I started running from scratch and now I’m doing my first half-marathon - here’s how it happened

Health editor Grace Walsh reveals how to start running, whether you've done it before or not

Illustration of woman running up steps in trainers, an example of how to start running
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Figuring out how to start running was a start-stop process for me, beginning when I was a teenager. Every couple of months I’d slip on my trainers, plug in my headphones, and attempt to run for whatever distance I could, only to stop wheezing and out of breath halfway down the road. Eventually, the months between runs turned into years and I found other sports that I was better at naturally. 

However, the appeal of running was still there and when lockdown hit - quite a few years after my last run - it seemed like the only viable option to get out of the house. I was living by myself too, so running quickly became how I structured my day, either heading out early in the morning for a pre-work endorphin hit or later in the day to wind down. It wasn’t an easy process by any means and I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, from going slow to the importance of wearing the right shoes. 

As of this month though, I’m officially signed up to do my first half-marathon race. I’ve gone from not being able to run 200 meters to learning how to get fit and spending the last year running at least two times a week, more if I have time, and participating in 10k races across the country. Since I started running, I’ve felt better than ever before and noticed real changes in my daily life. 

How to start running

1. Go slowly

This was the biggest lesson I learned when I started running regularly and at the beginning, I was running probably about as fast as I could walk - if not slower. We wouldn’t expect to be able to lift huge amounts of weight after never doing any strength training, or immediately be brilliant at butterfly if we'd never learned how to swim, so why do we think we’ll be able to run at a decent pace without any training? 

Trying to run faster than you can is a mistake most people make when they’re new to running though, says Omar Mansour (opens in new tab), a UKA running coach. “Like anything new, it’s always best to start small and build up,” he says. “If you try and go too far too fast, you’ll only likely injure or demotivate yourself and not want to carry on. If you’re new to running, start with a run-walk technique, building up incrementally.” 

For example, Mansour, who is also a coach for the audio-led fitness app WithU (opens in new tab), suggests: “Start with a five-minute walking warm-up, followed by 30-seconds of jogging, then one minute walking. Repeat this five times and then have a five-minute warm down.” 

Grace Walsh running on race day, one picture of her running taken from behind and the other taken ahead, an example of how to start running

(Image credit: Grace Walsh/Future)

2. Choose a goal

After years of stopping and starting with running, both as a hobby and physically when I laced up my trainers, I was more focused on distance than I was on time.  In my eyes, it didn’t matter how slowly I ran as long as I got to the end point of the route I’d set: 5km in my local area, the same one every time.  

Over the weeks and months that I was learning how to start running, I watched on my Fitbit Versa 3 as the time it took to complete my route slowly climbed down from over 40 minutes to just under 30. I felt more confident moving through the obstacles on my route as time passed as well, learning the bumps in the road and awkward turning angles, so all I had to do was focus on the running. 

3. Just keep moving

That still doesn’t mean the running came easily though. I may have been going at (what I perceived as) a snail’s pace but I was huffing and puffing after the first couple of minutes, looking down in exasperation at my tracker when it said I still had 3km to go.

But I just told myself to slow down even more, look up at my surroundings, and think about anything else other than how much I wanted to stop running - and I soon learned it was a case of mind over matter. If I could get my head in the right place, my feet would follow and I could just keep moving. 

If you experience any pain while you're running, however, it's best to stop immediately and seek medical help. Depending on where you are in your fitness journey, it's also worth weighing up the benefits of walking vs running, as the former may be a better place to start. 

Images of Grace Walsh after running with 10k race medals

(Image credit: Grace Walsh/Future)

4. Listen to music

One great way to keep up the workout motivation, I discovered, was making a running playlist with all of the songs I’d otherwise dance to and plugging in my headphones. As well as being a great distraction from any physical discomfort, you won’t be able to hear the sound of yourself breathing - one of early stages of learning how to start running I found most off-putting. 

I started with AirPods, then a pair of standard wrap-around wired earphones, and finally moved on to a pair of Shokz OpenRun Pro (opens in new tab) headphones. Designed perfectly to sit behind your ears rather than in them, you can listen to your music without having to block out the sounds of the outside world - which, from my experience, was a much safer way to run as I live in a city where there’s plenty of cars, bikes, and people on my route.

5. Do strength training alongside running

Before lockdown hit and I started running, I had started weightlifting and going to the gym a couple of times a week. In hindsight, maybe that’s what’s helped me avoid many of the injuries new runners typically experience. Although, as gyms closed when I was learning how to start running over lockdown, there wasn’t much of this going on. But now, some months and miles down the line, I’m really seeing the benefits of consistent strength training.

“Being physically robust is a really important part of getting into running. It helps build confidence, and you’ll recover quicker as you’ll have a base level of strength. Being a stronger runner will also reduce the likelihood of getting injured,” Mansour says, pointing to research from the University of Madrid (opens in new tab) that confirms exactly this, since strength training helps to build up the muscle fibers around your joints, making them less likely to suffer under stress. 

6. Buy the right kit

While you can technically run in anything, if you want to run in the long term then you need to learn how to start running with the right equipment. Thinking back to what I was wearing when I first started running, it’s pretty surprising that I’ve got to this point. Although they were marketed differently at the time, I essentially started running in a pair of fashion trainers at least half a size too small for me. Not only did my ankles feel like they were being hit with tiny hammers when I first started moving, my toes would feel crushed by the end of the run. 

It was only after I developed painful shin splints and read up on what causes them did I make an appointment at Runner’s Need (opens in new tab) - a store in the UK where you can have a running gait analysis.

“Getting the right shoes will make sure you’re well supported and comfortable while you run,” confirms running coach Omar Mansour. “Going to a running shop to get gait analysis will ensure you get recommended the right shoes for your running style. If you’re a neutral runner, you should be able to pick up an entry-level shoe for around £90 to £120. If you over-pronate, you may need a more supportive running show like Saucony’s Guide 15 (opens in new tab).” 

Having the right running gear is also really important, he adds. “Making sure you’re dressed for the right conditions is really important. Having clothing that is sweat-wicking will ensure the moisture is drawn away from your skin, which means you won’t get cold while you’re running, and it helps keep you cool in the summer. It’s also a great material for preventing bacteria-based smells.”

I love Proviz (opens in new tab)’s range of fluorescent running clothes particularly, as they have everything from leggings to backpacks, essential if you're on the move at night or early in the morning. While AYBL's V2 leggings are my go-to pick of the best workout leggings as they don’t fall as you move and you can store your phone safely, I go for any of Gymshark's training shorts range (opens in new tab) in summer as they're easy to move in and don't bunch up.

How long should you run for as a beginner?

As a beginner, I ran two to three times per week and increased how far I ran every other week. When training for my first 10km race, I followed an 8-week program with one 4km run, a 3.2km run, and a 4.8km run, increasing gradually on the last run until 10km on race day. 

You can’t run every day. This was a lesson I certainly learned the hard way and when I speak to other runners about this now, the knowing smiles on their faces suggest that they did too. Running can feel pretty addictive thanks to the endorphins it produces, so it makes sense that you’d want to do it every day. 

As I started running more, and in the wrong shoes, the pain in my shins and ankles started to build up to the point where even walking was causing intense pain. This, I learned from a quick Google search, is known as shin splints and it’s pretty common in those who go from no running at all to running all the time - another important lesson in starting slow.

It took about three weeks for the pain to go away and after this, I set myself a workout schedule of two runs per week of varying distances, going up to three runs per week after a couple of months. When the gyms finally opened again, I complemented this with two strength training sessions every week.