Updated: Jan 17
If you're someone new to running, getting started can be quite a daunting journey, especially trying to find useful information to help you along the way. My aim with this article is to give you a 1 stop reference guide to all you need to know about running as a BEGINNER. Yes there are other things you could read and learn about, but in my humble opinion, these are not important until you've mastered the basics which I've detailed in this article. Once you've built up some experience and consistency, check out my article Running for Intermediates: Everything You Need to Know. But in the meantime, let's dive straight into this article, starting with the most important thing you need to get started: Shoes!
Footwear: As a beginner, your main priorities for selecting footwear should simply be fit and comfort. You don't need to be buying the same shoes that Mo Farah uses or some other elite athlete, that probably has had their shoes custom made for them. You just need a shoe that works for YOU. Everyone's feet and running pattern are different and unique to them, so ignore anyone claiming that one type of shoe is the best for everyone. These claims are false.
Whilst fit and comfort are the priority, it's also worth mentioning that for most beginners, some level of cushioning in your shoe would be advisable, especially if you haven't done any strength training before. Most traditional running shoes have some, so it shouldn't cause any extra confusion which shoes to choose. The caveat to this, if you've spent a lot of time barefoot or wearing minimalist footwear, you may find a shoe with less cushioning is more comfortable especially as you will already have built up some level of strength in the lower leg and foot to handle such a shoe. In any case, try on a few different brands and, if possible, get your feet measured by someone who knows what they are doing. Places such as Kong Running, Up and Running, Running Bear and Pete Bland Sports are good places to check out for good fitting services and footwear options.
That's it. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that at this stage. If your running journey is predominantly off-road, check out my footwear article here.
Kit: So you've got your shoes. Now it's time to get the rest of the kit. Again, as a beginner (or for most levels actually) it doesn't need to be complicated or expensive. Here are some suggestions on the kit you need to get started.
- Comfortable shorts/leggings/both
- Comfortable T-shirts/vests/long sleeve tops
- Comfortable socks
- Hat and gloves for colder runs
- Windproof/Waterproof jacket for wet and windy runs
- High visibility vest/head torch if running at night
It doesn't matter what brand you go for. They are all much of a muchness. I used to run in all Kalenji gear from Decathlon for years. It's well priced, lasts for ages and always did the job. I now use Alpkit gear which has been great, but I'm biased as I get discount for working there. Up and coming brands such as Validus and Run Through Kit are also worth checking out. Buy stuff that's comfortable and is within your budget. It all gets trashed at the end of the day.
Now you're kitted out, it's time to get running!
Training: If you're brand new to running, apps such as the Couch to 5k are great places to start. They build you up gradually, increasing fitness along the way. However, there are also lots of other free programs out there for beginners. Whatever plan you follow, stick to the following basic principles, which should have been incorporated into any program you find (if it's any good).
- Build mileage/distance gradually: One of the biggest factors that contributes to running injuries is doing too much, too quickly, before the body is ready to handle it. Take your time! Whether it be time based or distance based running, increase by a small amount each week. If you start to feel beaten up or run down, then you've probably progressed one or both of those variables too much, too soon.
- The majority of your runs should be at easy pace: Your main focus as a beginner should be developing aerobic fitness and endurance. Your pace should allow you to talk comfortably. If you can't, slow down! Speed will come later. If that means you have to walk, then walk. You are laying the foundations for long term health and running fitness. Trust the process and you'll keep injuries at bay and improve your fitness for a long time to come.
- Make sure you have at least 2 rest days per week: As a beginners, running 3-5 times per week is more than enough to see results and get better at running. Even if you've entered a race and you feel time pressured, allow yourself time to rest. Training is a stress on the body that causes damage to our muscles and tissues and challenges our energy systems. Rest is where the body repairs this damage in order to come back fitter and stronger. Don't be afraid of rest days, they are just as important as training itself.
- Consistency is king: You don't need any fancy gimmicks, speed work or to understand what Fartlek means at this stage. Consistent running is what will get you fitter and more resilient to then look at more advanced training in the future.
Your program doesn't need to be complex to begin with, simply -
- Run 3-5x/week slowly increasing distance week to week
- Keep majority of runs at easy pace
- Take at least 2 rest days per week
- Be consistent
Follow something that works for you and your lifestyle and just allows you to get out running. The best program in the world is useless if you don't follow it.
There you have it. Your kit and program to get you started. Sounds simple? Well that's because it is. Running is simple to start and the only thing you really need to spend any money on are your shoes (if you're going to be running regularly). However, outside of what I've just talked about, there are also some other things you should be incorporating into your training to reduce the risk of injury and aid running performance and they are:
- Mobility work
- Strength training
Warm-up: Something even more experienced runners often neglect, a warm-up helps prepare the body for the work you're about to do. Spoiler: slow running is not a warm-up for faster running! We need to prepare the muscles, joints, nervous system and heart and lungs so they're in optimal condition to perform. It doesn't need to be complex and need only last 5-10 mins, but it NEEDS to be done. See below for a video on a basic running warm-up. Do this before EVERY run. The shorter and faster the run, the more important the warm-up becomes. Perform each exercise over a 15-20m distance. Focus on quality over speed.
