Here’s the great secret about beginner running plans: You don’t need much to actually get started—just a comfortable pair of
running shoes and an openness to try something new. Running for beginners has never been easier!
Running is one of the best ways to get fit and improve your emotional and physical well-being. “Running, more than any other sustained activity, turns on the ‘good attitude circuit,’ the ‘vitality circuit,’ and the ‘personal empowerment circuit’ in the brain,” explains Jeff Galloway, Olympic runner and creator of the Run-Walk Method, a program that alternates running and walking to help beginners get started. “It allows people to change the way they feel and enjoy the exertion if they do it the right way.”
So whether you’re coming back to running after a long pause or a total beginner, welcome! These tips and tricks will to help you shake off those nerves and hit the road.
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1. Put your assumptions aside
Don’t be intimidated: Running isn’t just running, which you know how to do. A huge roadblock to getting started is just mental, says Kerl LaJeune, an RRCA certified marathon coach. We think to ourselves, only professionals run, I’m too old, I don’t have the right shoes or gear. “The first step is to understand that running is not this magical thing that requires superpowers to do,” LaJeune explains. “It’s something that’s only slightly different from what we do every day—walking around.”
When you get started as a new runner, it’s important to be flexible and give yourself grace through the process, adds Ashlee Lawson Green, RRCA-certified Running Coach and CEO of Rungrl. Maybe you plan to run for 20 minutes on your first day but find you can only do 10. You still got out there and started to move! It may not be what you planned, but you can spend the other 10 minutes walking.
If there are things in your mind holding you back, be it weight, age, or athletic ability, you can always start with a fast walk. That will be close to a running pace, and you can go from there. Don’t focus on hindrances; just start the process.
2. Set personal goals
Why are you running? Do you want to improve your health, find time to get outside, or share an activity with a loved one? “You can have the most costly gear, and it’s still not going to get you off that couch,” says LaJeune.
It’s crucial for beginners to find what intrinsically motivates them rather than a specific distance or time. Finding your “why” will help make this a routine you enjoy and something you’ll stick to.
3. Warm up your body
Have you ever run to catch a train or stop your car from getting a ticket? You push your body from zero to 100 within seconds, and whether it’s in an hour or the next day, your body feels it (and not in a good way!).
“You have to be aware that your muscles, ligaments, and even your skin will be changing if you add a new type of movement,” says LaJeune. “When you do anything that’s beyond the level of your normal bodily exertion, you’re going to have to prepare so your body isn’t shocked.” The three key components of your prep:
To avoid fatigue, be sure to hydrate and get enough nutrients—salt, carbs, and protein—into your body well before you stretch or hit the road. Then, stretching followed by a brief walking period will help you avoid unnecessary injury and prepare your body for the more rigorous movement to come.
4. Alternate your pace
In running, “pace” is the number of minutes it takes you to cover a mile. It’s essentially your speed, and a faster pace means greater distance in less time and a more strenuous workout.
Sticking to one continuous, intense pace results in quicker fatigue—which can be discouraging, says Galloway. Instead, run in intervals. The Olympian came up with his Run-Walk Method because it breaks up the distance into manageable units and gives beginners greater control over how they feel during their run. Not only does alternating pace make running easier, but it also leads to quicker recovery, puts less stress on the weaker parts of your body, and allows you to conserve your body’s resources so you can keep going for longer periods, Galloway explains.
After your initial 3–5 minute walk, ease into a gentle run-walk combo. Walk periods interspersed between running intervals should be from 30 to 60 seconds.
5. Keep it manageable
Beginners should run every other day so that they eventually work up to 30 minutes, explains Galloway. This magic number is the threshold needed for the brain to release hormones that produce a “runner’s high.”
The amount of time you spend running your first day doesn’t necessarily matter, so long as you end that term feeling strong and like you want to go out and do it again. “The goal is to gradually build up your duration. If you start with 10 minutes, increase that to 15 minutes next time.”
6. Cool your body down
Cooling down after a run is essentially warming up in reverse. Slow your run to a gentle walk, and continue for five minutes. “If you have the time to walk for 10 minutes, that’s even better because it gives your body more time to lower your heart rate to its resting state, and it helps you avoid next-day soreness,” adds Galloway.
Continue to pay attention to the fluid levels in your body by rehydrating, and it’s important to eat carbs and protein afterward to help your muscles repair themselves. Research shows that people frequently overestimate how much energy they’ve expended, or calories they’ve burned while working out, and end up eating more than necessary for recovery (2–3 times more!). You won’t need a post-run feast; a light meal with these nutritional components should suffice.
7. Stay motivated
Forming a new habit can be difficult, but finding some consistency is worth it! Even a gentle running routine can make you happier and help brighten your day. Plus, it feels great to see yourself get better at a new activity, and regular running will allow your body to make the adjustments it needs to go farther, faster.
A final note on motivation, from Green: “I always ask people to remember their ‘why.’ What is the reason you wanted to begin running in the first place? If you can track back to the reason you decided to put one foot in front of the other, chances are, that will continue to be the motivation you need to hop on that treadmill or get out the door and hit the pavement.”
Micaela Bahn is a freelance editorial assistant and recent graduate from Carleton College, where she majored in English literature. She loves running, photography, and cooking the best new recipes.