17 Commonly-Asked Questions About Learning to Run

Answers to Beginner Runners' Questions

You may have wanted to start running for a while now, but had several fears or concerns that were holding you back. What should I wear?  How do I breathe?  What if I have to go to the bathroom?

This list of 17 frequently-asked questions will address your concerns and help you feel more confident and ready to get started with running.


What Should I Wear When Running?

Woman running
Jordan Siemens/Digital Vision/Getty Images

All you really need to get started with running is a good pair of running shoes. It's not a good idea to dig out those old tennis shoes from the back of your closet and assume you can run in them. You need shoes that are designed for running, fit well and match your foot type and running style.

Women also need to make sure that they wear a good, supportive sports bra. The sports bra should fit you properly and not be too stretched out.

Whether you're running in cold or warm weather, you need to make sure you're wearing the proper clothing for comfort and safety. Get tips on how to dress for any climate:

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Can I Walk During My Runs?

Man and Woman walking

Of course, you can walk during your runs!  Some people who are just getting started with running assume that walking is "giving up" or cheating.  But taking walk breaks is actually a smart strategy for building your endurance and improving your running.  Even after they’ve been running for a while, some runners still use a run/walk strategy, especially for long runs or races.  There's no shame in walking!

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How Should I Breathe When Running?

Runners Warming Up Before Race
Chris Leschinsky

This is an excellent question, as many people have misconceptions about how to breathe when running. You should breathe through both your mouth and nose when you're running. Your muscles need oxygen to keep moving and your nose simply can't deliver enough.

Make sure you're breathing more from your diaphragm, or belly, not from your chest -- that's too shallow. Deep belly breathing allows you to take in more air, which can also help prevent side stitches.

You should exhale through your mouth and try to focus on exhaling fully, which will remove more carbon dioxide and also help you inhale more deeply.

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How Can I Not Feel Self-Conscious When Running?

Two women running
Photo by Chase Jarvis

It’s common to be nervous about what other runners or people driving by think when they pass you running. But try not to be concerned about what others think! As a runner, you deserve respect from other runners. Remember that all runners were new to the sport at some point, so they can all relate to the struggles that beginners face.

If you're worried about what non-runners think, try not to get too hung up on that. Just remind yourself of all the great benefits that you're getting from running and they're missing out on. Be proud that you're doing something good for your physical and mental health.

You may also feel less self-conscious if you get a friend or family member to come along with you. An added bonus is that you can keep each other motivated to run.

Like anything else, the first time is usually the hardest. Once you've run in public a few times, you'll feel a lot more comfortable and be less concerned about other watching you.

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How Do I Get Rid of a Side Stitch?

Runner in race

A side stitch, or a sharp pain on the lower edge of the ribcage, can be a huge annoyance for runners. To get rid of one, try gently pushing your fingers into the area where you're feeling the stitch -- that should help relieve some of the pain. Then, to get rid of the side stitch, try altering your breathing pattern. Take a deep breath in as quickly as you can, to force your diaphragm down. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds and then forcibly exhale through pursed lips.

If you get a cramp in the middle of a run, you might want to try changing your breathing/striding pattern. If you always exhale when your right foot strikes the ground, try exhaling with the left foot strike.

If all else fails, you may have to stop and walk briskly for a few seconds while concentrating on deep breathing. Continue running after the stitch goes away.

Get tips on how to prevent side stitches in the first place.

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How Fast Should I Run?

Runner touching treadmill controls
Darryl Leniuk

Many runners, especially beginners, are curious about what pace they should be running. Most daily runs should be done at an "easy" pace. But what pace qualifies as "easy"? Well, the actual pace is different for everyone. The best and simplest way to determine this is to run slow enough so that you can carry on a conversation. If you're running with someone, that means you should be able to speak in complete sentences, not just give "yes" or "no" answers. If you're running alone, you should be able to sing "Happy Birthday" without gasping for air. For some new runners, a conversational pace may mean doing a run/walk combination .

