While you certainly don’t need to be an expert to start running, there are a few things you might want to know before you get started, and may want to keep in mind as you progress through your training. The are millions of tips out there (all of which I intend to share eventually if you stick around long enough!), but today I want to share with you my 15 Best Running Tips for Beginners, based on my experience over the years:
1. Start NOW.
I don’t care if it’s tuesday or friday or sunday. Contrary to popular belief, you can start a new workout routine on a day that isn’t Monday. ;) If you want to start running, start now! Don’t wait for the perfect day or the perfect time or until you’re “ready”. I hate to tell ya, but you’ll never be ready. You just have to get out there and get things started before you give yourself the chance to change your mind.
2. Find your perfect match…I’m talking about shoes!
Finding the right shoe for you is so important, and should be one of the first things you do. I truly cannot stress this enough. My advice? Visit your local running store and have them fit you for the perfect pair. I know what you’re thinking… $$$$$. Yes, a good pair of running shoes will cost you a little more than the those ones on the clearance shelf at the mall (though I, myself, am such a sucker for a pretty pair of shoes at an even prettier price.) But, I promise, you’ll thank yourself later. Consider it an investment in your future! The wrong pair of shoes could lead to injuries, bad form, and most of all, lack of enjoyment in your run. Bonus Tip: Once you’re fitted for a shoe, ask the store if they still sell last years model. If not, go home and look for them online. You’ll likely find last years model significantly on sale, so you’ll still get the right shoe for you at a fraction of the cost!
3. While you’re at it, grab some gear.
No, I didn’t say you have to go out and spend a fortune on a whole new workout wardrobe. I mean, you’ll probably want to because there’s something extremely addicting about buying workout clothes, but it’s not a requirement. :) In a weird type of way, having fun new workout clothes to wear makes me want to work out. There’s just something about a super-flattering new pair of running tights that motivate me to get moving! But in all seriousness, you really should invest in a couple of key pieces:
A supportive sports bra (for you ladies). It might run you a couple bucks more than those cotton ones you can get at in a 3 pack for $10, but it’s so worth it to keep the girls in place while you’re putting in work.
Moisture-wicking running tights. If you aren’t comfortable with running in just tights, feel free to throw a pair of shorts over top of them. But, in my opinion, running tights are a must have. Even in warm weather, you’ll find me running in capri running tights instead of shorts. Why? One word: chaffing. Yes, I’m talking thigh chaffing and it isn’t something you want to experience! Cotton bottoms tend to absorb and hold moisture, leading to discomfort and often, chaffing. Dri-fit material helps draw moisture away from your body to keep you comfortable.
Running socks. Yes, they’re a thing, and yes, they’re important! For years I ran in regular run of the mill cotton socks and really didn’t think anything of it, until a friend bought me a pair of socks made specifically for running and changed my world! As you can imagine, one of the worst things that can happen to a runner is a blister, and cotton socks and cheap shoes are typically the culprit. When looking for socks, you’ll want to purchase ones made of synthetic materials (acrylic, polyester, etc) that will wick sweat away, keeping your feet dry and helping to eliminate the risk of a blister.
4. Patience, grasshopper.
Let me just say, I have zero patience. Less than zero, actually. So when I decide I want to do something, I dive in at 110 mph. Translate this to running, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Trust me, I’m unfortunately all too familiar. Start slow! There’s no need to head out on your first day of training with the intent to run 5 miles (unless you’re a machine and can do that. If that’s the case, props to you.) Set a realistic goal for that run, then go crush it. Was your goal too easy? Great! Now you know where you’re at and can take a baby step up on your next run. Of course there is something to be said for pushing yourself, but diving in too fast with unrealistic expectations will only lead to burnout and a feeling of defeat. Start slow and I promise those big goals you have will be in the rearview mirror before you know it.
5. Speaking of goals, set them!
If you’ve decided you want to be a runner, you likely have a reason. Maybe you just want to be able to run a mile, period. Or, maybe you want to run 10 miles! Your first half marathon? Full marathon? Lose 10 pounds? Whatever it is you want to achieve, write it down. Write out your goals, and look at them often. I save mine on my phone and set them as my home screen, so that I’m reminded all the time of what it is I want to do. We all have a million things floating around in our heads all the time, and it’s easy for things to get lost and forgotten in there. Putting your goals down on paper makes them real, and harder to ignore without that nagging feeling of guilt.
6. Did I mention you should start slow?
I mean that literally, too. I’ve always felt like the first few minutes set the tone for the entire run. I know, you’re excited! You’re running! And you want to speed off like a bolt of lightening! Unless you’re practicing sprints that day, contain that lightening. Start slow! Really slow. Like, slower than you even think you should. Once you reach your half way point, if you’re feeling great and still have a lot of gas in the tank, feel free to pick up the pace. It’s a great feeling to be able to finish strong. However, start out too fast in the beginning and you’re bound to burn out.
7. Walk it out.
Let’s get this out there — there’s no shame in walking! I know, your pride makes you think otherwise. So many times I’ve hit a wall during a run and tried to just keep pushing, only to finish my run feeling miserable. A lot of times, a very short break is all you need! If you start to feel like you can’t keep going, give yourself a minute or two of walking to catch your breath and give your legs a tiny break. When you start running again, you’ll feel recharged and ready to power through the rest of your run! The key is to give yourself a limit. If you’re running outside, tell yourself that you’ll start running again at that tree up ahead, or when you get to the next block. If you’re on the treadmill, start running again after a set number of seconds or minutes. This will eliminate the temptation to walk for longer than you need to.
