How to Start Running – Tips for Beginners and Joggers

How to Start Running

Left foot, right foot, repeat. If only starting to run were as simple as this! The reality is that running can become “natural” once you get and follow a sustainable running program. Whether you are a beginner runner or jogger looking for a running plan, training for your first 5K, or needing a few running tips to start running again, this guide is designed to give you the techniques and motivation to get started and keep running properly.

Why Do You Want to Run? – Discovering and Setting your Running Goals

Before you take the first physical steps in your running schedule, step one is to understand why you want to run. While one factor may the most important, having multiple reasons for running may provide the balance required to keep on the roads, especially if an injury occurs or a little mental burnout creeps in. As an example, do you want to achieve better mental health while supporting a cause close to your heart by running? Write these down and keep them front and center to remind yourself why you endeavored on this path.

When I was a competitive college and post collegiate professional runner I became so focused on the competitive aspects that when I had a major injury (more on dealing with running setbacks later), it has taken years (almost two decades) to get back into proper running… and surprise, it wasn’t for the same reasons. So get out your pen and paper, and consider why you want to run. A great place to start is by listing out your running goals using an “I want to…” methodology. An example is “I want to lose 10 pounds” or “I want to finish a 5K”. Starting small is critical. A great resource for how to start small is Michael Johnson’s book entitled “Slaying the Dragon” which speaks to his running journey from first steps, setbacks, and finally Olympic glory. You may find that his story and your own (while maybe not pursuing the Olympics) follow the same path!

Now, back to the task at hand. When listing out your goals, you have to remember that they are exactly that… Your Goals. They should be small enough so you can get some early victories and build up confidence, but not too small where you don’t feel accomplishment once the goal is met. For example, if you stated that you want to lose 10 pounds by running, how about aiming for 5 at first? If you really want to take on a 10K race, why not give your running career a boost with a 5K? Try to get at least three different reasons/goals for your running plan so if you meet one, or if one doesn’t go as planned, the others carry you to the finish line of a becoming a runner. To help you get started, here are a few benefits and reasons for running:

Physical and Mental/Emotional Benefits of Running

The first benefit that comes to mind when running is typically for weight loss. However, there are several other substantial benefits that cross into the physical, mental, and emotional realms. This ranges from physical benefits addressing bone mass and heart disease all the way to mental and emotional benefits gained such as preventing mental decline and fighting depression. Deep dive into the benefits of running comprehensive guide to learn how running can have a positive impact on your overall well-being.

Companionship through Running/the Running Community

The running community is one of the most inclusive, friendly, and supportive groups in the world. Through our shared plight and pain, we bond and make relationships that can not only last a lifetime but support our running. Even those highly competitive, leave me alone type runners, still come to races and “feel” something being part of the greater running community… or they wouldn’t show up at all (even beating someone in a race means they are part of the community!).

One of my favorite stories to tell is of a close friend of mine who after being a spectator/supporter of my running came up to me one day and said he wanted to run 5 miles… Well, in a short time he discovered a whole new world, lost weight (physical and mental), met his wife and running partner through a running club, had kids, and is still running marathons and triathlons to this day! This is not to say that running is a way to meet that “someone special”, but rather that you may quickly find a lot of special people in your life who will help you get up for the 5am run, set goals, lift you up when you are injured, and share in your greatest triumphs and tribulations… because that is how runners are. They are no losers unless you stop running all together, and even then, once you had been labeled a “runner” you are always a runner in the eyes of the community (it’s just a matter of whether you are actively running or not).

There are running clubs across the world that train and run races together, with training often being the best part. In fact, the Road Runners Club of America has a great listing of running clubs in the United States for those looking to join one. Those who are pursuing a more alternative running slant, may want to cautiously consider House Hash Harriers. In either case, I highly recommend joining a club, it’s a low barrier to meet and get support from the running community.