So, don't worry about your pace per mile -- if you can pass the "talk test", you're running at the right speed.

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Should I Eat Before a Run?

Peanut Butter on Toast

It’s not a good idea to run immediately after eating because it may lead to cramping or side stitches. But running on an empty stomach may cause you to run out of energy. Your best bet is to eat a snack or light meal about 1 1/2 to 2 hours before you start running.

Pick something high in carbohydrates and lower in fat, fiber, and protein. Some examples of good pre-workout fuel include: a bagel with peanut butter; turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread; a banana and an energy bar; or a bowl of cold cereal with a cup of milk. Stay away from rich, very fatty, or high-fiber foods, as they may cause gastrointestinal distress.

If you've had digestive issues and find yourself stopping to use the bathroom during your runs, here are some suggestions for the best pre-run foods and tips on which ones to avoid.

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Should I Try to Improve My Distance or Speed?

Woman running
Jordan Siemens/Digital Vision/Getty Images

As a new runner, it's better for you to start with trying to increase the distance (or time, if you prefer to measure by time) of your runs. As you build up your endurance, your speed will also improve.

Don’t rush into formal speed training, such as interval workouts, just yet. Doing too much running at too high an intensity is an easy way to get injured. After you've been running for about two months and have a nice base, you can start by adding strides into one of your weekly runs. You can also try picking up the pace towards the end of one of your runs. Wait until you've been running for 3-4 months before you start to add tempo runs, fartlek runs, or interval workouts.

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When Does Running Get Easier?

Man and Woman Running
Man and Woman Running. Photo by John Howard

This is a very common question among new runners and there isn't one answer that fits everyone since beginner runners sometimes struggle for different reasons. Many new runners might that the turning point is when they can run continuously for 30 minutes. At that point, they start to feel more comfortable and confident. So, it takes a little bit of patience to build up your fitness and get to a point where running feels easier. Just keep working on increasing your distance little by little – it does get easier.

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Should I Run Every Day?

Runner lying on the couch
Photo by Steve Cole

Most runners need at least one, even two, days off a week from running. Research has shown that taking at least one day off a week reduces the frequency of overuse injuries. If you take at least one day off, your body will have a chance to recover and repair itself. You'll find that you'll actually feel better during your runs.

The best days for rest will depend on what type of runner you are and if you're training for a specific event. If you tend to run a lot of miles on the weekends, then Monday might be a good rest day for you. If you're training for a marathon and you do your long runs on Saturday, you may want to rest on Friday, so you have fresh legs for your long run.

Beginner runners may want to start out running every other day, to give themselves sufficient recovery time while still building a running habit.

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How Can I Find the Right Running Shoes For Me?

Runners feet
John Foxx

Choosing the right running shoes is one of the most important decisions you'll make as a runner. Wearing the correct running shoes for your foot type and running gait will help you stay comfortable and injury-free.  Your best bet is to find a running specialty store and have one of the salespeople measure your foot, assess your running gait, and recommend the right running shoes for you.

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How Can I Avoid Having to Stop to Use the Bathroom When Running?

Michael Blann

If you find yourself stopping to pee during your long runs, you're most likely drinking too much prior to your run. You should drink 16 to 24oz of (non-caffeinated) fluid 1 hour before your workout or race. Stop drinking after that, and keep emptying your bladder. Drink another 4 to 8oz of fluid about 10 minutes before you start running, so that you're hydrated when you begin. To replace fluids while running, you should be drinking about 6 to 8 ounces of fluids every 20 minutes. If you hydrate properly like this, you shouldn't have to stop to pee.

If you continue to feel the urge to urinate or have problems with a leaky bladder, talk to your health care professional.

If your problem is that you sometimes have diarrhea during runs (very common, especially among new runners), here are some tips for avoiding runner's trots.

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Where Should I Run?

