Congratulations, you’re thinking about becoming a beginner runner. You’re on your way to changing your life with this powerful sport. One problem, you have no idea what you’re doing. That’s fine, nobody knows what they’re doing when they start something new.
In this article I’ll be giving some fantastic tips for beginner runners, so you can have an enjoyable first few months with your new sport. But, first…
Running can help you improve your life drastically
According to The Telegraph, the most popular new year’s resolutions all revolve around having a healthier lifestyle. At the top was exercising more, followed by losing weight, shortly followed by eating better, and then by taking a more active approach to health.
Guess what? Running can help you achieve all these popular new year’s resolutions!
Why is running so good for you?
Running is a popular form of exercise millions of people across the globe take advantage of. It’s free, can be done anywhere, burns a lot of calories, makes you happier, and more energetic, maintain a healthy weight, to name a few of the many benefits.
Running regularly is said to reduce your risk of chronic illness like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and stroke. Running gets you outside and into nature, keeps you physically active, and can help you create unforgettable memories. There are hundreds of reasons to get into this wonderful sport.
Without some handy tips and tricks, it can be difficult to stay motivated and be successful as a beginner runner.
I had a brief bout with running a couple of years ago but struggled massively because I didn’t know how to keep myself motivated.
I didn’t have a powerful reason for running, I started too quickly, I didn’t write down my progress, I wasn’t consistent, and I over-trained. These were just a few of my mistakes. I eventually fell out of love with running.
Fast forward two years and I turned things around. I saw an advert for the Brighton Half Marathon in the UK and decided on the spot to book it and represent Macmillan which is a charity for cancer care. This time, things were different.
This time around, I took a different approach and enjoyed being a beginner runner.
I did lots of research, asked fellow runners, and even asked professional athlete friends that compete for team GB (for the triathlon).
Thanks to starting strong, with the right advice and research, running has become a fundamental part of my life and I always look forward to slipping on my sneakers and getting out for a run. I want to help others that are in the same position I found myself in. Wanting to run, but not knowing how to start properly.
Without further ado, here are 19 top tips for beginner runners
1. Have a powerful reason for why you want to start running
When you have a reason for why you want to run in the first place, the whole process of being a beginner will be much easier. You won’t be constantly asking yourself ‘why am I doing this?’, because you’ll know why. You’ll have a powerful reason for why you want to start running.
When you have a reason with significant meaning and emotion attached to it, you can use the reason to motivate you any time you need it. This is incredibly helpful during the first few weeks as a beginner runner when you’re likely to struggle the most.
Why is having a reason so powerful for beginner runners?
Everything we do, we do it for a reason. Without a reason, it can be incredibly hard to act and maintain a behaviour. Think of actions you take in your day to day life.
You work for a financial reward and a chance to develop new skills, you to cook for the tasty meal, you might play the piano to be like one of your musical heroes, and you study for an exam to achieve a top grade.
Without having a compelling and powerful reason to act, the likelihood of you doing something is low. Therefore, you need a powerful reason to run in the first place. Otherwise, you’ll likely get demotivated and feel like you’re punishing yourself during the first few weeks.
For maximum effectiveness, the reason should have significant meaning and emotion attached to it.
Popular reasons people start running are:
Maybe you want to run to represent a charity. Perhaps it’s a charity whose work you strongly believe in, or the charity cared for a loved one when they needed help. Some people vow to run events like half-marathons and marathons in name of a charity, which is a powerful reason to start running.For more on reasons to run for charity, check out the blog post here:
5 Great Reasons You Should Run For Charity
- Physical fitness
Perhaps you’ve struggled with weight or health issues and you want to run to improve your physical fitness. You could attach more emotion to this reason, by setting a picture of your self-being out of shape as your mobile screen saver. Whenever you don’t feel like running and need reminding of your reason, look at your phone and remember why you’re running.
