Looking for answers on how to start running?
Perfect! You’re in the right place.
I started running roughly a decade ago, and along the way, I’ve helped thousands of beginners run injury-free and train for the first, so in today’s post, I’ve put together everything you need to know to become a runner.
This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to build up your running knowledge and mileage with confidence and ease so you can make the most out of training without risking injury or burnout.
By the time you finish reading it, you’ll never have to wonder, “how do I start running?”
Inside today’s lengthy post, I’ll be digging into the following
- The science-backed health benefits of running
- How to start a running program as a beginner
- How often should you run
- How to run the right way
- The exact beginner running plan you need
- The exact gear to have and how to choose it
- Where can you go for a run?
- How long it takes to become a runner
- How to take your training to the next level
- And so much more?
Let’s lace up and dig in.
Part 1 – Get Motivated – What Running Does to Your Body
First things first, let’s dive into some of the reasons that running rocks! If lack of motivation is the reason keeping you away from taking up running, this section should be enough to change your mind.
Here’s what you stand to gain by becoming a regular runner.
Running at a hard effort can burn up to 800 calories per hour—more calories than when opting for the stationary bike, the stair climber, or the rowing machine, according to research from the Medical College of Wisconsin
The calorie burn doesn’t stop there. Research has also shown that running increases the “after-burn,” or EPOC (excess post oxygen consumption), which is the number of calories you burn after a workout.
Running Relieves Stress
While running, your body releases mood-boosting and good-feel hormones, such as endorphins, and you increase your heart rate, which helps reverse damage to the brain caused by stressful experiences, according to research.
Furthermore, running can also slash your risks of developing tension headaches and migraines, according to a study.
Running Improves Mental Faculties
Evidence suggests a strong correlation between regular aerobic exercise and a decline in age-related mental decline, especially when it comes to vital functions such as task switching, problem-solving and working memory, according to a study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.
According to a study published in Perceptual and Motor Skills, subjects performed 20 percent better on standard memory tests after completing a short treadmill session than they did before working out.
Plus, their ability to solve complex problems also increased by 20 percent.
Running is Good for the Joints and Bones
Running boosts the amount of oxygenated blood that makes its way to your joints, thereby increasing oxygen delivery and toxins removal.
Running also strengthens the ligaments surrounding the joints in ways that lower-impact exercise routines ignore, which can help you prevent joint pain.
Running Reduces the Risks of Cancer
Sure, running doesn’t cure cancer, but according to plenty of research, hitting the pavement on a regular basis might help prevent this notorious killer.
A review of more than 170 epidemiological studies has linked regular exercise to a lower risk of certain cancer.
According to study, even the simple activity of walking, at least seven hours per week, can help women reduce the likelihood of breast cancer by up to 14 percent than their more sedentary counterparts.
Running Leads to Better Sleep
Those who run on a consistent basis in the morning improved their sleep quality, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Starting an exercise routine helped subjects to improve the quality of their sleep in a study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Protects you Against Cardiovascular Disease
According to a study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, regular runners have a 45 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, and running for no more than five minutes every day can slash the risk of cardiovascular disease by nearly a half.
Running helps reduce cardiovascular disease risk by:
- Improving HDL (the good cholesterol) levels,
- Increasing lung function,
- Reducing blood pressure and
- Enhancing blood sugar sensitivity.
I can go on and on about the benefits of running, but that’s a subject for another day. By now, I hope you’re sold on the effectiveness of running for achieving total fitness and health.
Now let’s get into the practical stuff.
Part 2 How to Start Running? – The Exact System You Need
Still with me so far? Good.
So you have decided to start running. First things first: Relax. You won’t have to sacrifice an arm and a leg to the running gods to get started. In fact, it’s not overwhelming, complicated, nor expensive.
The hardest part about taking up running for the first time is actually taking the first step. If you do that, you’ve already gone farther than 82.5 percent of the population (a totally bogus statistic that I made just to make a point!), so give yourself a pat on the back.
If you ask me, it’s actually the easiest thing to do in the world—as long as you know how. That’s where this section comes in handy.
Without further ado, here’s the exact step-by-step you need to become a runner.