Cool-down: Again, often overlooked by a lot of runners, the cool-down is beneficial to kick start the recovery process post run. Gone are the days where we need to be stretching for long periods of time after we run. However, static stretching can be beneficial in helping switch our nervous system from 'fight or flight' (parasympathetic) to 'rest and recovery' (sympathetic) by carrying out a few key stretches for 15-20 seconds each following a pulse lowering phase of easy jogging/walking for 2-3 mins. Focus on key areas such as the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings for your stretches.
Mobility Work: It is widely accepted that range of motion (ROM) is at the foundation of athleticism. The better range of motion you have, the more potential you have for efficient movement patterns.
The results of efficient movement patterns:
· Higher performance output
· Lower energy expenditure
· Reduction in injury through overloading of a particular joint or muscle
The use of structured warm-ups, mobility circuits and emphasis on correct technique all contribute to achieving the aim of improved movement quality.
The figure below shows the pyramid of athleticism. You will see movement quality is the foundation. Building performance on top of poor movement quality is a sure-fire way to limit your performance potential and increase the likelihood of injury.
As someone new to running, lets keep mobility work nice and simple. Aim to complete these exercises as often as possible. They can be used as warm-ups for your strength training days, recovery post run or on your rest days. These exercises can help improve your range of motion and therefore, the efficiency of your running. Check out the video below. Perform 10-12 reps on each exercise circuit style for 1-2 sets. Focus on quality of movement over speed. It may also be worth looking at including some foam rolling into your routine either as a warm-up or as part of recovery on rest days. Check out my article here.
Strength Training: Whilst runners don’t need to strength train to get strong, they need to strength train to improve their performance. It is now commonly accepted that the stronger runner, with all else being equal, will be the fastest runner. Whilst strength isn’t a predictor of performance, we can safely say those at the top of their field have a strong correlation between performance and strength.
Running by nature is a repetitive movement, done over and over and over, all the while overcoming the resistance of the terrain and gravity to propel us forward. During this repetitive motion, we can experience huge amounts of impact forces through our muscles and joints. Strength training can increase the ability of connective tissues (ligaments and tendons) to absorb such impact forces, minimising overuse injuries on joints. In addition to improved ligament and tendon strength, it also improves bone density which can minimise the instance of stress fractures which can be common for ultra-distance runners. Posture also plays a huge role in running biomechanics. With improved upper body strength, we can ensure better postural alignment allowing for efficient arm swing, which works to keep the pelvis stable during each stride. Sufficient strength will also allow your body to apply more force into the ground to propel you forward. This means it will take less energy to carry out the same number of strides, thereby improving your run economy.
Strength training is hugely important to minimise the risk of injury. As mentioned, the body has to deal with huge impact forces over and over again which can lead to imbalances or compensations due to weak muscles fatiguing or lacking range of motion to move efficiently. These imbalances can lead to injury over time. Strength training through full range of motion can strengthen the key musculature involved in running, such as the hips and low back. All of this will help to minimise the build-up of such imbalances.
As someone new to running, you should be looking to add in 2 strength sessions per week. These are best done post run or at least on the same day as running so that your rest days are complete rest and recovery. See below for a couple of strength routines from my training book Strength for Runners. You will need some mini resistance bands to get the best out of your strength training. The ones I use can be found here.
Hydration: Dehydration is often overlooked when it comes to the implications for training, especially in an age of addiction to coffee. Try to hydrate before your caffeinate and aim to drink 2-3 litres per day. Simples.
Sleep: Hormonal balance is a delicate thing and one of the biggest disruptors to that balance is a lack of quality sleep, not to mention the effects lack of sleep can have on your recovery. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night in a dark, cool room. Stop using screens at least 30 mins before bed in order to start to unwind or use an app like f.lux to alter the background colours of the screen. Find out more on the importance of sleep here.
Now you have all the information you need to begin your successful running journey! I've tried to keep it all as simple as possible so you can just focus on getting out and enjoying running for the great sport that it is. However, sometimes people do struggle to lace up their shoes and get out the door. I absolutely get it, and while consistent running and really subscribing into why you are doing it will massively help you overcome this, I wanted to finish up with some key tips to help you be as successful as possible.
- Make sure you have the right kit for all environments so that you can't use it as an excuse to miss your run. Raining? You've got a waterproof jacket. Dark outside after work? You've got a high visibility vest and head torch. All of which don't have to be expensive. Alpkit do some super cheap head torches that will more than do the job.
- Set out your running clothes the night before so it's the first thing you see when you get out of bed. Put them on, even if your run is later in the day (and you're obviously not going to work first) as it's another step towards being ready to get out the door.
- Don't compare yourself to others! This is YOUR running journey and you run at your pace based on what I talked about earlier. Track your progress and see yourself getting fitter and faster. It may be slower than others, it may be harder than others, but it's about you and no one else. Trust the process, and enjoy the journey of finding out more about yourself mentally and physically.
- Accept that it will be uncomfortable! You will feel sore and tired, that's part of training. However, soreness isn't indicative of a good session! You shouldn't be looking to feel sore all the time. Dull aches and stiffness tend to be something you don't need to worry too much about. However, sharp, stabbing pains or pain even when you're not running should not be ignored. Never run through pain!
- If you're starting running for weight management, be prepared to feel hungry more often. Take this into account when managing your calories and don't use it as an excuse to eat more than you need! If you're using an app such as My Fitness Pal, remember that it calculates your calorie intake based on the exercise parameters you set. Be careful not to think that you are then earning more calories with each run as it's usually already factored into your daily amount.