The total beginner's quick guide to running

Everything you need to know to get you moving

by Beth Eck, Alisa Bauman and Mark Remy

beginners running

At some point early on, a beginner learns that 99.9 per cent of runners are pleasant, helpful people. This realisation usually dawns when a beginner meets a veteran at a race or on a training run, and the veteran starts sharing his or her enthusiasm for and knowledge of running. That’s how runners are. And that’s why, for this guide, we asked this question to a number of experienced runners of various ages: what do you know now that you wish you knew when you started? Whether you’re just starting out, or have been running for decades, you’ll learn something from their answers.

Every beginner asks at least a few of these questions at some point. Here are the answers:

How do I get started?
Start walking for an amount of time that feels comfortable - anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Once you can walk for 30 minutes easily, sprinkle one- to two-minute running intervals into your walking. As time goes on, make the running intervals longer, until you are running for 30 minutes straight. Beginner schedules.

Is it normal to feel pain during running?
Some discomfort is normal as you add distance and intensity to your training. But real pain isn’t normal. If something feels so bad that you have to run with a limp or otherwise alter your stride, you’re probably injured. Stop running immediately, and take a few days off. If you’re not sure, try walking for a minute or two to see if the discomfort disappears. If it doesn’t disappear, consult your GP. More about injury.

Do I have to wear running shoes, or are other trainers fine?
Running doesn’t require much investment in gear and accessories, but you have to have a good pair of running shoes. Unlike all-round trainers, running shoes are designed to allow your foot to strike the ground properly, reducing the amount of shock that travels up your leg. They’re also made to fit your foot snugly, which reduces the slipping and sliding that can lead to blisters.

What’s the difference between running on a treadmill and running outside?
A treadmill ‘pulls’ the ground underneath your feet, and you don’t meet any wind resistance, which makes running somewhat easier. Many treadmills are padded, making them a good option if you’re carrying a few extra pounds or are injury-prone and want to decrease impact. To better simulate the effort of outdoor running, you can always set your treadmill at a one per cent incline.

Where should I run?
You can run anywhere that’s safe and enjoyable. The best running routes are scenic, well lit, and free of traffic. There also soft: choose trails or smooth grass rather than roads. Think of running as a way to explore new territory. Use your watch to gauge your distance, and set out on a new adventure each time you run. Talk to other runners about the routes they run. The more varied your routes, the easier running will feel. More about running surfaces.

I always feel out of breath when I run. Is something wrong?
Running causes you to breathe harder than usual, so some amount of huffing and puffing is normal. Most of that out-of-breath feeling diminishes as you become fitter. Concentrate on breathing from deep down in your belly, and if you have to, slow down or take walking breaks. If the breathlessness persists, ask your doctor about the possibility that you may have asthma.

I often suffer from a stitch when I run. Will these ever go away?
Side stitches are common among beginners because the abdomen is not used to the jostling that running causes. Most runners find that stitches go away as fitness increases. Also, don’t eat any solid foods in the hour before you run. When you get a stitch, breathe deeply, concentrating on pushing all of the air out of your abdomen. This will stretch out your diaphragm muscle (just below your lungs), which is usually where a cramp occurs.

Should I breathe through my nose or my mouth?
Probably the latter, which will allow you to get as much oxygen as possible to your working muscles. However, some runners breathe through their noses during training runs, believing that this keeps them more relaxed. Do what works for you.

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Discuss this article


Just like Cath I am new to the forum, RW and running in general.

I am 30 and a complete beginner, I am about 1 1/2 stone overweight and have slightly high blood pressure (137/91 last reading).

I want to run to get in shape, lose weight, and de-stress. In addition to this, I am really hoping it will help to bring my blood pressure down as I don't want to have to take medication if I can possibly avoid it! I have been given to understand running can be very effective as a way to lower blood pressure, has anyone else had the same problem and found it helpful?

I went for my first run/walk on Tuesday this week and really enjoyed it! I plan to follow your eight week beginner programme to get me up to running for 30 mins non-stop. From that point I would like to train to do a 5k race, then 10k, hoping to do a half marathon next year and possibly a marathon in 2004.

Would it be realistic to aim for a 5K in say mid to late October, and then perhaps a 10K in Jan/Feb next year? I aim to run three to four times a week once I have completed the beginners programme and then build up speed (which is non-existent at the moment!) and distance by following tips on this site.

All advice/suggestions gratefully received - and here's to all beginners making a start, good for you!