Whether this is your first try at starting a running plan or are getting back to it after a long break, it’s key to start out easy and build up slowly, so you avoid injury and burnout.
I see many beginners try to chew more than they can swallow. They start out too fast, too hard, then they get injured or burned out (sometimes both), within a few weeks.
Get this: if you’re starting out from nothing to doing relatively high-intensity, high-volume, and high-impact training in a short period, then you’re heading in the wrong direction. In fact, you’re re asking for burnouts and/or overuse injuries such as Runners Knee, Stress Fractures, etc.
During your first few months (yes, months!) of training, take it easy. Begin from the beginning. Start from where you are, not from where you wish to be.
“But David, this is not practical, give me the actual steps.”
Sure! Keep on reading.
Walk Before you Run
Walking should help you step out into the world of running. In fact, if you have sedentary for the last few years, walking might be your only option. Walking helps you shed weight, improve stamina, reduce stress, get in shape, and improve your health and well-being.
As a rule, for the first few weeks, do at least 8 to 10 30-minutes walks before you start transitioning into running.
Already fit? Work your walks up to 60 minutes, three to four times a week, for at least three weeks before trying the beginner running plan shared below.
Remember this. Fit people, especially runners, are not born overnight. Expect to invest long months of training to get used to exercising, especially a high impact sport, like running.
How to Progress?
During the first week, walk for 20 to 30 minutes a session. Increase it to 30 to 35 minutes in the second week. Next, keep adding two to three minutes to your walks until you’re doing it for at least an hour with ease.
Once you can power walk for an hour without panting, take your training to the next level. That’s where the walk/run method comes into the picture.
The run/walk method is a training program designed by the famous running guru Jeff Galloway as a way to help beginners take up running without risking discomfort, injury, or burnouts.
The method is a strategy that mixes low intensity running intervals with walking breaks. Doing so helps you manage fatigue, improve fitness, build stamina—without risking injury or burnout.
You’ll definitely run longer, and stay injury-free if you simply add shorts boots of running to your regular walks instead of lacing up your shoes and running until you drop.
How much is enough?
The exact run to walk ratio depends, mostly, on your current fitness level and training goals. To make the most out of it, make it a rule to take enough breaks at the right times. If you wait until you’re completely fatigued, and you might go overboard.
Here are three walk-to-running ratios to try out. Choose whatever works for you.
Complete beginner: Run at an easy and slow pace for 10 to 20 seconds, then walk for one to two minutes.
Intermediate (two to three weeks into running): Run for two to five minutes then walk for one to two minutes.
Experienced (more than a month of training): Run for ten minutes, walk for 30-second to one minute.
Note – If you feel like you can do more, then do more. If not, then scale it down and re-adjust your training approach accordingly.
The Ideal Beginner Running Session
Pick a distance, a 2-mile loop around your neighborhood, for instance.
After a 5-minute a warm-up, do an easy run/walk routine: jog slowly for one minute, then recover with a two to three minutes walk. Repeat it five to seven times.
End the session with a proper cool-down. Exercise in this manner three to five times a week.
How Fast Should You Go?
Stick to a conversational pace. You should be able to keep a conversation with ease. Panting for air all the way means you’re running too hard.
If you cannot recite the Pledge of Allegiance, you’re doing it wrong.
Run For longer
Increase the time you spend running while taking fewer and fewer recovery breaks until you can run for at least 25 to 30 minutes without much huffing and puffing.
How long will it take to get there depends on your current fitness level, but with consistency, you’ll definitely get there.
Regardless of your training duration, aim for a 6 to 7 out of 10 in terms of your exertion level during the run portion, then dial it down to 2 to 3 during the walk.
Where Should I run?
More than likely, you shouldn’t worry about what surface you run on if your technique is good, have proper running shoes, and take enough recovery between your runs.
But when you’re just starting out—as in, you’re still trying to find your footing—you need to learn more about how each surface impacts your body.
Let’s dive in
The trails offer a combination of continuously changing scenery, with near-ideal training surfaces. They’re also typically easy softer on the legs.
