Tips and Strategies for Starting a Running Routine

So, you’ve caught the running bug and want to get into a regular running routine. But where do you start, and how do you pace yourself?

Not to worry. We’ve got the tips, strategies, and training plans you need to get started and stay motivated. And if you think you’re ready to tackle a 5K, we have training advice for that, too.

What you need to get started

Running is simple, right? All you need is a pair of shoes, and out the door you go. Well, not so fast.

Yes, you do need a good pair of running shoes, but other essential items can help make your training more successful and more enjoyable, too. And, let’s face it, if you enjoy an activity, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Invest in a good pair of running shoes

Hitting the pavement requires more than a pair of Vans or Converse. To reduce injuries and increase comfort, you need shoes that are designed specifically for running.

Ideally, you should get fitted for shoes at a running specialty store or with a podiatrist. If that’s not possible, do some research and look for a pair of running shoes that fits your needs.

Opt for comfortable, sweat-wicking clothing

When it comes to clothes, comfort is key. Stick with lightweight pants, shorts, and shirts designed for fitness activities.

Look for sweat-wicking material and also consider the weather. Wearing layers in the winter helps keep you warm and allows you to remove clothing as necessary once you start warming up.

Cushioned running socks are also essential. Again, look for labels that say “sweat-wicking,” and consider wool running socks in the winter. And finally, don’t forget a supportive sports bra.

Use technology to track your progress

Activity and fitness trackers like Fitbit, Garmin, and others can help keep you motivated and on track with your running goals.

Many of these wearable gadgets can keep track of:

  • the distance you’ve run
  • how many steps you’ve run
  • how many calories you’ve burned
  • your running pace
  • your heart rate

Create a running playlist

A great way to stay motivated is to listen to your favorite tunes while running. Create a playlist with the music most likely to keep you moving.

That said, be sure to use your headphones wisely. You may want to use just one earbud, which allows you to stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you.

A beginner’s week-at-a-glance running routine

Your initial goal is to build confidence and stamina. To do this, Steve Stonehouse, NASM CPT, USATF run coach and director of education for STRIDE, suggests aiming for two to three runs each week at an easy to moderate pace.

“You can always add techniques like speed work and tempo runs later, but right now, it’s just about getting your body used to the work,” he said.

For example, a beginner’s week-at-a-glance running routine might look like this:

Beginner’s training routine

  • Monday: Run 2 miles at a moderate pace with a walk/run technique. For the first mile, run for 1 minute and walk for 1 minute. For the second mile, run for 90 seconds and walk for 1 minute.
  • Tuesday: Focus on full-body strength training.
  • Wednesday: Make this an active rest day. Take a walk, or do some light yoga and stretching.
  • Thursday: Run 2 miles at a moderate pace with a walk/run technique. Try to increase your pace slightly from your previous run. For the first mile, run for 1 minute and walk for 1 minute. For the second mile, run for 90 seconds and walk for 1 minute.
  • Friday: Focus on full-body strength training.
  • Saturday: Do 30 to 60 minutes of cardio, such as walkingcycling, or swimming.
  • Sunday: Make this an active rest day. Take a walk, or do some light yoga and stretching.
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As you gain strength and stamina, you can gradually start increasing the distance you run, or you can add an extra day of running to your weekly routine. Decide what works best for you, but do it slowly.

How to train for a 5K

While it might be tempting to go all out, it’s not the best way to get started.

“Following a structured training plan that increases your mileage over several weeks is essential for your health, safety, and motivation,” Stonehouse said.

This advice is based on the fact that he’s seen many first-timers crank out too many miles during the early days of their training.

“Those extra miles can take their toll, and I’ve seen more new runners injured in training than in the race,” he explained. To avoid this, Stonehouse suggests increasing your weekly mileage by 10% at a time, at the most.

“While this may not seem like much of a weekly increase, the No. 1 rule is to stay healthy, and being conservative usually helps you accomplish that,” Stonehouse said.

Many online 5K training plans for beginners use 4, 6, 8, and 10-week cycles.

To get started, you can follow the sample training plan outlined above, but add the following:

  • Weeks 1–2: Follow the sample training plan outlined above.
  • Weeks 3–4: Swap out the cardio day on Saturday for a 3-mile run. Run/walk this day.
  • Weeks 5–6: Swap out the cardio day on Saturday for a 3-mile run. Try to run with minimal walking.
How to stay motivated

Running, like many other activities, has a honeymoon period — a time when everything feels great, and you can hardly wait to lace up your shoes and hit the trail.

Then, you may find that this enthusiasm starts to wane. Whether you’re already struggling in the motivation department or you want to get in front of it, it’s helpful to know how to prevent getting burned out.

  • Keep it simple: Rule No. 1 to staying motivated, especially in the beginning, is to keep it simple. Stick to a fitness plan that includes 2 days a week of running.
  • Increase miles gradually: As you gain stamina and confidence, you can adjust your running schedule from 2 days of running to 3. You can also add mileage to your running days — but don’t add an extra day and miles simultaneously.
  • Run with a partner: If you need some accountability to keep you motivated, try enlisting the help of a friend, family member, or running group. Meeting with others who share a common goal can help you feel energized.
  • Set and track goals: When you set goals and challenge yourself to meet them, it can keep you motivated. When you reach your goal, reward yourself, then set a new goal.
  • Monitor your progress: Keeping track of your running progress can inspire and motivate you to reach new goals. You can use an activity tracker to log your weekly miles, running pace, or calories burned.
How to stay safe while you run
  • Food and hydration: Sticking to a running routine requires proper fuel in the form of food and liquids, preferably water. Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking fluids before, during, and after your run.
  • No headphones or maybe just one: Whether it’s cars, cyclists, or other runners, Stonehouse says hearing what’s happening around you is key to staying safe. If you want to listen to music, he recommends wearing only one headphone or ditching the headphones and using the speaker on your phone.
  • Slow and steady wins the race: Ask any seasoned runner about their biggest training mistake, and you’ll likely hear they ran too much too soon. Whether running as part of an overall fitness plan or training for a race, increasing mileage gradually over time is key.
  • Cross-train for overall fitness: Running shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. To reduce your risk of injury and increase your running performance, it’s important to cross-train. Strength training, swimming, cycling, and yoga are excellent additions to your weekly workouts. Aim for 2 days a week of strength training, focusing on major muscle groups.
  • Stretching before and after running: Carve out 5 to 10 minutes before and 5 to 10 minutes after your run to stretch. Focus on dynamic stretches before exercise and static stretches, such as the quad stretch afterward.
  • Rest up: Rest days not only help you recover, but they also allow you to become a better runner. Active rest days and total rest days can help prevent overtraining syndrome (OTS). According to the American Council on Exercise, OTS can cause your fitness levels to decrease and increase your risk of running-related injuries.
The bottom line

A regular running routine offers a wide variety of benefits. Not only will it help boost your cardiovascular fitness, but it can also improve your blood flow and brain function while reducing stress and lowering your risk of certain health conditions.

Finding success with a running routine requires patience, persistence, and time. Making a commitment, following a plan, and being consistent with your training are great places to start.

Make sure to check with your doctor before you start a running program, especially if you have a health condition. Your doctor can help you decide how much and what activity is safe for you.

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