Posted: 08/08/2002 at 15:04

Hi Fiona welcome to the world of running. You BP may be a little high, was it taken by a doctor or at the gym? Has it been taken more than once? you can get false reading in doctors surgeries due to the stressful envirnoment.
Training for a 5k in October sounds very achievable, aim to finish and not for a time and go for that PB in a 5k. Good luck with the training and don't forget everyone on this site was a beginner like you at one time.
Posted: 08/08/2002 at 15:30

JaneM is right, we were all beginners once.You've made the start now so keep at it. Like most things in life you will find that there will be peaks and troughs. I'm in a trough at the moment !! but you will only ever get encouragement from this site and what a feeling you will have when you complete your first 5k !!

Good luck and let us know how you progress.
Posted: 08/08/2002 at 17:03

Wonder if 30mins continuous within 8 weeks is a bit hasty. From my years of experience at failing to become a runner, the most important thing in the early days is the need to stay injury free.
I ran in my teens, but over last 30 years have mainly cycled, building a good aerobic engine in a crap chassis; whenever I tried running (which I loved) I'd do too much too quickly and get knee and Achilles problems. Eventually swallowed pride and tried a beginner's walk/run programme from Bob Glover's Runners Handbook and halved the dose - instead of building to 20 mins in the 10 weeks of his programme I've done it in 20 weeks (4 days one week, 3 the next and then move up a level) and plan to move up to 30 mins in the next 10 weeks.
Maybe I've been too conservative, but I haven't had a twinge and I wait hungrily for the day of the next run to come. In the past, injury has dented the enthusiasm within 6 weeks at most.
As it is, I'm totally pleased with myself for being able to keep going since April. (Did a few sums earlier this week and discovered I've run as far since April as Paula Radcliffe runs in a week......)
I run early in the morning and usually sleep badly the night before a running morning - just excitement at the prospect of doing something I've failed at so often in the past.
Go for it Fiona, but what's the hurry? Build and enjoy, but take those days off and if you feel even a hint of strain, please don't be afraid to repeat a week, or even go back a week or two. There'll be plenty of time for races next year! Plug away patiently this year and look forward to lovely long runs next spring.
Of course, I'm 20+ years older than you so maybe I need to be hypercautious. You young sprites can probably afford to take risks burning up the pavements. On the other hand you've got 20+ years more time to enjoy running than I have so you can afford to be patient!

Enjoy it however you do it!
Posted: 09/08/2002 at 15:13

Hi Fiona
The best thing is that you enjoyed your 1st run, it's always easier to do something you like.
You didn't say how long your run was, but 5k should be ok in 8-10 weeks.
Like JaneM says, don't aim too high for the 1st go, it has to be a PB no matter what the time.
In your taining, make sure you listen to your body, it will soon tell you if you are doing too much. Also have at least 1 rest day between runs at the beginning.
Good luck, and who knows, we may see go in next year's Great North Run.

Posted: 10/08/2002 at 21:03

Hi Fiona,
Just wanted to add my bit of encouragement.. well done for starting running. I'm no expert, but you seem to be doing just fine.. don't take on too much too soon and, like everyone else says, don't worry about the finishing time for your 5k - just get round steady and then you can try to beat it at your next 5k - that's what I did anyway! Good luck and keep up the good work.
Posted: 10/08/2002 at 21:23

Go for it girl, last August i could only run for five hundred yards before breathlessness took hold! On april 14th i completed the London Marathon in 5 hours and 20 minutes,if an old git like me can do it, you can too!
Posted: 10/08/2002 at 21:35

Hi Fiona, can I just repeat what someone has said previously and make sure you get multiple readings of your BP. From my own experience "white coat hypertension", can make a big difference to the readings - everytime I got near a doctor I got paranoid and my BP would shoot up. Eventually I got measured by a very cool doctor who put me at ease and lo and behold, my BP was normal.

As for running, if you are worried about doing too much too soon, speak to your doctor again, that's what they are there for :) He or she will probably put your mind at rest. Like most things in life, just don't too go crazy too quickly, gradually increase both your distances and times, and don't be embarassed to stop and rest (or walk) several times if you have to. I started running in April and yesterday morning I completed my first 5 mile run. It wasn't very quick at 53 minutes, but I'm very pleased with myself. I've entered into a 10k in January and my aimis to complete that in less than 60 minutes, which I think is realistically attainable without too much pushing.

