Last updated: October 6, 2020
When I decided to start running, I didn’t have a carefully thought out plan. I took it one day at a time and made plenty of mistakes. As I began to run more consistently, I found myself consumed with questions.
How much should I run as a beginner?
Is it okay to run every day?
What is proper running form?
Should I eat before a run?
Questions like these filled my head as I wondered whether or not I was making any mistakes. With no running coach to guide me, I learned a great deal through trial and error.
As I continue to train and run consistently now, nearly ten years later, I have a much greater knowledge base surrounding the sport. Many of the things I know now could have been incredibly helpful when I was beginning, and saved me a great deal of time and effort.
Running for beginners usually involves uncertainty.
Knowing what to expect when you start running can help you anticipate the challenges and reduce the uncertainties of those first few days and months.
Ultimately, running for beginners requires listening to your body and adjusting based on its response. However, having an idea of what to expect when you begin can help avoid some of the common pitfalls of most new runners.
Related: How to Start Running: 6 Steps for Beginner Runners
It took nearly 30 half marathons and 7 marathons for me to learn some of these lessons.
Running will continue to teach me as I become more seasoned, surprising me in new ways as I set higher goals and adapt to new changing life circumstances.
However, those lessons I learned as a beginner runner stick with me to this day. Here are the 9 things I wish I had known when I decided to start running.
9 Things I Wish I Knew As a Beginner Runner
Running actually does get easier.
Before I created a running habit, I had started and stopped many times. Each time I tried to start running, I lasted about a week before giving up. I couldn’t understand how others actually enjoyed this.
Despite my initial excitement, I always ended up giving up when I couldn’t seem to rid that breathless feeling after each run.
Related: How to Start Running | 6 Steps for Beginner Runners
Fast forward a few years, when my Aunt signed us up for our first half marathon, and I suddenly found myself with no choice but to continue. As I progressed through the training plan, I discovered that it does in fact get easier.
When you’re just beginning, those first few runs usually feel pretty miserable. The feeling often lasts for weeks as your body attempts to adapt to this new activity. However, once you find your groove (and you will!), running quickly transforms into a mindless, familiar activity.
You can’t go from 0 to 100 in one week.
Running, for beginners especially, should focus on gradual progress. So many of us find ourselves eager to get to the point where running feels natural that we attempt to rush through the beginning phase.
Pushing yourself to go too fast or too far from the start will only leave you feeling miserable. Your body will be exhausted, and you’ll likely feel discouraged when things don’t start to feel easier as you’d expect.
Related: How Many Miles to Run a Week? Finding Your Optimal Running Mileage
Trying to do too much too soon is a recipe for failure – whether you’re starting to run or beginning any other new habit. Give your body some time to adjust to this new activity before increasing the intensity.
Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others who have been at it for longer, and instead, listen to your body and adjust according to what you are feeling. Regardless of how slow, fast, long or short you go, each day gets you one step closer to your goals.
A set back does not mean you will never reach your goals.
If there’s one thing all runners can relate to, it’s that set backs can be completely demoralizing when working towards a goal.
When we start running, most of us assume that our progress will be linear. The beginning will be challenging, but if we stay consistent things will gradually get easier as we continue to improve.
If only this were the case.
It is usually expected that those first few weeks of running will be difficult, but we often fail to realize that difficulties reappear even once we are a seasoned runner.
As we encounter set backs, it’s tempting to give up. However, we must remember that progress often involves taking two steps forward and one step back.
Everybody experiences set backs – from the elites to the back of the pack runners. Pushing through these set backs will make achieving your goals even more satisfying. Rather than dwelling on a failure, use it as a learning experience to help you grow.
The Runner’s High is a real thing!
Hearing that exercise produces a burst of endorphins that leave you feeling happy and energized seems almost too good to be true. However, we are all pleasantly surprised to discover that it is.
Running for beginners involves a great deal of surprises, most of them presenting obstacles and challenges for which we did not plan. But despite the continued effort and struggle required to improve, most of us find ourselves willingly going back for more because we fall in love with the Runner’s High.
Related: How to Conquer the 4 Biggest Obstacles for Beginner Runners
Most forms of exercise, especially cardiovascular activities such as running, stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals within the body called endorphins. This endorphin rush provides a boost of energy, excitement and positive feelings.
These sense of euphoria provide a natural high that keeps us coming back for more. Despite the challenges we may encounter on the run, most seasoned and beginner runners alike can attest to the fact that you’ll rarely return from a run in a worse mood than when you began.
Running involves so much more than the actual act of running.
When I decided to start running, I thought that simply going for a run regularly would be enough to make progress and stay healthy. While running consistently will certainly help you improve, achieving your goals without injury involves much more.
As a beginner runner, heading out for a mile or two every other day will definitely help your body adjust to the sport. But as you begin to increase mileage or speed, you’ll find that your body requires quite a bit more to stay healthy.
