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If you drunkenly pledged to run a marathon in the small hours of New Year’s Day, or vowed to lose a stone, “get in shape” or start exercising before promptly devouring a small mountain of leftover mince pies, you might be pondering the best way to wriggle out of your resolutions without losing face… Stop right there. You can do it. How? By putting one foot in front of the other. Regular running not only burns calories, but can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, osteoarthritis and even some cancers. It also reduces blood pressure and ‘bad’ cholesterol, boosts mood, increases bone density and stimulates the growth of new brain cells, which could boost your memory and halt age-related cognitive decline. And no, you don’t need to be Paula Radcliffe. According to the evidence, all it takes is 50 minutes a week. Find out how to start running today (even if you hate running) with our top 10 running tips for beginners…
1. Start slowly
If you’re over 40, unused to exercise and/or suffer from a health condition such as hypertension or osteoarthritis, put your mind at rest by consulting your GP before you begin. Although running tends to lower blood pressure and seems to protect against arthritis, it may be best to start with a lower impact activity such as cycling or swimming.
Spend 2 to 4 weeks walking before progressing to run/walk intervals. Fancy making some new friends? Over 1,800 free group walks are advertised on the Walking for Health website each week.
Once you feel ready to run, alternate between running and walking, gradually increasing the length of the running intervals until you can run the full distance comfortably. When you’re starting out, take walking breaks BEFORE you think you need to, and don’t run full-out – remember, the tortoise wins in the end…
2. Get kitted out
A good pair of running shoes will guard against injury. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you should take the time to seek out a bit of expert advice at a specialist running shop. They might have you walk or jog on a treadmill so they can assess your gait – don’t be shy; remember, once you find the perfect pair of trainers, you’ll feel like you’re walking – and, yes, running – on air. Your shoes’ shock absorption powers will wane over time, so don’t forget to replace them every 300 miles.
3. Plan, plan, plan
If you don’t make time for it, it won’t happen. Schedule each run, planning the route, time and distance in advance. As you continue to record your progress and see how far you’ve come, your run record will become a great motivational tool. If getting out more than twice a week feels unrealistic, make a firm commitment to those two days (but, if you do miss one, don’t lose heart – just get back up and start again next week). Stay engaged by mixing up your distances, pace and routes. Try using an online route planner to find, plot and record your routes. Craving a bit more structure? Try a pre-designed run planner like The Guardian’s 8 week 0-5k training plan for beginners.
4. Set a goal
Stay motivated by setting yourself a goal. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be a marathon, or even a half marathon. Why not start by signing up for a 5k fun run a few months down the line? Find one on the NHS Run Finder. For an additional motivational boost, why not run a race in aid of a charity close to your heart?
5. Find a buddy
Joining a beginners’ running group or finding a running partner can help you stay on track – and you’ll make new friends while you’re at it. Find a group near you on the British Athletics website, or search for a running buddy at joggingbuddy.com.
6. Get techy
Think you’d prefer to fly (or jog) solo, but could still use a little support? Try downloading a podcast series like the NHS’s 9 week Couch to 5K programme to keep you company. Or, if you think nothing but a zombie apocalypse could possibly induce you to run, why not try the Zombies, Run! app? See, there’s really no excuse…
7. Brush up your technique
Tension restricts your breathing and reduces the amount of oxygen which can be delivered to those hard-working muscles, so keep your head up, look 30-40m ahead of you and try to keep your jaw, neck and shoulders relaxed.
Swing your arms forward and back, rather than across the body, to propel you forward, keeping them bent at a 90° angle, hands relaxed but not floppy (imagine holding a piece of paper between your fingers and thumbs).
Keep your hips stable and facing forward – avoid sticking your bottom out or rocking your hips from side to side. Mitchell Phillips, director of gait specialists StrideUK, advises leaning slightly forward without bending forward or backward from the waist.
You should land with a slight knee bend in order to absorb impact, striking the floor just below your hip with the middle of your foot. Keep your knees low, lifting forward rather than upward, and aim to run lightly and quietly with minimal noise in order to minimise impact.
8. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down
The NHS advises beginning each run with a 5 minute warm up, which could consist of quick walking, marching on the spot, knee lifts, side stepping or stair climbing. Minimise your risk of post-run soreness by spending a few minutes stretching after your run. The NHS has published a guide to post-run stretches.
9. Or breathe!
Try to breathe deeply and rhythmically, aiming for one breath for every two strides, Phillips advises.
10. Be patient
If you run consistently, you will notice changes, but these can take time to become apparent. Speed up the process by ensuring you get plenty of sleep and eat a well-balanced diet. Beginners don’t need special sports drinks or snacks – simply eat a well-balanced snack or light meal an hour or two before each run and take a bottle of water with you. If you’re trying to lose weight, a sugary energy drink could negate all your hard work!