8. Run outside when you can.
Yes, I know, running on the treadmill does give you a perfectly smooth, flat surface to run on, with the ability to control your pace, incline, and all that other jazz. Which is great, and very useful for intervals, sprints, and many other things. However, I highly encourage you to run outside whenever possible. Why? Well, first of all, it is so much more entertaining than running on the treadmill. 10 or 15 minutes on the treadmill is bearable, but for me, anything over 25-30 minutes and I’m bored out of my mind. Running outside keeps me occupied and makes the run go by so much quicker. Not only that, but running outside is much more challenging, and provides a better training environment. Most new runners do start out on the treadmill, and the #1 thing I hear after their first outdoor run is “WOW, running outside is so much harder!” Yep, it sure is. You’ve got wind, uneven surfaces, hills, hot sunshine, all kinds of stuff! But the more you challenge yourself, the stronger you’ll become. So get out there, breath that fresh air, and run!
9. Distract yourself using any means possible!
While I do love to run, I’ll be the first to admit that while I’m running, the last thing I want to think about is running! If I didn’t find a way to distract myself from the physical exertion during a run, I’d be exhausted and burnt out before I reached the end of my street. Yes, running is amazing, but it’s hard work. And as I’ve said many times, I’m a big believer in doing whatever works for you in order to accomplish your goals. Find a way to take your mind off of the physical aspect of running, and you will find the experience to be much more enjoyable! For me, music is the ultimate distraction. Nothing puts me in the zone more than my favorite songs jamming through my headphones. If music isn’t your thing, try an audiobook. Or, if you’re running on the treadmill, try watching a tv show or a movie. Even if you don’t have access to a TV (like at the gym), bring your phone or iPad and find something to watch on Netflix. Get wrapped up in a show or movie and your run will be fly by before ya know it!
10. Remember to stretch, but not before your run!
The most common mistake I see in beginners is the misconception that you should stretch before your run. Don’t do it! Well, at least not the traditional bend-and-hang way. Before your run, focus on dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches take your muscles and joints through their ranges of motion and decrease the risk of overuse injuries. My favorite dynamic stretches are leg swings and deep lunges. After your run is when you’ll want to practice traditional static stretches, such a toes touches, quad stretches, calf stretches, or butterflies.
11. Mix it up — cross train!
While it seems to make sense that in order to become a better runner, you should concentrate solely on running, that actually isn’t the case. Cross training is key. What is cross training? To put it simply, any other kind of exercising besides running. My favorite, by far, is weight training. Once I started lifting heavy weights, with an emphasis on legs, I noticed a huge improvement in my strength, endurance, and speed while running. Cross training is your chance to do something else you enjoy, while improving yourself as a runner at the same time! Give weight training a try, even with just your own body weight. Start with squats and lunges. If lifting isn’t your thing, give spin class or yoga a try. Every type of training provides its own set of benefits, so don’t be afraid to try new things and find your favorite!
12. Run for minutes, not miles.
Each time you train, you should have a plan, a goal. When deciding on that goal, think in minutes, not miles. Whether you’re running on the treadmill or outdoors, give yourself a time goal. That way, no matter how fast or slow you’re feeling that day, you know that when that time is up, you’re finished. Start with 15 minutes and build up from there. If you hit your time goal and still feel great, keep going! Nothing wrong with a little over-achieving!
13. Test yourself — run a race!
Last winter when I decided I wanted to get back in to running (for the millionth time in my life), I immediately decided that I wanted to run a half marathon, and signed up for one within a week of my first run. Why? Motivation. Accountability. Without an event set in stone to keep you on track, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals or put them off. But when you pay $100+ dollars to register for a race and know that in a few months you have to run 13.1 miles whether you’re ready or not, it’s a whole lot easier to make sure you’re sticking to your plan! You don’t have to start with a half of course, pick a 5k! From color runs to glow runs, there are so many fun 5ks to choose from. Pick one that sounds fun to you, or one that supports a cause you believe in, and sign up now! Aside from motivation, participating in a race (whether competitive or not) will give you a chance to test yourself and put your hard work to use.
14. Run with your arms, too!
While you obviously need your legs to run, your arms are just as important. Don’t believe me? Try running with your arms straight down at your sides. Not only do you look silly, it’s a ton more difficult! For many runners, your natural motion will be to swing your arms from side to side across your body. But if you think about it, that’s completely counter productive. Your body is moving forward, why not swing your arms forward too? Try concentrating on holding your arms at roughly a 90 degree angle, at your sides (not across your chest), and swing each arm straight back, and straight forward. It may feel uncomfortable or slightly awkward at first, but the extra momentum will help propel you forward and take some of the work off your legs.
15. Always finish strong.
My cross country coach always told me, “I don’t care if you run the worst race of your life, always finish strong.” There’s truly no worse feeling than being passed at the finish line, so I learned to always sprint the finish, even when my gas tank was running on empty, and it’s something I’ve continued to do. Even on leisure runs, I always sprint the end. It’s usually just 15, 20, maybe 30 seconds, but that final burst of energy makes me feel strong and accomplished. Give it a try and see if it doesn’t do the same for you!
Most importantly, keep going.
Don’t ever give up. Running is hard. It’s hard for me and I’d be lying if I said it’s not going to be hard for you. You’re going to feel like quitting, and you’re going to feel like maybe running just isn’t for you. But you know what? You can do it. And it’s so worth it. Do it for yourself. Do it for that feeling you get when you finish a run and know that you gave it everything you had. Do it for the look on your friend’s face when you tell her you ran your first 5k. Do it for those moments of peace when it’s just you, the road, and your run. Whatever your motivation is, find it, and let it fuel you. You’re a runner, you’ve got this!
Now that you’ve got the info, put it to use! Get out there and start running!
If you found this advice helpful, or would like to share your own advice with us, leave a comment below!