Trails have lots of jarring rocks, gnarly roots, and uneven surfaces that may force your foot to land at an angle. That’s why ankle sprains are quite common among trail runners.
As a beginner, look for dirt ones, wood chips, or well-drained peat trails—as these are easy on your legs. Avoid trails if you have a terrible history of ankle sprains—or already recovering from one.
Grass is a fantastic choice for beginner runners or those getting back into the sport after a long layoff as it puts minimal impact on your ankle, knees, and hips.
Just like trails, some grass surfaces may be uneven or have lots of rocks, twigs, and hidden holes. So, you got to be careful. This can be dangerous for runners with unstable ankles.
Stick to even, flat stretches of grass, and pay attention to bumps, holes, and other obstacles that might trip you up. Avoid this surface if you have a history of plantar fasciitis.
The typical track is 400-meter long—that’s roughly ¼ mile. So, it’s easy for measure distance when running on it. They also have “give,” which makes them easier on your body than most other surfaces.
Tracks are boring. Any workout longer than 30 minutes will become very tedious—fast.
Keep your track sessions short and try slowing down round the corners. Avoid tracks if you’re prone to IT band issues or calf sprains. The surface can irritate the iliotibial band and shorten your calf muscles, which increases the risks of re-injury.
The machine is dry and warm, regardless of the season. It’s also the ideal alternative to outdoor training when in the dark or during the cold, snowy months.
Just like sprinting around the track, running in place can be boring as there’s no engaging scenery to distract you. The lack of wind resistance is also annoying.
Have a few tricks up your sleeve to beat boredom on the treadmill. Check my treadmill running guide.
Usually made up of cement (crushed rock), concrete is what typical pavement is constructed from. It’s easily reachable, especially if you live in an urban area. It’s also probably the safest choice if you don’t want to risk it on the road.
Since concrete is one of the hardest running surfaces, running on the sidewalk delivers great shock forces to your muscles and joints, which could cause injury.
Avoid hard surfaces as a beginner runner. Or, get running shoes with sufficient shock-absorption and support properties to help your body absorb some of the stress load.
Nothing beats running on the beach when it’s warm and nice out. Moving through the sand also offers you a great way to exercise rarely-used muscles as well as shed more calories than running on hard surfaces.
Dry and deep sand can put a lot of stress on your tendons, which can increase your risk of Achilles’ pain and other issues.
Avoid sand surfaces when you’re just starting out, especially if you have a lousy history of ankle pain or Achilles tendinitis.
The Last Word On The Best Running Surface
Here’s what I’d recommend you do: Vary your running surfaces. Exposing your body to different running surfaces gives you a better chance of avoiding injury since you’re not using up the same muscles and joints over and over again.
Part 3 – The Beginner Runner Tips You Need
Now that you know the exact process it takes to become a runner, let’s dive into a few beginner runner strategies that can help you get started on the right foot, improve endurance, avoid injury, and get the most out of every training session.
Choose Proper Running Shoes
Finding a pair of comfortable, supporting running shoes should be one of your first moves. Ill-fitting shoes can only lead to Achilles tendinitis, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and a plethora of other trouble.
The best way to find the right running shoe is to head to a specialty running shoe store where trained staff who can watch you run and recommend the most suitable shoe for you, whether you are an overpronator, supinator, or neutral.
Here’s what to keep in mind when choosing running footwear:
- Shop for a new pair late in the evening as feet are at their biggest due to swelling after prolonged standing or sitting.
- Make fit, comfort, and flexibility your ultimate measuring stick.
- Leave at least a thumbnail’s space between your biggest toe and the end of the shoe.
- Buy quality. Cheap trainers won’t offer enough protection and support. They won’t last you that long, too.
Expect to pay: $80 to $160
Choose Proper Running Clothing
You shouldn’t run in your suit, or in jeans unless you’re looking for trouble.
Instead, choose running-specific gear made of technical materials. This helps pull moisture away from your skin, helping stay warm and prevent bad cases of blisters and chaffing.
Here are the main running clothing items you’ll need.
Shirt –Have different shirts for different seasons in a wide range of fabrics and weights. These may include sleeveless shirt, light shirts, heavy turtlenecks, etc. Proper running shirts are typically made from nylon, or brand names like Dri-Fit, Climalite or Coolmax.
