ve been giving my students into lessons that I can recite in minutes or write in a single paragraph. I give my students only those nuggets that are most important for them to learn in our 10 weeks together.

The full version of this article contains those 15 lessons. Think of them as crib sheets for your basic ‘running course’. Learn them, and you can make it through your first running efforts with flying colours.

If you're a Runner's World UK magazine subscriber, you can see all 15 lessons here. Otherwise, enjoy these five as a preview - and if you want to subscribe, you can save 30% right here.

1 Welcome to the start line
This might be your first try at running, or a return visit, or an attempt to improve on what you already do. The less running you’ve done recently, the more you can expect to improve your distances and speeds in the next 10 weeks. On the other hand, the less you’ve run lately, the more likely you are to hurt yourself by doing too much, too soon. That’s why it’s so important to set two related goals as you start or restart your running programme – to maximise improvements, and to minimise injuries. You win by improving. You lose by getting hurt.

2 Buy the right shoes
Shoes are the biggest equipment expense for runners, so it’s important to get this right. Spend wisely by buying well-made shoes from a serious brand. Search out a model that fits you properly, and is designed for the surface you’ll run on most often – road, track, or trail. If you’re not sure which shoe will work best for you, go to a specialist running shop where staff can advise you (there is a list of such shops at the back of this magazine). After you buy your shoes, remember that even the best have a limited lifespan. Plan to replace them after about 350-500 miles of wear.

3 Make a plan
The two basic raw materials for a running routine are time and space. And the two main reasons given by those who don’t run? ‘I don’t have time for it’, and, ‘I don’t have anywhere to do it’. Let’s dissect those excuses. You can run well and get in great shape with as little as a 30-minute session every other day. Think of it as the time you won’t waste by watching TV. As for finding places to run, anywhere that’s safe for walking is also fine for running. Off-road routes (parks, bike paths, playing fields) are better than busy streets, and soft surfaces (grass and dirt) are better than paved ones, but any choice is better than staying at home. Map out the best courses in your immediate neighbourhood. That saves time, solves the ‘place’ issue and makes it much more likely that you’ll actually do your planned runs.

4 Take the mile trial
Friends who hear that you’ve begun running will soon ask what your best mile time is – so you might as well get used to it. Before long, you’ll be calculating your pace per mile on longer runs, but you should begin with a simple one-mile test run (four laps on a standard track) to determine your starting point. Think of this run as a pace test, not a race. Run at a pace a little beyond easy, but less than a struggle, and count on improving your mile time in later tests as your fitness improves.

5 Get F.I.T.
Kenneth Cooper, a giant in the fitness field, long ago devised a simple formula for improving as a runner. Run two to three miles, three to five days a week at a comfortable pace. It’s easier to remember as the F.l.T. formula: frequency (at least every other day); intensity (comfortable pace); and time (about 30 minutes). Even with some walking breaks, you can cover two miles in 30 minutes, and you might soon be running three miles in that time. It’s important to run these efforts at an easy, comfortable pace. Think of yourself as the Tortoise, not the Hare. Make haste slowly.

Previous article
RW's 60-Second Guides: Beginners' Running
Next article
The 15 Beginner Essentials

injury general, wisdom, nutrition general, beginner misc, run-walk, shoe choice

Discuss this article

At fifty (in 6 weeks time), female, WELL fat (15st4 - youch!)and grossly underactive (oh, and asthmatic for good measure) I desperately need some help here.

I know what I'm supposed to do but find some fabulous excuses not to. I'm an armchair athlete who reads Runners World mag and online forums, watches athletics on telly while stuffing my face and drinking vino, then complain when I look in the mirror or go shopping for clothes. Spent 2 years at a slimming club and lost but then found 2 stone - so have stopped going.At least my weight is now stable as I've cut down on the vino.

I can do things when I want them badly enough - I managed to complete five GNR Half maras without any prior training - I jogged and hobbled round and thoroughly enjoyed the satisfaction of doing them. I only stopped doing the GNR last year when I wasn't accepted in the open ballott.

But I've decided it's time and I need your help.
I need the final kick up the arse (would do it myself but can't get my heel far enough back)and shove out that door into the lighter evenings. I need to break old habits and develop sustainable new ones, but unfortunately don't have a 'support' team amongst my lovely mates.

Come on - do your worst. I know a good bit of the theory but don't put it into practice, I need some honest feedback.

Am I too old to start running in a fairly serious way? Can you help me to gain confidence and stay motivated?

I want to be getting fit and nifty at fifty - not fatter and fartier and fifty!


Posted: 20/04/2006 at 13:18

Never too old.. look at Ratbag!
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 13:41

Barkles - where is Ratbag - and are you being slightly disrespectful?!


Posted: 20/04/2006 at 13:45

S'ok Jaybird. Barkles and Ratbag go back a long way. :o)

No you are not too old, and there is no reason whatsoever that you can't be fit and fifty.

The trick is to start slow and steady, and build up gradually, so that you don't get injured and lose motivation.