Some want to start running because of the challenge. These people like putting themselves out of their comfort zone, exploring their capabilities, pushing themselves to the limit.Climbing a steep hill, a tricky trail course, or setting the goal of a marathon, are examples of the many challenges running entails. If a sense of ‘challenge’ is your reason for running, make it more compelling by using the Anthony Robbins quote “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”. In other words, if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re not growing and developing your abilities!
- Making new friends
The running community is incredibly diverse, welcoming and a great space to be a part of. Some want to start running because of the opportunity to make new friendships and develop them over many months (sometimes years) of running with others. Examples of when you could make new friends are in a club, communal and casual runs.
2. Gradually build your fitness levels before you start running
If you’ve been physically inactive for a while, you’re probably out of shape. Maybe you get tired after walking more than 5 minutes, or you get out of breath after climbing up the stairs. Perhaps you spend lots of your daily time sitting, and minimal amounts of time moving.
If these scenarios sound familiar the chances are, you probably don’t have a decent level of fitness.
Before you start running, it’s a good idea to build your baseline level of fitness. Start by making some subtle changes in your daily life like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away from a building, and going for a lunchtime stroll rather than spending it at your desk.
Before starting a running regime, I’d always recommend people to start walking. Going for a daily walk is a fantastic source of light exercise. It gets you moving, builds lung capacity, and starts to pump blood around the body. The perfect way to build stamina and confidence before running.
I’d recommend you start by walking at least 3000-5000 steps a day for the first 3 days, then increase this to at least 5,000 from day 3 onwards.
When you make walking part of your daily routine and it becomes a habit, you will feel your fitness building. Once you can walk a couple of miles in one go without needing to stop or breathing extremely heavily, it’s a good time to think about your first proper beginner run.
3. Get the right equipment
One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started running was not having the right equipment.
I thought I could run in old plimsols I found at the bottom of my wardrobe. Big mistake. The shoes weren’t designed for running and left me in lots of pain and being barely able to walk after my first week of running. Getting the right equipment is important.
When Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest for the first time, they had the best equipment available to them at the time. The finest ropes, snow and temperature resistant clothing, spiked boots, and so on. They were successful at climbing the world’s tallest mountain because they had the right equipment.
In a similar fashion, runners who want to be successful in the sport will need to have the correct equipment.
So, what equipment do you need?
Running shoes, a few shirts and vests, and some shorts and sports leggings, are necessities. In the months of training before the race, you will probably experience different weather conditions.
Outside the basics, you can equip yourself with nice accessories.
Additionally, investing in a decent sports watch is useful for recording progress and pacing your training runs properly.
Checklist for beginner runners:
- Running Shoes
- Running T-Shirts
- Running Vests
- Long Sleeve Running T-Shirts
- Waist belt
- Sports Watch
For more information on running clothing & accessories, check out the following blog posts:
- Top 5 Brands For Running Shoes
- The Benefits of Running Sunglasses
- Top 5 Men’s Running Shoes For 2018
- 30 Great Gift Ideas For Runners
- 7 Signals You Need New Running Shoes
- 30 Great Fancy Dress Ideas For Runners
- 9 Reasons You Should Buy A GPS Running Watch
4. Start slow
One of the biggest mistakes I made was wanting to run as fast as I possibly could when I started running. I thought I could be like The Flash from DC comics, or Dash from The Incredibles. All that happened was I got tired and injured myself. Massive fail. Don’t let that happen to you.
For your first couple of weeks as a beginner runner, don’t worry about how fast you’re going. The most important thing to focus on is finishing the run and trying to stop as fewest times as possible. Whilst you may get a little patient with slower running, getting your body used to running and into a routine is going to pay off in the long run in the first couple of weeks. It’ll be worth it, trust me.
Once you establish a comfortable pace for yourself, you can then push your self a little further. Don’t go mad and start sprinting right away. Be gentle and get to know what your capabilities are. Increase your pace gradually and at a rate that’s right for you.
