It is no secret that I am a tad bit obsessed with running. Today marks day 662 of running every single day. I’ve run a marathon, a 25k (soon to be two 25k’s), 6 half marathons, and more 5k’s than I can count. There are some people who run more than me and many people who think I’m insane.
But my love for running is something I really love to spread. Running has truly changed my life. I don’t run just to be skinny or fit or healthy, I run for a million other reasons. I run because it improves my mood, gives me more energy, lets my mind have space to wander, helps me to be more focused and work harder when I face difficult life challenges and so many more things. In my opinion, everyone, who is able, should run, at least once in a while.
Today, I’m sharing some beginner running tips for anyone who would like to join me on this insane adventure called running. It really is as simple as lacing up your shoes and putting one foot in front of the other. But if you’ve ever tried running, you also know that running is really, really hard, but that just adds to the fun and benefits.
Side note – you don’t need tons of fancy gear to start running, but if you want to see what gear I currently use, scroll to the bottom of this post and I’ve got a list.
1. Wear Good Shoes
If you want to start running regularly, you must run in a good pair of running shoes. In a pinch, I have gone for a run in all kinds of ridiculous footwear, including my snow boots, but if you want to keep running for more than one day, you need to invest in some good running shoes.
It is always wise to start at a good running store to get properly fitted for your first pair of shoes. The sales person should look at your foot, watch you run and walk, and help you try out several pairs of shoes to find the style that works best for your foot, form, and body. This is so important. A good pair of shoes at a running store will likely be around $90-150.
However, once you know the style of shoe you need, it is easy to find better deals for future pairs. My last two pairs of running shoes were purchased on Amazon for $30-40. There are also a lot of deal and outlet websites that carry discounted running shoes for reasonable prices such as Joe’s New Balance.
2. Start Slow, Build Gradually
We are working on helping our 7-year old daughter train for her first 5k race this Spring. Before each run, I have to remind her to start slow. She’s a kid, so running in her mind seems to always mean sprinting. She starts out hard and burns out before she’s even run a tenth of a mile.
When most people talk about wanting to start running, they usually mean that they want to run a reasonable distance, not just a sprint. If you want to build up to a 5k or even a half marathon, you have to learn to pace yourself. Don’t sprint.
I’ve actually encouraged my daughter to see how slowly she can run while still running. You can tell the difference between a walk and a run, so try to run, but do it slowly. You don’t need to do this everytime, but it can really help you learn to better pace yourself to build up the distance you need. Oftentimes, the slower you go, the longer you can last.
The first time you go out for a run, you might only be able to run a few hundred yards. That is entirely expected and okay. The next day, try to run the same distance and then keep going until you get to the next mailbox (or any other distance marker you come up with). Build up slowly and steadily.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Walk
Let me tell you a secret – if I’m running any distance longer than a mile, I will almost always take a walk break at some point. I don’t even need to most of the time these days, but I love my walk breaks and the chance they give me to notice the beauty around me. There is no shame is walking in the middle of a run. I don’t know who came up with the fake rule that in order to be a runner you can never walk, but it’s so not true. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of races and they have always been full of people who take walk breaks.
Especially when you are starting out, run for as long as you can and then take a short walk break to catch your breath and adjust your form, then run for as long as you can again. Repeat this over and over again. This is how you improve and build your strength and endurance.
The reality for me is that once I get past about 3-4 miles, I actually run faster if I add in walk breaks. Allowing my body a chance to catch up and re-engage helps me to pick up the pace overall. Do not let anyone convince you that you can’t take a break during your runs. It will truly help you run faster and longer if you give yourself a chance to rest for a few yards.
4. The Warm-Up
If you go directly from sitting on the couch to sprinting down the road, you are liable to injure yourself. Your body isn’t keen on being shocked and startled like that. So give it a chance to wake up and realize it’s time to move.
However, do not, I repeat, do not perform static stretches prior to your runs like you may have done in gym class decades ago. Static stretches are the ones where you stretch and hold the stretch for 10-30 seconds. You don’t actually want cold muscles to be all loosey-goosey before you exercise. You just want them to be warm.