Running is about so much more than your actual runs. Running is about how you fuel your body, stretching, foam rolling, getting enough sleep, strength training and staying hydrated. In order to be your best self on the run, you need to prioritize taking care of your body.
Accomplishing your biggest goals is possible when you make a plan.
Most beginner runners can’t imagine running a full 5k, let alone a marathon – and yet so many eventually do. We all were beginners at one point or another, but with consistent training and a plan to improve, it’s truly surprising what you can accomplish.
When you’ve never run before or are struggling to complete your first 5k, running at a certain pace or completing a certain distance often feels unattainable.
Regardless of where you are starting from, it’s important to remember that are bodies are capable of much more than we could ever imagine. 26 miles sounds like a nearly impossible feat at the beginning of training, when a long run consists of 6 miles. But with consistent training and a gradual buildup, you’ll be running 20 milers without even realizing it.
Running provides us with an amazing opportunity to take our wildest, most far-fetched dreams and break them down into small, manageable chunks. With consistency and a little bit of grit, these dreams soon become much more realistic.
Running a race is not as intimidating as it seems.
When I first started running, I always tried to avoid seeing people. I’d run in the neighborhood at times when I knew most others would be at work, loop the same block repeatedly to avoid the busy streets, and try to avoid trails at all costs.
As I gradually became more comfortable with the sport, I found myself less anxious about passing a fellow runner or being seen by cars. However, the thought of running a race still felt awfully intimidating.
It wasn’t until I begrudgingly showed up at my first race that I discovered just how welcoming the environment can be. Sure, the starting corral is packed and spectators line the course, but it is far from a judgmental atmosphere.
Related: 9 Tips for Running Your First Race
Most runners are more concerned about themselves than they are about those around them. And those who take the time to notice you often do so to wish you good luck or engage in friendly conversation. Along the course, you’ll find tons of people who admire the fact that you are out there and they aren’t.
After completing more than 50 races, I can now confidently attest to the fact that participating in a race is one of the best choices for beginner runners. Not only will the environment bring you more confidence, but it will boost your spirits, generate motivation, and encourage you to continue.
The best way to make progress is to slow down.
As a beginner runner, you usually find yourself hoping to get faster. At times it might feel like you are running slowly – which can be frustrating when it already feels hard.
It’s tempting to try to pick up the pace right away, but doing so will not only make you feel miserable, but it will likely end in injury or burnout. Running slow is often the best way to increase mileage and distance over time.
Long slow distance runs are a staple in many training plans, for beginner to advanced runners alike. As you get more comfortable, you’ll be able to throw in a few dedicated speed workouts each month, but the majority of your miles should be completed at a slow, easy pace.
I was surprised to discover just how often seasoned runners slow it down. When I first started running, I was under the impression that fast runners ran fast during all of their runs – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. If you want to gain speed, slow down. If you want to increase distance, slow down.
There is no right or wrong way to run.
Running looks different for each and every person. You can tell from the wide variety of shoe selections, race distances, running groups, clothing options, and so much more.
As a beginner runner, the best thing you can do is avoid putting yourself in a box. Avoid the comparisons that are so tempting once your newsfeed becomes more saturated with runners. Don’t spend time looking too closely at others in the gym or at the starting line. Try not to choose the clothes that you think you “should wear” rather those that make you feel comfortable and confident.
Running is a versatile sport. It is perfect for the overweight beginner who is hoping to get in shape, just as much as it is for the elite athlete who trains twice a day. As you start running, focus on what feels good for your body and mind rather than what you think you “should” be doing.
There is no right or wrong way to run. Don’t be afraid to venture outside the norm and experiment. If you are healthy and happy, then you are doing things right.
No matter what phase of life I am in, running is there to help me celebrate and while still challenging me further. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would increase my mental strength, productivity, happiness, and confidence simply by starting to run.
If you are curious about running, try it; give it a fair shot. Know that everything worth doing comes with a challenge, and running is no different. It may push you more than you’d like, but if you stick it out you will discover something that is going to change your life.
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Sunday 25th of March 2018
I had tried to 'like' running over years but I could never get past the early drudgery of it. The internal voice that speaks to you during a run was very antagonist. I told my son ( a high cross country runner) that my internal narrative was SO caustic that I must not be one of those people that can enjoy running. It was more than a little surprise when he said that every runner has that voice in their head....and that it goes away after the first mile or so. Just knowing that the self doubt goes away at some point in a run was enough to make a big difference. Fourth marathon on the horizon for me.
Running for Sweets
Sunday 25th of March 2018
I know exactly what you mean! The beginning phases of running are ROUGH and feel very dreadful because that internal voice has incredible power. That is so cool that your son was able to inspire you to try again! He must have really helped change your mind considering here you are 3 (almost 4) marathons later! Thanks for sharing, that is too cool!