Fitness Articles

Don't Be a Runnin' Fool

A Beginner's Guide to Running

Whether your goal is to finish a marathon, or make it to the end of the block without stopping, running can be a great addition to your exercise routine. In fact, running burns more calories per minute than most other forms of cardio exercise. A lot of people have the impression that running is too difficult and they’ll never be “fit enough” to do it. The fact is, very few people can just head out for a five-mile jog without prior conditioning. But, with the proper training and a few important tips, running can become a regular part of your routine!

Before you begin, it’s important to make sure you have a good pair of shoes. Running does not require a large investment when it comes to equipment, but quality running shoes are a must-have. Running shoes are specially designed to reduce the amount of shock that travels up your leg as your foot strikes the ground (which is significant in a high-impact activity like running). To find the right shoes for you, visit a specialty running store. These stores have trained professionals who will find a shoe to fit your needs. They might watch you run on a treadmill or down the sidewalk to get an idea of your form. Although you might pay a little more than you would at a department store, it is worth the investment in the long run.

So how do you start? Do you just lace up your shoes, take off running, and see how long you can last? Not exactly. First realize that it may take a little while to build up your endurance. But the good thing is that if you stick to a regular program, you can see positive results in a short period of time. 

You should be able to walk 20-30 minutes comfortably before you start running. If that seems like a lot, start by building up to this level, then incorporate running into your routine as you become stronger and fitter. Once you can easily walk this distance, begin to incorporate short running sessions into the routine. For example, a good starting point might be to walk four minutes, then run for one minute. Repeat this walk/run cycle for your entire workout.

Your goal is to slowly increase the amount of time you run, while decreasing the amount of time you walk. The running sessions should be challenging, so as one minute of running becomes easier, increase to two minutes, and so on. Before you know it you’ll be running for 30 minutes straight! (Always remember to include a warm up, cool down and stretch in your program.)

Many beginning runners complain of an inability to catch their breath while they run, causing them to stop for frequent walking breaks. If you experience this problem, slow down and relax—after all, it isn’t a race. One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is running too fast. If you can answer a question (but not comfortably carry on a conversation) while you run, your pace is about right. You shouldn’t be gasping for air. Concentrate on breathing from deep down in your belly as opposed to taking short, shallow breaths. It's okay to take a break if you need one—just start again as soon as you’re ready. 

Proper form can help you conserve energy and avoid injury. Your posture should be upright—shoulders back, abs pulled in, and no slouching or leaning forward. Look out to the horizon while you’re running instead of at your feet. Don’t forget about your arms! They should pump forward and backward to help with momentum, because swinging arms side-to-side or hanging them at your sides does nothing to help with your forward motion. Especially when going uphill, your arms can make a big difference. (Remember that it is important to maintain a consistent effort, not necessarily a consistent pace, when running uphill.)

Running can be a great addition to your workout routine! Just remember to talk to your doctor before starting any new activity, especially if you are a current or former smoker, are overweight, or if there is a history of heart disease in your family. Through consistent effort, you’ll be headed for your first 5K in no time!

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
Page 1 of 1  
Got a story idea? Give us a shout!

Member Comments

  • This is just what I needed to read to get me to where I want to be, running is one of my goals. :)
  • I'm finishing up a Couch to 10k program. I have tried it a bazillion times before, but this time I gave myself permission to do a week over and over if I needed to while still trying to hold myself accountable for doing the hard stuff.

    Well, I found that I didn't get as freaked out this time. I don't know if it's because I have myself permission to take it slow, but I just finished up Week 9. Every session I'm scared, but every session I'm so proud and surprised when I do it.