To properly warm up your muscles before a run, you just need to move them. Many people do what’s called dynamic stretching before a run. This is where you are actually moving during the stretch. Think arm circles, side bends, leg swings, and the like. You want to choose some quick and simple things to truly “warm up” your muscles and get them ready for your run.
I usually start at my head and work my way down my body. I start with some basic neck rolls and shoulder rotations, move on to some arm circles and hugs. Then I’ll do some torso twists, and side bends. I finish off with high knees, butt kickers, leg swings, and a few calf raises. The longer or faster I’m planning to run determines how much time I spend warming up. Just don’t spend so much time warming up that you start your actual run tired, winded, and already worn out.
5. Listen to Your Body
You might need to pull out your earbuds once in a while and focus on your body. Learn to feel while you are running to determine what your body is telling you. You can focus on your breathing or work on improving your form. Pay attention to how you feel as you run, what works and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to shift and adjust to see what variations in form and breath can help you run more comfortably.
You also need to learn to listen to your body to prevent injuries. Know the difference between muscle soreness from exertion and actual pain from an injury. If at any moment you feel injury pain, stop running immediately. Most of the time when I feel a twinge of pain I just need to stop and readjust my form. Maybe I’m getting tired and overcompensating with a different body part that isn’t a fan. Or I might just have a weird muscle twinge that just needs a gentle stretch. Always pay attention to your body while you are running and make sure you take care of your body before a major injury sets in and leaves you on the couch for weeks.
6. Hydrate Yourself
Most of the general population is constantly living in a state of dehydration. Running makes you sweat and exert yourself. When you sweat and exert yourself you lose even more fluids. If you are already dehydrated and you dehydrate yourself more on a run, you will feel absolutely miserable and you may even need medical attention.
It is crucial to start hydrated, stay hydrated, and then rehydrate yourself after your run. If you’re not already drinking a gallon of water every day, I invite you to start working up to that. This will help you start your runs in a hydrated state.
If you are only going out for a couple miles, you may not need to bring fluids with you, especially in the middle of winter. However, once the summer sun and humidity come out, or if you are going to be out for longer than an hour, you will need fluids during your run. There are hundreds of options for carrying water on a run from handheld bottles, running belts that hold water bottles, and hydration backpacks. If you are running loops near your house, you can also just tuck a water bottle in your mailbox or bushes to grab as you run past. I’ve also planned longer runs around parks with public drinking fountains to catch a drink as needed.
It can be helpful to weigh yourself before and immediately after your run. If you have lost weight while out on your run, it is entirely water weight. Weight loss from energy consumption and fat burn does not happen immediately. Immediate weight loss is water loss and it can be dangerous. If you notice you have lost weight on your runs (you likely will), drink, and drink, and drink until you are back up there (it will help you to lose real “fat weight” if you keep yourself properly hydrated).
7. Proper Nutrition
Let me tell you from experience, if you eat french fries, burgers, and gallons of ice cream before running, you might begin to hate yourself. Not because of your weight, but because pushing your body to run without proper fuel is torture. Do yourself a favor and give your body the fuel it needs to run well.
Food is fuel. There are one million different fad diets and options out there for eating healthy. Most people will tell you that runners need a ton of carbs and a good amount of protein. Some will tell you it’s best to fuel on more protein and fat and not quite as many carbs. As with everything food related, there is not a once size fits all rule that applies to everyone.
Here is my advice. Eat real, actual food. Things like fresh fruits and vegetables, normal and unprocessed meats, and if your body can handle it, throw in some whole grains and healthy (not diet!) dairy, like milk and cheese. Avoid foods with ingredients that you don’t know to be actual food.
Pay attention to your body after you eat. Keep a food journal for a while if that helps. Don’t just write down the foods you eat, but track how you feel after you eat. If you notice that certain foods make you feel bloated or tired, maybe try avoiding them. If you notice that your runs feel really hard after eating a specific meal, then investigate what you ate and consider better things to eat before your next run.
