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How to Run for Beginners: Running 101

Hi, all my awesome running peeps! So, you just discovered your new joy or love for running. And now, you may be wondering, “What do I do now?” Well, you came to the right spot. Here is where I will cover the best running tips for how to run for beginners.

You may have your reason(s) wanting to run, like wanting to shed some pounds, or you have a condition that needs you to get your health right, or you just figured out you like running. Whatever the case may be, these tips will help you get you started on the right foot (pun intended, hehe).

Set Goals

The first thing you should do is set goals. Goal setting is a very powerful tool, as it’s something we use for many areas in our lives.

It’s important to write them down to remind yourself of what you want to accomplishment and keep you on track. I like setting a “SMART Goal”:

For example: Run 4 days a week for 30 minutes for 1 month to get in shape and be healthy.

Specific: Usually when you’re specific, you know more what you want and what you want to accomplish.

Measurable: Is your goal set in a way you can measure your progress? This will help you to see where you started and how you’ve been able to grow and progress through time.

Achievable: Start with a goal that you know you can achieve. It’s good to set a goal that will give you a challenge, but also something within your reach.

Realistic: Starting goals that are realistic, is very important, not pushing yourself too much right out of the gate. Setting higher expectations than possible too soon will only discourage you from wanting to keep going. Take small steps every day that will leave you feeling good with each little accomplishment at the end of the day, encouraging and motivating you to keep going.

Timely: Put a timestamp of what you want to accomplish, from when to when. You may not feel the push to accomplish your goals if you don’t put a sense of urgency on it.

How long should I run everyday?

It may vary, depending on the individual, but typically, a good time to start with is for 20 – 30 minutes. If running continuously for 30 minutes ends up seeming too long for you, then do 20 or 10 minutes.

Another option could be doing some type of intervals, alternating between running and walking for 20-30 minutes, like running for 1 minute and walking for 3-5 minutes.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you getting started. It’s ok if you can’t start off running for 30 minutes. What matters is you’re doing something to start getting out there.

What pace should I run?

Ideally, you want to start off slow to give your body time to warm up and then gradually get to a pace that feels comfortable that you can consistently maintain throughout the run. It’s always better to start off slow and work your way up, increasing speed, than the other way around.

One other good way to gauge if you’re running a comfortable pace that you can keep is if you’re able to hold a conversation while running at that pace.

What type of surface should I run on?

There are all types of surfaces. Usually, it depends on what kind of run you want to get done. Let’s take a look at each one:

  • Asphalt roads vs. concrete – If you have the choice between the two, choose the asphalt. They’re both hard, but asphalt is “softer” between the two.

    Concrete is soooo damaging to your body’s muscles, joints, bones, and tendons, so I like to avoid it like it’s the plague. I ran a marathon that was more than 90 percent concrete and it just killed my legs. I was in complete agony!

    One good benefit I can say for running on a hard surface is it’s perfect for fast running and giving you a solid foot plant, making it less likely to roll an ankle.

  • Trail running helps gives you a lot of soft surface running, you recover faster (even putting in a lot of miles on it), and you don’t feel the same achy body you would from running on those hard surfaces.

    On the flip side, there’s more obstacles you need to be careful of avoiding, like rocks, slipping on mud, forest debris, especially if you’re running fast downhill. This also increases your chance of rolling an ankle.

  • Rubber track (tartan) is excellent for getting interval workouts done, giving you a softer surface for a lower percentage of injury, and gives an extra spring in your step.
  • Treadmills works as a good alternative if you’re not able to run outside due to weather, safety issues, or being dark outside. It’s also a softer surface than the roads. However, I like to use it only if I really need to, because it’s also very unnatural with a belt moving underneath you, which causes you to change your running form.
  • Sand running helps to train your muscles, building leg strength, requiring you to pick up your legs more. I’ve been able to take advantage of training in the sand lately because I currently live very close to the beach.

    Just don’t overdo it, because you can really strain your calf muscles. If there’s a harder sand surface near the water, you can switch it up between that and the soft sand.

  • Grass with an even surface can be such a refreshing run. Something I loved doing with my college teammates was after doing our road run, we’d run strides barefoot on the cool, moist, soft surface grass football field. It sort of felt like I was running on clouds, so to speak.

Overall, a good practice is meeting in the middle, running at least 50 percent of your mileage on soft surface and 50 percent on harder surface (unless you’re strictly trail running). If you do all your running on soft surfaces, when you get on the road to train or for a road race, then your legs can feel like jello.

What’s the best way to breathe while running?

Naturally, you’re going to be breathing harder from exerting your body than just a regular walk in the park. Work on staying as relaxed and controlled as possible while breathing.

Start by relaxing your face completely and just naturally breathe through your mouth like breathing with your mouth while sleeping, inhaling and exhaling, calm and controlled. I like to do rhythmic breathing. For example, breathing in for 3 steps and then exhaling for 3 steps. It may be different steps for you, but that’s what works for me.

