Getting started running as a beginner can be daunting, particularly if you have not been active for a long time or have never fancied yourself as someone who can run.
However, with patience, dedication, and the best beginner running training plan, almost everyone can become a runner and enjoy the sport in one way or another.
In this beginner’s runners, we will discuss how to become a runner, how to find a good beginner running training plan, and tips for how to start running for beginners so that you get off on the right foot on your new running journey.
We will look at:
Let’s get going!
How Should a Beginner Start Running?
I have been running for over 25 years and have been working as a certified running coach for nearly 15.
Because of my long history in the sport and my professional and personal involvement, many of my friends assume that the majority of runners that I work with are also highly competitive athletes looking to set big PRs, qualify for the Boston Marathon, or train for numerous races throughout the year.
However, the reality is that the majority of runners that I coach and advise are beginners who are just starting out in the sport or might not even be running yet.
In fact, some of the most common queries I get are, “How do I become a runner?” and “How do I get started running?”
So, how do you get started running?
A common saying is that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
The simplest answer for how to become a runner is just that: you just start running.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as heading out the door and going for a 30-minute run if you haven’t been doing any running or physical activity, but the point is that there are no major pre-qualifications or initial steps before you can “become a runner.“
Everyone holds the potential “I am a runner“ club pass inside themselves; you just have to decide you want to start running and then take action steps to actually do so.
What Are The First Steps To Take When Starting a Running Routine?
The best approach to how to start running for beginners is to begin with a walk/run approach.
The walk/run training method for beginners involves interspersing periods of running with walking.
This means that instead of going for a continuous run without stopping, you start with a brisk walk and then do alternating intervals of jogging followed by walking for the duration of your workout.
Most running training plans for beginners utilize the walk/run approach because it gives your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems time to adjust to the physical demands and impact stresses of running.
The run/walk training plans for runners gradually progress by increasing the duration of the running intervals and decreasing the duration and frequency of the walking intervals until you mostly run with infrequent or short brisk walking breaks.
Eventually, the walking breaks are eliminated altogether so that you can run continuously without stopping for several miles, depending on the distance you are training for.
Choose a Beginner Running Training Plan
Marathon Handbook has many free running training plans, including some excellent couch to 5K beginner training plans that utilize the run-walk approach.
Our experienced team of running coaches have carefully designed these plans to help you get started running safely.
After you have worked through some of the Marathon Handbook beginner running training plans or our Couch to 5K running plans, you can progress to longer distance or intermediate running training plans.
What Running Gear Do New Runners Need to Get Started Running?
Another key step for how to become a runner is to get the right running gear.
Running gear for beginners doesn’t have to be particularly fancy and elaborate, but you do need a few essentials.
Getting a good pair of running shoes is a must.
There is no “best running shoes for beginners“ because everyone has a unique foot shape, running stride, and biomechanical needs.
In fact, even though a lot of new runners ask me which brand of running shoes they should get, or if they should get running shoes with more cushioning or less, my answer is always the same:
There isn’t a single best running shoe brand or type of running shoe for beginner runners or even experienced or elite runners.
Beginner runners should go to a local specialty running store where an experienced fit expert can help you find the right running shoes for your needs.
You should also consider the terrain where you will be doing most of your training.
For example, if you intend to do a lot of trail running, you should get a pair of trail running shoes, and if you are going to be doing road running or treadmill running, you should choose a pair of running shoes that has a more durable sole.
Running clothes should be comfortable, breathable, moisture-wicking, and nonrestrictive.
Depending on where you live and the season, you will need various options such as running shorts, singlets, light long-sleeve tops, running tights, a running jacket or running vest, a hat or headband for cold-weather running, gloves, running socks, and a sports bra for those who have breasts.
This can sound like a huge list of running gear and a big investment, but you can start with basic athletic clothes that you might already have and build your running wardrobe across seasons as you work your way through your first year of running.
What Are the Best Tips for Beginner Runners?
Over the many years I have been working with new runners, I have compiled a bunch of tips for beginner runners that could be helpful.
Not all of these beginning runner tips will necessarily apply to you, but they can be helpful and might be worth experimenting with:
#1: Consider a Running Coach
There is a common misconception among beginners that running coaches are only for “serious runners“ or “fast runners“ who are training for marathons, half marathons, or longer races.