Competitive Running

So you want to compete as a runner? The first thing to understand is that there are so many different levels of competition. Will you aim to be the top local runner in your age group? Compete nationally? Olympics? Before you go any further, competitive running can be a challenging landscape, but equally rewarding. The most important thing to remember when considering running for competition is that you should always compete against yourself/measure against your own goals… and if those goals align with being the fastest in your division, great! Where competitive runners have issues is when they tie their competition to another person to “beat” in a race. What if that person stops running? Who will you compete against? What if you never catch them? Will it dissuade you from ever running again, as it has for many who tie their success to others?

A better tact is to clearly define your success; not what others are able to do. I am not saying to ignore others you are racing against, but rather use the times being posted as a baseline to race against. When in a running race, it either comes down to who runs the fastest time or who runs the best race, as many races become tactical versus everyone pushing themselves for the fastest times (it’s why very few World Records are set in the Olympic Finals for an event).

Coming back to defining your success as a competitive runner, sets you sights reasonably, and be specific. Success may be racing against yourself for a personal record or how you fair in a local running division. In the end, we all race against the clock. So if you are focused on winning your age division, ask yourself what sort of time are the top runners in the division running, and if you can run a fast time, surely you will be in the top of your division. The entire focus is, and should always remain, on your capabilities. As competitive runners age, resetting goals becomes important as winning or placing high in a race overall tends to turn towards placing well in a division, such as the Masters Running Division. It’s a tough transition all runners face, but one that should be welcomed as the community of competitive runners is generally one of mutual support where you may find that your strongest competitor is actually you closest friend!

Running for a Cause/Charity

Running for a charity or cause is one of the most rewarding experiences a runner can obtain. Ironically, the runner gains as much reward as the charity or cause being benefitted by the race or event. Charity and cause based running are more than just raising money for a cause, as the awareness generated is just as important. There are many causes that all the money in the world can’t cure, but awareness can spread and raise the profile of a need. Just review a list of races to see a list of causes you never heard of! Aligning these to something you are passionate about will help you get up in the morning to run, because your running becomes more than you… but about the community around you. This community also includes several caused based running groups, such as Team in Training, so you never run alone… but team up to fight terrible diseases through your running.

A Realistic Running Plan/Running Schedule

Now that you have your goals in mind (hopefully written down and to be revised over time), it’s time to focus on getting into a realistic running plan/running schedule that you are able to maintain given your life responsibilities and events that may come up. This is a critical point, as many venturing into or returning to running overcommit and often fall out of good habits or give up running all together since they can’t maintain their running plan. As an example, if you determine that given your other responsibilities, you can run for an hour a day for three times a week, plan for a 30-minute run. Doing so will take away a lot of stress and allow you flexibility to run further if you have time.

Running is a major lifestyle chance, not something that is done for a few months before fading off. Think of all those who join a gym as part of their New Year’s resolutions. Gym owners love this because while they generally want members to maximize their health, they also know that in a few months their gym equipment will not be used as much/easier to maintain as people drop off while they continue to collect the monthly gym fees. Running is the same way, except that there is no monthly fee.

One of the most popular running programs out there is the Couch to 5K. This is a great program and has helped many run their first 5K, however, there is concern about drop off after the 5K is complete since once the goal is met many retreat into their previous habits. It is far better to focus on running for a lifetime and not feeling empty after the 5K is done! Therefore, this guide is focused on getting into and maintaining a scheduled running program with 5Ks, 10Ks, and even longer distance events as a natural by-product of being a runner. You may even find yourself running in some of the interesting obstacle races like Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash!

Getting the Right Running Gear

The first stop on your running adventure should be to your local running store. Local running stores are usually stocked with experienced, and potentially competitive runners, who understand and live the daily joys and pains of running. It is this experience that will ensure that you get the gear from the bottom up.

Running is a very bottom up sport, in that the shoes come first. You should take full advantage of any running gait, running form, and pronation analysis your local running store offers. Their specialization will ensure that the shoes you wear feel like a natural extension of your feet. This is critical for supporting your longevity, enjoyment, and injury prevention. Socks are the second most important aspect of running, since these vary in capabilities but may be able to provide moisture control, reduce friction, or even increase blood flow. A strong word of caution regarding running sleeves for compression, as there are growing concerns that it may lead to a dangerous blot clot disorder known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). THIS CAN PROVE FATAL! It is better to get a full compression sock in order to allow proper blood flow.