It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in nutrition to learn how to feed your body the fuel it needs. Stop following the millions of fad diets out there and just focus on your body and how it feels and performs based on the fuel that you provide it. Adjust accordingly.
8. Get Some Rest
While it is true that I run every single day, rest is still a huge component of my training plan. There have been days that I have been sick and the only time I have left my bed is to use the bathroom and to go for my one mile run around the block. For me, at this point, a single mile is still considered an easy restful day. Rest days don’t mean do nothing, it simply means allow your body the chance to get the rest and recovery time it needs.
The first rule of rest is sleep. If you are starting a new workout program or pushing yourself to do more than you had been doing in your workouts, then you must get proper sleep at night. Often, that means extra sleep. The day after I ran my marathon I slept for over 12 hours. Most days I aim for 7-8 hours. After a long run, I usually always need at least 9-10 hours of sleep. Pay attention to your body and when you need more sleep, make the adjustments necessary to get that sleep.
The other aspect of rest when it comes to running is to give your muscles a chance to recover. This isn’t an excuse to be a lazy sloth on the couch, though. I’ve actually learned that movement helps sore muscles recover faster. The two days following a long run I am always dreading my one-mile run, I know it won’t be easy and my legs will be sore. But afterward, I always feel better and my legs begin to feel less sore because I’ve given them a chance to move.
The key is not to push yourself and your muscles every single day in order to give them a chance to recover. Move, walk, and do the normal day to day activities you need on your rest days, but also feel free to take a brisk walk, do some yoga, or other activity, just don’t run at your top speed and your furthest possible distance for four days in a row.
9. Find Some Running Friends.
I’m not really a fan of running with other people most of the time. I prefer to run alone. I can’t breathe and run and talk at the same time and I feel awkward running silently next to someone or listening to them blabber on while I’m jealously wondering how they can talk and run so much. I like my runs because they give me the chance to get away with my own thoughts and let my mind wander.
However, I would not be the runner that I am without my running friends. It is great to cheer each other on and encourage each other. We are able to bounce challenges and struggles off one another to find solutions to our running struggles. We go to races together and we follow each other’s progress on social media.
Having running friends helps you stay motivated during the hard times and gives you someone to talk to that understands and might actually be able to give you advice. Running friends won’t call you insane (most of the time) for waking up at 5am and going out for a run. They will know what you’re talking about and congratulate you when you say you set a new PR (personal record). And if you do like running with people, they can be your running buddy to chat with over the long hard miles to keep you occupied and distracted.
Even if you can’t find real life running friends immediately, there is a huge community of runners on social media that love to cheer on and support other runners. You can find me on Instagram @workingmomrunner where I follow tons of other runners.
10. Make It a Habit.
This is my number one, most favorite piece of advice when it comes to running. I know how hard it is to make running a habit. I fell in love with running over 12 years ago and I can still remember that run and the feeling I got from running that day. But it took me over a decade to learn how to run consistently and make running a part of my life. I would set goals and schedule races, but my training would still fall apart because I could not keep up with the consistency I needed to meet my goals.
Now, running is a habit as strong as brushing my teeth every day. It is just something I do every single day. I don’t have to think about it or ask myself if I feel like running today. I just run. This has been so important for me. I don’t think everyone needs to have a running streak like I do, especially not one that lasts for years. But if you want to be a runner, you just have to run. So make it a habit. Run often, run daily, run weekly, run whenever you want, but be consistent, keep doing it and trying until it becomes something you do without question, whether you feel like it or not. I don’t think you’ll ever regret it.
Today’s Action Step
Put on some shoes and go for a run. Whether you run ten feet or ten miles, just get out there and run. Rain, shine, snow, inside or outside, it doesn’t matter. Just do it.
If you physically can’t run, find something you can do. Go for a walk or bike ride, or simply sit outside and move your body as best you can while breathing in some fresh air.
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What beginner running tips do you have? Share with others in the comments.