As runners, we all have to start somewhere.
And for a lot of us, that “somewhere” is heading out our front door in an effort to stay active, lose weight, or try that “running thing” everyone seems to be raving about. Or at least, that everyone seems to be doing.
And that’s as simple as it is! Most of us have no formal training, no intention to work with a coach, and very little idea of what to expect…except for maybe some huffing and puffing.
The concept of “learning how to run” may seem like an unnecessary or even counterintuitive thought at that stage, since running is an instinctive skill for us.
But even though the movement may come to us naturally, it’s still a skill — meaning it’s something you can learn, and something you can continually improve with practice. Most people go into running knowing that it requires repetition, but not everyone starts out with the proper approach and level of practice that it actually demands.
And that’s not to anyone’s fault; running appears deceptively simple. But that’s why it requires an extra layer of diligence and knowledge to set the foundation for successful running.
So let’s review some of the main aspects of running training to take into consideration at the beginning of your journey, shall we?
#1. Set a Plan
It may sound basic — but that’s kind of the point, right? In order to develop yourself as a runner, you have to start out with a solid foundation before diving into the nitty gritty stuff.
Plus, you’d be surprised at how many people neglect to set a proper training plan when they’re first starting out. Again, because running is such a natural movement, many athletes don’t necessarily expect to have fully thought out schedules — they just know that in order to get better, you have to run. A lot.
The intention is solid, but it’ll only take you so far without structure to guide you.
Take some time to hash out the details; you can first start out by assessing what kinds of goals you want to get out of running in the first place. Whether you’re aiming to run a full-fledged race, or you want to reap the health benefits out of recreational running, identifying your main goal(s) is a great first step to creating your ideal training plan.
From there, hash out some of the basic details for your regular training: figure out where you want to run, how often, and for how long or how far you want to run, either per individual workout, or on a weekly basis. If that feels intimidating, look for training plans from reputable sources (like Runner’s World) as a jumping off point for what distance, time, or frequency you should be aiming for.
(Quick note: as tempting as it is to aim high, remember that you’re still in the beginning phases! Make sure you set realistic, attainable goals that build into your bigger picture goal. It may feel a little frustrating, but we’ll talk about this in more detail in one of the later sections.)
#2. Prepare Yourself (Physically and Mentally)
Once you have a plan set, you’re almost ready to go… but, not entirely.
Being fully prepared to run isn’t just about knowing when and how you want to do it. It’s also about ensuring that you’re well equipped to handle your runs, both physically and mentally. This includes aspects like finding the right gear, or ensuring proper hydration and fueling before, during, and after your workouts.
Proper Running Gear
The term “gear” encompasses a wide variety of options, ranging anywhere from the types of shoes you wear to the material of your clothing. But it could also include other “fancier” accessories, like hydration packs or wearable technology to track your running.
The beauty of running gear is that it’s entirely customizable to what you need (or want!); you can experiment with what kinds of equipment complements your workouts. And, as you start to hone the specifics for how and where you like to run, you can find more targeted resources to suit your training needs (e.g., trail running shoes for trails and hills, synthetic or compression clothes for chafing, or Stryd footpods to track your unique running).
Hydration and Fueling
On the other hand, hydration and fueling aren’t necessarily as malleable as what you decide to wear on your runs. They may vary in quantity and frequency depending on your choice of workout for the day, but the key is to ensure you don’t outright neglect it — especially as you’re first starting out!
In order to perform well, your body has to be functioning at its best, so ensuring sufficient hydration and energy is nonnegotiable for successful training. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water before and after your running; sports drinks can be helpful, but they often aren’t necessary unless you’re running longer than an hour or in certain weather conditions.
Fueling before a run is different for everyone — we all need energy, but our stomachs can be uniquely picky in what they’ll tolerate. When you’re starting out, be sure to not eat directly before a run. You should give yourself a couple hours after a full size meal before heading out the door to let your body get started on digestion. If you need a pre-run snack, try something easy to digest, like a banana or a spoonful of nut butter. Just pay attention to your body! Your stomach is good and letting you know what will work and what won’t.
Cross Training and Recovery
This is one that many runners tend to neglect. Beyond your actual running workouts, a well-rounded training plan also requires sufficient time dedicated to cross training and recovery.
It’s not always the easiest habit to get into — we know that it can be tempting to reserve all your training time for actual running practice. But hear us out…
Cross training doesn’t have to be extensive, and it certainly doesn’t have to take up a majority of your training time. More than anything, it’s an essential building block to your training to ensure that your body isn’t overwhelmed by the repetitive impact of the sport, especially in your initial phases of training. Focus a portion of your workouts to include strength training specific to running, that way you’re giving your body a break from increased impacts while still maintaining consistent work for your running muscles.
Additionally, be sure that your plan doesn’t have you running every single day. Your tendons need time to adapt to the rigors of your new training load, so pencil in lots of active recovery to ensure they aren’t being overworked. Consider alternative activities like stretching, cycling, or walking!
#3. Start Running! (The Right Way)
Here’s the part you’ve been waiting for: it’s time to actually start what you signed up for!
…Though, before you officially start any running, there are a few significant aspects that will help solidify your running technique and decrease your risk of injury. (We know, we know — you just want to get going, but trust us, these considerations are worth keeping in mind.)
