How to Start Running: The Absolute Beginners' Guide

Easy Steps to Learn How to Run

Female runner running in urban environment.
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Running is enjoyed by millions of people because it's good for your body and mind and it requires very little equipment. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and the willingness to get started.

Running may seem so simple that preparing to start a running routine may sound silly. But by learning a few basics about the sport—such as the different types of running and different gear options— you can increase your enjoyment and make your training more effective.

Benefits

The majority of people who run casually do it for the physical, social, and mental benefits it brings.

Running is one of the most effective ways to burn calories and build cardiovascular endurance, it helps to increase your mental toughness, and if you run outdoors, you benefit from exposure to nature, which can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, boost your mood, and provide other health benefits, according to research.

Running also has a low bar of entry—you don't need any fancy equipment, it's relatively inexpensive, and you can do it almost anywhere. It's also an activity that spans ages; it's never too late to start running. Many people who have take up the sport do so in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.

Here are some of the many other reasons why people choose running:

  • It's one of the most efficient ways to achieve aerobic fitness.
  • Running can be a smart strategy for weight loss.
  • Running is an excellent stress reliever.
  • You can run by yourself for peace and solitude or with others for social interaction.
  • You release endorphins when running and may even experience a runner’s high.
  • You achieve better overall health with improvements such as higher lung capacity, increased metabolism, lower total cholesterol levels, increased energy, and decreased risk of osteoporosis.

Running is a sport that can bring families together. For example, some families participate in charity fun runs, or simply jog together as a way to spend quality time enhancing healthy values. Kids who participate in running programs learn how to overcome obstacles and persevere.

Running can also be a healthy way to spend a vacation. Many companies offer running-specific holidays at destinations around the world. Runners of all levels are welcomed to explore tourist destinations, historical sites, and national parks through training camps or races organized by vacation running companies.

Types

While running seems like a fairly straightforward sport, there are different types of running that you might want to explore. Most runners engage in one or more of the following types of running

Road Running

One of the most popular types of running is simply called road running. It includes running on paved roads, paths, and sidewalks. It’s the most convenient type of running and the type that most runners participate in at some point in their training. It is also one of the easiest ways to start your running program—all you have to do is step out your door and get moving.

Treadmill Running

A great alternative to running outside is treadmill running. Running on a treadmill is a smart choice if the weather is bad. But this type of running is also (usually) easier than outdoor running and can be gentler on your joints.

Most treadmills allow runners to change their pace, incline, and resistance so they can simulate outdoor running and vary their workouts to prevent boredom.

Racing

Some runners enjoy the thrill and competition of participating in road races. Racing events vary in distance from 5Ks to half or full marathons and even ultramarathons lasting 100 miles or more.

The vast majority of people enter races not to win (or even come close), but to set a personal goal and achieve it. Many former couch potatoes have become hooked on the sport after training for their first road race.

Trail Running

For those who love to enjoy scenery and peaceful surroundings while exercising, trail running is a great option. Trail running usually takes place on hiking trails of varying terrain, from deserts to mountains. Trail runners may find themselves sidestepping roots, climbing over logs, running through streams, or traversing up steep hills.

Track Running

Track events include shorter distance races such as the 50-yard dash, 100, 200 and 400-meter sprints, hurdles and others. Training to run track often includes doing more targeted speed work and less endurance running outdoors.

But some road and trail runners like running on a track occasionally for safety and convenience. On a track, you don’t have to worry about cars, cyclists, or animals, and it’s easy to measure how far you’re running.

The track is also a great place for runners who are training for races to work on targeted speed workouts once you're ready to pick up the pace.

Getting Started

Whether you're brand new to running or you’re getting back to it after a long break, it's important to start out easy and build up gradually so you avoid injury. Here are some tips to get you started off on the right foot.

Get Medical Clearance

If you’ve been sedentary for over a year, check with your doctor before you start a running program. While your doctor will most likely support a new exercise habit, he or she may offer some advice and precautions.

