Learn How to Run – a Beginner’s Guide
Dear Running Guru, my friends have all caught the running bug and keep asking me to join them. I’d love to get fit and lose weight in the process, but I’m worried that it’s time consuming. I work six days a week and have a family to consider. My time is precious. Please help me learn how to run. Jacob the Newbie
Hey, Jacob, thanks for getting in touch. At howtorunfasterandlonger.com we don’t consider ourselves gurus or experts, we’re just ordinary people with a passion for running that we want to share with fellow runners like yourself. If anything, we hope that the fact we aren’t Olympic athletes gives you the confidence that if we can enjoy running then anyone else can too, including yourself. Take inspiration from the fact that we were newbies once. It’s nothing to feel embarrassed about. Listen up and we’ll tell you exactly what you need to do next…
Get Yourself Some New Sportswear
- Shorts or leggings.
- T-shirt (long or short sleeved).
- High-visibility vest if running on roads.
- Lightweight waterproof jacket.
- Winter hat and gloves.
- Sun glasses or sun visor.
- Running water bottle.
- Sports socks.
- Smartphone running application.
You can keep it as basic as you want when it comes to buying kit, but the bare minimum we would advise is a new pair of trainers, a pair of shorts and T-shirt. Running soon warms you up so you don’t necessarily need a woolly winter hat or gloves, but they will ensure your experience is more enjoyable.
Again, sports socks aren’t essential, but there’s nothing that makes you feel better than pulling on a fresh pair of socks, especially when they’re combined with a brand new pair of trainers. They alone will give you an inspiration boost.
While we don’t expect anyone to go out and spend a small fortune, if you go to a sportswear chain they always have deals on and they do some really good kit for next to nothing. If you go for the more popular fashion brands like Nike and Adidas, you will soon rack up a big bill, but by forgetting about labels and purely looking for quality garments in the sale section, you will be able to kit yourself out without breaking the bank or causing a murder with your husband or wife.
Nearly everyone these days has a smartphone so download a free running application to keep track of your progress. Sports Tracker is one of my own personal favorites. Nike+ Run Club is another. Try them as your starting point and then experiment with other free ones, until you decide it’s necessary to purchase a paid version, which is something I’ve yet to do. Proof of how good the free apps are!
Keep it Simple Stupid!
I haven’t been in the army, but apparently they have a saying called KISS, which stands for keep it simple stupid. We don’t think any of our readers are stupid, but we do know that another saying might come true if we don’t keep it simple. The other one is ‘when you confuse people, you lose people.’ Hence, we’ll show you a simple running programme that anyone can stick to. The last thing we want to do is give you a reason to pack in before you’ve done yourself justice. All you have to do is push through the initial pain barrier, which we will keep to a minimum with our steady workout plan.
Mark Three Months on Your Calendar
Ideally, if you’ve got access to a printer, then print a calendar out with the next three months on and keep it on your pin-up board at home or work, wherever suits your needs best.
You will also be recording your workouts digitally on your smartphone so it doesn’t matter if you forget your times – computers have brilliant memories. Your running app will always be on standby when it comes to seeking out your favorite running route or times to impress your friends with.
How Long Should I Run For?
- 5-minute warm up.
- 20 minutes running.
- 5-minute cool down.
- 30 minutes total session.
Each session should be 30 minutes in total, which consists of a 5-minute warm up, 20 minutes running and then finally a 5-minute cooling down period. Don’t omit any portion of this programme, because you will feel better and less likely to pick up an injury by following these simple, buy vitally important steps.
How Many Days a Week Should I Run?
- 3 x 30 minute sessions per week.
- Rest between each session.
- 90 minutes per week total workout time.
- Intermediate runners can include an extra session.
For this three-month period, you’ll be running three times a week. If you’ve been running before and feel good to do more, then by all means take it up to four times a week, but for total newbies we don’t recommend any more than three times a week total. It’s not just your heart and lungs or cardiovascular system as a whole that gets fit, your bones will need to strengthen so you don’t get shin splints and they take much longer to toughen up.
You should give yourself a rest day in-between each session so for example: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday or Monday Wednesday, Friday. It isn’t the end of the world if you have to run on alternate days, but remember you might feel a bit more sluggish if you were to run on Monday, Friday, Saturday. The Saturday you would feel a bit tired from the night before, but on the opposite side, when you would have felt extra refreshed on the Friday. It’s swings and roundabouts, as they say. Two days in a row is fine, but once you are more seriously into your running, remember that when you run three or four days constantly without rest, that is when fatigue might set in.
Where Should I Run?
For a total beginner, the best course is a relatively flat one. Hills are really tough, even for more advanced runners; save them for when you have built up your strength and stamina.
Ideally, parkland is the safest option because you will be away from cars. It is easy to sway into the road when you are tired and not fully in control of your balance and coordination, so play it safe and run in the safest environment possible. Some parks will have a footpath all the way round that you can make a course out of, otherwise you can run on the grass, which will be softer for your feet.
Depending on what surface you run on will determine what type of running shoes you will require. Rather than get a pair of smooth road running trainers or a rugged set of trail running shoes, perhaps you can opt for a mid-range pair with a sole that is more multi-purpose. This will save you from buying two pairs of shoes and you’ll get the best of both worlds.
What About Warming Up?
Keeping in line with our KISS approach, the easiest way to warm up is to take a brisk 5-minute walk around the park or course you will be running. You can gently swing your arms about and shake them off, but be careful not to catch anyone in the face if they’re walking nearby.
Remember, you aren’t trying to smash any records here; the purpose of the warm up is to slowly raise your body temperature and prepare yourself for the run ahead. Just like a car, you need to be fully loosened up in order to keep yourself from breaking down and blowing a gasket.
