How to Get Into Running, According to a Coach, a Marathoner and a Total Newbie
Why is running so intimidating?
It’s practically free (no ClassPass subscription required), it’s a solo activity (hello judgment-free zone) and it requires minimal mandatory equipment (an Apple Watch is a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have). So why does the thought of lacing up and hitting the blacktop instill excitement in some (“just finished a 10-mile tempo run!”) and complete dread in others (“you couldn’t pay me to run that far”)?
If you’re on the “dread” side of the spectrum, you’re not alone. Running is definitely not easy. It’s an intense physical activity that takes time to master and patience to complete. It’s one of the hardest cardiovascular exercises out there, and it will challenge both your fitness and your will. But it also has the ability to change the relationship you have with your health which, as we all know, is one of the most important.
Like most relationships, the beginning can be awkward and uncomfortable. Ask any runner out there and they’ll agree: Getting started is the hardest part. So whether you’re looking to lose weight, be more active or just try something new, running is a great way to challenge yourself and get moving. Ready for a new, healthier you? Follow these six beginner tips for how to get into running, as told by a coach, a marathoner and a recently converted newbie.
Everyone’s running journey is different, so in addition to telling my story, I tapped two people with varying levels of experience to give us their best tips for starting out.
1. Tell Yourself You’re a Runner (and Actually Believe It)
It took me a while to finally consider myself a runner. I’d done dozens of races, but I never felt like I truly deserved that illustrious title or was at a level where I could consider it part of my identity. My relationship with running had been so up-and-down, fueled by the next race on the calendar and then extinguished by cold weather and shorter winter days. I’d log 30 miles one week in August and then let my sneakers sit idle for all of December. A real runner wouldn’t do that, my inner critic would say.
It wasn’t until I completed my first marathon in 2019, a bucket list goal I’d been hell-bent on doing, that I was finally able to let go of that self-doubt and call myself a runner. As I stood shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers in the starting corral, it dawned on me that there is no mileage goal or finish time a person has to reach to become a runner. You don’t have to race competitively, be a professional or even have all that much experience. A runner is anyone that has laced up and gotten out there, whether they’re braving rain and snow or just enjoying the gorgeous fall weather. “Remember, you are a runner,” says Emily Fayette, run coach and founder of The Healthy Hustle. “Whether you’re running for 30 seconds or three hours, you are a runner.”
Yes, running is inherently a physical challenge, but your legs can only take you as far as your mind is willing to go. If you’re just starting out, let this be your new mantra: I am a runner. Living these words and embracing them wholeheartedly will give you the strength you need to sprint up that last hill.
2. Find a Program You Love, Sign Up for a Race or Join a Running Group
You’re a runner! Look at you, ready to conquer those sidewalks, bike paths, suburban streets and trailheads. But now comes the hard part: staying motivated. This is where the beauty of the running community comes in. A study conducted by the University of Aberdeen found that an exercise buddy can increase the amount of physical activity a person will engage in. The American College of Sports Medicine also recommends buddying up, echoing the power of staying connected: “Companionship makes exercise fun and creates accountability. Incorporating the social aspects of exercise can keep you engaged. Letting a friend down may be harder than letting yourself down.”
Chelsea Candelario, a fellow PureWow editor who’s currently training for her first 5K, couldn’t agree more and suggests that new runners also find a program that suits their lifestyle and fitness goals (she’s using one by Pahla B Fitness). “I started doing a 12-week program that builds on your run lengths each week,” she explains. “I also joined a running group hosted by the New York Road Runners that organizes weekly meet-ups in public parks across all five boroughs to run or walk at your own pace.” Candelario’s recent running journey began as a family affair. “My mother persuaded me to start running. She was interested in doing a 5K and needed a buddy.” Establishing that buddy was one of her top pieces of advice: “I love having someone that can keep me accountable with running. It’s also a great way to stay motivated when the couch is calling our names.”
For Fayette, working toward a goal and connecting with other athletes is key to a long-term relationship with running. “I believe we are stronger together and I encourage all runners at any level to join a group or grab a friend to help you achieve your running goals.” When she’s not training others and spreading smiles on Instagram, Fayette is out there shattering PRs (that’s “personal records,” for you newbies) and crushing new goals: “As a competitive marathon runner, I put obstacles in my way on purpose. I set extremely big goals for myself each training period, pushing to failure during most speed sessions and challenging mileage on long runs. These obstacles and challenges are where I find new strength.” Perhaps you’ll find yours there too––though we’ll settle for a few loops around the block.
If you’ve recently signed up for a race or are looking to lock one in soon, there are a ton of free training plans available online. Nike offers packages covering some of the most popular distances, including 5K, 10K, half-marathon and marathon. The free running app Nike Run Club also offers guided runs lead by some of the best coaches and athletes in the industry. If you’re a social butterfly who loves running with others, check out the Road Runner’s Club of America search resource to find a group near you (or even start your own).