Also, if you've had an injury, if you take medication, or if you manage a medical condition, ask if there are special guidelines you should follow. For example, people with diabetes may want to carry a snack. Those who take certain blood pressure medications may need to use methods other than a heart rate watch to monitor intensity.

Invest in Shoes and Gear

Wear a pair of running shoes that fit comfortably and are the right type of shoes for your foot and running style. Visit a specialty running store to get fitted for the best shoes for you.

While you are there, you might want to check out technical gear such as running shorts, tops, or tights that are made out of lightweight wicking fibers. While these garments aren't necessary for running, they help you to stay dry and comfortable when you work out.

Stay Safe

Take measured steps to keep your body safe and free from injury. First, also do a warm up before you start running. Walk or do an easy jog for 5 to 10 minutes, before increasing your intensity. You might also add warm-up exercises such as dynamic stretches or running drills.

Then make sure you follow running safety advice, such as going against traffic when running on roads. You should also always remember to carry ID when you head out for a run so that you can be identified quickly in the unlikely event of an accident.

Use the Run/Walk Method

You can start your running program by combining your runs with intervals of walking. For many new runners, this is the easiest way to build endurance with less stress on the joints and a manageable intensity level.

Simply start with one minute of running and one minute of walking, and then try to increase the running intervals. As you become more comfortable, make the switch to all running.

Make It Manageable

Your running workouts might be challenging in the beginning, but they shouldn't be so hard that you never want to run again. During each workout, keep a comfortable, conversational pace. If you can’t speak in full sentences, slow down. If you're running alone, try talking to yourself.

Breathe in through your nose and mouth so you can get the most amount of oxygen. Try doing deep belly breathing to avoid side stitches or cramps.

After each run, cool down by doing some easy jogging or walking. Some gentle stretching after will help you avoid tight muscles.

Aim for consistency in your new running program rather than speed or distance. Establish a weekly running schedule to get into a regular running habit.

Proper Running Form

Running is a natural movement, but that doesn't mean that you can't improve certain aspects of your running form to improve your experience.

Proper running form can help you become a more efficient runner. You can learn to conserve energy, improve your pace, run longer distances, and reduce your risk of injury by paying attention to and tweaking different elements of your running mechanics.

There are a few basic form rules to follow.

Practice Good Posture

Keep your posture upright. Your head should be lifted, your back should feel long and tall, and shoulders level but relaxed. Maintain a neutral pelvis. Make sure you're not leaning forward or back at your waist (which some runners do as they get tired).

As you run longer distances, be especially mindful of your shoulder placement. They may start to hunch over. Rounding the shoulders too far forward tends to tighten the chest and restrict breathing. It helps to look ahead. Focus your eyes on the ground about 10 to 20 feet in front of you.

Your arms should swing naturally back and forth from the shoulder joint (rather than your elbow joint). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbow. In the proper position, your hand should almost graze your hip as it moves back and forth.

Your hands should stay as relaxed as possible. You can gently cup your hands or simply let them relax, Just don't clench them into fists because it can lead to tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck.

Monitor Your Footstrike

The way that your foot hits the pavement is called your footstrike. There are different ways that your foot may approach the road. You might land on your heel, on the middle of your foot, or on the toes or forefoot (front of the foot).

Don't be a toe runner or a heel-striker. If you land on your toes, your calves will get tight and you'll fatigue quickly. You may also develop shin pain.

Landing on your heels is not a good option either. It usually means you are overstriding—taking steps that are longer than they need to be. This wastes energy and may cause injury.

Try to land on the middle of your foot, and then roll through to the front of your toes.

Nutrition and Hydration

You'll learn quickly that eating right and staying hydrated can make or break your runs.

Proper Hydration

You lose water through sweat, whether it’s cold or hot out, so you need to drink before, during, and after your runs. When running, you should pay attention to your thirst level and drink when you feel thirsty.