The next stop is what to wear while running. Be forewarned, that runner fashion may be a crime that the fashion police will bust you on (aka, wear your running gear while running and be prepared for a few gawkers when walking around in public). While you will receive many running shirts from races over the years, most of which are cotton based, it is important to have breathable and sweat controlling non-chaffing shorts, pants, head gear, and under support. You will also need to evaluate cold and hot weather running gear to ensure that you are keeping yourself protected from the elements. Running at night is another consideration that will require proper reflective gear, safety items, and possibly a running head light.

Finally, you will want to know how far you have run and possibly your pace. There are a range of great running watches, so more expensive than others, but if you can find one with GPS or pace capabilities, it will really help you know how fast and exactly how far you have run. If you can’t afford a high tech running watch, that’s okay, just ensure you have one with stop/start capabilities. Some runners who purchase the more expensive watches find that it has too many functions, while all the needed was to know the distance they traveled and pace. This is where a running pedometer may be more appropriate.

The Importance of Cross Training for Runners

When distance running you are going one way fast… and that may be towards an injury since your body is utilizing muscles that require other supporting muscles not directly worked out while running. This is where cross training comes into play for a runner, and should be incorporated into your weekly running schedule. In fact, it is one of the best running tips you will receive to keeping a long and healthy running career. One approach is to run 3 days a week and cross train another two. That will give you a full 5 days of exercise, and if you ever get injured, you have another natural activity to keep active before you are back on the roads. Many will claim with great hostility that the only way to become a better runner is to run, but if you are injured or not working out the muscles that support running, you will never be able to run in the first place. Additionally, you may overtax yourself physically or mentally if you run too much. Given this combination of factors, you can easily see that running is more about balance than going to extremes.

When incorporating cross training into your running regime, try to select workouts similar to the muscles and aerobic systems utilized when running, as these will strengthen the supporting areas necessary to not only improve your running, but help prevent injuries. Common cross training activities include elliptical, stationary or road biking, water aerobics, and cross country skiing. Treat these workouts with gusto, as strong cross training sessions will spill into making you a stronger runner. Check our growing list of articles to find cross training activities that are right for you.

The Importance of Strength and Resistance Training for Runners

When thinking of how to improve your running, strength and resistance training does not immediately come to mind. However, this acts as a natural supplement to running by increasing muscle to burn more calories, increasing endurance and running efficiency, and reducing injuries. Runners who focus on gaining total body fitness are simply more “fit” and able to enjoy a healthier running career by supplementing the core activity of running with cross and strength training. This may seem overwhelming to those just starting to run, and it’s the reason why one recommended approach is not run all the time, but support your running by cross training and strength/resistance training instead. We will discuss how to integrate these activities into your running plan shortly, but basically you should try to target a balance of your upper and lower body muscle groups by performing strength and resistance training exercises three times a week.

First Steps – Proper Stretching and Warmup

Warming up your muscles before you run is critical for loosening up and preventing injury. The best pre run approach is known as dynamic stretching whereas traditional stretching (static stretching) may actually cause an injury if performed before a run. Many runners, especially beginners, start by bouncing while reaching for a toe or pulling a leg muscle backwards as they warmup. This pulling and bouncing on “cold muscles” is what may cause an injury… the same as someone who decides to take off without warming up. Static stretching is really something that should be done after a workout, or independently as part of a dedicated stretching routine. So how do you warmup and stretch properly when running?

Prior to a run, the focus should be on a gradual warmup by performing dynamic stretching. This type of stretching focuses on slow and controlled movements across muscle groups while slowly increasing your heart rate to pump the necessary blood and oxygen to your muscles. Static stretching (sometimes called traditional stretching) is when you hold a position for 20-30 seconds, such as pulling a single leg backward to stretch quadriceps. This is best done after a workout to help elongate the muscle once it has been exercised. Never, ever, bounce back and forth while stretching!

You may hear runners complaining about their IT bands (Iliotibial band). Dynamic stretching before, and static stretching afterwards, helps to address this critical band of fascia that runs from the top to bottom of a leg on the outside. It is one of the more common injuries runners face, and one that can be helped via warming up and stretching the proper way, and possibly using a massage stick to help increase flexibility and reduce soreness.