Runner on track
Cavan Images

One of the great things about running is that it's so convenient  -- in many cases, you can just head out your front door and go for a run.

If you’re planning on running on your local roads or sidewalks, make sure you look for routes that have minimal traffic and a wide shoulder (or sidewalks).  And be sure to follow safety precautions for running outside.

When running on roads, you can use a site such as MapMyRun.com to plot your route and measure it. Or, you can always drive your route in your car and measure the mileage using your car odometer.

If you prefer not to run on roads, you might want to head to a local park, bike path, or trail. Another convenient option is the track at your local high school. Most high-school tracks are open to the public, and they're also a softer surface, compared to asphalt and concrete. Most tracks are 400 meters (about ¼ mile), so it’s easy for you to keep track of your distance when you're running on it.

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Can I Run a 5K?

Runners in race
Yellow Dog Productions

Running a 5K race is definitely a reasonable goal for beginner runners and training for a race will definitely help you stay motivated to keep running. Even someone who is fairly inactive (assuming he or she has been cleared to run) can be ready to run or run/walk a 5K with three months of training.
Following a training schedule will help you safely prepare for the race and keep you on track. As you continue with the training, your fitness and your confidence will improve and you'll feel more prepared for your race. Here are some 5K training schedules for beginner runners:
5K Training Schedule for Beginners: This eight-week training schedule is designed for beginner runners who want to run continuously to the finish line of a 5K race.
5K Run/Walk Training Schedule: This eight-week training schedule is designed for those who can run for five minutes at a time and want to build up to running for the entire 5K race.
Train for a 5K in a Month: This four-week training program is designed for beginner run/walkers who want to build up to running a 5K in a month.


Can I Drink Coffee Before Running in the Morning?

Drinking tea
Jerome Tisne

Some people drink coffee before runs and never have any issues with it, but others experience gastrointestinal issues. If you can tolerate it and actually need coffee to get you going in the morning, then keep enjoying it before your runs.  You may even notice a little pep in your step since pre-run caffeine has been shown to enhance performance and endurance. However, if you're doing a race of 10K risk of cardiac events while running.
Also keep in mind that coffee is a mild diuretic (makes you have to urinate), so it's not the same as hydrating with plain water. If you want a pre-run cup of coffee, drink it early enough that you'll have time to use the bathroom, so you can avoid having to stop during your run.

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Can I Run With a Cold?

Woman blowing nose
Tom Grill

When deciding whether you should run with a cold, use the above/below the neck rule. If your symptoms are above the neck (runny nose, sneezing, sore throat) then, yes, you can run. Just take it easy and don't do any intense workouts. If symptoms such as dizziness, nausea or profuse sweating occur, you should stop running.

If your symptoms are below the neck (chest congestion, intense coughing, vomiting, diarrhea), let your illness run its course before you begin running again. Running under those conditions increases dehydration and may cause more serious issues. You also should never run if you have a high fever. And if your doctor advises you not to run, definitely take his or her advice.

Take off the next few days until you're feeling better. And, don't worry, you won't lose much fitness. You'll be back where you left off after a couple of runs.

If you're dealing with an illness that keeps you from running for two weeks or more, find out what to do when you take a break from running.

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How Do I Know How Far I'm Running?

Runner Outdoors
Runner Outdoors. Janie Airey / Getty Images

When running on roads, you can use route measuring programs such as MapMyRun to plot your route and measure it. The MapMyRun site also has saved routes from other runners in your area, so you can browse through them and find some new routes. Or, you can always drive your route in your car and measure the mileage using your car's odometer.

If you sometimes run on a track (at your local high school, for instance), it's easy to measure your distance there. Most tracks are 400 meters (about 1/4 mile), so four laps would be about a mile.

If you continue to run outside a lot, you may decide you want to invest in a wristwatch with GPS, such as the Garmin Forerunner. You'll also be able to keep track of your pace, as well as other helpful running data.

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