A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, wrote Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. He was right, metaphorically as well as literally, and rarely do his words ring more true – in both senses – than when you’re learning to run. The journey may be long and it may be challenging, but if you stick with it, you’ll get to where you want to be – whether that’s healthier, happier, the proud owner of a race medal, or any combination of goals.
Whatever your initial motivation for lacing up those running shoes, it won’t be long till you're having fun, getting fit and able to turn with confidence to whatever goals you choose next.
To succeed you must follow a sensible beginner running plan – you'll find different options to suit your goals and ability here. All you need is a strong mind and the will to put your body in motion.
Ready to begin your life as a runner? Check out our running tips for beginners below to help you find your feet...
1.Find safe, traffic-free routes
Find safe, traffic-free routes that you can regularly use in all kinds of weather conditions. If you’re running on the road and there’s no footpath, run against the traffic, unless you’re approaching a blind bend, in which case you should swap sides until it’s safe to cross back. If you’re running on a treadmill, make sure you go slow enough to run normally – gripping the handrails can lead to injury.
2. Run at whatever time of day suits you
Quite simply, plan to run whenever you’re most likely to get it done. Many runners find it’s generally easier to fit in a session first thing in the morning. However, if that doesn’t suit your daily schedule, find a regular time that does. Then – and this is the most important thing – reserve this slot for running. Don’t forget your gear, don’t get distracted and don’t look for excuses (they can be very easy to find).
3. Start each run slowly
Go into every run with the idea fixed in your mind that you’re going to finish strong. No matter how long you plan to run, start out slowly to warm up, then gradually raise your heart rate as you go.
4. ...and keep the pace nice and controlled
If you have so much spare lung capacity that you could sing while you run, you're probably going too slow. If you are huffing and puffing, you’re going too fast. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to hold a conversation. Adjust your pace to stay at the right effort level.
5. Slow down on hills
Hills are a killer, whatever level you’re at, so don’t feel bad about slowing down on them. The key to conquering hills is to focus on maintaining an even effort – not speed – when ascending and descending. If you find you’re gasping for air, slow down or take a walk break.
6. Walk breaks aren't cheating
Walk breaks are a good idea for many new runners. They stave off muscle fatigue and delay depletion of your stores of glycogen – your prime source of energy on the run – which allows you to run for a longer total time than if you had run continuously. However, you don’t have to take walk breaks during every run if you don’t feel you need them, and you’ll naturally reduce them as your running improves.
7. It doesn't matter how far you go
Don’t worry about the number of miles you cover when you’re just starting out. The first step is to focus on building overall fitness and making exercise a habit. Plus, the health benefits result from the time you consistently spend elevating your heart rate. So, to start with, just get out there regularly. When you’re a little more experienced and confident you can consider investing in some gadgetry to record your distances.
8. Don't run every day at first
It’s important to give your body time to recover from every run so it can adapt to the training schedule and the new demands being made on it. Aim to run three to five days a week.
9. If you're struggling, slow down
When the effort feels tough, it’s very common for runners to tense up. If this happens, it helps to unknit your brow, unclench your jaw and keep your hands relaxed. If you’re still struggling, slow down. You need to worry about taking on fuel only when your runs start extending beyond the hour mark.
10. It's fine to miss a day
If you miss a day on your beginner running plan, simply pick up where you left off and don’t feel bad about it. Even if you’ve missed several training runs, you probably haven’t lost as much fitness as you think you have. The important thing is not to let this setback derail you; just get back on track with a run. Think of running as a long-term project and put the missed run(s) in the context of the hundreds you’ll do over the coming years. There’s plenty of time.