What do I do if I get a side ache?

Side aches (a “stitch”) can come on from possibly eating solid food before running. That, or drinking too much liquids too close to a run. If you eat a heavy meal, wait at least 2 hours before your run.

If you do end up getting a side ache, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I use:

I first do my best to breathe as calm and slow as possible.

Then, if I get a side ache on my RIGHT side, for example, I pay attention to if I’m breathing out or in when my RIGHT foot hits the ground.

Lastly, I switch the direction I’m breathing. In other words, if I’m breathing OUT when my right foot strikes the ground, then I’ll start to breathe IN whenever my right foot strikes the ground. It might sound kind of crazy, but hey, it works for me!

How should I stretch and recover?

Stretching and recovery is just as important as the running and training you’re doing. I repeat, stretching and recovery is just as important as the running and training you’re doing, or even more important. 

Proper stretching helps to keep you flexible, muscles loose and strengthened, less prone to injuries, as well as help you recover. It’s all part of the cooldown after that run. Your body will thank you for it, especially as you get older.

Stretching should be for at least 20-30 minutes, making sure you’re doing stretches that target all the muscles you’re using.

I’ve also learned if you stretch and cause resistance to elongate the muscle, you’re helping to strengthen muscles at the same time.

How you’re spending your time during the day with determine how well you recover.

Give your body and mind time to rest between each run or workout to help your body to repair itself. I know that schedules may not always permit this, but if you can, wait at least 24 hours between each run to give yourself a full recovery.

Give yourself days off too. If you want to work up to running consistently every day, run 6 days a week and then give yourself a day off and then go enjoy yourself with other things you like to do, like catching  a movie, spending time with your family, or playing an instrument, etc; something that will allow your body to rest.

What do I do for strength training?

Although it’s great to lace up and get after that run, strength training is also vital to do along with the running.

If you’re just constantly running, but not doing anything to strengthen your muscles, through time, you’re just breaking down your body.

Focus on strengthening your core, because as your core is in the center of your body, it’s also where all your strength comes from, which can dictate the rest of how your body is moving, like arm swing, to your hips, and even your stride length and turnover speed (cadence).

Core strength will help balance out your body, helping injuries to stay away and even body parts overcompensating for each other if one area is weaker than another.

Find a good routine that will help you to build muscles.

Keep in mind, if you’re not used to doing this already, your body is initially going to hurt, which is totally normal, because in order to build muscles, it must be broken down first before it can build.

Another important muscle to focus on building, especially for long-distance runners, are your glutes. While working on your glutes, you can also simultaneously strengthen your core, killing two birds with one stone.

Should I cross-train?

The answer to this is, yes! It’s good to switch things up a bit. It gives your muscles and joints a break from the same repetitive movement of forward running.

Cross-training keeps running from maybe getting boring and keeps it feeling fresh.

Find other sports that are fun for you. For me it’s soccer.

Swimming and bicycling are great ones too, taking away any hard impact you would get from running. Swimming can increase lung capacity and it’s an excellent alternative to still train if you have certain types of injuries that prevent you from running.

These are just suggestions, so pick what you enjoy and works for you.

Listen to Your Body

Your body knows best and only you know your body the best.

There may be days your mind says you can run, but your body says, “I need a break. Take a rest!” And you know, that’s ok. It happens to the best of us, even elite, top athletes have these days. I know I definitely have. I’ve had to adjust running a slower speed, running less that day, or none at all.

Listening to your body can leave you more refreshed and ready to run when it’s time to get back out there.

It’s always better to under-train than over-train. Don’t stress out about losing the miles or time you need to put in for the week. You could end up hurting yourself more trying to make it up.

If you have a 4 or 5 pain (on a scale of 1-10) somewhere, don’t ignore it. Just take a few days off to let the pain subside and then start running again.

I’ve had to do this at times and I’m really thankful I did, because it helped the pain to go away and it prevented any further injury.

Something so little can make a big difference.

Within my 20+ years of running, I can happily say that I have never had a major injury. I’m so thankful for that. So, be smart because it’s totally worth it! If you can stay injury-free in your training, you’ve already won half the battle.

Have Fun!

If you’re going to be putting all this time into running, remember to have fun! Or what’s the point in doing it?

If you feel like it’s just not feeling fun for you, reassess what you’ve been doing and find a way to make it fun for yourself. Maybe you’re the type of person who is more motivated to run when someone else is running or biking along-side with you, or you might need to listen to music to get pumped up. Whatever the case may be, make it fun for you.

Or, maybe you gave running a good try and it just doesn’t seem to be working out for you. That’s OK too. Just find something that does!

Final Words

There’s a lot of things I covered. It might have seemed daunting at first, not sure exactly how to get started, but I hope by now I’ve calmed down all those thoughts running through your head, and feel better prepared to help get you out the door and start running. Keep it simple and take it one step at a time.

