Has this ever happened to you?
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love pounding the pavement in tiny shorts and those who believe that to run is to hurt while getting increasingly bored. But there is a way to reap running’s health benefits while enjoying the ride — even if you’re not super in shape or naturally athletic, or even if you’ve already tried and ditched running in the past.
To figure out how to start running, stick with it, and not hate it (or your life) BuzzFeed Life talked via email to two running coaches: Jason Fitzgerald, USATF-certified running coach, 2:39 marathoner, and founder of Strength Running; and Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, personal trainer, and managing director and owner of JK Conditioning in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Here’s their best advice:
1. Your first move: Set realistic expectations for what running will actually be like.
“I think new runners might hate running when their expectations aren’t met,” says Kawamoto. Running does involve some level of skill, so you need to start slow. If not, it will be hard, maybe feel terrible, and might even convince you that you’re bad at running and should never run again. “People usually like things they’re good at,” says Kawamoto. “Running is no different.”
So don’t expect super-impressive mileage and speed your first month out. Give yourself time to get there.
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2. Invest in high-quality running sneakers.
Hold off on buying all those expensive accessories like GPS watches, technical apparel, and fitness trackers until you’re totally obsessed with running. For the moment, all you really need is a good pair of sneakers: ones that fit your feet and your stride. “Generally, shoes in the $70–$100 range are just fine,” Fitzgerald says. Take our running shoe quiz to figure out what you might want, then go to a specialty running store to get fit for the right pair.
3. Absolute beginners should start with lots of walking.
Both Kawamoto and Fitzgerald recommended starting small, especially if you’re running for the very first time or haven’t exercised in a while. Kawamoto recommends one minute of brisk walking, followed by one minute of jogging, repeated 10 to 15 times. Start doing this twice a week and see how you feel.
4. But if you have some background in a cardio activity, you can start with something a bit more challenging.
If you already have a bit of a base for cardio fitness — flag football Sundays, your kickball league, cross-country skiing, weekly squash throwdowns, etc. — Kawamoto recommends starting with a slow and steady 20- to 30-minute run. You can run outside, on the treadmill, on a trail — wherever you prefer. Plan to run two to three times per week when you’re just starting out (more on that below).
5. Do not go hard or go home.
When you’re first starting out, you don’t want to overexert yourself, says Fitzgerald, who recommends the three C’s of easy running: comfortable, controlled, and conversational.
Basically your discomfort while running should be minimal — your pace should allow you to hold a conversation with a running partner. If you’re running alone, test yourself by speaking aloud to an imaginary running buddy. If you’re running so hard you can manage only a word or two, slow down. If you’re able to talk more or less comfortably, your effort is just right.
6. And don’t stretch before you run.
According to Fitzgerald, static stretching (holding a muscle in a stretched, fixed position for about 30 seconds) “has actually been shown to increase the risk of injury and reduce performance if done before a run.”
7. But definitely warm up with about five minutes of bodyweight movements.
Though static stretching is a no-no, your run will feel a lot better if you warm up beforehand. Fitzgerald’s three-minute dynamic warm-up will “prepare you for your run by lubricating joints, increasing heart rate, warming the muscles, opening capillaries, and getting the central nervous system primed for running.” It will also reduce your risk of injury, Fitzgerald says. The movements require only your body’s weight and can be done pretty much anywhere. If the ground is wet and you can’t warm up indoors, you can just skip the first few moves of the warm-up (they’re the only ones that require you to touch the ground).
Watch the full video with all the moves here.
8. Plan to run two or three days per week.
You know how we just said that “go hard or go home” isn’t really a thing when you’re getting started with running? Well that’s as much about your overall weekly mileage as it is each individual run. Fitzgerald recommends that new runners start with two to three days of running each week. Then, after you’ve been running for four to six weeks, you can add an additional day of short, easy running to your week.