Beginners and new runners are sometimes the athletes who are actually best served by investing in a running coach.
You don’t even have to have any intentions of ever trying to run a race to benefit from working with a certified running coach.
A running coach can help you design a safe, approachable, and customized beginning running training plan.
The running coach should also be adept at evaluating your running form to get some helpful running technique tips before you learn poor habits.
If you have ever played another sport, such as golf, tennis, or swimming, you likely know that it is more difficult to unlearn bad habits when it comes to proper form than to learn proper technique right off the bat.
A running coach can also help you set reasonable goals and can either create a strength training program or set you up with a personal trainer who can help you identify and correct muscle imbalances and weaknesses that might be contributing to a poor running stride, weakness in your running gait, or otherwise predispose you to injuries.
Some of the best running coaches will also go with you to the running store to help you pick out a pair of running shoes that are most appropriate for your biomechanics and foot shape, as well as the type of running plan you want to follow.
For example, if you want to do trail running, buying a pair of trail running shoes in addition to road running shoes or potentially even instead of road running shoes will be most beneficial.
The running coach can also help you pick out a sports bra, recovery tools such as a foam roller to reduce soreness, and other essential running gear for beginners.
#2: Don’t Worry About Pace
In my experience, I find that the single best tip for beginners who are getting started on their running journey is to not worry about their running speed but rather to focus on effort level.
While you don’t necessarily have to avoid using a GPS running watch altogether, I am a big proponent of just using the watch to record your workouts and serve as a training log rather than guide your running workout as you build aerobic fitness.
When you constantly check how fast you are running on your Garmin or other running watch, you are more prone to overriding how your body feels and pushing yourself too much in your running intervals.
If you are trying to maintain a running pace that is faster than your current level of cardiovascular fitness, your stamina will suffer, and you will have to keep stopping to walk.
It is more rewarding and generally more beneficial if you are trying to run long distances (eventually) to slow your pace down and just try to build up to running longer distances without stopping with each running or jogging interval rather than worrying about your speed yet.
Once you can run 20 or 30 minutes without stopping, you can start paying more attention to how fast you are running.
#3: Recognize That Rest Days Are Important
One of the biggest mistakes beginner runners make with their first running plan or when training for their first race is to forgo rest days.
You might feel like you can run every day or run further or more frequently than your beginner training plan dictates.
However, the rest days are just as essential to your overall training as the running workouts themselves.
Rest days give your body time to make the physiological adaptations to your training so that muscles, connective tissues, and bones can repair and rebuild after running workouts.
#4: Add Strength Training
If you are training for your first race or just starting running, you likely are most motivated by doing running workouts or at least run-walk intervals.
However, particularly if you are new to fitness, it is equally important to start strength training.
Resistance training with bodyweight exercises and weightlifting exercises with dumbbells, resistance bands, or weight machines will help strengthen your body to reduce the risk of injuries.
Beginner runners should aim for two full-body strength training workouts per week.
Exercises that should be included are squats, step-ups, lunges, plyometric exercises such as box jumps, upper body exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups, and exercises for your core muscles such as planks and reverse crunches.
Having well-rounded full-body strength will also help you maintain ideal running form, which can improve your running economy and, again, reduce the risk of injury from running.
Although strength training won’t guarantee injury-free running, building lower body strength, core strength, coordination, and even upper body strength can help set you up for injury-free training by potentially protecting against overuse injuries.
As with getting a running coach, if you are new on your running journey, setting up a few sessions with a personal trainer can help ensure that you are mastering proper form for the basic strength training exercises.
#5: Warm Up Before Running
All of you running interval workouts and longer distance runs should start with a warm-up.
When you are first starting your running journey, the warm-up should include light cardio such as brisk walking followed by some dynamic stretches.1Iwata, M., Yamamoto, A., Matsuo, S., Hatano, G., Miyazaki, M., Fukaya, T., Fujiwara, M., Asai, Y., & Suzuki, S. (2019). Dynamic Stretching Has Sustained Effects on Range of Motion and Passive Stiffness of the Hamstring Muscles. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(1), 13–20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6370952/
Examples of dynamic stretches for your warm-up routine include things such as walking lunges, butt kicks, high knees, bounding or skipping, side shuffles, leg swings, and glute bridges.
