How to start running – tips for beginners

Slowly building up your stamina and fitness is the best way to start running as it allows your body to adapt over time.

Everyday, millions of people just like you don their running shoes, hit play on their guilty pleasure playlists and head out the door. They’re there, come rain or shine, getting healthier with every step.

The benefits of running include, improving heart health, lung health, increasing joint strength and stability, and it could also reduce the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

It’s easy to learn how to start running as a beginner and make it a part of your fitness routine. With a few simple steps (both literally and figuratively), you could change your life as soon as you finish this article.   

Man running with headphonesCredit: Shutterstock/ Jacob Lund

Seek your doctors advice before starting any new exercise regime.

That said, there are a few fundamentals to think about before you get going – but once you’ve got a grasp of these simple things, you’ll be able to pound the streets or take to the trails with confidence and start enjoying a new chapter of health, happiness (and a modicum of smugness too). 

Running kit

What should I wear when I start running?

Running shoes

A pair of running shoes – rather than your grotty old trainers – are the most important consideration when you begin running.  

If you wear the incorrect shoes, you can almost guarantee it will lead to some sort of running injury – shin splints or a stress fracture, for example – that could set you back for weeks, if not months.  

The simplest way to find your perfect pair is to get yourself to a running shop, such as Runners Need. A staff member will assess your running style (called gait analysis) on a treadmill or outside and ask you a few questions to understand how often you’ll be running and on what type of surface you’ll mostly be on – road running vs trail running, for example. 

Our running gear essentials guide explains the shoe-fitting process further.  

Running clothes

When shopping for running clothes look for the phrase, “sweat-wicking”. These types of clothes are designed to make you more comfortable by pulling moisture away from your skin to the outside surface of the fabric – that then evaporates when exposed air.   

Quick-drying and breathable running clothes can also contribute to a more pleasant run and consider the weather before you set off.  

Fuller says, “If you’re exercising outdoors, make sure you’re dressed for the weather. In cold weather, lots of light layers allow you to remove clothes as you warm up and remember gloves and warm socks are important in cold weather to protect the hands and feet.   

“When it’s warm, aim for loose clothing that will let the air circulate around the body. You’ll feel better exercising if your clothing allows freedom of movement.” 

Running tech

Technology can be useful to help you build your training routine, so you can keep an eye your workouts. A fitness tracker is a good place to start so that you can keep an eye on your heart rate to make sure it’s not going too high.  

Our heart rate zones guide explains how to understand where yours should be, when exercising. 

Further down the line, you can explore the running tech that can help you run faster, if you like – but remember it’s not all about speed – running is about enjoying the freedom of moving, so have fun with it and go at your own pace.  

Your first running session

Warm up, walk, run

When you head out for your first (and subsequent) runs, it’s helpful to break your session down into three key parts: warm-up, walking and, finally, running.

Running warm-up

Running can change your life, but so will a broken ankle – so make sure you warm up before you start. Spend around 5 minutes doing simple moves like jumping jacks, squats and lunges. This will help you raise your blood temperature and warm your muscles to reduce the risk of injury.   

We have a running warm-up to help guide you further. There are also lots of online warm up videos for runners, that are useful if you’re learning how to start running, such as this one by Bupa Health, which explain easy ways to get everything moving. 

Power walk

Once you’re thoroughly warmed up, don’t start running straight away – the good news is that your first move is to start power walking for five minutes. This is a good time to prepare your mind for your run and tell yourself: I can do this, I will accomplish my first run today.

It’s also a good time to check your running form – you’ll want to ensure your head and spine are neutral and your shoulders are relaxed.

Remember to feel proud of yourself for starting your running journey – this last part is key.  

Studies have shown that recognising your achievements can boost confidence and make you more productive. While they relate to happiness in work, the same principles apply to running –after all, you’re very much working the body.  

Running

After five minutes of walking, try moving your legs a bit more quickly and run/jog at a pace you feel comfortable with for a minute, then slow it back down to a power walk for a minute – repeating this up to five times. This is only the first session, so don’t go too hard, too soon. 

You can use a watch to time your walk/run sections, or try a beginner running app such as Couch to 5K, which will talk you through what you need to do.  

Slowly building up your stamina and fitness is the best way to start running as it allows your body to adapt over time and helps your muscles work more efficiently according to sports scientists. 

Make sure you take the time to include a running cool-down, to avoid a drop in blood pressure, which can make you feel faint.

Benefits of starting to run

Power up your joints & stay healthy

You’ve probably heard someone in your life claim they don’t run as they’ve got ‘bad knees’ – but it’s far from certain that running can be detrimental to your joints. A recent study found knee cartilage can positively adapt to the high load running puts on knees.   

More reports on how running could benefit our bodies include research which revealed runners have a lower risk of osteoarthritis and hip replacements due to them having a lower BMI. 

Running has been also linked with having a positive impact on mental health including relieving tension, improved self-image and overall better mood.  

Anita Watkins started running at 51 and hasn’t looked back. She told us: “If I can become a runner, then so can you.  

“I’ve made so many friends and have had some fantastic experiences. I feel so much healthier and happier since I started running.” 

Anita Watkins runningCredit: Anita Watkins
Anita running at a ‘Hard as Snails’ race

Sticking with it

Building running structure

The next step in learning how to start running is to find a training plan which steadily increases the time you’re running. As we mentioned, Couch to 5k is great place to start as the running sections build up gradually and if you stick to it, you could be running 5k in as little as nine weeks.  

However, you can follow any running training plan you like – the key thing is making sure that the sessions are regular and don’t allow too much time to let your body ‘de-train’. Look to get out every 3-4 days as a minimum and you’ll be in fine form in no time. 

It can be tempting to push yourself harder than advised when you find your running legs, but if you follow a plan you’ll quickly see results in a relatively short amount of time, so stick with the pace and frequency it sets out.  

Set SMART goals

Once you’ve started running, goals will help you keep going

Get yourself a notebook to write down the milestones you want to accomplish when you’re learning how to start running. Make them easy to start with; first run, or first mile without stopping -and make them S.M.A.R.T., which stands for: 

  • Specific – Well-defined and clear  
  • Measurable – i.e. to run X miles in X weeks 
  • Achievable – Don’t make your goal too extreme  
  • Relevant – Make sure it fits with your lifestyle 
  • Timely – Have a deadline  

Using this method will give you clear targets to aim for, so you can really focus on achieving them – I found this method very useful when I was learning how to start running. 

There are lots of races to sign up for if you want to challenge yourself, from 5K’s to 50K’s and beyond. Have a look on Find A Race to see what events are coming up near you.  

The running world is full of possibility and never-ending adventure, with huge benefits for your body and mind, so grab your trainers and start your running journey now – and we’d love to hear how you’re getting on! 

Rebecca Frew

Written by Rebecca Frew she/her

Updated:

Becky Frew has written various articles for newspapers and magazines focusing on fitness, is a qualified run leader, and a certified sleep talker trainer who loves to help advise people how they can nod off easier. When she is not writing or reading about fitness, she is at hot pod yoga, bounce class, training for an ultra-marathon or booking anything with a medal and free food at the end.

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