Expect to pay $20 to $60.
Shorts— Proper running shorts are those made of lightweight, breathable materials, and are designed with a light mesh interior underwear lining. You should also get a pair with a key pocket or for carrying your phone, keys, and/or gels during long training sessions and races.
Expect to pay $30 to $70.
Tights—These come in a wide range of lengths, from knickers to 2/4-length to full-length. So, choose whatever works best for you. I’d recommend tights made from synthetic stretchy fabrics, such as Supplex or Polyester to provide with a flexible and stretchy
Expect to pay $30 to $70
Running socks – Avoid cotton socks at all times. Instead, go for high-performance ones made from running friendly fabrics. This is the full guide to running socks.
Expect to pay $20 to $50
Warm up Like a Pro
One thing you can do to make running feel easier—regardless of your current fitness level, whether you are a beginner or an elite athlete—is to start your workouts with the right warm-up.
So what’s a perfect running warm-up? A dynamic one which involves doing a set of bodyweight movements that get your body ready for intense activity.
Here is how to proceed:
First of all, start your warm-up with a 5-minute brisk walk to raise your heart rate and body temperature.
Next, stop, and do 30 to 45 seconds of the following dynamic exercises.
Lunge with a Twist
Then, start training slowly and gradually. Once you’re done, finish with a 5-minute cool-down walk. In theory, doing this might help reduce post-workout soreness and speed up recovery.
Build Proper Running Form
I get it. You are not into the sport of running because you want to break world records and win Olympic gold, but that’s no excuse to dismiss the importance of proper form—even when just starting out.
Proper technique is critical for preventing a plethora of running injuries as well as running more efficiently, helping you run longer, faster, and train harder with minimum trouble.
Here are a few pointers to help you develop good running form:
- Run as tall as possible while keeping your back straight, head up and feet under your body’s center of gravity.
- Keep your body relaxed the entire time by unclenching your jaw and fists, loosening up your facial muscles, rolling your shoulder away from your ears.
- Swing your arms back and forth while keeping the elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep your core engaged by pulling your navel towards your spine.
- Limit lateral movement at your hips and shoulders to prevent energy waste.
- Improve your running cadence, aiming for 170 to 180 strikes per minutes (or more for speedwork and racing)
Eat Well & Timely
Though I’m not a certified nutritionist nor a doctor, I cannot stress enough the importance of a healthy diet.
Here’s the exact macronutrient breakdown of a proper runner’s diet:
- 50 percent should come from healthy complex carbohydrates like vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.
- 25 percent from lean sources of protein—key for recovery and muscle growth—like fish, eggs, poultry, and beans.
- The rest of your calories should come from healthy sources of fats—good for the heart—like seeds, nuts, olive oil, and
Here are some general rules to help you make the right pre-run choices.
- Wait for at least two to three hours following a big meal before you start running. This helps give your digestive system enough time to do its job.
- For short and easy runs, you don’t need any fuel. Running on empty is fine.
- Choose the right pre-run snacks. Go for items that are easy on your digestive system can easily handle, such as a banana, a handful of dried fruit, or smoothie.
Proper fluid intake is another thing that I can’t emphasize enough. In fact, if you tend to suffer from muscle cramps, headaches, and fatigue during exercise, you might want to avoid getting dehydrated.
Proper intake helps move toxins from the body, regulates temperate, reduces inflammation caused by damaged cells, and it’s integral to almost every metabolic process in the body.
Water, after all, is crucial to life.
As a general guideline, aim to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces each day. So, for instance, if you weight 180 pounds, shoot for at least 90 ounces of water a day.
For longer runs, take a water bottle with you or plan your running routes around places where you know you can find water.
All the above training guidelines are futile if you don’t stay consistent with your training program. As far as I can tell, the best way to keep doing something is to turn it into a habit—running is no exception.
Here is how…
Stick with your running program for, at least, the upcoming six to eight weeks without falling off the wagon. This is the type of consistency you need to build a life-long running habit.
