How to Run: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

Running is probably one of the simplest and most accessible ways to get fit, stay fit and lose weight. It’s a natural activity that you can do just about anywhere and for which you need very little in the way of specialist equipment – running shoes. You can even run barefoot if you want to go completely low-tech. 

However, going from couch dweller to regular runner is a big step – pun intended. Doing too much running too soon is a sure fire way to end up injured, demoralized and forever remain sedentary. 

While you may start out running for weight loss or to improve fitness, once you are hooked you’ll probably end up being a runner for life. And that’s what great about running. It isn’t just a quick fix. It’s a permanent solution to better health and wellbeing. So it’s important to set some solid foundations for your running “career” to make it as long and enjoyable as possible

If you are a beginner or are simply returning to running after a lengthy layoff, follow these tips to help you get on and stay on the straight and narrow path to running success.

Read more: What to wear running for different temperatures

How Long Should You Run?

Your body needs time to adapt to the impact of running on your joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. You also need time to adapt an efficient, natural and economic (on energy) running style.

New runners use a lot of energy at the start by bouncing too much during each stride. Once you get the hang of it, when you find your running mojo – your rhythm – you will place less strain on your body and actually enjoy it. Music can help you find or maintain a rhythm and improve your running ability.

Beginner Running Plans

If you are new to running try one of these two running programs:

  • Complete beginner. This 10-week running plan that takes you from zero to 20 minutes continuous running.
  • Advanced Beginner. This 4-week running program builds up to running 30 minutes continuously. For those newish to running, but fit from other cardiovascular activities (e.g. cycling, swimming, rowing).

Initially, alternate periods of running with walking to get your body used to the impact of running and being out on your feet for extended periods of time. How long? Twenty minutes is a good place to start but don’t worry if that seems a little too far right now.

Just head out for ten minutes initially if that is more your level. You should complete your workout with plenty of gas in the tank and feeling you could have done more. Remember – you can always do more next time.

Gradually walk less and run more until you are able to run 20 minutes without stopping. Work up to doing this three times a week. Check out how to choose a running route, to help you plan your run.

As a beginner, you will make quick gains in aerobic capacity, i.e. how far you can run without getting out of breath. However, your muscles, joints and tendons, need a little more time to adapt.

Therefore, while you may be tempted to run faster, pace yourself in the first few weeks and give your joints time to adjust. Instead focus on the steady, continuous rhythmical movement of your run and making the switch from jogging to power walking and back again.

Read more: How to run with proper form

The Ten Percent Rule

Runners around the world use something called the ten percent rule to ensure they don’t increase the difficulty of their workouts too much or too soon.

Simply put, this rule states that you should never increase the length of an individual run or your weekly running total by more than ten percent.

So, if you are running 20 minutes three-times a week don’t decide to suddenly increase your runs to 30 minutes four-times a week. Such a big increase in workout volume will probably end in injury.

Instead, add only a minute or two this week and then do the same next week. Massive jumps in running distance are definitely not recommended! 

How Fast Should You Run?

As a beginner, there is no reason to worry about speed – yet. Your speed will increase naturally over the coming months and if you want to run faster, you can read and learn all about that later. 

Focus on running at a pace that feels comfortable. You should be relaxed, slightly out of breath but still able to hold a conversation. Running too fast too soon makes running harder than it needs to be and in these early days of your running career, you want to just get used to being on your feet and establishing a regular running habit. 

When you start running, the goal isn’t to go as fast or far as you can. Intensity, initially, should be moderate (60 – 70% of maximum heart rate) – not high intensity. The idea is to go slow and steady. You need to pass the “talk test”.

The “Talk Test”

To pass the “talk test” means that you are able to speak in complete sentences. If you can only respond in one-word grunts to your running buddy’s questions, you are running too fast. Equally, if you can speak in paragraphs you’re going too slowly.

If you are running alone, try humming a line or two of a favorite song to work out how intensely you’re running.

Breathing: You shouldn’t be gasping for air while running. You should be breathing deeply, but not out of breath.

Heart rate: Generally you are able to pass the “talk test” at around 70% of maximum heart rate (you can use the heart rate calculator)

Don’t worry if running at this level feels like you’re going in slow motion. Every time you run, you will be fitter than the last time, which means you’ll be able to go faster while maintaining the same moderate intensity and still passing the “talk test”.

That’s why you might see experienced runners running at an incredibly fast pace, but still talking to each other. You’ll get there. You’ll see!

Don’t forget rest days

One of the most important aspects in any running training plan, especially a beginner, is rest days. Rest days are when your body gets fitter and stronger. If you run every day, your body won’t get a chance to recover from your workouts and, after a few days or weeks, you risk overtraining (start to accumulate overuse injuries & irreparable fatigue).

As you get fitter, your body will become more accustomed to running and you can rest a little less and run a little more but, initially, three-times a week is about right. Remember, you’re not being lazy by resting – you’re being smart.

Listen to your body

Your body is way more complicated than a racing car engine but, where the car has a team of mechanics constantly monitoring its performance, your body is captained by you. You really need to make sure you listen to your body in order to get the most out of your running.

It’s all too easy to get caught up in following your running plan and hitting your weekly distance targets, while forgetting to pay heed to how you’re feeling. 

If you hurt, ache, are tired, sore or stiff, something isn’t right and you need to change what you’re doing. Ignoring the messages your body is sending you is a surefire way to cause an injury.

If you are tired, cut back on your running a little. If you are sore, get a massage or stretch more. If you hurt, get medical advice. Look after your body and it will look after you. Ignore what it is telling you and your risk your running career meeting a premature end. 

Read more: 10 Beginner Running Mistakes to Avoid

Once you’re running regularly, you also start incorporating different types of running workouts, such as long slow distance training, tempo running, fartlek, and HIIT.

As a beginner runner, you are in an amazing and enviable position. Every run you do will result in noticeable improvements in fitness. You’ll never improve your fitness and running ability as quickly again! So, don’t rush the process. Slow down, smell the roses and revel in your body’s amazing capacity for change. 

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  1. Hi,
    First of all I would like to say how amazing and inspiring your website is!
    I have a question about whether high speed will make my legs slimmer and low speed build muscles or it doesn’t really matter and everything depends on the incline. I’m small (height) and small framed but I have a bit wider hips, additionally my upper body is very thin. So I want to make my thighs slimmer and I’m not sure what I should do. I’ve been trying to find an answer to this question, but somehow there are different opinions about it. Hopefully you can help me 🙂
    Thank you!

    • Hi Nigari,
      Thanks! 🙂 It sounds as though you’re pear-shaped, which means your upper body is smaller than your lower body. With regards to your question, speed doesn’t matter too much. The main thing is to run for longer distances and at an intensity (difficulty) that is challenging. Whatever speed that works out to be is fine. As you get more fit/ stronger your pace (and/ or length of your running workout) will increase to keep it challenging. I hope this helps!


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