Here are few resources to help you with finding dynamic, static stretching, and options for non-Yoga stretching:

Dathan Ritzenhein: Running Form Drills & Dynamic Flexibility

A Dynamic Routine: Stretch safely—before you run

5 Key Stretches for Runners

Static Stretching

Lastics

Pietrafitness

First Steps – Getting Your Running Base

You have set your goals, learned about running benefits, the importance cross and strength training, how to properly stretch, got your gear and now it’s time lace up your shoes for your first run! While you did a lot of preparation to get here, your first steps should be taken knowing and following a few critical things:

  • Talk to a doctor before beginning a running program!!! Make sure that you don’t have any underlying health issues that could hurt you by running.
  • Unlike the Couch to 5K and other programs, this program focuses on a steady increase in mileage until you hit 15 miles a week. This is known as a running base where you have essentially carved into your muscle memory and physiology that you are a runner. With a strong base you take on 5Ks and 10Ks, or just run for the sake of enjoying running. I am not against the Couch to 5K program, or others that set the 5K as a goal, but what happens after the 5K is done? Will you return to the couch or your “old habits”? Or will you truly love running beyond running races and make it part of your life? Technically, if you want to throw in a 5K race around week 9 or 10 of this program you could, but its only part of your overall enjoyment of running.
  • The first two weeks will be the worst, and you may feel like giving up, but the rewards (your goals) are worth it… so push through for a better you!
  • It’s okay to walk! If you feel like your legs and body need a break, take it. For example, if you can’t make a full mile, walk as soon as you can’t. The schedule below has a full mile to start with. Compared with other running programs, it does not assume that everyone is the same rather that we discover our limits naturally and some have more natural running limits.
  • Only increase your mileage by 10-15% a week.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other runners, including a younger version of yourself who used to run. If you are returning to running, erase all your personal records from your head… this is a fresh start!
  • It’s okay to take days off, push a run back by a day, or supplement a run with another activity such as cross training or a long walk! This is all about getting into and maintaining a running lifestyle to last a lifetime.
  • Don’t’ start running too fast, rather focus on feeling good and into a strong rhythm, especially the first mile of your run. As the weeks go by, this schedule will “mix it up” a bit with some track intervals and strength runs known as “tempo” where you run at an increased pace, capping with a longer run (known as Long Slow Distance).
  • Don’t’ be discouraged!!! You can do this, and you will surprised by what your body and mind are capable of!
  • Run with music or friends if you it helps you. Just make sure to be extra aware of your surroundings.

With these things in mind, use the running schedule below as guidance to build up to 15 miles a week. It may sound like a lot of running, but over the span of a few months it will become second nature and will have you wanting more! Once you hit 15 miles, you can either continue maintaining 15 miles a week or look at the next section to build on your running base.

Week Miles Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
1 3 1 mile, walk as needed 1 mile, walk as needed Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 1 mile at relaxed pace, walk as needed
2 3.5 1 mile, walk as needed 1 mile, walk as needed Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 1.5 miles at relaxed pace, walk as needed
3 4 1 mile 1.25 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 1.75 miles at relaxed pace, walk as needed
4 4.5 1 mile Cross Train/Strength Train 1.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 2 miles at relaxed pace
5 5 Intervals – 1 mile, .5 mile warmup, .25 mile with 30 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .25 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 1.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 2.5 miles at relaxed pace
6 5.5 Intervals – 1.5 miles, .5 mile warmup, .5 mile with 30 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 1.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 2.5 miles at relaxed pace
7 6 Intervals – 1.5 miles, .5 mile warmup, .5 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 1.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 3 miles at relaxed pace
8 6.5 Intervals – 1.5 miles, .5 mile warmup with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 2 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 3 miles at relaxed pace
9 7 Intervals – 2 miles, .5 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 2 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 3 miles at relaxed pace
10 7.75 Intervals – 2 miles, .5 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 2 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 3.75 miles at relaxed pace
11 8.5 Intervals – 2 miles, .5 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 2.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 4 miles at relaxed pace
12 9.5 Intervals – 2.5 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 2.5 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 4.5 miles at relaxed pace
13 10.5 Intervals – 2.5 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile with 30 seconds at increased pace, 30 seconds at normal pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 3 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 5 miles at relaxed pace
14 11 Intervals – 3 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train 3 miles Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 5 miles at relaxed pace
15 12 Intervals – 3 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Tempo – 3.5 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles at slightly faster pace, .5 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 5.5 miles at relaxed pace
16 12.5 Intervals – 3 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Tempo – 4 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles at slightly faster pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 5.5 miles at relaxed pace
17 13.75 Intervals – 3.75 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1.75 miles with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Tempo – 4 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles at slightly faster pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 6 miles at relaxed pace
18 15 Intervals – 4 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles with 60 seconds at increased pace, 60 seconds at normal pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Tempo – 4 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles at slightly faster pace, 1 mile cool down Cross Train/Strength Train Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 7 miles at relaxed pace