If you're looking for a general rule of thumb for fluid consumption during your runs, you should take in four to six ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. Runners running faster than eight-minute miles should drink six to eight ounces every 20 minutes.

Here are some specific tips for longer runs or races:

  • Start hydrating several days before a long run or race. You can hydrate with plain water; you don’t have to drink sports drinks.
  • An hour before you start your run, try to drink about 16 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid. Stop drinking at that point, so that you can void extra fluids and prevent having to stop to go to the bathroom during your run.
  • If you don't have access to water on your running routes, you'll have to carry your own fluids with you. Check out some fluid carriers that you can use to hold your fluids while you run. However, if you're running in a race, you shouldn't have to carry your own fluids because there should be water stops on the course.
  • During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intake should include a sports drink (like Gatorade) to replace lost sodium and other minerals (electrolytes). The carbohydrates and electrolytes in the sports drink also help you absorb the fluids faster.
  • Make sure you rehydrate after your long runs. If your urine is dark yellow, you're dehydrated. Keep hydrating until your urine is a light yellow color, like lemonade.

    Running Nutrition

    What you eat before, during, and after a run has a big effect on your performance and recovery.

    Keep in mind, however, that while running does burn a lot of calories, it certainly doesn't give you license to eat anything you want. Some new runners learn this the hard way when they actually gain weight after a couple of months of regular running. Figure out how many calories you need and focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet.

    More tips for pre and post run nutrition include:

    • Before a run, you eat something light that’s high in carbohydrates but low in fat, protein, and fiber. Aim to finish eating 90 to 120 minutes before you start running.
    • If you’re going to be running longer than 90 minutes, you’ll need to replace some of the energy you’re burning. A general rule of thumb is to consume 100 calories after an hour and another 100 calories every 45 minutes. Good food sources that are easy to carry and eat on the run include energy gels and chews, sports bars, or candy.
    • After a long run, to restore muscle glycogen (stored glucose), eat some carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run. A good ratio of carbs to protein is 3 to 1.

    Motivation

    When you first start your running program, you'll probably feel excited and energized about your new commitment. But, you're likely to experiences challenges along the way and these will test your motivation.

    There are a few common strategies that runners use to stay motivated. First, many runners join a group. Different types of running groups appeal to different types of runners. There are groups that run to train for a specific race, groups that focus on the social aspects of running, and even groups that run for charity or for a common cause.

    Another common strategy is to run with music. Listening to a great playlist can be a great way to stay energized, especially on long runs. However, keep in mind that using headphones during runs comes with a few pros and cons. It might be helpful to do some runs with headphones and some without.

    You might also want to start a running journal. Keeping a training log helps you to express your ups and downs as they occur during your running experience. It also becomes a great testimonial to the hard work that you've put in. On the days when you don't feel motivated, simply look at all that you've accomplished and you might get the energy to exercise.

    Lastly, fill your home, workspace, or social media feed with motivational running quotes. Simply surrounding yourself with the words of talented runners can be both uplifting and inspiring.

    Weather

    While we’d all wish for perfect, cool running weather all year-long, we know that there will be plenty of times when the weather conditions will be less than ideal for running. Here are some recommendations for staying safe in all weather conditions.

    Cold Weather Running

    If you run all year long, plan to do a few cold weather runs.

    Dress in Layers

    Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. Stay away from cotton because it holds the moisture and will keep you wet. An outer, breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex will help protect you against wind and precipitation, while still letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling.

    If it's really cold out, you'll need a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for added insulation.

    Cover Your Head and Extremities

    Wearing a hat will help prevent heat loss, so your circulatory system will have more heat to distribute to the rest of the body. Wear gloves or mittens on your hands and warm socks on your feet.

    Don’t Overdress

    You're going to warm up once you get moving, so you should feel a little bit chilly when you start your run. If you're warm and comfortable when you first start, you're going to start sweating very early in your run. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if it's 20 degrees warmer outside than it really is.