Let’s Go Running
Start your smartphone running app and you’re off. Remember to turn on your GPS, and don’t forget to turn it off afterwards because it loves to eat smartphone batteries for breakfast, as you probably already know.
Set a steady pace and settle into it until you are almost feeling uncomfortable, then stop running and start walking instead. Don’t worry about running continuously the whole way around the course. We aren’t concerned with ego at the moment. Your running career will have plenty of time for that if you enter races and compete with friends further down the line.
Once you have noticed your breath start to settle back down, say maybe two or three minutes or so, then you can start running again. Alternate running and walking until you have done the full twenty minutes and strictly no more.
The idea being, you will get fitter each time until after half a dozen sessions you should be able to run the full twenty minutes without stopping. Don’t put pressure on yourself to do it in a set amount of days, if anything it’s more important that you actually turn up to do your workout. Being committed by running regularly is the most important thing for any new runner.
Eventually once you’re getting more familiar with your running, you will be able to run for 25 mins, then 30 and 35, 40 and so on until you are able to run for as long as you want.
Cool Down Time
Now you’ve finished the running portion of your workout, it’s time to relax and do the cool down. This is where your body will settle back down into its natural rhythm.
You can learn how to do some simple stretches if you wish, just one or two for the legs is all that is required, but for now just learn how to walk off your elevated heart rate until it has settled down.
Stick to this formula of 5 + 20 + 5 each session and 3 days per week and soon you will start to see and feel the benefit. You will enjoy your running the fitter you become because it will be easier and less stressful. If you keep it up you will also see a difference on the bathroom scales when you weigh yourself.
Listen to Your Body
Don’t feel guilty if you have to slow down for whatever reason, perhaps you might have an ache or pain. Your body will from time to time give you these messages. Don’t be a tough guy and ignore them because you could do more harm than good.
An ex-Doctor that I met, when I was supervising the building work on his house, was called Doctor Jerry. He would always go running on a morning and I noticed that he hadn’t been out for a few days. He told me that he was full of cold and hadn’t been out due to this bout of flu.
One of the worst things you can do as an athlete is go running when you have a cold. Your body has to fight off the cold, which is stressful anyway, but on top of that it then has to repair your muscles and recover the depleted energy levels from your exercising. In effect, it has two jobs to do instead of just one.
What usually happens in this scenario is that instead of missing one or two days, you end up missing a full week all because you wouldn’t listen you your body.
Sometimes being a wimp isn’t being wimpy at all – it’s being wise.
Keep Track of Your Progress
Stay focused and keep an eye on your progress chart. Soon you will be nearing the end of your three months. Your running career will be truly on its way.
Maybe you can set yourself some reward goals and buy a new item to expand your running kit. For every month’s running that you do, why not give yourself a trip to the sportswear store? Not that you have to revolve your life around running, because for some people it’s just about getting fit and into shape, rather than finding a new hobby that they want to dive into headfirst.
All we’re saying is to give yourself a pat on the back and reward your hard work and dedication.
More often than not, the hardest part of any workout is actually turning up. Once you’re at the gym, unless you are ill then it goes without saying that you will 99.9% of the time carry out that workout and complete it. On the other hand, if you don’t turn up at the gym or race track, there is 100% chance that you will never do that day’s workout.
The key is to keep yourself interested. Try and find new ways of enjoying your running and keeping yourself involved.
What About Nutrition?
You can read about diet in our nutrition section, but for a quick head’s up, here’s the essentials…
- Eating immediately after your workout is important.
- Fuel your body with a balanced diet.
- Water is important – stay hydrated.
- Eat healthily 6 days on with 1 treat day.
- Try 5 or 6 small meals each day.
When you exercise your body has to repair your muscles. It’s bit like cleaning up after a house party. If you leave it too long then the food will have dried into the carpets and your clean-up process will be much harder than if you did it immediately. Well your body has a similar problem.
Immediately after your run, your metabolism is speeded up and is more efficient at repairing your muscles and re-fueling your glycogen stores, etc. They say there is a 30-minute window that is the most optimum, but regardless of the exact time frame that is involved, all you need to know is the longer you leave eating after exercising the longer you will take to recover.
What we recommend is that as soon as you have finished running, either have a protein shake or some other sports-style post-workout meal/snack. This will be enough to give your body a head start in the recovery process. Then you can have your main meal afterwards.
The second-most-important meal of the day is your pre-workout meal. This need only be a light meal or more like a snack, but it is to fuel your workout. That said, however, it is more to fuel your blood sugar levels, because the glycogen that is stored in your muscles is usually stored the day before – although it is an ongoing process.
Try to eat complex carbohydrates before you workout, but afterwards it is the only time where simple sugars are okay, because they are absorbed more quickly into the blood stream so will speed up recovery.
Don’t Forget Your Beauty Sleep!
It’s vital that if you want to perform your best then you don’t want to be having too many late nights. Everybody is different when it comes to exactly how many hours they need to perform. We aren’t sleep experts, but what we do know is that you’ll feel much better if you get a minimum of 7 or 8 hours’ sleep per night.
Get into the habit of going to bed at the same time and your body’s natural sleep cycle will settle into its groove much better.
If you’re struggling to sleep, take a look at your caffeine intake and also alcohol can keep you up at night. Apart from that, maybe get yourself a new pillow. There’s nothing more relaxing than fresh bedding with the scent of laundry scent booster and a brand new pillow. You’ll be in sleep heaven and ready to run a million marathons.
Well, maybe not, but you get the picture.
Five More Runner’s Reads
- Sprinting for Beginners
- Running Apparel for Beginners
- Middle-Distance Running
- Best Running Apps
Have You Stuck at Your Running Plan?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments section, or send us an email and we’ll make sure we get back to you. Please let us know if there is anything specifically that you want answering?
Until next time, happy running!