Learn how to start running, get better, and everything in between .
Illustration: The Lamen
Humans began running some two million years ago — and it served as a transformative moment in human history as we outran other species in the race of adaptation and natural selection.
Running is simple to get started and has remained a time-tested tradition that not only measures fitness levels but also helps with self-reflection and focus.
Here’s how you can start.
Overthinking is just going to hold you back, but some pre-planning and assigning goals usually works great in the long run.
Before leaving for your first run, there are some boxes to tick: Primarily regarding where your health is right now. If you’re a beginner at running or are carrying some extra weight, it’s best to begin with walking. Work your way up to walking briskly for 2-3 miles a few times a week.
If you experience any pain in your feet, knees, hips, or lower back, it’s best to take things slow. You should get things checked out by a physical therapist since joint pain can be a sign of underlying conditions like arthritis or tendinitis.
People who have a chronic heart or lung condition should consult their primary healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine. This is especially important if you plan to run outdoors but live in an area with poor air quality.
Finally, who should prepare for some discomfort — both mental and physical, since any new physical activity feels uneasy at first. You should listen to your body and stop yourself from over-exertion.
Running can be divided into four milestones for most people:
What you should begin by is assigning yourself a goal, and marking the calendar. Keeping things realistic always helps, but you’ll be surprised by what can be achieved in a few weeks: I went from zero running experience to running a 5K 3-4 times every week in just 3 months.
Running is relatively cost-efficient, but you can easily splurge on pricey accessories if you’re really serious about it. Of course, it’s best to invest in some nice shoes, and anything beyond that can be purchased down the road.
Picking the right shoes is all about trying what’s best for you rather than going online to pick one from the top of a “best running shoes” list.
A decent pair of running shoes can last between 300 to 500 miles running. Running apps often allow you to track your miles for a pair. To know if it’s time to replace yours, simply check if the midsoles and outsoles are worn or compressed.
A sports bra is a non-negotiable since running can get very uncomfortable for unsupported breasts — not to mention how it can affect your breasts over time. Avoid wearing cotton in general, since it absorbs sweat.
Wear a lightweight, zip-up jacket in the winter with tight running pants, and pick running shorts and a comfortable T-shirt or tank top during the summer. Additionally, try wearing a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
Your phone is typically all you need to track your runs — with Strava, Runkeeper, and Nike Run Club tracking your mileage, time, pace, and more. However, you can also get a decent smartwatch or fitness tracker if you wish to travel lighter.
While buying a Garmin or Apple smartwatch can get you accurate data, they get pricey as you add up the features. It’s best to not break your bank when gearing up for your runs.
Running can be a high-impact exercise, and neglecting proper form and technique is just asking for injury.
A pre-run warmup becomes ritualistic the more you realize its importance. As you warm up, your range of motion improves and your body prepares itself for intense activity.
If you feel like stretching before you run gets in the way, you can instead do simple, natural movements that improve blood flow.
There isn’t a perfect running form per se, with some leaning farther out while other run being practically straight, then there’s the hoppers and the heel runners. What you need to consider are the basics — which can help you shave minutes off your mile-time when a good running form becomes second nature.
Remember to lean slightly forward, lift and flex your knees, and maintain your natural stride — all while running to a rhythm. This helps you run more comfortably and makes injuries less likely.
Just like deciding between a push-pull-legs split or an upper-lower split, picking a training plan for running can seem too complicated. Here are some things to consider before picking one for yourself:
If you’re new to this, begin by running three days a week — alternating between a run and a rest day. Two of the runs should be easy runs, and try slightly pushing yourself on the third.
Here’s what a week of running should look like based on your training experience:
A 5K (or a 3.1-mile race) is the first goal for most new runners. You can typically prepare for a 5K in less than 8 weeks, and continue to improve your 5K time for a few years.
Training time: less than 8 weeks
One of the most popular race distances, 10K (6.2 miles) is what truly qualifies you as a regular runner. It calls for long runs that push your mileage and tempo runs to get to the finish line quicker. Once beyond the 5K, a 10K can be prepared for in 8 to 10 weeks.
Training time: 8-10 weeks
Less intimidating than a marathon but still formidable, a half marathon (13.1 miles) is what sets you up for a marathon. It means running about 40 miles a week, with an 8-minute mile pace being your norm.
Training time: 14 weeks
A marathon (26.2 miles) seemed to be the ultimate achievement for a runner before insane ultramarathons came along. Still, an everyday runner’s goal, marathons are events that attract massive attention and bring incredible satisfaction upon completion. Still, a marathon can take anywhere from 6 months to a year of training, all while paying attention to rest and recovery.
Training time: 6-12 months
You should also remember to mix in regular weight training sessions with your run — which makes you less injury-prone and can also improve your endurance.
Most runners follow the 80/20 rule — with 80 percent of their weekly mileage being through “easy” runs, while the other 20 percent being tempo runs.
The Run-Walk Method is a great way for new runners to get going. Popularized by Olympian Jeff Galloway, the idea is to run with planned walk breaks in between for active recovery — a way to avoid injury and improve endurance.
What exactly classifies as an easy run? It should fall under Zone 2 cardio, meaning you’re working at 60 to 70 percent of your max — typically measured through your heart rate. A simpler measure would be the ability to hold small conversations during a run.
These easy runs are meant to make you more comfortable to the idea of running, allow your muscles to build aerobic capacity, and help with recovery to reduce the risk of injury.
Running can be intense, and you need to have a game plan to tackle your runs — this involves planning out your nutrition and post-run recovery.
Running small distances when fasted isn’t going to hold you back, but preparing for a session with proper nutrition typically results in improved intensity.
If you’re running first thing in the morning, try having a carbohydrate-rich meal the night before. This tops off your glycogen stores and sustains you through your run.
For longer runs, you can have bananas, honey, or dates — all rich in carbs — 1 to 2 hours before beginning your run. Avoid eating closer to your run since you can experience stomach distress.
Distance runners often have to fuel themselves between their runs to keep blood sugar levels steady and maintain electrolytes. They typically use gels or sip on sports drinks throughout their runs to sustain the intensity.
In general, runners add about 30 to 60 grams of carbs for each hour they’re running after the first 60 minutes. Additionally, continue sipping on water — but not too much.
This is where you get to indulge a bit. Having burned hundreds of calories, you get to have a hearty meal before moving on with your day.
You can choose to have bananas with honey and peanut butter, potatoes, eggs, or a simple bowl of protein oats. What matters is consuming 50-plus grams of carbs to replenish your glycogen stores, along with 20 to 30 grams of protein.
Exercising in heat can cause you to lose up to 10 liters of water over a day. Therefore, hydration is something you need to keep a tab on after completing your run — making up for the fluids and electrolytes lost.
Don’t spend your entire day on the couch after a morning run — continue moving and lightly stretching your muscles to promote blood flow.
Many runners experience plantar fasciitis — the most common cause of heel pain. Such pain can often be fixed by stretching the concerned muscle, and you can find several fun post-run stretch sessions online.
Another thing to pay attention to: knowing when to stop. Feeling lightheadedness, nausea, cramps, or pain in joints or other muscles indicates your body is under great stress — which it needs time to recover from.