If you look in the grey "training" tab at the top of the page and find the beginners plan, that is a good place to start.

Week 1 day one is "Run 1 min, walk 90 seconds x 8".

Do that today/tonight, and report back here tomorrow.

We will be watching........
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 13:55

Jaybird, you go, girl!

You know the theory, as you say, but it really is only you that can put it into practice.

It's going to take you months of shuffle/walking before you can run for any length of time, but if you keep at it you WILL do it. I am only one of LOADS of people here who can say that with conviction because we've done it too. Bigger people, older people, less fit people, even wheezier people.

Get up off that chair now and go for a walk. That'll be your Day One.

see ya.
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 13:59

...and there are people like Nessie who type quicker, too.


BTW - Nessie would be the first to agree (coz we's buddies!) that while the beginners' plans are fab, they are only guidelines. It may well be that to run for a whole minute is way beyond your capabilities at the moment - just do as much as you can. The idea is to enjoy it, remember.
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:01

Thanks Nessie - that's just what I need, some beady eyes upon me...with no escape!

I'm thankful Barkles and Ratbag are acquainted - I hate the sight of blood!


Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:13

JB - take a gander into the Matures thread on this General forum, and then at over 60's training in Training.......there are peeps on there who started later than you and probably heavier than you.........

never too old, never too heavy

FB - 53, 16+stone, 4 maras since 50 and one Ironman and still as mad as bucket of ducks.......
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:14

and Barkles and Ratbags are just youngsters - 'cept Ratbag who is just an old fart........
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:15

And thanks Jj - I have made an appointment with myself for 6.30pm - that way all kids are in, fed, watered and hubby can fend for himself!
Shoes on, mp3 player on and clutching inhaler. Only prob will be the wobbly bits...not a pretty sight! Mebbe ought to wait 'til it's dark? Nope. Soddit. 6.30pm and to hell with it!


Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:20

Google for Ed Whitlock. You will never be too old.
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:21

Oh, I abserlootly would agree Jj. A minute is a long time the first time you run.

[drifts off into daydream about that first run, when it took at least 2 minutes to breathe slow enough to take a sip of water after the first minute]

Remember that the minute (or whatever) doesn't have to be fast........
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:23

Cheers FB! I need the input!
Can't wait to hear what poor Ratbag's going to say with everyone talking 'bout he built like Arnie Schwarzzenegar?

Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:23

Thanks all - am inspired now. Keep it coming! I'll let you know how it goes.(Feeling slightly sick at this point)
Promise...I will.

Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:27

Ratbag built like Arnie Schwarzzenegar???

Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:28

oops - name change for a different thread - forgot - soz!!!!
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:28

My mum took up running at 60. She takes a while to warm up, and needs to wear lots of clothes, but can manage 5 or 6 miles comfortably. She says she's going to do the London Marathon next year (age 62).
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:32

FB - showing my complete ignorance now - wotsa Ironman? Is it a multi-athletics thing? I guess you do need to be mad for that...and how did you get into that?

Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:35

yes - it's a big triathlon basically - swim 3.8km (2.4m), bike 180km (112m), run a marathon......

had been doing tris for a couple of years but got sweet talked into it by some mad orange monkey.......
Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:39

abbs - good inspiration! cheers.

And FB - 'HAB' eh? Trying to chat the girls up with that one I guess...


Posted: 20/04/2006 at 14:40

Did you do your run last night?
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 08:29

I'm a relative newcomer to running (I started on a whim last year when I decided to do Race for Life)

the thing that worried me (and if I'm honest still does a wee bit) about doing runs was getting too distant from where I had started from and not being able to get back - so I found a park that had a path all the way round and did my early steps there. I also used a treadmill a lot (and still do) as I was able to control speed / distance etc - took me a while to learn how to pace myself when I run in my occasional races but I knew I had the core fitness to manage the distance

Good luck
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 10:51

Yeah, comeon Jaybird. Report please.

Good tip Lorraine. Small loops give the option of ducking out if you feel bad.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 11:15

Jaybird - hope you have made that start!

I started running in October 2004, age 50 (and two months). Wasn't overweight, but had never run. As already said - start slowly, enjoy being out in the nice weather and fresh air (hope you're not having to do it all on congested city streets). You may want to see if the is a branch of Running Sisters or Women's Running Network in your area, as they often run beginner's groups. I know the Southampton branch are starting a walking group, intending to build up to speed walking, which would help build up fitness.

Other recommendations - proper sports bra and get some running shoed from a 'proper' running shop that can analyse the right type for you.

Good luck!

Johhny J - may just come over and introduce myself on Mature Runners!
FB - think you are at mudchute on Sunday - look forward to meeting you (I think!!)
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 11:39

Got there before you JJ! Black tea with lemon please!
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 12:32

Hi Everybodypeeps

Tra Laaaa! Yup! Went out last evening at 6.35 and although I didn't feel I should run (as I got behind with the timing and ended up eating my tea before I went!)I had a great brisk walk through houses and out onto a lane (I live in a large Market Town).