First Steps – Building on Your Running Base

Now that you have your running base, it’s important to plan where you want to go next. There are a few options:

  • You can run your first 5K! More on planning for your first running race in the coming section. Bear in mind that you will have built a lot of strength and endurance at this point, and this will allow you to enjoy your first race more… as a race should be a natural by-product of a healthy running lifestyle. While this is counter to the Couch to 5K and other programs where the 5K is the end goal, it sets you up better for more running or racing
  • Technically, you are already past the mileage necessary for your first 5K (which you could run in weeks 7-9), so you may want to consider training for your first 10K. In either case, this base will help you run a series of solid 5Ks or a few 10Ks with confidence
  • You can sustain the mileage and use this as your weekly aerobic workouts, as running doesn’t mean that you have to race. Remember that your goals may or may not include running for competition, but running always benefits your health
  • You can increase your mileage or add up to 5 running days a week for training for a 10 miler, half-marathon, or full-marathon
  • You can “mix up” your workout a bit with hill training and track intervals to increase your 5K and 10K prowess
  • If you are considering adding mileage or mixing up your runs, you should only increase mileage by 10-15% a week. Here is a sample running schedule with additional workout types where you alternate workouts by week (ex. Hills or intervals on Monday)
Miles Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
28 to 37 Intervals – 5 miles, 1 mile warmup, 3 miles with 2 minutes at increased pace, 2 minutes at normal pace, 1 mile cool down

 

OR

 

Hill Repeats – 4 miles, 1 mile warmup, 2 miles of running up a hill, then jogging down, 1 mile cooldown

Cross Train / Strength Train

 

3-5 miles at relaxed /conversational pace (where you could speak to someone if needed)

Speed Work – 5 to 7 miles, 1 mile warmup, repeats of 200 meter, 400 meter, 800 meter, 1200 meter, and mile runs on a track (ex. 8×400 meter and 8×200 meter in one workout) or a ladder of increasing then reducing distance (1×200, 1×400, 1×800, 1×1200, 1xmile, 1×1200, 1×800, 1×400, 1×200 Cross Train / Strength Train

 

Tempo – 5 miles, 1 mile warmup, 3 miles at slightly faster pace, 1 mile cool down

Cross Train / Strength Train

 

Light Speed Work – 3 miles, 1 mile warmup, 1 mile of 100 to 200 meter pickups, 1 mile cooldown

 

OR

 

Race Day

Long Slow Distance (LSD) – 7-12 miles at relaxed pace

First Steps – Planning for Your First Running Race

Now that you have put the miles, it’s time to plan for your first running race! By weeks 7-9 of the base training running schedule, you have enough miles and strength built up for a 5K and by weeks 17-18, you can tackle a 10K, but when planning your first race there are a few key points to remember regardless of the distance:

  • Sign up for a race! This gives you something to look forward too and signing up 4-6 weeks before the race allows you time to plan. Running in the USA has a comprehensive list of races and sign up links
  • Run with a friend or your running group. This gives you support during the race, and allows you to celebrate together afterwards
  • Make sure you have clearance from your doctor. This is mentioned many times in this running guide before you start running, but always work closely with your doctor to ensure that there are no issues preventing you from running, and if you have a medical need, speak to the race organizers to accommodate any requests
  • Bring your “fans”. Having family, friends, and your running group is a great way to support you on race day and celebrate your accomplishments
  • Don’t overthink/panic about the race and get there an hour to an hour and half before the start as you will likely need to pick up your registration, find where the bathrooms are at, where you will meet your family and friends after the race, etc.
  • Stay for the festivities after the race. Many running races are more running events with tents of fun running swag and food to visit, live bands, runners talking, and awards. Enjoy the festival of running because it can be as fun as the run itself!
  • While you can underprepare, a lot of runners over prepare for a run. If you have put in the miles, you will have the strength to finish and have a great experience
  • Drink plenty of water before and after the race. During the race, sip, don’t gulp down your refreshments
  • Sleep is critical before a running race, but it not so much the night before but two nights before that really make the largest difference. Make sure to get 8 hours each night though!
  • If for some reason you can’t make the race, don’t worry! There are races about every weekend across the world. This is why it’s important to focus to on the lifestyle of running versus a “one and one” scenario that may occur with a Couch to 5K program
  • You can do this, and if you feel you can’t, it’s okay to walk until you are able to pick the pace back up
  • Run your own race, at your own pace, and don’t worry about the other runners. This applies to whether you can run 4:30 seconds per mile or 12:00 minutes a mile
  • It’s okay to sweat, stink, spit and look gross… because this is not a beauty contest, it’s a running race!
  • Cheer for others, because they are cheering for you. The community of runners is exactly that, a community that cheers just as loudly for the winners as the last to cross the line
  • It’s normal to feel a little empty after the race is over. Once your first race is over you will likely want to be back in the race all over again (after you have rested up) to experience the joy and community of those running around you… but when it all quiets down, its normal to feel a drop, just don’t let this drop dissuade you from running. One of the best things you can do after a race is go for a run two days later… at a light pace to keep the good habits going
  • You might get injured, and it will be okay. Don’t get down on yourself or give up. Depending on the injury, you may have a “running setback” or may need to leave running all together… in which case you will find another activity to stay healthy. Running setbacks happen to everyone, from an off day to an injury, but keeping perspective and resetting your goals to be lower can really help take the pressure off and speed recovery

5K

The 5K is a great first race for beginner runners, as well as, a distance you may want to specialize in. It doesn’t take too much effort to build up to a 5K versus a marathon, but you still need to be prepared. Please read our How to Train for a 5K guide and keep in mind some key points:

  • You will have plenty of strength and running endurance to run a 5K in weeks 7 to 9 of the running schedule in this guide, so don’t give into fear about not making it to the finish line
  • Don’t go out too fast the first mile, but rather stay in a comfortable pace. As a matter of practice, if you have set a goal time, your first mile is generally 15-20 seconds faster than the overall pace you are aiming for
  • Line up according to your pace. All the times in modern races start once you hit the start line, so it’s important to start with others of similar pace. It may be crowded in larger races, so jog and give everyone space
  • Don’t deviate from your normal stretching routine of dynamic stretching beforehand. You may be tempted to do what others are doing, but doing so make get you injured or waste energy
  • Think about the 5K as a 3 mile race, instead of 3.1 miles. It makes it easier to calculate your pace and you will have plenty of strength and speed for running the last .1
  • Remember why you are running the 5K! It should be part of your goals and not the end of your running career so have fun with it

10K

The 10K is a natural step up for runners who have run a 5K and have enough distance under them (weeks 16-19 of the running plan in this guide) to run 6 miles. Many runners are tempted to skip over the 10K running distance in favor or 10 mile, half-marathon, or marathon races… but they miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn about how their body and mind handles this interesting distance that bridges the gap between middle and long distance running. The 10K will challenge your endurance and strength while helping you determine whether this is the top distance you enjoy to run, if 5Ks are more your thing, or if a step up to long distance running via 10 miles and up is what you crave. Adopt the same rules of running for the 5K with a few notable exceptions:

  • Try to separate the race into 3 parts. Miles 1 and 2 should be comfortable in that you are getting into your running grove, miles 3 and 4 should focus on sustaining the running groove from miles 1 and 2 while noticing increased effort, and miles 5 and 6 is where you need to focus on good breathing and seeing if you can catch the person in front of you. If you start to fall off your pace or get worried, especially during the later parts of the 10K, just remember that if you followed the running schedule, you have plenty of strength and running endurance. You should also look for others moving around your pace. It will help you as much as it helps them to get to the finish line
  • Sip, don’t gulp water/fluids at the water stops. If you want, it’s totally acceptable to carry a water bottle with you during your 10K race
  • More than the 5K, if you can find a running buddy, it makes the race and overall experience a lot easier
  • The last .2 of a 10K, since its 6.2 miles will seem long. At this final stage in the race, start lifting your knees, breathe a little deeper to pump oxygen into you system, and pump your arms while keeping them at 90 degree angles and not crossing over your chest since that restricts breathing. This will help you maintain running form and also prepares you to get into “sprinter” mode at the end of the race if you are so inclined to push through the finish line!

The Importance of Running Consistency

Getting into, and maintaining, a consistent running schedule is far more important than pushing yourself for faster times or longer distances only to fall off for a few weeks to recover, or never returning to running at all. Patience and consistency go hand in hand with running, and if you run consistently it is easier to keep the good habit going and build running strength and endurance over time. If you find that the miles or pace you are putting in each week are wearing you down, back off the miles and pace but try to maintain at least 3 days of running a week, even if that is a mile run 3 times a week. This allows you to stay in your schedule, especially when live events affect the time available in a day!

A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you can’t get 8 hours of sleep before your run, you may need to re-prioritize to fit your run in on a full night’s rest. Remember, a shorter run that doesn’t take much time is better than no run at all. This is where running as a lifestyle really comes into play. You need to make an active commitment to consistent running if you want to enjoy the health benefits or running or become a truly competitive runner. The reality is that life happens… you may have the new responsibilities of parenthood, work deadlines, tragic loss, etc.… but this is when you need to make the active choice to keep running a little bit at a time and don’t give up. When you find balance / more time in your day, you can work back up to the desired distance or running pace without sacrificing your actual schedule to run. This may require some discussions with those around you about your priorities and how they can be supportive of your running lifestyle… bearing in mind that everyone has needs. Plan on some short runs during strenuous life events, it may be more manageable for everyone, but will keep you on your running path.

Listening to Your Runner Body

There is a time to push and a time to rest from running. Knowing the difference can be a challenge, but it is imperative to listen to your body. Consistent running will allow you to get a strong baseline of what you consider “normal” for your level of effort while running. If you find that you are off pace or having difficulties with a distance you can normally run or run at a faster pace, take it easy for a few days or skip a run. External factors also play a role as a cold, injury, stress, or even weather changes can affect running.

Conversely, if you find that you feel great on a run and have more “miles in the tank” or believe you can pick up the pace, give it a try by adding a steady increase to see if your body is telling you that it is ready for more. The key is to not overthink it. All because you have one bad run doesn’t mean to pull back, and one good run doesn’t mean you are ready for the Olympic Trials. If you have a string of bad runs, it may be time to back off and rest a little or cross train more… and a string of good runs may give you the confidence it pick up the pace. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to miss a few days here and there, than to push yourself into an injury or out of running because it isn’t fun anymore. You will be surprised how a short layoff from running may actually benefit you, and while a longer layoff may be discouraging you can and will re-discover the runner inside you. In fact, you may not need a layoff at all, but simply reduce your miles and pace while staying consistent with the number of days a week you are running until you are back to feeling normal.

Many competitive runners “feel horrible” at the start of a race only to set records! However, they are intimate with what their body can and shouldn’t be doing. The good news is that you don’t have to become an ultra-competitive runner to hear what your runner body is telling you, but rather just get out there and establish a baseline by running consistently and learning what you are capable of.