3. Don’t Skip the Warmup (Or the Cool Down)
As a new runner, your body is about to experience some aches and pains it’s not used to feeling, so proper technique both before and after your run is essential to maintaining good health. “Your warmup and cool down are just as important as your run,” Fayette tells us. “Take time before your run to get your body ready to work.” This can be done through dynamic stretching, which is a great way to relieve built-up tension and prevent future strains. Dynamic stretching should be active and energetic (no sit-and-hold here). Think butt kicks, side shuffles, walking quad stretch, anything that activates multiple muscle groups and incorporates movement.
Beginners often skip this step, thinking it’s unnecessary or a waste of time without realizing that it actually has a huge impact on the quality of your run. Think back to the last “bad run” you had. Did you prioritize the warmup? Simply put, dynamic stretching gets your body up to speed, sending neurological signals from your brain to your muscle fibers and connective tissue, preparing it for activity.
The cool down, though not as critical, helps lower your heart rate, relax your muscles and steady your breathing. It also helps your body eliminate lactic acid and other metabolic waste that builds up as you exercise. “After a run, or any physical activity, you need to return your body to a state of rest,” Fayette advises. This resting state is where your body’s rehab and recovery begin, preparing it for your next physical challenge.
4. Create a Running Playlist You Can’t Wait to Listen To
Fun fact: Music can increase your running performance by 15 percent. Can’t stand the sound of your own breathing and need something to pump you up? Open a music app and put together a personalized playlist of your favorite upbeat songs. If you’re new to the playlist game, Spotify is an easy place to start. “I found a bunch of pre-made running playlists on Spotify and I love it,” Candelario tells us. “The music blends together into one continuous song to make it easy for me to just focus on running. I highly recommend it if you're too lazy to make your own.” To help you maintain your ideal pace (and avoid any frantic song skips) find music that coincides with your stride. This can be anywhere from 120 BPM (beats per minute) to 180 BPM and beyond, depending on your speed. Find your sweet spot, crank up the volume and sweat it out.
If you’ve tried the music thing and it’s just not for you, maybe podcasts are your jam or even an audiobook on Audible. You might even be that rare breed who can run for hours in total silence (props to you). Whatever you’re feeling that day, whether it’s Lady Gaga or J.K. Rowling, make it entirely yours.
5. Walking Does Not Equal Weakness
Repeat after me: Walking does not equal weakness. In fact, most coaches agree that the run-walk-run method is the best way to ease into running if you’re new to the sport. Pioneered by American Olympian Jeff Galloway, this technique acts as a form of interval training by alternating between two states of movement allowing for quicker recovery and reduced risk of injury. It incorporates timed running intervals broken up by brief walking breaks at whatever ratio works best for you.
To help you get started, we asked coach Fayette to provide an example weekly run plan: “Start with a time goal and run/walk combination to ease into running. I suggest 20 minutes, two to three times per week with one to two rest days between runs. You can start with a one-minute run, two-minute walk combination and slowly increase your running time.”
After your dynamic stretching (see above), Fayette suggests starting your run with five to 10 minutes of walking. Once you start running, don’t stress about the pace: You’re the boss here. “You want the pace to feel good,” Fayette says. “Running should be fun! Keep it in a range where you’re still able to hold a conversation or sing a song.” And above all, listen to your body. “Enjoy the process and set realistic goals.”
6. Remember Why You Started and Enjoy Each Run...Even the Bad Ones
Not every run will be perfect, but focusing in on why you decided to start is how you’ll overcome every hurtle, both mental and physical. For Fayette, running is where she feels the freest. “Running is my meditation. I use my runs to explore my thoughts, work through challenges and brainstorm how I can maximize my impact in the world.” For Candelario, it’s a newfound appreciation for herself and what she’s capable of. “It’s a moment out of my day that I don’t have to think about work or anything that I’ve been anxious about,” she says. “It’s a great self-care tool. I love that I can run at my own pace. I’m not competing with anyone. I can just simply...run.”
For me, running was the competitive outlet I needed in my post-college days. Races fueled my training and the endorphins ignited my passion. On the days when I’m too tired to get out of bed or just not feeling it, I try to remind myself why I started. Each run—good, bad, short, long, in a group, on my own, with music, sans cell phone, 6 a.m., 6 p.m.—is a chance to show up for myself, to find new strength, explore a new neighborhood or just let go and be. Even on bad runs when I sputter out at two miles and decide to walk home, I take note of what went wrong and try to learn from it. Did I rush through my warmup? Did I drink enough water?
Your success as a runner isn’t measured by one run or even one race, so count every step forward as a win and every step back as a chance to try again.
Before you start mapping out your neighborhood route, make sure you have the right running gear on hand. All you really need to get started is a good pair of shoes, but with so many out there it can be hard to find the right ones. To help narrow it down, head over to your local running store and ask for an evaluation. They'll measure your feet, examine your gait and make some recommendations. For clothing, stick to fabrics that are light and breathable and embrace the convenience of layers. Additional tools like headphones, foam rollers and armbands may also be beneficial as you rev up your training.