Four Tips For Anyone Starting to Run

Written by Emilia Benton from Shape

As a long-distance runner for almost 15 years, the most common comments I get from nonrunner friends are “I wish I could do that” or “I can’t even run a mile.” But the truth is, that’s actually normal when you’re starting to run. In fact, most seasoned runners also didn’t knock out a quick mile on their very first go.

I first started running as a high school sophomore, slowly building up a few laps on the track at a time. The next semester, I joined the track and cross-country teams. I kept up with consistent shorter runs through college before eventually running my first half marathon when I was 21 and my first full marathon when I was 23, eight years after I got started. I credit my very gradual buildup with helping me stay injury-free and letting me ease into the sport so I could actually enjoy it (instead of end up resenting it).

When you’re excited about starting a new activity, like running, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and pile on too much too soon. After all, it seems logical that pushing yourself hard will help you jump right into it and get better faster. But when it comes to running, that’s definitely not the best approach—in fact, this mind-set is a big reason why many optimistic beginners ultimately end up not sticking with a running routine. If you set your expectations high and then fail to meet them, it’s easy to think “I’m just not a runner”—when really, you just needed to start a little slower and expect to get better gradually.

Here are some tips for first-timers to feel comfortable running.

1. Alternate between running and walking for the first few weeks

One of the biggest things coaches stress to brand-new runners is to simply focus on spending time on your feet and not get caught up in the numbers. Most would agree that you shouldn’t start out running more than a few minutes at a time, with walk breaks in between.

Many long-term training plans aim to have runners increase their total mileage by 10 percent each week, but Balmer maintains that this doesn’t pertain to runners starting from scratch. “I recommend these runners stay at the same volume for three weeks before beginning to gradually increase the volume and duration of their runs every fourth week,” he says. “Realistically, you should expect to still be doing walking intervals for the first six weeks of this routine.”

If you are already cross-training with another activity such as cycling or swimming, you already have a base level of cardio conditioning, which will give you a leg up when you start running.

2. Choose a realistic first goal

Building up to a 5K with little to no stopping within about eight weeks after beginning to run is a realistic time frame, Mayer says. She recommends waiting about two years before considering training for a longer race like a half marathon.

Another key in tackling a longer distance—regardless of how long you’ve been running—is to make sure you’re running enough of a base before your new training plan starts, Mayer says. This means, for example, you should be able to run an easy 6 miles before beginning a training plan for a half marathon, and an easy 8 to 10 miles before beginning a 16-week training plan for a marathon.

3. Join a running group near you

These days, it’s not hard to find a free group running option in just about any city or town, whether it’s hosted by a gym, running store, running club, or even a local pub. The beauty of these runs is that they attract runners of all levels because they are more focused on enjoying the sport rather than grinding out the speed. If you’re feeling insecure about how far you have or haven’t run, a social run is a great place to start because you’ll find many people in the same boat as you, making it easier to relax and feel confident.

4. Be patient when noticing progess

It’s important for new runners to remember that it can take weeks before they’re running without needing walk breaks and before running actually feels more comfortable.

It’s also important to remember that while consistency is key, occasionally missing a planned session because life or bad weather gets in the way won’t make or break your progress, Balmer says. (This is true for both beginners and for seasoned runners.) “It’s also key to prioritize rest and recovery and enjoy days off both physically and mentally.” And if you ever feel discouraged, remember this: Just getting out there and starting to run is a huge success in itself. Being patient with yourself, and giving your body the time it needs to get used to this new sport, will pay off down the road. Just think about how great it will feel to look back in a few months and see how far you’ve come.