    It is so worth it.
  • Agree. Always, ALWAYS check with your doctor!!!!
  • I did start with the Couch to 5K last year, and got up to week 7, then hit a wall and gave up. I think I'll start up again in the new year when it's lighter in the mornings or evenings. (No street lights round here). I also discovered that I needed to run using the mid foot rather than the heel to avoid getting the terrible pain in my shins, made all the difference.
  • I tried running back in the '70s when I was a lot younger. I couldn't find my stride not matter how hard I tried. So I went back to walking, which had been my choice until the back problems started. Now it's short walks, and the main cardio is recumbent bike (booorrrrrinnnggg
  • MMGAGE1701
    I recommend newbies start out with Couch-to-5K. It's a great program which will get you up to running for 30 minutes without a stop, and the workouts build gradually so you won't over-do it.
    I'll also second the recommendation for getting good shoes and say that you should go to a specialty running store. They can analyze your stride and give you guidance on the right kind of shoes for you. My first pair of running shoes were fine, but when I replaced them I wound up with terrible shin splints. It turned out I need more stability in my shoes and the folks at my specialty running store were able to see that and get me into the right shoes.
  • Great article! I cannot wait till I get to the part where I start to run, right now it's a little hard for my knees just walking, but I will get there.
  • I jogged a couple of times when I was walking didn't like it. Maybe I will start again with it.
  • i would argue that proper form is the most important part of beginning to run, but you neglect to say anything about the most important part of your body - your feet! i had shinsplints for about a month when i first started running because i had absolutely no idea what proper form was. thanks to some completely misguided logic, i had it in my head that i needed to strike on my heel. COMPLETELY WRONG - that's what was causing my shinsplints. only after quite a lot of pain and wasted time did i finally figure out that i was supposed to be striking with the middle of my foot or - ideally - on the ball, pushing off with the big toe. once i learned how to do that, it was like running was a completely different activity - painless, and actually enjoyable! i just wish i had known all of that ahead of time so that i could have avoided wasting all that time and effort struggling to do things the wrong way.
  • "Before you begin, itís important to make sure you have a good pair of shoes. "

    Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!!

    Before you begin, it's important to make sure you are healthy enough to run.

    Since the Chicago Marathon 10/9/2011 thru the SanAntonio Rock and Roll Marathon 11/13/2011, four runners have died! Chicago a 38year old firefiighter from NC, in LasAngeles a 35 year old, In Savannah, I saw a 58 year old man die, and today in San Antonio a 32 year old.

    See your doctor if you are 40 ponds over a 25 BMI weight. If you are running anything over a 10k see a doctor and ask for a referral to a cardiologist.

    Don't be a running fool!
  • To all beginning runners: check out Chi Running by Danny Dreyer. It's a book about running with a biomechanical form that is way easier on your joints. I ran 40 miles a week in my 20s and even completed 2 1/2 marathons, and finally a whole marathon. Along the way, I got totally addicted to running. I also completely wore out the hyaline cartilage in my knees and acquired arthritis in my spine. All from striking on the heel and not the midfoot. Humans are menat to run on the midfoot, not the heel, but the fancy running shoes they sell with the cushioned heels completely alter the way your skeleton absorbs force. That's why 70% of runners can expect injuries in any given year. Like me, some are never able to run again.

    Even better, check out Barefoot Running by Michael Sandler. The foot is a marvel of engineering, and shouldn't be "dumbed down" by overpadded running shoes. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about, not only as a former runner, but as a physician. If I had only known then what I know now, I'd still be happily running.
  • JURGEN1902
    Great article. Earlier I started too fast. The heartbeat climbed up like a rocket. Then I trained with more experienced friend who told me he is using heart rate monitor all the time. Adjusted to reasonable level. I bought one and realized what I did wrong in the past. It's pleasure to run nowadays as I learned my limits with the monitor. I still use It.
  • I will never buy my running shoes from a brick=and=mortar store. The last time I ever set foot in one, the jocks there sized me up as a stooge and did the let's-see-what-yo
    ur-gait-style-is thing and sold me shoes that they were trying to reduce inventory on. Waste of my money.
    I went through a mail-order company after that, where I dealt with voices on the phone, and never looked back. I got a lot of helpful advice, and even though I always said I was a "clydesdale" runner, I never got the attitude of "oh, here's a pretend athlete".
  • Great article. I ran a 5K May 1 of this year and with the heat have gotten out of the habit and just started back last week. I just signed up to run a quarter marathon and used to tell my track star husband that I would NEVER be able to run a mile. The couch 2 5K program was a God send in my training. I highly recommend it. Many blessings on your journey everyone.
  • This is a great article, especially if your at the beginning stage of running. I was an active runner before I had my son and after I thought I wouldn't even be able to run a mile ever again. I started running again about 5 months ago and now I'm running 4-5 miles at least 3 times a week. On my off days I do strength training and run 2 miles. It's all about finding your stride and pace then improving it with time. Good luck and happy running!! :)

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is an ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, medical exercise specialist and behavior change specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

x Lose 10 Pounds by June 11! Sign up with Email Sign up with Facebook
By clicking one of the above buttons, you're indicating that you have read and agree to SparkPeople's Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and that you're at least 18 years of age.