5. Go easy on the distance to start with
I know you’re excited to get going and you want to run some miles, but you don’t have to start off as an ultra-marathon runner. Many beginner runners (myself included when I started) have a desire to prove they’re serious about their new sport, by running far.
Not only is running huge distances to start with unrealistic, but it is also a recipe for disaster. One of my biggest running mistakes to date was thinking I could run huge distances straight away. I ran 7 miles on day 5 of my running regime. I’m sure you can guess what happened, I injured my hamstring and struggled to walk properly for a few days. Huge fail.
As a beginner runner, the muscle fibres in your legs are relatively soft and not conditioned. This means they will be painful and sore during the first couple of weeks. If you expect too much of your unconditioned leg muscles, they won’t be able to cope and you will probably get injured. Ouch. Being injured sucks because it means you need to take time out to let your leg heal properly.
Don’t be impatient and try to run long distances in the first couple of weeks. Yes, I know you’re probably eager to get going properly but I guarantee you, taking it easy to start with will pay off in the long run.
Gradually increase your distance by about 10% each week to start with. For example, if you run 3 times on week 1 for a total of 10 miles, increase this to 11 miles for week two. Being gradual with the increase in distance means you’re likely to prevent injury, develop your fitness at a steady and controlled rate, and discover the joy of running for yourself.
Have fun and go easy on the distance to start with.
6. Make your runs consistent on a weekly basis
As with many things in life, consistency as a beginner runner is key to success. It’s much better to run 2 times a week across 3 weeks than it is to run 6 times in one week and then rest for the next 2 weeks.
Without a doubt, consistent training is incredibly important for beginner (and all) runners. If you follow a poorly designed random program of running when you feel like it, it’s unlikely you will succeed as a runner.
If you run on a random basis, you might make huge progress by running regularly for one week and then lose your gains by not running the next week and a half. Make no mistake, consistency is incredibly important for runners. It’s required to develop fitness, routine and ensure you stay motivated to keep running.
Lots of successful people like to attribute success in being consistent. Not being naturally talented or lucky, but by being consistent. Showing up and running on a regular basis, in line with a routine, will gently condition your body in a systematic way and you’ll be able to properly integrate running into your life.
Being consistent in the first few weeks as a beginner is particularly important for setting good habits which will serve you later down the line. However, you start as a beginner runner, make sure you’re consistent and follow a routine. Don’t pick and choose when you want to run or when it’s appropriate to you.
Of course there are notable exceptions like important family events or unexpected circumstances, but for the most part, keep your first few weeks highly consistent. Be disciplined and follow a routine.
7. Write down your progress in a running journal
As a beginner runner, it’s easy to get confused at what you want you’re running to achieve or what you plan to do. That’s why it pays off to get yourself a running journal and use it to record your progress.
Whatever you want your running habit to achieve, you’re more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. Write them down, really? Yes, really!
Many people go through life with ideas in their head for what they want to achieve but they never express them in specific, traceable plans.
When you write out a clear statement of what your running goal is, how you intend to achieve it, the date you will achieve it by, and any activities you take to achieve it, the goal takes on a life of its own.
Suddenly, it’s not just an idea in your head; it exists and is expressed in the real world. You can now pinpoint your goal, explore how you will achieve it and feel proud of your work as you note your progress.
When you need some motivation, particularly in the first few weeks, grab your running journal and look at your progress. 9 times out of 10 you’ll find you’ve gotten faster and are able to travel further distances. It could be the inspiration you need to keep going when things get tough.
Make the start of your running life more fulfilling by writing down your progress in a running journal.
For more information on how to start a successful running journal, check out the blog post here:
8. Run with a partner
Starting as a beginner runner can be incredibly difficult. Particularly if you’re a solo act. Why not buddy up with someone, and get a partner to run with?
Having a running partner is a fantastic way to make your new running life interesting and keep you motivated.
A running partner can be your partner in crime. The Ying to your Yang, the Robin to your Batman, the Rodney to your Delboy, the Sandy to your Danny. You get the picture. Having a running partner can be powerful for beginner runners.