Learn Proper Running Form
You’ve probably heard plenty of resources tell you: if you want to get better at running, you have to run.
It’s a true enough concept, but simply running a certain amount of time or distance every week won’t necessarily yield the kind of improvement (or healthy running) that you’re looking for. As we’ve already mentioned, running appears a lot simpler in execution than it is, and running with improper biomechanics is an incredibly common error that people come across in their early stages of running practice.
Biomechanical deficiencies can be brought on by a number of factors, like weakened muscles, lack of alignment control, inefficient joint angles, etc. — much of which isn’t something a beginner runner would know how to identify, let alone look for in the first place.
So, be sure to look up resources that detail some of the most common running form errors to get a better understanding of why they happen and how you can avoid them altogether. It takes time to adapt your natural running form to one that’s more efficient and optimized for running, but it’s well worth the time to learn how you can prevent injury and overtraining.
Respect Your Own Limits
This is often a tricky one for new runners.
With running, it can be easy to push yourself. Perhaps you haven’t quite nailed down that final stretch of distance or time in your most challenging workout, or maybe the whole “no pain, no gain” mentality has taken hold over your training approach.
It’s entirely natural to experience that drive to run harder, faster, or longer, but pushing yourself beyond your current running limits isn’t the safest way to gain those kinds of improvements.
Though it may feel frustrating in the moment, remind yourself that you’re still just beginning to run! Your body likely isn’t primed to handle the rigors of more intense running training (not yet, anyway). Make sure you aren’t constantly overworking yourself.
You can absolutely keep that ambitious mentality, but channel it into other facets of your training — muscle activation and strength, running specific exercises, and gradual, progressive goals. Doing so will improve the root of your running biomechanics and efficiency, ultimately leading to improved performance without straining your body’s capacity.
4. Know What to Expect
Adapting to the realities of running can prove to be quite challenging, and you may find yourself struggling to see the results you want at first. It doesn’t mean that you’re not good at running or not cut out for it, but it can still be discouraging. To avoid discouragement early on, it’s helpful to know what you’re getting into so you can sidestep various obstacles that may present themselves through your early training.
One of the most common questions we get is “When does running get easier?”
And frankly, the answer depends on the person. For some, it gets easier and even more enjoyable with consistent training — and that may be after two weeks, two months, or even more. For others, even if performance improves, the feeling of running only ever becomes more tolerable (which isn’t inherently bad; it may just take a titch more motivation to keep yourself going).
What’s important to acknowledge is that just about everyone experiences some degree of unpleasantness when they first pick up running. It’s not because you’re not good at it, or that you aren’t capable of achieving what you set out to do — it’s simply that running takes loads of deliberate practice and effort before you get used to it.
Don’t let that be what holds you back! Cut yourself some slack when taking on the vigorous workload that is running training; if you apply your best knowledge and effort, you’ll start to experience progress in one way or another.
Put in the Work
And, that progress only comes with consistent effort and hard work. As much as we discussed the importance of proper running gear, we also want to point out: equipment and accessories are supplemental, not shortcuts to improve your running.
Yes, you can buy the highest quality shoes or compression gear out there, and yes, they may help improve your form or recovery a bit, but no amount of money you shell out on gear will provide a permanent solution to biomechanical deficiencies.
To truly improve your form and performance, you have to be diligent about your training, ensuring that all the moving parts (no pun intended) are functioning as optimally as they can be (and on a consistent basis). Nothing replaces focused effort and hard work!
Don’t Do Too Much, Too Fast
There’s a decent chance you’ve probably heard this one before, and it’s for good reason.
Many runners have the tendency to aim high with their goals, which is a fantastic way to forecast what you want to get out of running and keep yourself motivated. What’s important to remember, though, is that achieving that caliber of goal isn’t something that happens overnight.
In the same way that you have to respect your limits and listen to your body, you also have to pace yourself — both in your training, and in your goal-setting. If you take on too much, too soon, you increase your risk of injury and chances of overtraining, and being sidelined by consequences that are that intense will set you back way further than simply taking your time to gradually progress through your training.
Take your cadence, for example. Plenty of resources will tell you that a higher cadence is ideal for better running form; and it is, but not necessarily when you’re starting out.
Keep your step count at a comfortable, natural range when you first get into running. As you learn to go through the motions, you can then start practicing what’s known as the 10% rule (i.e., a gradual, weekly increase in your cadence). Though it’s tempting to go all out right out the gate, stick to the incremental increases; that’s the surefire way to consistently make progress without overworking yourself.
Join Communities, and Read Up!
If it hasn’t been made abundantly clear already, running is way more complex than it’s made out to be. There’s a broad variety of running problems that can pop up during your training, ranging anywhere from mildly embarrassing digestive issues to more severe injury.
Whether you know of them or not, it’s something we all have to learn how to deal with to some degree. So take some time to find a forum or local running group to connect with fellow runners, and make sure to read helpful resources (like our blog!) to learn all about the different components of running problems, injuries, and solutions.
Are You in It for the Long Run?
So there you have it, soon-to-be runners! Your beginner’s guide to building a foundation for a successful start to your running journey.
Because every runner is different in how they train, practice, and benefit from the sport, each of these guided tips may vary from person to person (and their preferences). But the key is that you started in the right place — figuring out the most well-rounded approach to preparing for your running!
You’re right on track, so keep putting your best foot forward!