How to Start Running for Beginners
If you’re new to running, you know that falling in love with the sport requires more than putting on your shoes and pounding the pavement every day. Heck, falling in love may be a stretch; learning not to loathe it is a more realistic goal. To be honest, running has a steep learning curve. While even the most advanced runners never find it “easy,” those first couple months of a running routine can be the most challenging.
If you’re a beginner, how do you survive that initial hurdle so that you can become a lifelong runner? Here are some tips on how to start running for beginners.
1) Focus on Sustainability
As I talk about in Better Running Goals, nothing kills a running goal faster than approaching it in an unsustainable way. So, what does unsustainable look like?
- Running too much and putting yourself at risk for overtraining and injury
- Sacrificing unhealthy amounts of sleep in order to fit in workouts
- Developing bad habits with your pre and post run routine that leave you feeling sore
- Neglecting responsibilities with family and friends
- Signing up for a race that’s too soon and doesn’t allow for enough training time
What all this adds up to: Being unhappy and quitting
A running routine will never work if it’s unsustainable. Yes, as someone who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible,” I’m firm in saying that you will never become a lifelong runner if you don’t focus on creating a sustainable routine. Never.
In order to focus on sustainability, ask yourself these questions:
- At what time in the day does running feel good for my body
- At what time in the day does running naturally fit into my schedule
- What training plans will gradually grow my skills and not be too intense for a beginner? I’d suggest the couch to 5k program as a good jumping off point.
- What are my ultimate goals?
- Why am I running?
With these questions answered, you’ll be well on your way to developing a sustainable running routine. For a deeper dive into developing sustainable running routines, check out my free running guide, or Better Running Goals.
2) Dream Big, But Be Realistic
There’s nothing better than the feeling of crossing the finish line of a race and knowing that you’ve achieved a goal you’ve been working so hard for. Pushing hard for a dream and finally realizing it is a big part of why running is such a gratifying sport. Crossing the finish line; getting a new PR; reaching a new milestone. The joy of running comes from the hours of hard work that lead to the few seconds of success.
If you don’t have a goal when you start a running routine, it will be hard to stick with it. When the training gets tough and you’d rather sleep in than put on your running shoes, you need the promise of realizing your dream to push you forward. You need an inspiring goal that you care about.
To be clear, in order for goal setting to be an effective method of inspiration, this goal needs to be realistic. If you’re a beginning runner, setting your sights on a 100 miler race will likely be more demoralizing than inspirational. If you’re brand new to running, I’d suggest signing up for a 5k race 3 months down the road. Not only is 5k a realistic distance for a beginner, 3 months is enough time to train appropriately while also solidifying your running routine.
While a 5k race in 3 months is my suggestion, you know what’s right for you. The point is that it’s important to set your sights on a meaningful and realistic goal before diving headfirst into a running routine. Doing so will keep you motivated through the less than pleasant moments that come with any running goal.
3) Make a Schedule and Stick to It, for Gosh Darn's Sake
You have no idea how much it irks me when simple scheduling enters the realm of overthinking and analysis (It irks me because I’m the biggest offender of overcomplicating a simple schedule). Schedules are the least complex things in the productivity world. Now, I’m not saying that creating the schedule in the first place is easy. It can be rather challenging to make all of your commitments fit together in a sensible way. But, once you have that schedule figured out, following through on it is a simple matter of will power.
Stop thinking, get off your butt, and just do it. There’s nothing to think about. Take action. This may mean joining a group that holds you accountable or requiring yourself to do 50 burpees every day you don’t stick to your running schedule. Do whatever works for you, as long as it gets you running.
I know that taking action on your goals is easier said than done. However, our brains love excuses that feed on fear. Once we set our sights on a new goal, we begin to doubt our confidence, our abilities, our resources, and our determination. Soon enough, our running routines are on the back burners because of silly excuses like refusing to run during a full moon or when Starbucks is offering holidays drinks. Trust me, your goals are not as scary as your excuses make them out to be. Just get your butt out of the door and do it already!
Sticking with a schedule may take a lot of willpower to begin with but, once you get used to it, this schedule will become as normal as brushing your teeth before bed. While we often believe that we need to change our mindsets prior to changing our actions, it’s often the other way around. The more we take action to follow through on our goals, the more we will become confident in our abilities to achieve our goals. It is through taking action that we change our perceptions of ourselves and gain tangible proof of our skills. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Take action and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
3) Don't Focus on Health...Only
As a form of exercise, running can do a stellar job of getting you into shape. The problem is that bulging calves and rock hard abs aren’t as motivating as they appear to be. Believe me, when you’re in the middle of a hard run, you’d quickly pass up your dream of calves and abs if you were offered the chance to stop at the nearest bar for a margarita.
Running is exercise, but it’s also so much more. When you want to be a lifelong runner, you need to look beyond the physical aspects of it to the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual components that make running such a complex and phenomenal sport. I talk about this topic a lot in Better Running Goals because I believe in it so fully. An excerpt from the chapter explaining my reasons for running can be found on the blog.
Running speaks far more to our identities than other forms of exercise. While we may say we’re runners, swimmers, or cyclists, we’d never say we’re elipticalers, stair masterers, or jumping jackers. Once you figure out how running fits into the identity you already claim for yourself, it will be easier to incorporate running into your life. If you make the sport a part of who you are, not only will it be easier to stick with a routine, you’ll enjoy it more.
While there is far more advice out to overwhelm yourself with, these four tips are what I’ve found to be the most effective if you’re looking for how to start running for beginners. Do these four simple things and you’ll be well on your way to a sustainable running routine that you love to hate.