Please feel free to ask any questions, leave a comment, or even tell us what you think about this topic or the website. You can also send in an email if you prefer that more to liana@myrunningstrong.com.

Happy Training,

Liana

Liana

12 Comments

  1. Wow, great article. I never thought about the differences between concrete and asphalt and always wondered why runners run in the road and not on sidewalks in my neighborhood.

    Your goal setting format will actually help me in a number of ways as well. Thank you for such a great post to help us beginners out.

    • Hi Randy,

      Thank you! I always think people passing me think I’m crazy that I’m on the asphalt road running, not the sidewalk. I just make sure I’m being safe about it and run against traffic so I know what’s coming at me.

      I’m really happy to help, Randy. I’m excited for your new goal setting too.

      Liana

  2. Thanks for sharing your post. I’m an experienced runner, but I always like to investigate to pick up something new to add to my skillset. Your post is jam-packed with high-quality tips and advice. I realized that I need to stretch more before sessions, nut just after. I like your site! Keep it up!

    • Hi Ivan,

      I like your attitude, always wanting to learn more even though you’re an experienced runner! Go get it! Yeah, stretching can get so overlooked. I know I feel a difference when I’m not stretching enough.

      You probably already know this, but make sure you do a bit of warming up to get the blood circulating so you don’t pull anything if you stretch before your session. Dynamic stretching exercise involving movement while stretching is what I like to do beforehand.

      Thank you for nice comments and commenting on my site, Ivan.

      Liana

  3. Great article Liana. My daughter (14) wants to start running, not necessarily as a main sport, but for cross training. She wants to do something that will help her build/maintain a cardio base for other sports (volleyball and hockey). If she’s only running 2-3 times per week, what would you recommend for how she structures those runs – just focus on gradually building up time/distance, or more interval-based? If it makes a difference, she will be getting (in season, at least) some interval workouts each week in those sports (especially hockey). Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Jordan,

      Thank you for commenting on my post! I’m happy to hear your daughter wants to start running. It’s a great way to cross-train, as it’s so beneficial across many sports.

      For what she wants to use it for, I would suggest she first start by gradually building up her base, meaning her weekly mileage. For example, make a goal of running 10 miles for a week and she can break it up within the 3 days. She can add on about 5% or 10% each week for a month and see how that works for her. She should start with something that’s doable and not over-exerting, working around her volleyball and hockey training. Have her run a pace that feels natural and comfortable for easy mile running. When she builds her base mileage for a couple months then she can think about interval workouts, but I wouldn’t do more than 3 interval workouts per week, including from hockey.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you need me to clear up anything I explained. I hope all the best for your daughter.

      Liana

  4. What a thorough and informative post about running. This is my favored sport, but sometimes I lack consistency. But through your post, I had tips that can help me improve my result. As you said, setting a goal and writing it down is very important as we can refer to that and stay motivated.
    Thank you for your helpful post and stay blessed.
    Sebastian

    • Hi Sebastian,

      Thank you for commenting on my post! It’s amazing what kind of results we can get from something that seems so simple as creating a SMART goal. I’m excited for you to use it for yourself and see the results.

      Thank you again for your comment, and be blessed too, Sebastian,
      Liana

  5. Great tips you have here Liana. The article was an interesting read. I’m into health related stuff. Eating healthy, exercising to keep your body and mind fit. I don’t do running per se, but I do some exercises in the morning just to boost circulation. I used to do gym but was not a fanatic. I’ve been contemplating going back and maybe include swimming as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for commenting on my post! I’m glad we’re on the same page when it comes to healthy living and lifestyle. If we don’t have our health, what kind of quality of life can we completely live? And even if you don’t run, it’s good that you’re at least doing something for exercise. The morning is a great time to do it for circulation boosting too. It helps me feel alert and ready to go for the day. Hopefully you’re also inspired to hit the gym and to swim again too.

  6. Hi Liana,
    I really liked this article. Setting goals is one of the most important things, not only when it comes to sports, but for life in general. I liked that you’re ‘prescribing’ a SMART goal. I’m used to only use that method when it comes to work and such, but it never came to mind on the topic of sports.

    As for the rest, I think you really hit the nail on the head. Surface is definitely important for running! I used to mostly run on asphalt (since there’s not much variety in my area), and I sometimes felt it in my knees after. So yeah, great insights!

    The same goes for the topic of side aches, which can mess up my entire workout if I don’t solve it quick. I’m going to try out your breathing direction method, though. Curious to see if it works!

    Listening to your body and having fun are just as important as the rest I guess. Set your ego aside and gradually progressing will eventually pay off, and to me, that’s the biggest boost I could ever have.

    Thanks again for your article!

    • Hi Kevin,

      I really like the SMART goal setting. I’m curious to see how it works for you if you start to implement it. That, and trying the side ache method. Let me know!

      I’m glad a lot of other things were helpful too, and gave you some good insight.

      Thank you for commenting on my post and I hope all the best in your training journey too!

      Liana

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