I was serenaded by a lark, attacked in a caring way by a slobbering spaniel carrying a ball, and got a blister 'cos I forgot to put on my socks with my trainers...?!(Doh!)But I was thoroughly chuffed with myself because I had actually gone out and enjoyed it. It was a double triumph for me as I managed to get back to watch my other inspirations in 'Run For Glory' - though I confess I find that scary - and didn't even have the teensiest bit of wine!

So.Will do it again this evening around the same time, as it's a bit of 'dead' time in that half hour if you know what I mean.

Thank you all for your encouragement and postings, they're great to read and I will report back here later!

Johnny - I will pop up your end (?) for a bit of a chat and hopefully loads of banter as you suggested.

Nessie - I did it!

Tra Laaaa!

Posted: 21/04/2006 at 13:44

I am at Mudshite on Sunday Diana........not all the time as I'm supporting my missus (Petal) who is running so will see her at Cutty Sark and walk through to Mudchute and then off to the finish when she has "shot" by..........
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 14:23

Well done Jaybird! Good thing is, you enjoyed it, so hopefully will continue. Remember your socks next time.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 14:26

WHERE are you FB? Trust that is not a freudian typo - hoping for a dry & fragrant spring day! See you there when you call in.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 14:28

Yikes - are you all going to run in THE MARATHON????
shock - horror!
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 14:32

You're only too old when you're DEAD!
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 15:02

have you ever been to Mudchute Diana?? if not, you will understand my "typo" come Sunday - Mudshite is surely is!

I lie - Yorkshite is worse........
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 15:26

Well done Jaybird!

Don't worry about all these mada marathon peeps. Just you do your own thing, and, as Diana says, enjoy it.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 15:30

Well done, Jaybird! Keep it up.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 16:37

PB - was there last year, on the other side of the railings and in no state to notice much at all by the time I got there!
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 17:36

[Opens thread door, finds Jaybird aaaaaaaaand BOOT]

See you later. Have a nice walk/run....

[Watches Jaybird fly through the air]
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 17:56

Jaybird, if you are at a loose end on Sunday come to Mudchute and watch the carnival yourself. You get to hold out bags of jellybabies to the runners. It's like fishing, only without the bother of getting something wet and flapping off a hook (they are wet and flapping by that time, but they run away all by themselves). And you can put real names to all these strange faces.

B.Ewok's Mate is right. Just don't stop. It is worth it.

Now, where'd I put the trainers.. for now.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 18:20

Sort your diet out first - it is the thing that has the single biggest effect on your body weight and shape and the best bit is that it requires absolutely no more exertion to eat healthily! Better still, you know the right things to eat because you have done it before. Next stage is simply to become more active - not running about or getting disheartened because you have to keep stopping or your hips/knees/ankles/everything hurts. Walk to the shops, carry your shopping home, avoid lifts, get off a station early on the bus/train etc. Every day make sure you do something that is active. No more booze for a while, plenty of fruit and veg and drink loads of water and I guarantee you'll have lost as much as a stone in the first 4-6 weeks. Once you are down in the low 14s you can start running properly and build it up - stick with the healthy food and in 3 months you'll have lost 2 stone. Now you are nearly under 13st which is less than you were on the old diet regime and it is not even the end of June! By mid-july you'll be comfortably running for 40-50 minutes without stopping and you'll be able to get into all of those old clothes that you'd given up on years ago. In July you should at last be into the 12st something bracket and feeling much more attractive and full of energy - something that those close to you will have commented on for some time by this point. Now comes the tough part - stick with it, give yourself new goals to achieve, enter a race or buy something a size smaller than you are and give yourself a date/event that you will wear it.

It can be done - just back yourself.
Posted: 21/04/2006 at 18:45


Thanks all for your postings. I hope all of you superpeeps had a fab day yesterday at London? I watched and wept on the tv.

Nessie, I wont dwell on those who are fab!
Waaaabit, thanks for the boot out - it worked today!

Philo - cheers mate.

And everyone else I haven't mentioned - biiiiig thanks. I went out today and did 15minsX2 brisk walk and I feel saintly.

Emgee - wow. Thanks for writing down the stages and the goals - I can almost believe them...I will stick with the walking bit for this week at least, as strangely it is enjoyable. Maybe next week, a few jogging steps? I'll keep you posted.

Cheers all you 'old pros' for cposting on this thread - it means a whole lot to me to know someone's taking an interest and supporting me. You never know - one day I could be at that mara in London and meet you peeps...!

Keep posting..
Jay x
Posted: 24/04/2006 at 22:48

Glad that you're still getting out and enjoying it. Ypu could certainly consider a 10k one of these days!! Or perhaps a Rcae for Life (5k)then keep working gently up.

Got a bit damp and cold at FLM - it's a long time to be standing there, but really enjoyed it.
Posted: 25/04/2006 at 08:51

See more comments...
We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.