10. Stick to one longer run per week, and add a mile to it every two weeks or so.
Increasing your mileage too soon is a recipe for a miserable run, diminished self-confidence and enjoyment, and injury. Choose one day per week that you’ll run a little farther than usual. Fitzgerald recommends adding about one mile to your long run every two weeks or so. So let’s say your Saturday long run is three miles. After you’ve done that for two weeks in a row, your next long run can be four miles.
11. Mix in at least a little bit of strength training.
Both Kawamoto and Fitzgerald recommend strength training to reduce the risk of injury and prep your body for comfortable running. Fitzgerald recommends doing a simple 10- to 15-minute bodyweight strength workout after every run. “This strategy will limit the risk of injury and increase strength so that running is a lot easier. A runner-friendly core workout or hip-strengthening routine is a great place to start,” he says.
Here’s a seven-minute bodyweight workout from Fitzgerald’s site.
12. After you’ve run three or four times, start adding strides to the end of your runs.
Strides are 100-meter accelerations that take about 20 to 30 seconds each. Here’s how you do one: Start out jogging, increase your pace until you reach about 95% of your max speed, and then gradually slow to a stop. Rest for 45 seconds to 90 seconds between each stride. Start with four strides in a row (with rest) and do them after easy runs up to three times per week. After three or four weeks of doing strides consistently, you can do six strides at a time.
As Fitzgerald explains strides are great for loosening up after a long run or preparing to race. But they’re also a great way for beginners to become more efficient runners, to run faster with less effort, and to transition to doing some faster workouts. You can read lots more about them here.
13. Once you’ve mastered strides, add a speed workout into your schedule.
After about six weeks of running regularly and doing strides, Fitzgerald recommends trying to do a more structured speed workout. A good routine for beginners would be six repetitions of 30 seconds at a hard but manageable pace, with two minutes of very easy jogging in between each rep. You can do one of these per week.
Even if you’re not interested in racing, running faster has undeniable benefits, says Fitzgerald: “[N]ot only will runners get in better overall shape, [but] pace variety can contribute to injury prevention (so long as the workout isn’t too hard) and faster running reinforces proper running form.”
14. Don’t worry too much about speed or distance, just focus on being consistent.
As a beginner, the only thing you really need to think about is sticking to your running schedule. After a few weeks of running consistently new runners “will find they need to walk less, their breathing comes easier, and there isn’t as much soreness,” Fitzgerald says.
The great thing about being new to running is that it won’t take a super-long time to start seeing some serious gains in your performance. “After a few months, runners can start running long runs of five to seven miles and do a weekly faster workout,” Fitzgerald says.
15. Use an app to note your progress/brag about your greatness.
After each run, note the distance and time, how you were feeling (physically and mentally if you want!), what the weather was like, and anything else relevant about the route. This will not only let you look back and see how far you’ve come (which will motivate you to keep going), it will also help you note any patterns, like that you get pretty sore after you run hills or that the windier it is the more you hate your life or that you have a lot more fun when you run in the morning, etc. All of this data will help you get to know your running style better.
An app like LogMyRun prompts you to enter data about your run, automatically uploads the weather wherever you are, and provides a notes field to add anything relevant.
16. If you’re running to lose weight, keep in mind that your calorie-burning potential will change over time.
Because burning more calories than you’re consuming is central to weight loss, using running to bump up your calorie burn can potentially help you lose weight, explains Kawamoto. But keep in mind that as your body adapts to running, it will do so more efficiently — meaning that as you get fitter, you will burn fewer calories to do the same run. “Running a 30-minute loop at a given pace on day 60 will burn fewer calories compared to running the same 30-minute loop at the same pace on day one,” says Kawamoto.
For this reason if you want to keep losing weight as you get fitter, you’ll need to either limit your calories as you continue to do the same runs, or burn more calories during your runs by running longer distances or doing higher-intensity workouts like speedwork mentioned above or bodyweight workouts like these. Kawamoto recommends tracking your caloric intake with an app like MyFitnessPal.
Check out BuzzFeed Life’s previous reporting on fat loss for more info.
Thumb and social image via Thinkstock and Flickr user Patrick/Creative Commons.
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