As for losing weight, it's a bit strange, I eat quite healthily I think, and I am now running 3/4 times a week, but the weight is not coming off me (5'11", 16 stone), i think it might be moving a round a bit though :) I think you just have to be patient in expecting weight to go, it seems to vary a lot from person to person as far as I can see.

happy running!
Posted: 12/08/2002 at 10:51

All good advice and like the rest I wish you luck - keep posting to tell us how you are doing.

The issues with weight loss when beginning is that you put on muscle which weighs more per inch, and you do not exercise long enough to get full benefit - BUT that is a must as too much running will injure you.

I lost my first stone while slowly increasing my running to no more than 1 hour a week - but I also did 2 weights sessions and another 2 hours of biking and other non-impact aerobics. This will also help keep you injury free.

I have now lost 2 stone and run 15 miles a week with some shin problems which require lots of stretching - but mostly I'm running injury free.

So good luck and mix it up.
Posted: 12/08/2002 at 14:13

Hi Fiona,

12 years ago I had elevated BP around the same asd yours, however I was only 25. I was 18 stone of lard and could hardly hold a conversation without panting for air. i dabbled with diets weights and swimming etc. My weight dropped to 16 stone (Oh I'm 6 ft 3inches as well). I discovered running 2.5 years ago and could barely run a 100 yds then, now I run 4 times a week approx 20 to 30 miles i total (I used the 1 min run 1 min walk theory it works a treat, took about 1 months to go from 100yds to a mile run). My BP is 120 over 80 and my Resting heart rate is 44. I put the fitness down to running and the weight loss down to a mixture of the lot. I'm still 16 stone and probably 20lbs too heavy but I'm bloody fit!!. However I am committed to drop the weight to see what I am capable of before the big 40.

Posted: 12/08/2002 at 15:44

Totally screwed up Wife left me stating that he no loner love’s me lost my Children, lost the reason to live.
Took up road running, first race Reading ½ Marathon in March this year, ran a further 7 since then (16-Aug-02). Life is hard but beginning to look forward. Now plan my 1st Marathon 20th Oct at Abingdon. Looking for running partners that are running ½ marathons around 02:00:00 If female so much the better!
All I can add it not to aim too high, but on the other hand go for it! !
I lost 4.5 Stones since Feb this year and have gone bonkers on running, no spring chicking.... Tony H
Posted: 16/08/2002 at 18:39

Hi all,

I'm a complete novice and this is my first time to this site. It's given me motivation and reduced my sense of isolation already. I was 3 stone overwieght and am still
1 1/2 stone overwieght. I'm also a self confessed couch potato for the last 25 years. Until two months ago I had no muscle strength and no aeorobic stamina, with my first time on the treadmill resulting in 10 min walking at 5 km/h and a near collapse at the end. Solwly with a walk/jog programme I'm now able to sustain 8km/h pace for 6 mins with 2 min walking 6km/h to recover and can do this for 25 mins. I'm doing weights three times a week and run three times a week.
I plan to do a 5k in second week of September, and hope that I can make it under 40 mins. Is this over-ambitious.
I've been sick for four days and haven't run for five days. I feel panicky about getting back out there tommorrow in case I've lost any stamina. Seejay
Posted: 01/08/2004 at 18:27

Hi Catherine,

I have just read your message. I started running in November 2002 and could run for about 1 minute without collapsing on the treadmill when I started. By June 2003 i successfully completed a 5k race in 31 minutes so I was very pleased and felt great afterwards. The atmosphere was great and the crowd really carried all the runners through. Since then I have continued running but also started to enjoy other forms of exercise (step, yoga, gym etc) which I was not capable of before. Recently I have considered entering for another race to spur myself along and am thinking about a 10k in September - maybe a little ambitious but I have the summer holidays to prepare. Let me know how you get on. AnneM
Posted: 01/08/2004 at 19:03

just a quick note on the blood pressure, your reading is certainly not extraordinarily high, and you should take a number of readings to average it out a little, as pointed out some people find certain situations stressful, you may have rushed to get to your appointment etc etc, so if that was your only measurement dont worry too much. also, with weight loss and an improvement in your cardiovascular fitness, it will naturally come down anyway
Posted: 01/08/2004 at 19:03

Hi Fiona, Welcome! I am too a beginner and started running in late May on a beginners programme, at the beginning of July I did a race for life 5k and acheived my goal of running the whole distance and getting a good time! Now I am aiming to do a 10 k in October so all you are aiming for is achievable. I too am trying to lose a stone, but so far haven't lost anything but have toned up a great deal, so try not to get to down hearted if you don't lose straight away as it seems quite common not to lose straight away. Don't know much about Blood Pressure but starting running can only do good in my eyes! Good luck! Pinkfairy :)
Posted: 02/08/2004 at 08:10

hi there im 20 years old and about a stone or so over weight. i really struggle with running but i really want to join the army at the moment i need to be running a mile and a half in 10:30 or less, and tips on reaching this goal.
Posted: 24/01/2011 at 14:23