Having a running partner is great for the early stages because you have increased motivation, can develop a relationship with your partner, enjoy friendly competition, have a reason to wake up early, explore new routes, and so on.
Starting new hobbies can be daunting on your own, so having someone to start with you can make things easier. If you’ve ever gone to a cookery or dance class on your own, you’ll know what I mean.
For more information on the benefits of running partners, read the blog post here:
9. Join a local running club
Getting involved with a local running club can be one of the best things you do as a beginner runner.
Running clubs exist in most towns and usually meet at least once a week for a club run. A club run is typically about 5K and gives you the chance to socialise with everyone in the club as well as getting in a decent 5K.
Joining a club is beneficial because you get to meet new people, track your progress (club runs are usually timed), and feel motivated to run more. When you’re around people that run regularly, in an environment designed around running, you will learn to enjoy your new sport a lot more.
The beginner stages of running can be made much smoother when you join a running club. Why not give it a try?
10. Sign up to and participate in parkrun every Saturday morning
At 9 am, every Saturday morning, thousands of runners get together around the country (and parts of the world) to participate in a free community 5K known as parkrun.
This fantastic event is totally free and easy to sign up to, uses barcodes to time your progress each week, and gives you access to a community of like-minded runners in your community.
The first few weeks can be difficult as a beginner runner, so getting involved with the community and running with others can be very powerful. Don’t worry about being the fastest runner too, parkrun welcomes runners of all abilities.
It doesn’t matter if you can run a sub-15-minute 5K or struggle to break 35 minutes, parkrun is for everyone.
Sign up at parkrun.com, find out where your local parkrun is, and get involved. Doing this was one of the best decisions I made as a beginner runner. Try it, you’ll see what I mean!
For more information on the benefits of parkrun, read the blog post here:
11. If you need structure, follow a running programme like ‘Couch to 5K’
One of the main reasons beginner runners fail and stop running within the first few weeks is due to a lack of structure. Some runners simply can’t create and follow their own training plan, which is completely understandable. Particularly for a beginner with little experience.
Thankfully, there are lots of free beginner training programmes out there which give structure so crucial to success. An example is the popular NHS ‘Couch to 5K’ programme. This is a free programme which uses a weekly podcast and app, to deliver a step-by-step guide to take you from the coach to your first 5K.
Get some structure in the beginning stages of your running life and follow a programme. It will pay off massively.
If you prefer a physical training plan over apps and technology, check out this ‘5K Training For Beginners‘ book.
12. Don’t expect perfection straight away
When you’re a beginner runner just starting out, don’t expect perfection. It’s not realistic and will only lead to unnecessary feelings of frustration. The key word in this article is ‘beginner’.
A beginner is a person just starting to learn a skill or take part in an activity. They don’t have all the knowledge or experience to perform to a high standard.
Why do we want perfection as a beginner runner?
When we start something new it can be easy to get discouraged. We’re inexperienced, struggle, and will make some mistakes. We feel a strong urge to get everything perfect right away.
Ever played a wrong note on the guitar or piano, cooked a bad tasting dish, gave a lousy presentation or failed in an exam? Chances are, you felt annoyed with yourself. Maybe you felt like you let yourself down. Perhaps you felt disappointed. As frustrated as you may have felt, I bet you realised your failure was a necessary part of the journey to becoming skilled.
Without failing and encountering difficulty in something, we don’t know what to target for improvement. Simply put, failure and difficulty are necessary to getting better and being highly skilled. This applies to running 100%.
On your first few runs, you won’t be fast or able to run far, you might not enjoy running too much, and your form will probably be horrendous. Great. You then have things to work on so you can become a stronger runner, striving for perfection.
Don’t expect perfection straight away when you start. Have a growth mindset as a beginner runner and remember you can only get better. That way you won’t be discouraged when things don’t go to plan as you might have hoped for the first couple of weeks.
