First, let’s talk about motivation. Here are several awesome reasons to get into running:
- Running is a great cardio workout. In fact, running several times a week can increase heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. A regular running routine has also been shown to reduce blood pressure in some people.
- Running can burn those extra calories quickly. For example, if a 160-pound person runs three miles in 27 minutes (a relatively moderate pace), they should burn about 360 calories. Keep the same pace for a total of six miles, and that’s about 700 calories! Check out the Runners’ World calorie calculator to see how much you could burn.
- According to Medical Daily, running can actually increase brain performance and enhance mood. Running in the morning can also increase mental focus during the day, reduce fatigue and may even help you get a more restful night of sleep.
- Exercises like running can reduce stress. During a run, you can simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other, listen to your own steady breathing and watch the scenery go by. For many runners, the rest of the world simply fades into the background when they run, providing a nice escape from the daily routine.
Before You Start: Are You Healthy Enough?
As with any athletic activity, running will get your heart pumping. For most people, this is a good thing. Aerobic activity is very good for heart health. However, running may be dangerous for people with certain cardiovascular conditions and other illnesses. Before you start, get a physical (if you haven’t had one recently) and consult your doctor. If you’re not healthy enough to run, your doctor may recommend an alternative form of exercise.
Running also causes light to moderate impact on your body, particularly your feet, joints and back. Using proper running form and knowing your limits should minimize the impact. However, if you’ve had any injuries, especially to your back or spine, consult your doctor before getting started with a running routine.
Compared to other outdoor and indoor sports, running is one of the most affordable and requires very little gear. All you really need is a good pair of running shoes and some comfortable clothing. Of course, having the right apparel will make a big difference in your overall comfort level. In this section, we’ll cover everything you’ll need to get started, along with some optional items.
Choosing a pair of running shoes that works well with your foot anatomy is extremely important. Do you want cushioned running shoes or stability running shoes? Should you consider minimal running shoes? Visit our Running Shoe Guide, and we’ll cover everything you need to know.
- Running Shirt: Although that comfy cotton T-shirt is great for walking the dog, it’s not ideal for working out. Look for a shirt made of lightweight, breathable and quick-drying material. Good running shirts also typically have “flatlock” seams to minimize abrasion against the skin. For hot summer weather, a tank top will provide even more breathability. In chilly weather, go with a long-sleeved shirt. Finally, if you run outside at dusk or during the evening, look for a brightly colored running shirt with reflective accents for extra visibility.
- Running Vest: In cold and windy weather, layering a vest over your shirt will often provide just the right amount of added warmth without overheating. Some running vests even include a wind-resistant material in the front for better core protection.
- Running Shorts: Choose lightweight, breathable shorts that are made for aerobic workouts. Most people prefer running shorts that cover to about mid-thigh level and offer freedom of movement (not too tight). A built-in mesh brief is another optional feature.
- Running Tights and Pants: When it gets chilly outside, a lightweight pair of running tights or running pants will provide the extra wind protection you need without weighing you down.
- Running Socks: The best running shoes in the world won’t do much good if you’re wearing old cotton tube socks. Offering an anatomic fit and breathable, quick-drying comfort, running socks are a small investment with big benefits.
- Hat and Gloves: In cold weather, a beanie or fleece headband can be a runner’s best friend. A light pair of gloves is also essential for winter workouts.
- Sunglasses: On a bright and sunny day, those UV rays can do a number on your eyes, so don’t forget the shades. Check out our Sunglasses Guide for info on types of lenses, polarization and more.
From aftermarket insoles to running apps, there are plenty of “extras” available to new runners. We’ll cover some of the most common accessories here.
- Water Bottles and Hydration Packs: Staying well-hydrated is crucial for all athletes. Unless you’re running in an event that has aid stations, you’ll need to carry your own H20. For a minimal option, consider a medium-sized water bottle that can be held in one hand. Some running-specific models even have a built-in strap to minimize grip strain. Other options include a compact hydration pack or belt-mounted system.