Hi folks. I'm 45 in May and type I diabetic and just about to take my first steps into the wonderful world of running after speed walking for a few weeks. My aim is basically to get myself back to the fitness I had in my late 20's/early 30's (before the pancreas packed up !) and lose some weight. Side effect should be that I'll be able to reduce my insulin doses. If there's anyone out there who has any tips for the diabetic dabbler let me know. Cheers.
Posted: 04/02/2011 at 21:47

Hi there, 

loving reading all your comments, currently on week 2 of running and feeling like its never ending!!!! But thanks to all your stories ive got a bit of hope back!x 

Posted: 26/02/2011 at 20:26

hi there i am a 37 yr old engineer with dodgy knees and a bad back lol i have been running a bit in the gym (yes on a treadmill ) i know this doesnt really help me get a feel but i REALLY want to be able to do the london marathon in 2012 i have applied and fingers crossed ....anyway heres my point should i start traing on cross country just to build up my stamina and distance with less chance of getting run over ! or should i start as i mean to go on and train just on road surfaces ?? as the london marathon is all road i was just wondering 


ps all your previous answers have made good reading  

Posted: 26/04/2011 at 23:49

HI Tony,

As you know already that you have "dodgy knees", I'd make sure that you combine regular running with lots of strengthening work for the core, glutes, hamstrings, quads and calfs. The stronger you can get to protect those knees, the better!

On top of regular strengthening work, try to spend some time focusing on your technique before you start increasing the miles significanlty.

I found a good running strengthening and technique program here:

Posted: 03/11/2011 at 12:47

post deleted
Posted: 21/11/2011 at 10:29

I am a complete beginner to running.I am hoping to do half marathon in 3 months. I am 40 yrs old. Is this completely unrealistic? Any suggestions please!
Posted: 07/01/2012 at 17:49

I am about to go for my first walk/run. Im not overweight but would like to tone up. My boyfriend and his mother are marothon runners and keep telling me how fab running is so I've caved and decided to give it a go. The only thing I'm slightly worried about is my subluxing arm. I am awaiting physiotherapy on my shoulder for a severe sublux. Will running gently do any further damage :/ ???
Posted: 10/04/2012 at 18:01



These tips are good, I can recommend them, I've been running from some years and aiming for very long distances!


Anothe site I recommend is, very interesting also.


Shoes are surely one of the hottest topics you should never disconsider.


Enjoy running,



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Posted: 18/12/2013 at 07:13

Great guide for beginners!


Posted: 05/06/2014 at 12:30

Hi all, I've been reading posts on this forum for a while, but I'm just not exactly what I should be doing so just thought I'd ask one of you for advice!
I'm a 23 year old female and I'm very unfit, I mean I even start breathing heavier than normal when I run up the stairs! For the last couple of years, I've been working long hours in an office which made me very unfit (as I'd be sat down most of the time) and overweight (as I'd snack a lot which I'm now trying to cut down on). I really want to get into running (my goal is to be able to run 10k at some point) and I've joined the gym in January to start my couch to 5k programme. I've been doing it on a treadmill 3 times a week, and for the first couple of weeks it's been going great- it was challenging but I managed it. But when I got to week 4 (two repetitions of 3 minute run, 90seconds walk, 5 minutes fun and 2.5minute walk) I really struggled and been stuck on it since then. I have lowered the incline on my treadmill from 1 to 0.5 and been really trying to take it slowly, but only ever managed to complete it twice. I'm not sure if it's because I'm overweight and not flexible, but my lower legs get really tight and painful so I have to stop and get really frustrated. I've been trying to do some research on that, and the main things that come up are indeed running to fast too soon, and lack of flexibility, so I've been trying to work on both but with no improvements? I had to stop going to the gym last month as I cannot quite afford it, but I'm afraid to go running on the streets as I don't really know the area well enough. So I suppose my main questions are: what should I be doing? How do I get over the pain and tightness in my legs? How can I ensure I complete that week and move on? What are some good exercises to improve my flexibility and strength? Should I focus on building muscle/losing weight first or just keep on doing the runner programme?
I have been doing stretches before and after running, leg presses, sit ups and crouches for now. 

Posted: 05/06/2016 at 22:57

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