13. Get to know how long your body needs to recover after each run
Everybody is different. It’s a fact of life. Some are tall, some are short. You might have a muscular build, whilst your partner has a slim build. Human beings are incredibly diverse, and for this reason, recovery times between beginner runners can vary massively.
After your first running session, you might need two days to recover properly whilst somebody else might be good to go the next day. Don’t worry about how long it takes you to recover. The most important thing is that you pace yourself steadily in training and listen to your body in terms of how long it needs to recover.
The worst thing you can do is fight through the pain and run anyway. I’ve done this multiple time, and it almost always ended up in me becoming injured by pulling a muscle or developing shin splints. Ouch.
After a while, you’ll become a more skilled runner and your body will become fitter. This means you’ll be able to run quicker, for longer, needing shorter periods of recovery between runs.
Make sure you get to know how long your body needs to recover after each run and follow its wishes.
14. Eat sensibly for running
If you want to run efficiently, with minimal discomfort, make things easy for yourself with a decent diet. Like an aeroplane or car about to make an important journey, it’s important you use the right fuel to make you go during your runs.
As a rule of thumb, eat complex and healthy carbohydrates like vegetables, bananas, porridge, energy bars and gels before a training session. The reason for this is to fuel your body up with an adequate glucose supply to keep your muscles moving efficiently.
After the run, try and eat healthy fats and proteins to restore muscle and maintain a sustainable energy supply for usual activity. Examples would be oily fish (mackerel, tuna, sardines), eggs, meat, beans, nuts and seeds.
Lots of runners feel tempted to eat lots of carbohydrates both before and after a run, which is not ideal. When you eat lots of carbohydrates after a run, you will experience an energy high because of spiking blood sugar shortly before experiencing a ‘crash’ and feeling tired.
When you’re a beginner runner, remember the importance of a proper diet. Eat healthy carbohydrates before a run, followed by healthy fats and protein afterwards. You’ll feel much better and have more energy to get on with your day to day activities.
Keep processed foods and saturated fats to a minimum and try to eat as natural as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to go cold turkey and give up treats you enjoy, just take it easy and play it smart.
If you’re a beginner runner and like to spend every evening shovelling fried chicken down your throat, washed down with glasses of beer and wine, you bet this will reflect in your running.
15. Start to reduce unhealthy lifestyle behaviours like smoking, excessive drinking and overeating
If you’re somebody who loves to indulge in the finer things in life, you may find this is a problem when you start running.
Because running is so physically demanding, and a whole bodily work-out, healthy lifestyle choices are a must. If you can’t cut back on unhealthy behaviours like drinking too much alcohol, overeating bad foods or smoking, you will find yourself struggling as a beginner runner.
The more struggle you experience in the first few weeks, the more likely you are to quit your new sport. Don’t let that happen to you.
Try and use running as a powerful reason to change multiple aspects of your life. Maybe you can use it as motivation to finally give up smoking and cutting back on drinking so much alcohol.
Not only will your body be able to run better, but you’ll also have more money (these behaviours are very expensive), be healthier, have a reduced risk of chronic diseases (like type 2 diabetes and stroke), and feel much happier.
Though recommended, you don’t have to go cold turkey on things like drinking alcohol. Occasionally, special occasions call for a little celebration. Fair enough.
However, if you’re a beginner runner you will find it much easier to reduce your alcohol intake significantly. If you don’t believe me, try going for a run hungover. It won’t be pretty. I know because I’ve been there.
As a beginner runner, make a huge effort to reduce (and maybe cut out) unhealthy behaviours like smoking, drinking and overeating. Your life will change for the better as a result.
Cross-training is defined as athletic training in sports other than the athlete’s usual sport. The goal is to keep things fresh, reduce strain on parts of the body, and to improve overall performance.
It’s common for beginner runners to feel a bit fed up from running, especially if they are struggling in the first couple of weeks. To avoid feeling so annoyed with running you want to quit, it’s important to cross-train and dabble in other sports like swimming and cycling.
