The beginner’s guide to running: 7 steps to finding your feet
Ready to lace up and hit the ground running this spring? We have all the tips, tricks and tech you need
Running: it’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. If you haven’t run since your last PE lesson, it can also be a little daunting. Worry not – we have all the kit – plus expert advice – you need to help you get started.
‘Running is amazing for your mental health and wellbeing,’ says elite marathoner Alix Ramsier, who founded AJ's Run School with fellow championship runner Jo Vickers. ‘It’s a great way to get moving and give your day a sense of accomplishment when motivation might be low.
‘We believe in the power of running. And we believe everyone has the ability to be a runner, no matter how fast or slow you think you are. You might start a run feeling anxious, worried and frustrated at life, but you'll finish feeling a lot better, with a clearer mindset – at times, it’s almost meditative.’
Set yourself a goal
Having a goal to work towards is the best way to keep motivation running high. For beginner runners, 5K is a challenging but achievable target to aim for – if you’re a complete newbie, you can expect to get there in six to nine weeks.
‘We aim to get all our runners to complete a 5K run in six weeks,’ says Alix. ‘Many now run them on a regular basis, and some run even further!’
Make a plan
Once you know what you want to achieve, get out your calendar and block out those training sessions. If you’re starting from scratch, the NHS suggests beginning with three runs a week, using a run/walk or run/rest strategy.
‘It’s best to start with simple, small goals,’ says Alix. ‘That might be running to the end of the road without stopping, having a rest and running back. When you can do that, try skipping the rest break and running back without stopping.
‘Or it might be walking for two minutes, then running for one minute, over the course of 20 to 30 minutes. Then changing that to two minutes running and one minute walking. Whatever objective you set yourself, try to keep improving on it. Keep it exciting and keep setting manageable goals!’
If you live with a friend or partner, get them involved – people who exercise with someone else train more often and work harder than those who go it alone. You could even get the kids in on the act, turning your run/walk into a fun family activity.
If you’re going it alone, joining an online running community will allow you to meet like minds and share experiences, which can give you the boost you need to stay on track. ‘Running can be pretty hard at times, but Jo and I have built a very special friendship through running and we have created an environment with running together at its heart,’ says Alix. ‘We have a growing online following and a fantastic support system in place for daily catch-ups, which gives us a chance to touch base with all of our runners.’
‘We keep in touch over all platforms but mainly our private WhatsApp group,’ he explains. ‘We encourage all of our runners to upload photos and details of their daily exercise to get some recognition from the team. We have also created weekly training plans and organised virtual zoom stretching sessions with a local sports therapist. This weekend, we are doing a virtual relay marathon – all the runners taking part will run 2.6 miles in a relay format until their team hits 26.2.’
Alix and Jo share fun new ideas for interval run sessions on Facebook and Instagram each week, which you can use to vary your training, tweaking them to suit your level. If you decide to follow the Couch to 5K programme using the Public Health England podcast or app, the NHS Couch to 5K community is another great place to find support and get advice from fellow runners.
Get kitted out
The right kit is key. Look for lightweight, breathable wicking fabrics (this means they’ll wick the sweat away from your skin as you run). Running tights offer extra support and protection when there's a nip in the air. Throw on a no-chafe tank top or T-shirt (and a good sports bra, if you’re female) and you’re good to go. Feeling the cold? Add a wicking workout hoodie or running jacket.
‘Invest in some good trainers,’ Alix adds. ‘Too often, people will run in the wrong footwear, leading to unneccessary injuries.’ Why not order a few pairs to try for size? Listen to your body and choose the ones that feel most comfortable. Asics trainers are perfect for beginners – designed for runners, they're made with structured cushioning for a bouncy feel. Team with supportive, vented running socks to keep chafing and clamminess at bay.
Pick your playlist
Listening to music while you run can boost your endurance by up to 15%. If you want to run harder and faster, go for tracks that have about 145 beats per minute. Think Gimme Some Lovin’ by The Blues Brothers (144 BPM) and Change Your Mind by The Killers (147 BPM).
Made for pavement-pounding music lovers, the latest wireless sports headphones are designed to withstand rain and sweat and stay put under all conditions. Pair them with a fitness tracker or smart watch and you can go hands-free.
Perfect if you’re new to running – even if you're not new to exercise – the free Couch to 5K app will guide you through your first nine weeks of training, step by step. MapMyRun and Strava can help you to find new routes and track your performance, while RockMyRun dishes up DJ-curated playlists that adjust to your step cadence or heart rate.
Keep track of all those steps with a fitness tracker or smart watch. Fitbit Sense has a built-in heart rate tracker and uses connected GPS to show you your pace, distance and route in real time. For a truly hands-free experience, the Apple Watch Series 6 includes built-in GPS and lets you stream songs straight to your wrist, and even make calls.
Running is great for your health, but overdoing it can do more harm than good. ‘Staying injury-free at the start can be hard,’ Alix warns. ‘You will be using muscles that haven't been used for some time, which can lead to niggles and pain.’
Stick to three runs a week, and give yourself at least one day off to recover in between runs. ‘Don't try to do too much too soon,' says Alix. ‘Take things slowly at the start, and remember to warm up. You need to make sure the body is ready to move, or you'll easily pull a muscle.’
If you want to become a better runner, R&R is as crucial as, well, actually running. ‘Listen to your body,’ Alix advises. ‘If something is hurting, rest for a few days. And remember, ice is your friend – we swear by ice packs and frozen peas for any niggles!’
It’s also important to include some active recovery days in your training plan – things like strength training, cycling, yoga and Pilates can actually make you a better runner. Weighted squats and deadlifts will strengthen the glute and hip muscles to guard against injury and increase power and speed. Pilates builds core strength and helps with speed, and yoga releases post-run tightness in the hamstrings, quads and hip flexors. Using a foam roller before and after a run can also help. Aim to roll your calves, quads, glutes and TFL (outside hip muscle) for 30 seconds each.
Crucially, remember to keep a safe distance (at least 2m) from others when running outside, either alone or with other members of your household.
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We recommend you consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise programme.