    Hot Weather Running

    It's likely that many of your runs will take place in warm weather. Here are the best tips to stay safe in the heat.

    Light Loose Gear

    Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing will help your body breathe and cool itself down naturally. Tight clothing restricts that process and dark colors absorb the sun's light and heat.

    Wear synthetic fabrics (not cotton) because they will wick moisture away from your skin so cooling evaporation can occur. If you want to wear something on your head to block the sun, wear a visor. A hat is too constrictive and traps heat.

    Use Water In and On Your Body

    In addition to drinking water when thirsty, you can use water to cool yourself during runs. If you're overheating, splashing water on your head and body will cool you down quickly and have a lasting effect as the water evaporates from your skin. Good spots to splash cold water are your head, back of your neck, and under your arms.

    Don't Push Your Pace

    On a race day or during an intense workout, take the weather conditions into account. Hot and humid conditions are not the time to try to push your pace.

    Don't try to beat the heat. Slow down, take walking breaks, and save your hard efforts for cooler weather. If the conditions are really brutal, do some treadmill running, if that's an option.'

    Cross Training

    Believe it or not, your running program should include more than just running. It's a good idea to mix other activities into your training regimen.

    Cross-training helps to balance different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries, and mix up your workout routine so that you don't get bored.

    Cycling, swimming, deep water running, skating, or using an elliptical trainer are all complementary aerobic exercises that will help you avoid getting burned out. Strength-training one to two times a week can also help with injury prevention.

    Race Training

    Once you've established your running program, you might become interested in participating in a running event. There are different types of running events.

    Running races are timed events where you usually wear a bib number and a timing chip. The chip records your time when you cross the starting line and the finish line. Results are usually posted after the race and top runners overall and in age categories often win a prize.

    Fun runs are often charity runs or runs organized to celebrate a common cause or raise money for a charity. You might wear a bib number when you participate in a fun run, but you don't wear a timing chip. These runs encourage participation but not necessarily competition. Fun runs are generally 5Ks or shorter.

    There are different distances for running events. These are the most common.

    5K

    A 5K race is five kilometers or 3.1 miles in length. While these races are shorter, they don't necessarily have to be easier. Many seasoned runners participate in these events and compete at a very fast pace. But because the distance is shorter, this is also a great race for a beginner runner.

    10K

    A 10K is 10 kilometers in length or 6.2 miles long. These mid-distance events offer the opportunity to challenge your ability to run fast and run a little bit farther. Once you've run a 5K comfortably, a 10K is a reasonable next step.

    10 Mile

    Ten-mile races have become more popular as half marathons around the country are filling up sooner. A 10-miler further challenges your ability to run longer distances and requires you to manage your pace for an extended period of time. This type of event is challenging but do-able for runners who have conquered 5k and 10K events.

    Half Marathon

    The half marathon is just a slight bump up from a 10-mile race but many runners find that small bump to be quite a challenge. A half-marathon requires substantial training and a smart organized plan. Very few runners can complete a half marathon with little to no training, even if they include walking.

    Marathon

    The marathon used to be the ultimate running experience, reserved solely for seasoned runners who could compete at a moderate to fast pace. However, marathons around the country now welcome runners and walkers of varying abilities. If you are interested in participating in a marathon, check the time cut-off and qualification standards, as not all marathons are a good fit for all runners.

    Ultramarathon

    If you've competed in races of varying distances and you still need a greater challenge, consider the ultramarathon. These grueling races often cover 50 miles or more (sometimes up to 100 miles) and many take place in challenging heat and terrains. These events not only take serious training but sometimes also require you to enlist the help of support staff to help you out on race day.

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    Article Sources

    • Hofmann, M., Young, C., Binz, T. M., Baumgartner, M. R., & Bauer, N. (2017). Contact to Nature Benefits Health: Mixed Effectiveness of Different Mechanisms. International journal of environmental research and public health15(1), 31. doi:10.3390/ijerph15010031