Follow a Beginner Running Plan
Having a plan is key to achieving any goal–let alone running. You don’t pursue a career in marketing, for example, without a concrete plan of studying the right books and tutoring under the right teachers.
That’s why I highly recommend you follow a well rounded, well-thought training plan, just like the one shared below. Doing so will not only help you build your training volume, but also keep you motivated beyond the initial motivation.
The simple beginner runner plan features three days of run-walk sessions. You begin with a few short intervals of running–or slow-paced jogging–for 30 to 60 seconds, then build you on that while taking less and less for recovery.
By the end of the eight weeks, you should be able to run for thirty minutes straight–that’s roughly two to three miles–without much trouble.
Week One – Walk for five minutes, then jog for 30 to 6o seconds. Repeat three to four times.
Week Two – walk for three minutes, then jog for one to two minutes. Repeat the sequence for four to five times.
Week Three – Walk for three minutes, then jog for two to three minutes. Repeat the cycle for five to six times.
Week Four – Walk for three minutes, then jog for three minutes. Repeat the cycle six times.
Week Five – Walk for two minutes, then jog for three to four minutes. Repeat the cycle four to five times.
Week Six – Walk for two minutes, then jog for five minutes. Repeat the sequence three to four times.
Week Seven – Walk for two minutes, then jog for eight to ten minutes. Repeat the cycle two to three times.
Week Eight – Warm up by brisk walking for 10 minutes, then slow jog for 20 to 30 minutes while keeping an easy and conversational pace.
Just keep in mind that this is a generic plan, so feel free to adjust it according to your own needs and preferences. It’s not written in stone by any means.
Listen to Your Body
The most important training guideline for beginners is to train within their conditioning level—and that entails paying attention to one’s body and readjust training accordingly.
In the end, it’s really up to you. You are in charge of your life, and you call the shots on what works the best for you.
Your body is wise, and it’s always sending you signals trying to tell you where you are at the moment; you just need to be willing to listen and change your approach.
Keep training in an overtrained state—especially if you do any form of intense intervals, such as hill reps or sprints—and you’ll be doing more harm than good to your body.
How Long Does it Take To Become A Runner?
It’s the question all beginner runners want an answer to, but, sadly, like most aspects of training, there’s isn’t an easy and quick answer.
I hate to sound redundant, but every trainee is different. No right or wrong answers because everybody and every BODY is unique.
That said, here are some of the factors that count.
- Your current shape.
- Your training history
- Your age
- Your current body weight.
- Your genetic makeup
- Your willingness to do what it takes.
Part 5 – How To Go The Next Level As A runner
Looking to take your training to the next level?
First of all, congratulation on making it so far! Now you’re a runner. You might not the fastest runner in the block, but at the very least, you’re fitter and faster than you used to be. In fact, you might way ahead of everyone else in town—and I don’t need any bogus statistics to back this up this time.
If you want to continue to take your running training to a new level, there are a number of ways to do this. Here are a few:
Set Running Goals
Pick any goal as long as it’s clear and well-defined. Maybe it’s racing in a 5K, or a 10K, or qualifying for the Boston Marathon, or even running an Ironman Triathlon. You can also pick a weight loss goal, a personal goal, you just pick one and stick to it.
Plus, set your goals with a deadline in mind. This adds urgency to your goals and will make accomplishing them (or going about doing it so) more likely.
But please be practical. Sure, you can always set a challenging goal, but if you push too much too soon, you will be setting yourself up for a major disappointment.
Here is my full guide to goal setting.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last decade, then you must be familiar with the benefits of interval training. Interval training is the closest thing to a miracle when it comes to increasing cardio power, boosting metabolism, burning fat, and improving fitness and health level, research shows.
Try this workout: After a decent warm-up of 5 to 10 minutes of jogging, sprint as fast as you can for 30 to 45-second, recover for one minute, then go for your next interval.
Repeat the cycle five to seven times, then finish off the session with a cool-down, and some light stretches.
Tabata protocol inspired workouts are my favorite. They are short, intense, effective and have been proven by many scientific studies to drastically improve VO2 max and increase the body’s fat-burning capacity.