The purpose of doing a warm-up and dynamic stretching is to prepare your musculoskeletal system for running intervals and to increase your heart rate before you begin more intense cardio with jogging or running interspersed with your walking breaks.
After you have finished your run-walk session, you should do a cool down. For beginner runners, the cool down can be the reverse of the warm-up.
Move from a slow jog to a brisk walk and then an easy walking pace until your heart rate has been guided back down to resting levels.
While the warm-up should include dynamic stretches and running drills2Aguilar, A. J., DiStefano, L. J., Brown, C. N., Herman, D. C., Guskiewicz, K. M., & Padua, D. A. (2012). A Dynamic Warm-up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4), 1130–1141. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31822e58b6 such as high knees and butt kicks, the cool down should include static stretching for the muscles worked by running such as your hamstrings, quads, calves, glutes, and upper back muscles.
Some studies suggest that doing a cool down with stretching after a run may help prevent muscle soreness.
#6: Consider Heart Rate Training
Using a heart rate monitor and training by heart rate is a good way for new runners to add some quantifiable data to their rate of perceived exertion or effort level.
Your heart rate while running is an indication of the intensity of your workout.
You can use a formula to estimate your maximum heart rate.
The simplest maximum heart rate formula is 220 minus your age in years.
Then, using a heart rate monitor, you can determine the relative percentage of your max heart rate as you run.
For example, if you are 40, your maximum heart rate is 220-40 = 180 bpm.
A Garmin running watch or heart rate monitor might show that your heart rate during your running intervals is 165 bpm.
This would be approximately 92% of your maximum heart rate because 165÷180 x 100 = 92%.
This would be considered high-intensity exercise or vigorous exercise.
Then, on your walking intervals, you would want to see your heart rate decrease. For example, you might run for 60 seconds, and then by the end of a 60-second walking break, your heart rate will have slowed down to 140 bpm.
This would be 77% of your max HR.
As you get fitter, you will find that your heart rate while running and jogging at the same speed is lower and your heart rate when you are doing an easy walking pace to recover will drop down more quickly.
It can be validating and motivating to see improvements in your heart rate while running as you get in better shape and your fitness level improves.
#7: Incorporate Cross-Training Workouts
I usually recommend new runners don’t run more than every other day at first.
Cross-training workouts on alternate days can build stamina while putting less stress on your body.3NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
Cycling, swimming, rowing, elliptical machines, and other forms of cardio exercise can improve your overall fitness, which can indirectly make you a better runner and reduce the risk of injury.4de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044
#8: Join a Run Club
Joining a local run club is a great first step for new runners.
Most running clubs have runners and walkers of all fitness levels who are taking on different distances, from a Couch to a 5k program to the half marathon to a full marathon, as well as runners who aren’t training for a race at all.
Some larger running clubs also have running coaches, and you can learn a lot from more experienced runners while having some companionship and motivation as you try to establish a running routine.
#9: Embrace Becoming a Runner
Starting running is super exciting, whether you are coming to running from another type of exercise or starting from ground zero with your level of fitness.
Think about listening to a running podcast, reading some of our runners guides, and joining the Marathon Handbook Facebook group to start learning more about how to become a runner and all of the many benefits of running.
Welcome to the best club in the world, and enjoy each step of your running journey!
Check out our Couch to 5k training plan to get started today:
- 1Iwata, M., Yamamoto, A., Matsuo, S., Hatano, G., Miyazaki, M., Fukaya, T., Fujiwara, M., Asai, Y., & Suzuki, S. (2019). Dynamic Stretching Has Sustained Effects on Range of Motion and Passive Stiffness of the Hamstring Muscles. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(1), 13–20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6370952/
- 2Aguilar, A. J., DiStefano, L. J., Brown, C. N., Herman, D. C., Guskiewicz, K. M., & Padua, D. A. (2012). A Dynamic Warm-up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(4), 1130–1141. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e31822e58b6
- 3NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
- 4de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044