Woman runner running in Autumn
How to Start Running

Personal Trainer Christina Macdonald’s guide for runners just starting out, including beginners running plan and her top tips for getting started.

How to Start Running

By wlr Contributor Christina Neal Personal Trainer and Accredited Life Coach

Want to start running? Christina Macdonald, Editor-at-Large of Women’s Running magazine and author of the book, Run Yourself Fit (Summersdale, £6.99), explains why anyone can run and how to take the pain out of getting started…

You don’t have to be fit or fast to run and anyone with a clean bill of health can do it, whatever your age, size or fitness level.

It’s a great way to lose weight, burn calories and get fitter (it burns ten to 15 calories per minute, which is a great incentive to try).

You’ve only got to look at the start line of the London Marathon every year and see the evidence. The marathon includes over 30,000 runners of all ages and sizes – young and old.

It’s never too late to start. Fauja Singh took up running in his Eighties after his wife died. He went on to complete eight marathons and at the ripe old age of 104 (you read that correctly!), he continues to run to this day.

So with the evidence right in front of us, why do so many people convince themselves they can’t run?

Setting off too fast

The answer is usually because beginners start off too fast. It’s common for new runners to set out on that very first run as if they were sprinting for the bus. Sprinters don’t run for long periods of time – even professional athletes can’t sprint for very long.

So if you start off at full pelt, it makes sense that you’re not going to be able to continue at that pace. Many people start off with a sprint, then have to stop and walk before deciding to head home, feeling very demoralised.

Then they tell themselves they ‘can’t run’ or ‘weren’t built’ for it. If your first experience of running was a negative one, it’s understandable that you may feel it’s not for you. But you can do it if you start slowly and gradually.

Try again. This time, forget about speed. Don’t worry if you have to start with a slow jog.

Beginners Running Plan

  • Begin with a five-minute warm-up consisting of brisk walking.
  • Run or jog for a one-minute at a comfortable pace where you could manage a short conversation.
  • Then walk for a minute and repeat these intervals several times.
  • Continue to alternate running and walking as above, for an amount of time that is appropriate to your current level of fitness. Beginners should start with 5-10 minutes and add an extra minute to each session to gradually build up your stamina.
  • As you get fitter, you’ll be able to decrease the walking intervals and increase the running intervals. You might progress to running for a minute and a half, walking for one minute and then repeating that sequence, then running for two minutes and walking for one and so forth.
  • Over time, gradually aim to build up to running for five minutes at a gentle pace without stopping. Once you’ve reached five minutes, your goal could be to build up to running for ten minutes. Add a minute to each run again.

So long as you can see small improvements, you will stay motivated and feel like you’re making progress. Make sure your jogging or running speed is comfortable.

Remember, you should aim to run at a conversational pace where you could respond to questions if you had someone running next to you.

As you get fitter, you’ll naturally get faster but don’t focus on how long it takes you to cover a certain distance. Focus on how you feel.

Consistency pays off

Starting like this is the best way to build your confidence and stamina gradually.

Be consistent with your running too. Try not to skip any sessions or if you do miss a session then don’t give up – just make sure you fit the next one in quickly.

It’s better to do three short ten-minute sessions per week every week, than to do five longer sessions one week and none the following week. Consistency always pays off.

Essential Tips for beginners

Now that we’ve covered how to start running, I’d also like to share with you my top tips for new runners – read this before you embark on that first run…

Get the Right Shoes

Go to a specialist running store like Runners Need or Sweatshop (rather than a sports store where staff won’t have any running expertise) and ask staff in the store to recommend the right pair of trainers for your running style. Try them on, run on the store treadmill or outside and make sure they feel good before you buy them.

They should feel comfortable from the outset and you should have room at the end of the shoe to wiggle your toes. You will probably need to go up a shoe size (or more) as your feet swell up when you run and if your shoes are too tight, you’ll get blisters or even lose toenails!

For Women - Get a Sports Bra

If you’re a female, invest in a high impact level sports bra meant for running. Your breasts move when you run and the ligaments in the bust are inelastic, meaning once they’ve been stretched they won’t go back to their pre-stretched state! This means premature sagging of the bust.

Make sure you know your size, and if in doubt, get a proper fitting. Talk to experts in a specialist running store again who will be able to advise you. (Be aware too that your bra size may change when you run regularly – you may lose weight and your bust may shrink, so you will need to change your bra size if this happens).

Make Sure You’re Visible

In the dark, wear a high visibility or reflective piece of clothing, such as a high viz jacket so that cars, cyclists and pedestrians can see you.

If you get cold running in the winter, try going out with layers on – you can remove a light running jacket for instance when you get hot and wrap it around your waist.

Always Warm Up Before You Run

Start your session with a five-minute brisk walk and gradually build up into a gentle jog, and then a faster jog until you reach your usual pace.

Warming up is essential to raise the heart rate gradually and it also releases a fluid called synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints and prepares them for the run.

Similarly, always cool down for three to five minutes at the end, where you gradually bring the pace down from a run or jog to a brisk walk and then a gentle walk. This is to gradually reduce your heart rate.

Don’t Be Strapped for Cash

Carry some money, a phone and some ID with you. If you are unlucky enough to twist your ankle or get injured and you need a lift home, some cash for a taxi or a phone to call a loved one will save the day.

Run With Someone Else

It’s safer in the dark and great for motivation. You’ll chat and forget about the time and how long you’ve been running.

It’s best to make sure you run with someone who has a similar ability level to you. Running with someone much faster could put you off, as you’ll compare your speed to theirs, and you probably won’t enjoy the run. On the other hand, running with someone much slower than you may be frustrating if you have to keep stopping for walking breaks you don’t need.

Never Skip the Stretching

Stretch at the end of every run and hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds. Stretching will reduce the risk of post-run soreness. Muscles will get tighter if you don’t stretch them, leading to discomfort and possibly even an injury.

Don’t run on consecutive days

Your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles will need time to get used to the high impact nature of running. Run three to four times per week at the most and on non-running days do some light stretching, yoga or Pilates.

Or try some low impact exercise such as cycling or swimming or some strength work at the gym, focusing on legs and core.

Don’t Overdo Volume

You may not believe it now, but once you’ve completed those first few sessions and you’re starting to feel more confident and getting fitter, you may get hooked on running.

You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction and you’ll probably start to enjoy your running. At this point, it’s easy to get addicted to the endorphin release you get when you run. Enjoy it, but don’t overdo it. Don’t increase your total weekly volume by more than ten per cent.

Running is a high impact activity and when you run, around three times your body weight goes through the joints – meaning that injury risk is likely if you overdo it. Respect your body and you’ll be able to enjoy running for a long time to come.

Sign up for a race – Having a goal is a great way to keep you motivated. parkrun is a series of free weekly timed 5K runs in over 300 parks throughout the UK. Visit http://www.parkrun.org.uk to find the nearest location.

Having a set distance to train for will keep you on track and motivate you to get out and run on days when you’d probably otherwise be tempted to stay on the sofa!

Help is at hand

More advice on starting to run, including training plans for beginners and tips on building mileage, as well as advice on nutrition for running, are available in Christina’s book, Run Yourself Fit. Available online at Amazon or in all good book stores.

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