Running for Beginners - 5 Tips To Get Started

By: proctor - February 3, 2012
When it comes to running, are you a complete beginner? Or have you at least run to catch a train or two since your days on the playground? Maybe you run once a month, decide "running isn't for me" then give it up for a long spell again?

No matter what your answer is, know this: almost anyone on the planet can run. It is inherent to being a human being. Our ancestors ran, our friends run, our offspring will run. I've seen double amputees run marathons on a single prosthetic device and crutches. I've seen bow-legged people run, pronators, supinators, short people, tall people, overweight people, 90-year-olds...the list goes on. It isn't easy. But it does get easier with consistency.

The good news is: We need no equipment to run, though it is really nice to have comfy shoes and sweat-wicking clothes. Also, it costs nothing. Finally, the results, when accomplished with consistency, are hard to argue with: runners are fit, their heart is conditioned, and they generally have a well-balanced energy level (you've probably heard of the endorphin-produced "runner's high") thus can handle stress and the "afternoon slump" much better than their sedentary friends.

The problem is this: most people who consider themselves incompatible with running go out on Day 1 much too hard without a base layer of fitness and so become discouraged and abandon their hopes. But any activity, natural or not, requires some amount of fitness in order to do it safely and effectively. Sometimes people may think that they are going to get hurt running. That may be true because you can get doing anything. However, it is usually an excuse and is not true for most people. Some people say: "it is too hard on my body". Of course it is hard! Nothing worth getting is easy! It is definitely more easy and more comfortable to sit on the couch or on a bench in the park. Cover models for Runner's World did not wake up looking that way without hard work. They worked up a sweat over and over, and woke up many a day with sore muscles and laced up their shoes anyway. If you truly have a physical problem which makes running bad for you and your doctor has advised you against running, perhaps you should pick up a bike or dive into a pool in order to work with what you have. However, after building a base layer of fitness and acknowledging that you are ready to work hard to get into running shape, almost everyone CAN run.

Running is a natural action for us that requires few, if any, fine-tuned skills or gear but that does not mean it won't be helpful to have some basic knowledge. Basic form can be learned by asking a personal trainer or a running coach for some pointers. Mainly, think of keeping your toes pointing straight ahead and heels directly behind them. Your knees should bend directly over the center of your ankle. Also, relax your arms. Your hand should almost hit your hip, then cross just in front of your nipple. Excessive twisting will cause abdominal cramps (as will being out of shape; if you get a cramp, just slow down and take deeps breaths, then pick up your pace again once your cramp is completely gone).

Where to begin? It's easy to explain (though hard to execute) so let's get started:

#1--Ask your doctor if you are ready.

This doesn't mean you have to call him or her as soon as you finish reading this article. If you just got a check-up recently and received a clean bill of health, you are probably a-okay to put on your shoes and go for a walk. Slowly, you will turn that into a light jog. We will discuss that in a minute.

If you have health issues such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, or are 20 pounds or more overweight, you might want to clear it with your physician before attempting to run for exercise. Be smart. Your health is your livelihood. A phone call isn't that hard, nor is a check-up to see your doctor. Even if you can't get an appointment for 6 weeks, you can walk every day between now and then and build up your leg strength.

#2--Start walking.

One of the things I asked my beginner half-marathoners to do before we all met as a group for the first time was start walking. No matter what the weather, you can walk. Carry an umbrella if it is raining, bundle up if it is snowing, wear a hat and sunglasses if it is hot and sunny...you get the idea. You can make an excuse, or you can do something. If you want to be fit and keep stiffness and weakness away, start walking. If you can only walk 5 minutes before things start hurting, walk 5 minutes every day. Next week, make it 6. You will work your way up to a half-mile by the end of the 1st month and a mile by the end of the second month. If you can already walk for an hour without fatigue, you are ready to start running.

#3--Start running.

Warm up for five minutes by walking. Then, pick up your pace to a slow jog. A jog is simply a slow run, and an important building block for running. If you can only jog one block, then jog one block. If you can jog for 1 minute, jog for one minute. Then, walk for one minute, run for one minute, etc. Eventually, you can work your way up to 5 minutes of running and really get a rhythm going. This rhythm is what it takes to push through plateaus. Every day that you run, it should be a little bit harder than the last day that you ran; not a ton, a little. This will keep you progressing and prevent plateaus.

How fast should you run? Do the talk-test: make sure that you can say about 7 words at once while running. If you can't, you are pushing yourself too hard which could lead to an injury or muscles that are so sore tomorrow that you can't walk properly.

#4--Eat nutrition-rich foods.

Simply put: vary your diet as much as possible. Eat colorful fruits & veggies, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and limit caffeine and alcohol. Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh food is and where the processed food is not. Eat often, and stop eating when your appetite is satisfied (note the word "satisfied" here; completely full to the point where you have to lay down after a meal does not equal satisfied; that equals overeating, and unless you live in an area where there is extreme famine (which you probably do not because you are on the internet as you read this), there is food available to you and you can eat again in 3-4 hours).

You are pushing your body harder than you pushed it before. Breaking your muscles down means that they are going to automatically rebuild themselves (that is one thing you don't have to do!). You need essential amino acids to do this. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you get enough low-fat dairy in your diet such as yogurt and eggs. If you are vegan, make sure you consume all essential amino acids; for example, combine rice & beans for a complete amino acid complex, or add quinoa to your diet since it includes all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce.

In order for your body to turn food into fuel, it needs certain water-soluble vitamins and certain fat-soluble vitamins. If you think you are missing out on key nutrients, ask your doctor if you should take a multi-vitamin (be careful about taking just one specific vitamin such as Vitamin E; your body needs a balance of vitamins and nutrients and will just eliminate the extra that it does not need, which means you are not only wasting your money by overdoing it on certain vitamins, you could be taking the wrong vitamin without your doctor's advice and could be taxing your body in a negative way.

#5--Be honest with yourself and listen to your body.

If you are truly tired and overworked, take a nap or get extra sleep that night. If you have energy, go burn it up. If you need food, eat. If you need to talk, talk.

Your body is smarter than your brain sometimes. Often, we think about what society tells us to think about instead of what we personally need to think about. Perhaps your shoulders and lower back are sore from being so tight; maybe you need to stretch because all you ever do is lift weights and you sacrifice stretching to do one more set. You probably need to listen to your body and spend your workout time on some days stretching instead of lifting weights for the 5th day in a row. Balance is important. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." So does all of anything and nothing of something else.

Sit and read once in a while and enjoy it. Stare at out the window and just think instead of picking up your smartphone or opening your laptop. Just make sure you have made time for your walk, walk/run, or run that day.

About the Submitter


I have been an ACE certified personal trainer since 2000 who has trained over 3000 hours. I specialize in pre- and post-natal fitness, stretching, running, and weight loss. Yoga is also a passion for me and a way of life. I received my Yoga Alliance Teacher Certification in India and love to share the calmness, strength, and openness that yoga offers to people of all ages and abilities.

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