Running is a high impact sport. Your feet, ankles, and leg joints take a constant beating as you pound the ground. In the early stages of your running career, your body won’t be used to the high impact nature of the sport and get tired quickly.
By cross-training with other sports like swimming and cycling, you give your body a chance to recover and take it easy from being suddenly introduced to running.
For some suggestions on sports to enhance your running life, check out the blog post here:
17. Remember to stay hydrated
The human body is mainly liquid, and it depends on water to keep it alive and functioning. Important bodily processes like digestion, movement, and respiration are all dependant on a decent water supply.
One of my biggest mistakes as a rookie runner was forgetting to stay hydrated. I thought I could simply get up and go for a run without so much as drinking a drop.
Within a mile, I was gagging for a drink and suffered a lot because of it. You’d think I quickly learned my lesson, but I didn’t for a couple of weeks. What a fail. Don’t let that happen to you.
When you run you put lots of stress on the body to perform. To perform properly it needs a decent supply of fluids. An hour or two before your run, guzzle some water or a sports drink to adequately hydrate yourself.
If you’re going for a longer run, then it might be a good idea to take a bottle of water with you. You could bring a running belt, hold it, or hydrate yourself with some energy gels. Your call.
Remember, it’s possible to over-hydrate to. Don’t drink bottles and bottles of water, that can be dangerous. The best thing to do is to your body and drink water when you need it.
18. Get a free progress tracking app, like Strava
I’ve already mentioned the importance of physically writing down your goals, and making a note of your progress. Writing down the early stages of your running career has unique advantages like getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper, so you feel less mentally clogged up and can express yourself.
However, there’s lots of value in using technology too. Downloading and using a free app like Strava can do wonders for your running.
What is Strava?
First released in 2009, Strava is a mobile app (and a website) runners – and other athletes like cyclists, swimmers, skiers, walkers – can track and monitor their activities using GPS signal.
Like a Satnav, it tracks your whereabouts, maps your running route, then provides you with useful data like the time spent running, average pace, distance covered, your route, elevation (high or low) and performance comparisons for the same route run at different times.
Does it cost?
Strava is free to download and use. Over a million use the free version on a regular basis. The free version gives you access to the standard data collecting features (mentioned above).
Those impressed with Strava often purchase the premium version which offers personalised coaching, live feedback on performance, further advanced analysis and useful perks like money off insurance and free audiobook trials. All this for £5.99 a month or £45.99 a year.
Why use Strava?
Runners use Strava to track their progress. Distance travelled, average speed and the location of the run, to name a few. Strava is an accurate way to track your progress. As the saying goes “if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.”
Strava’s tracking system makes it incredibly easy to track and then monitor your progress. Rather than guessing how far, quick and long you run for, Strava provides pinpoint accuracy. You’ll have access to correct results for tracking your progress.
Having accurate data means you can properly plan weekly mileage, target a desired average speed, note down time spent running and use elevation data to plan hill workouts. The data allows you to properly know whether you’re on track to achieving your goal or not.
For instance, you could be running 10 miles a week when you have a target of 20 miles a week and not know about it. However, Strava can tell you how many miles you’ve run in a given week, so you can amend your training schedule.
19. Have fun
Running is supposed to be enjoyable, so make sure you have fun!
Enjoy your new hobby, and hopefully, it becomes a huge part of your life. One of the best things about running is the variety in it. There’re so many different events to take part in, different locations to explore, different people to meet.
Running is a sport which allows you to find out a lot about your capabilities, whilst allowing you to develop physical fitness and overall energy.
Running is the sport that keeps on giving. Have fun, and enjoy yourself!
For more information relating to having fun as a runner, check out the following blog posts:
- 9 Reasons You Should Run On Christmas Day
- 30 Great Fancy Dress Ideas For Runners
- 30 Great Gift Ideas For Runners