- Replacement Insoles: Although the insoles in most running shoes provide a good amount of support and cushioning, some runners prefer to upgrade. If you have very high arches, for example, you might consider buying a pair of replacement insoles that offer extra arch support.
- Anti-Friction Remedy: It’s not the most flattering topic, but skin abrasion is something many runners must contend with. This issue usually becomes more prevalent as you start running longer distances. Although the right clothing will make a big difference in your comfort level and minimize friction, there may still be problem areas. To remedy this, consider picking up sport-specific body lubrication to protect those areas. If you experience thigh or underarm chafing, applying a talc-based, moisture-absorbing body powder can really help.
- Sports Watches and Heart-Rate Monitors: Keeping track of your progress is an important part of improving as a runner. When it comes to logging the numbers, from average mile times to calories burned, a sports watch can be extremely helpful. Some models even include built-in pedometers or a heart-rate monitor to give you access to even more helpful data.
- Running Apps: If you don’t mind carrying your smartphone when you run, there are dozens of great fitness and running apps available. Using apps to map routes, log run times, store your data and track your progress over time is quick, easy and fun.
- Visibility Gear: Staying visible is an important part of running safety. We’ve already mentioned wearing bright clothing with reflective accents if you run outside at dusk, during the evening or in the early morning. For additional visibility, runners can also wear a reflective belt, sash or vest. As an alternative, some night runners attach a small blinking light to the back of their shirt and wear a headlamp.
Learning proper running form is extremely important for minimizing impact on your body. Pushing yourself to go beyond your fitness level and running with poor form are two common ways to get injured. Although there are dozens of articles and books dedicated specifically to running form, we’re going to focus on four fundamental basics that every new runner can keep in mind. According to Heidi, our resident running aficionado, the primary elements of running form are posture, foot strike, cadence and lean. You can check out her Running Form Video for more details or keep reading to learn more.
The correct posture for running isn’t much different from the correct posture for standing. Your spine should be mostly straight with your shoulders slightly back. However, your upper body should be relaxed and not too rigid. Also, your knees should be slightly bent and never completely locked.
Although you don’t want to be slouching or hunched forward, it’s also possible to be too upright as you run. Although your spine should be mostly straight, you should also lean into the run. This may feel a little odd for some beginners, but a slight forward lean is an important part of proper running form.
One of the most common mistakes new runners can make is running with a heel strike. This occurs when the heels of your feet are the first thing to contact the ground as your legs stride forward. Many people walk with a heel strike, which may feel natural. However, running applies more impact force on your feet, legs and joints compared to walking. Many people who run with a heel strike do so because they’re running too fast, trying to cover too much ground with each stride, or not leaning forward enough.
To minimize impact on your body, it’s much better to run with a midfoot strike. This may require some practice, but the benefits are widely documented by experienced runners. Some runners even prefer a forefoot strike, which typically requires wearing running shoes with minimal or zero drop. You can find more info on minimalist footwear in our Running Shoe Guide.
Running too fast is another common mistake made by new runners. If your cadence is too fast, your form will start to break down. For most beginners, it’s better to start with a fairly slow cadence and focus on proper form and foot strike. As you gain experience and increase your fitness level, you’ll be able to increase your cadence over time until you find the sweet spot.
Important Note: If you’re concerned that your form may be causing issues like persistent foot or joint pain, chronic shin splints, plantar fasciitis or other issues, we recommend talking with an experienced running coach.
Whether you plan to run on a treadmill, on the sidewalk or on an unpaved trail system, there are some things to consider before you lace up and go.
As you can probably imagine, running several miles on a hard surface like pavement is inevitably going to create impact on your body. However, with proper footwear and running form, you should be able to keep that impact to a minimum. Street running also comes with its own set of potential hazards. If possible, try to choose a route that avoids heavy auto and pedestrian traffic. It may take some experimenting and exploring before you find a few routes that work well. New to your area? You can always meet up with a local running group.
