How To Start Running

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Thinking about taking up running, but don’t know how to start running – or what to expect?  

Whether you’ve got your sights set on a 5k, a 10k, or you just want to start running to stay in shape, it’s important to set off on the right foot.

Here’s our top tips for getting going, starting from zero.

If you aren’t used to running, to start to run from zero can be very intimidating.

You’ve probably heard people talk about running 10km events, half-marathons or even full marathons.

These can seem unreachable – mammoth undertakings that you could never achieve.  

They’re just too long . . . right now, you could maybe run down the street if you’re lucky, right?  

But running continuously for half an hour . . . an hour?  


No chance.

But, like anything, it is possible – if you decide you really want to do it.  

That old proverb “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step” actually makes a lot of sense when applied to distance running!

I’m not going to lie.  

It will take you time to build up your running distance – and be uncomfortable, and probably lead to some injuries at some stage.  

But if you persevere, results will soon follow.

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1. Just Start

The trick to starting to run is simple – just start.

You can start off with an old pair of trainers, or barefoot on some grass or sand – you don’t need anything special just yet.

Try running a short distance . . .  find a quiet section of a park or beach.  Start off walking, and gradually pick up momentum . . . then try running – very gently and slowly.   Just try and run for a minute or two, then slow back down to a walk.

Once you’re back to a comfortable walking pace, take a minute to check yourself:

  • how did it feel?
  • were you comfortable?
  • how do you feel now?
  • any specific aches, pains or discomfort?
  • could you have went further?

Congratulations, you’ve just finished your first run!

Be aware, new runners might experience a case of runner’s itch!

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2. First Walk, Then Run – Then Walk Again

When you begin running, you will walk a lot.  In fact, walking is mandatory.

You can’t expect to go from zero to continuously running in an instant – if you can only run for three or four minutes without stopping, then your training sessions are going to be very short.

Instead, I’m going to show you how to get a half-hour workout from your running, while improving your stamina – even if you can only run for a minute or two without stopping.

You’re going to start with a mixture of walking and running.  As you progress, you’ll gradually increase the amount of running you do and decrease the amount of walking.  The fitter you are at the outset, the less running you have to do.

This approach gently introduces your body to running, and allows for a gradual progression towards running continuously.

First, you need a watch.

Now, you are going to go for a 30 minute work-out, broken into 6 x 5 minute segments.

Let’s say that you can currently run comfortably for 60 seconds without stopping.  Then your first workout is going to look like this:

1 minute running

4 minutes walking

Repeat this x 6.

6 x 5 minutes = 30 minutes.  Simple!

As you progress, you can incrementally increase your ratio of running to walking.  So if you found the first session easy, you can increase the time spent running to 1.5 minutes, and spend 3.5 minutes walking.

Set yourself a goal of running 3 miles every day to get the requisite miles in and kickstart your running journey.

(Note: a great resource for this method is the NHS Couch to 5k podcast series.  They instruct you when to walk and when to run, set to music – using the technique described above.  Each episode gradually increases the ratio of running against walking, until you are running continuously for 30 minutes).

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3. Get Some Running Shoes (and other gear)

First off, go to a running store and speak to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Make sure to clearly explain that you’re a beginner, and what your goals are.

If you want a suitable pair of running shoes you might have to spend a little bit of money – but not more than say $100.

Check out our page Choosing Running Shoes for more on which shoes to choose!

It can be useful to purchase a running GPS watch, but this is maybe a few weeks away for you.  

A cheap one is around $80 , and you want to make sure you are definitely keen to continue before spending a lot of money.

How To Start Running

4. Your Running Form – How To Run

Actually performing the act of running should hopefully come naturally – let your arms swing with the flow of your body.

Start off taking short steps.   Taking large strides is really just good for running fast – and also injuring yourself.  Short and fast paces are much easier on your legs, and easier to maintain, than long, reaching strides.  Start slow and make each step as short as practical – you’ll quickly see that your legs barely engage, making running a lot easier.

Don’t let your body tense up – it’s easy to be tightening your upper torso and shoulders when you start running, without even realising it.  Same goes for your upper legs.  Try to consciously relax your body as you run.

Check out my full guide to Proper Running Form!

How To Start Running

5. Go Easy On Yourself

When you’re starting out with running, there’s a good chance you’re going to suck.

But then, isn’t that the same with everything in life?

There’s going to be tough days, times when you don’t feel like training and feel like you’re never going to be able to run far.

The trick is to expect these days.  

If you know they’re going to come, then you can handle it better and deal with them.

Same goes for injuries, fatigue, and other unexpected setbacks.

They’re inevitable, but also temporary. You’ll get through them.

How To Start Running

6. Find A Running Buddy / Group (but a good one)

Having a good training partner is a great way to spur on your own motivation and progress.  If you have a buddy who is around your level, and is as keen as you are – then great!

Same goes for running groups – these can help you keep your training to a fixed schedule and will help motivate you.  Check to see if there’s a running group in your town and head along to the next event!

Be aware when you’re finding running friends that you choose ones that are really going to motivate you, and not hold you back.  Make sure you don’t commit to running with someone whose fitness is miles worse, or better, than your own.  Both of those situations will probably just have a negative impact on your own progress.

100km, training, running, guide

7. Warm Up (But No Static Stretches)

Before your run, dynamic ‘range-of-motion’ stretches such as heel flicks and walking on your toes can help prepare and limber up your body.  

We also recommend walking briskly for a few minutes before you actually begin running to help loosen up.  

After running, static stretches held for 45-60 seconds will help recovery and aid injury prevention.

8. Sign Up For An Event

Types of Race

Signing up for an event can be one of the best ways to keep your motivation up.  

It gives you a target to work towards, and gives your training a purpose. Read our blog on Running Motivation for more tips on how to keep your enthusiasm up when you start running.

9. Use The Treadmill (Sparingly)

Treadmills are totally fine, though we runnersprefer the outdoors.  

Some runners cite treadmills as the source of foot pain and other injuries.  

Still, treadmills are a really convenient way to get your runs in, and can monitor and evaluate your progress very well – so although we’ll always opt for the fresh-air option when it’s available, a treadmill can be a great tool when the weather, or your schedule, stops you from heading out the door.

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Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of His work has been featured in Runner's World,, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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