Tabata sprints can be performed almost anywhere: on a beach, on a trail, up a hill (for more resistance), on a treadmill, but, in my personal experience, the most convenient way to do them is on a running track.
I usually prefer performing the Tabata protocol sprints back and forth, because this helps me map out my progress and speed as I go. On my way back, I strive to make it back to my starting point, and so on. This can become quite challenging, especially after the 5th or 6th sprint.
Here is the Tabata workout you need.
Start out with a decent warm up of 10 minutes easy running followed by a few strides or short sprints to get your legs ready for the fast pace.
Next, sprint as fast as you can for 20 seconds, then take a 10-second recovery break, walking or jogging at a slow pace. Repeat the process for 10 to 15 minutes.
Finish off the workout with a 5-minute slow jog as a cool down.
Swedish for “speed play,” Fartleks is your permission to go act like a kid again with the added bonus of improved speed and fitness.
Fartlek training can help you reap the benefits of speed training in an unstructured way.
Not only that, but this “free spirit” type of training is a fun and creative way for breaking away from the monotony of the typical interval workout session.
Here are the five steps you need for Fartlek training:
- Start off with a 5 to 10-minute easy jogging as a warm-up,
- Sight an object in the distance like a stop sign, a tree, a mailbox, or the end of the block,
- Throw in a sprint and run as fast as possible to that object.
- Slow your pace down, recover, sight for the next object, and so on.
- Keep doing it until you can do no more.
Hill training is the best way to add strength training to your workouts without hitting the weight room. Embracing the hills can help you build killer lower body strength and endurance.
Word of caution here. Please don’t try any hill runs before building up a basic endurance level—when you can for 30 to 45 minutes without much huffing and puffing.
In case you couldn’t find a hill course nearby, just hop on the treadmill and
Change Up your Long Runs
One thing you can do to make them more fun is to do the progression finish. Run the first half of your long run at a controlled and slow pace (For example, one minute to two minutes slower than your average marathon pace). Next, gradually pick up the pace by 10 to 15 seconds per mile, then end your long run at a marathon or half marathon pace for the last two to three miles.
For more tips on long runs, check these two posts:
Do the 30-day Run Challenge
Sometimes running more is the best way to break out of a running rut. It’s also one of the fastest ways to take things to the next level.
It’s simple. Set a goal of running each day for 30 days, then do your best to stick with it.
Here is how a week of running might look like:
Monday – Tempo run
Tuesday – Recovery run
Wednesday – Interval run
Thursday – Easy run
Friday – Hill run
Saturday – long run
Sunday – Easy run or a long walk. You choose.
You can also run one mile the first day, two miles the second, and keep building it up as long as you can.
If you are a beginner, then try this 30-Day Beginner Runner Challenge.
Do you know how elite runners keep training hard all year long? They race.
By training for a race, you make progress the priority, so you create a measurable goal, and you start working your butt off to reach it.
Competing in a race and crossing the finish line breeds accomplishment and can motivate you for more running, helping you rejuvenate your enthusiasm for the sport.
So what are you waiting for? Find a nearby race and register in advance so you can have plenty of time to get ready.
Read Great Running (and fitness) blogs and books
Sure, I’m a runner, but I also happen to be a nerd. I love books, and I find great joy in curling up with a book about my favorite subjects.
Here are five of my favorite reads on the subject of running, fitness, and health.
- Once A Runner (Get it Here).
- Born To Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (Get it Here).
- Running On Empty: An Ultramarathoner’s Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America (Get it Here).
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (Get it Here).
- Racing the Antelope: What Animals Can Teach Us About Running and Life (Get it Here).
You should also be reading lots of blogs related to running and fitness. My blog is just one among many, and you should be getting different takes and opinions from as many experts as possible.
Here are 10 of the best-running websites and blogs:
Most of these blogs offer great advice on running, diet, training, and all aspects of fitness. They will surely help you answer and find solutions to most of your problems.
There you have it. I believe today’s lengthy post covers everything you need to know about how to start a running program for beginners then take it to the next level.
I’d love to hear from you in the comment section if you think I’m missing something or if you’d like to contribute.
In the meantime, thank you for stopping by.
Keep running strong.
New to Running? Start Here…
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