Dealing with Running Setbacks

From the common cold to a more debilitating injury, running setbacks will occur. These can be extremely stressful and are not only limited to physical injury but mental or emotional blockages that affect the desire or confidence to run. So how do you recover from a running setback? The short answer is that you will but your running may not be same. In fact, there are some injuries, such as a car accident where the back is injured, where you can’t run anymore and hopefully can just get to the point of physical activity in another outlet such as swimming.

In these extreme scenarios, it is important to reset expectations and work closely with your doctor(s) on the physical side of healing. However, just as important, is to have the emotional support of others, as the prospects or realities of losing your running career is an event that requires appropriate mourning and in some cases, counseling, since running has become so ingrained in you as a lifestyle and part of your identity. In the worst case scenario of being disabled, your time as runner means that you will always be a runner so use what you learned to your advantage, that of hard work, perseverance, and the relationships you have developed to adjust to a new life remembering that “it’s not what you do, but who you are” that matters.

For injuries that will allow you to still run, getting back into the running habit should be a team effort between you, your doctor(s), and your support team. For a common cold, it’s a matter of rest and recovery before building back into your running schedule. In this, and other mild setbacks, it takes about 2 weeks without running to really fall out of the program, but you can pick it up pretty quickly by taking 10% of your mileage off of your runs for each week off before building back up (ex. Run 30% less miles if off for 3 weeks for the first week you are back to running, then build back into your normal running schedule).

Mild to severe injuries require more care and consideration, especially if the injury occurred while running. There are many elite runners who are “broken” after a major injury, and while the physical aspects have healed, it’s the mental aspects that are the issue. Acknowledge the injury, but don’t let it control you. So long as you have followed the doctor’s orders or done the proper physical therapy to be cleared, the build back into running can occur. You may have new limitations on what you can do, but the first thing to do when recovering from a setback of this magnitude is to reset your expectations to that of a new runner in the sense that you will not measure yourself against what you did previously but what you can do now! This is a powerful affirmation that may be difficult to achieve, but really comes down to how you judge yourself. Don’t worry about what others might say in regards to you. They might say “you used to be a runner” or “you used to be fast”, to which you must mentally reply “I would rather be a has been, than a has not”.

Lastly, burnout can occur where running isn’t “fun anymore” or you hit plateaus where you can’t run any faster. You may also be at the point of aging where the distance and pace don’t come as easy. This is not the time to give up on running, but reduce your miles and find a new favorite distance. You may want to consider giving back by helping other runners achieve their goals, assist at running races, be with fellow runners at events, etc. Basically, anything that keeps you around the running community will support your running lifestyle and help you gauge if you need to mix it up with some more extreme running (i.e. trail running, obstacle running, etc.) or even switch sports (ex. triathlon, adult league basketball, etc.). Whatever you decide, take the good habits of consistent exercise, determination, and confidence with you.

Next Steps – You’re a Runner, now what?

You have put in the miles and stuck to your running schedule, overcome running setbacks, and perhaps run a few races. At this point, running is part of your lifestyle to where you consider yourself a runner. In honesty, there is no threshold for when someone becomes a runner. No one else will tell you that because you have a run a certain distance or pace that you are now officially enthroned in the running community. You may only be running once a week, but what matters is that you identify with the running lifestyle. The question is, where do you take this new found lifestyle of running? For many, maintaining a running schedule for health is more than enough while others aim for competitive running, marathons, ultra-marathons, triathlons, trail running, obstacle or extreme running, and indoor or outdoor track and field. On the flip side others become involved with participating or organizing charity or cause based runs such as Team in Training, coaching running, organizing running events, becoming an official timer for track and field events, opening a running store, or volunteering at road races and marathons. Simply put, running opens a lot of options for you to participate. While the physical motion may seem straightforward, the world of running is endless.

Sources/Further Reading on How to Start Running

Why I Will Not Sell Calf Compression Sleeves; the Risk of DVT in Runners

Cross Training

3 Reasons Strength Training Will Benefit Your Run

Strength Training

Running Health Benefits – An Incredible List of Reasons Why You Should Be Running

Canadian Medical Association Journal – Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence

New Ideas on Proper Stretching Techniques

The Stick Massage Tool for Runners – Review

Static vs. dynamic stretching

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