Taking your run to the trails is a great way to avoid the traffic and noise of urban areas. However, trail running offers another set of challenges. First is the terrain itself. To maintain footing on unpaved trails, a pair of trail running shoes will provide additional traction, but you’ll still have to be careful to avoid obstacles like rocks, ruts and roots. If you’re checking out a new trail system, plan a route ahead of time and bring a trail map with you, just in case you get turned around. Depending on the type of terrain, trail running is often more rigorous and challenging compared to street running. If you can consistently run five miles in one hour on pavement, it will likely take you longer to cover that same distance on a trail, so plan accordingly.
If you’ve never stepped foot on a treadmill, you may be in for a surprise. Running on a treadmill may be an adjustment, especially if you’re used to running outside. Give yourself time to grow accustomed to the machine and it will soon become intuitive. In some ways, running on a treadmill is easier than running outside. There is no wind resistance and the track remains level (unless you have a machine with adjustable incline settings). Some runners dislike treadmills and prefer to run outside in the fresh air. However, when the weather is less than ideal, a treadmill will allow you to continue your training routine indoors.
Making healthy food choices is just as important as drinking enough water, whether you’re running a couple times a week or training hard for a marathon. Balancing the types of foods you eat is just as important as how much you eat. According to Fitness Magazine, dietician and longtime runner Kathleen Porter recommends getting about 60-70 percent of your daily caloric intake from carbs (pasta, potatoes, rice, etc.), 20-30 percent from healthy fats (nuts, olive oil, low-fat milk, etc.) and 10-15 percent from healthy proteins (lean meats, poultry, beans, fish, etc.). Aside from eating well before you exercise, it’s also important to refuel after your workout with a healthy snack.
As we already mentioned, running burns calories quickly, so if you don’t eat well, your body won’t have enough fuel to keep you going. This really comes into play when you begin running longer distances. If you’re planning a training session or event that will involve more than 30 minutes of sustained running, it’s a good idea to carry something small with you. Gel packs and energy bites are two good examples of portable nutrition that you can munch quickly without stopping. Did you know you can make your own energy bites at home? Take a look at our Honey Oat Energy Bites recipe video.
RUNNING TO LOSE WEIGHT
Many people run in order to burn off extra calories and get into better shape. If you’re running to lose weight (and you’re healthy enough for running), it’s okay to burn slightly more calories than you consume, but you don’t want to overdo it. If your daily calorie burn significantly exceeds your daily caloric intake, you could be causing more harm than good. If you plan on combining running with a diet plan in order to lose weight, a nutritionist or experienced personal trainer can help you find the right balance.
To determine how many calories you’ll burn, check out the Runners’ World calculator. For information on how many calories you should consume based on your gender, weight, age and activity level, check out the calorie calculator at Authority Nutrition.
Having a running plan and setting a goal is important, even if your goal is just to run an eight-minute mile or participate in an upcoming 5K. A goal will give you something to work toward and also create a milestone. Just be sure to give yourself enough time to feasibly reach that milestone without pushing yourself too hard, which could lead to overtraining or injury. Once you hit your goal, set another one. If you want, you can always set multiple milestones leading up to a long-term goal, such as running a 5K, then a 10K and eventually a half-marathon.
Creating a workout plan that fits with your schedule and sticking to it will help you stay on track. A running plan will also make it much easier to determine if you’re making progress toward reaching your goal because you’ll have a log showing your weekly improvements. For many runners, progression involves incrementally increasing your running distance and/or decreasing your average mile times. For more helpful info, check out How to Create Your Own Running Plan on our blog.
If you’ve been progressing well on a running plan and you’re thinking about signing up for an event, you should go for it! Running events make excellent goals and can serve as memorable milestones along your journey as a runner. Crossing the finish line of your first race is also a very special feeling.
At just over three miles in length, the 5K is ideal for beginners, even if you’ve only been running for a short time. Most 5K events are pretty casual, so if you’re not quite able to run the entire distance, you can always alternate between running and walking. When training for your first 5K race, don’t focus too much on your time. Instead, focus on pacing yourself so you can reach that three-mile mark with a minimal amount of walking. Many 5K events are also charity events that help raise funds for various causes, which makes them fun for all age groups and ability levels.
Once you can consistently run three miles without walking, you’re ready to start training for your first 10K. Covering a distance of 6.2 miles, a 10K is an ideal second milestone for any beginner looking to run longer distances. Larger events are often split up into different brackets based on age and/or gender. Most 10K events are pretty casual, although some may be more competitive, so be sure to get plenty of information about what to expect before you sign up. If you’re looking for a training plan, consider checking out the eight-week 10K Training Program for Novices by Hal Higdon, a well-known running expert and long-time contributor to Runners’ World.
The Half Marathon
Covering a distance of just over 13 miles, a half marathon is a little more than twice the distance of a 10K and requires considerably more endurance to complete. However, according to Hal Higdon, the half marathon is the logical next step for an intermediate runner who is looking to progress beyond the 10K. Check out Hal’s Half Marathon Training Guide for several different training programs.
For long-distance runners, the marathon is the supreme challenge and the ultimate reward for months or even years of hard work. Covering a distance of just over 26 miles, this event is a serious test of endurance and determination. Training for a marathon requires dedication, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. In fact, many runners consider finishing their first marathon to be one of their most memorable achievements. Below are some things to keep in mind:
- Pick a training plan and try not to deviate from it (unless you become injured or you feel like you might be overtraining). Take it easy on your rest days. Even if you feel fine, don’t be tempted to sneak in a few extra miles. Your body needs the recovery time.
- Consider choosing a training plan that includes a mix of running and other conditioning exercises, like swimming, calisthenics, HIT and/or weight training. Most long-distance runners do more than just log miles.
- Create a meal plan to support your training program. Figure out about how many calories you’ll need to consume based on the intensity level each day. Having balanced nutrition and getting enough calories is critical to making it through your training routine and feeling good going into your event.
- Be diligent about hydration and signs of overtraining (more on this later). Dehydration can creep up on you and really set you back. However, it’s also possible to over-hydrate, which can be just as dangerous. You’ll also need to replenish your electrolytes, so mix it up between water and a sports drink when you’re logging higher miles, especially if you’re training in hot weather and sweating a lot.
They say variety is the spice of life. If you enjoy swimming, cycling and running, you should consider participating in a triathlon event. If you’ve never done one before, check out our Triathlon Guide for great information on gear, apparel, rules and tips. Just like running events, triathlons are divided into several tiers based on the distance you’ll have to cover during the race.
Looking for a casual running event that is focused on having fun? Does running through an obstacle course sound like a blast? If you don’t mind getting down and dirty, a mud run might just be up your alley. Over the past five or six years, outdoor events that combine running with obstacle courses have rapidly grown in popularity. Most are relatively short and include moderately difficult obstacles, although some are designed to be much more grueling. Be sure to choose one that suits your threshold for discomfort.
All training programs should include rest and recovery time. Giving your body enough down time to recover is essential for avoiding overtraining and potential injuries. The harder you’re training, the more important recovery time becomes. Some signs of overtraining include:
- Prolonged muscle soreness
- Increased frequency of injuries
- Persistent fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling unusually stressed or irritated
- Difficulty focusing
If you experience any of these symptoms, you probably need to adjust the intensity of your training routine and/or increase recovery time. You may also need to drink more water and eat better, or you may have a health issue. If you ever experience chest pains, an elevated resting heart rate, severe discomfort or depression, put your training on hold immediately and consult with your doctor.
To avoid overtraining, choose a workout schedule that includes rest days and/or low-intensity days. For example, your running plan might include rigorous runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a lower-intensity workout like swimming on Tuesday and Saturday, and rest days on Thursday and Sunday. Any workout plan that you choose can be fine-tuned to fit your recovery needs. Some people require more recovery time than others, so be sure to keep an eye out for overtraining symptoms.
Of course, just like any sport, running can potentially cause discomfort. A little bit of soreness and mild discomfort is to be expected. However, you shouldn’t be experiencing severe symptoms. If you’re having issues like shin splints, arch pain or sore muscles, check out these four recovery hacks on our blog. Many runners include a stretching routine before and after their runs to help minimize soreness or avoid cramps. Others use foam rollers to “roll out” their muscles following a rigorous workout. Keep experimenting, and you should be able to find a system that works for you.