How to Start Running: Your Beginners’ Running Questions Answered
Running requires no equipment, can be done in the great outdoors and provides a whole host of benefits, so it’s little surprise it’s such a popular way to exercise.
Whether you’ve taken up running over the last year, or are thinking about starting to include it as part of your fitness routine, we know you may have some questions, from how to start running, through to what running does to your body, and even how and when you should eat around a run. Here are answers to some of your most popular running queries, to help you stay on the right path, with tips from British distance athlete Charlotte Arter.
Charlotte Arter, British Distance Athlete
If you’re new to running start with a short and manageable distance before increasing mileage or intensity. You might want to start from between a 2k- 5k depending on your fitness level. The important thing is to run a distance and at a pace that feels comfortable for you.
Charlotte says: “The hardest part is getting out the door. No one regrets going for a run! But be progressive, start with run/walk and start with a target time for this, for example 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes alternate walking and running as you feel. Don’t worry about pace or distance, as your fitness and confidence will increase gradually, and the amount of time walking will decrease and the amount of time running will increase. Take your time, be patient, and make it enjoyable and social. There are also various resources online on help you start running, such as Coach to 5k.”
Running can provide a whole host of benefits including improved cardiovascular endurance, improved heart health, strengthened muscles, bones and joints and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Charlotte believes it’s great in helping to improve both physical and mental health. It’s also a great way to socialise and run with friends or colleagues.”
When running, Charlotte recommends trying to keep your breathing as relaxed as possible.
“If you feel your breathing is getting out of control, slow your pace down and try to relax. When training or racing gets hard, I count my steps in my head, which shifts my focus onto something else and as a result helps relax my breathing!”
If your goal is to lose weight, running can be a way to increase your energy expenditure which can help in achieving a calorie deficit which is required for weight loss. However, with that said, it’s important to make sure you find a form of exercise that you enjoy doing and is suitable for you. If running is what you enjoy, then it will be much easier to stick to and achieve your weight loss goals.
According to Runners World, the average time to run a 5k in the UK is 33 minutes 54 seconds. For male runners the average finish time is 29 minutes and 8 seconds and for females, 38 minutes and 12 seconds.
Charlotte suggests trying not to compare yourself to others and to focus on you as everyone is different. “Believe in yourself, be patient, set goals and have no limits.”
Some people are okay with waiting an hour, some people prefer to wait a few hours before their run. Everyone is different so it’s important to do what is best for you.
Charlotte says: “The main factors to consider is the type of run you plan to do and what you have eaten. After a meal you’d tend to wait longer before you run, a few hours, whereas after a snack you could run say an hour later. Experiment and see how you feel running at different lengths of time after you’ve eaten.”
If you’re going on a run, make sure that you are fuelled appropriately. What you eat will depend on your needs, goal and preferences. For example, for shorter distances, a snack may be more suitable, and for longer distances, you may want to have a meal to make sure you’re properly fuelled.
Charlotte says: “There is no one size fits all with this everyone is different. Try different types of fuel until you figure out what works for you. Typically, runners require a good source of carbohydrate before running, so food such as porridge, bread, honey, bananas etc.”
For snack and meal ideas, check out our guide on How to Fuel For a Running Event.
Running can help strengthen muscles, particularly your legs or if you’re new to running. Over time, your muscles will adapt to stimulus, which means it will have less of an effect as time goes by.
How you run will exert your muscles differently. Doing sprints will exert your body different in a different way than if you were to run a long distance like a marathon. A sprinter would typically have higher Type 2 muscle fibre ratio than long distance runner who would typically have a higher type 1 muscle fibre ratio. This ratio plays a part in their function but also in their appearance.
If your main aim is to build muscle, focus on lifting weights or including resistance workouts. Pairing strength training with sprints would be more optimal than running long distances.
For more advice on this topic, check out our running and strength training workout guide.
Wearing appropriate running shoes that fit you is really important.
Charlotte recommends visiting a running store where you can get advice from specialists who can advise the best shoe to suit your needs.
It is possible to run every day but that does not necessarily mean that it is good to.
Some people can handle training every day and some people find they run better if they have longer rest in between.
Everyone responds differently to training so it’s important to adapt your training to meet your needs and goals. Remember, more does not always mean better.
Finding the right balance of training and resting that works for you is important to avoid burnout, decreased performance and limit risk of injury.
- Back pain: Running with poor posture can cause back pain so it’s important to try and maintain good posture. It is possible for existing back problems to exacerbate with running. If you have a back injury or feel pain in your back, please check with your Doctor before running.
- Piles: Running can cause flare ups of haemorrhoids, which is quite common in endurance athletes. If you have any concerns or if symptoms occur, please consult your Doctor.
- Sciatica: Feeling discomfort around the legs and back could be a potential sign of sciatica. If you think you may have sciatica, piriformis syndrome, or are feeling any sort of pain, it’s best to consult your Doctor or a physiotherapist if you feel pain so they can help you identify the cause and give advice on how to manage it.
Running can help improve cardio fitness, strengthen the heart, build overall strength in the legs, and help to change your body composition.
Running expends a lot of energy so it will be unlikely for you to put on weight. If you run and eat in a calorie surplus, over time, you may put on weight.
Don't forget there are many health benefits to reap from running, aside from weight loss, which should be considered as part of a healthy lifestyle.
When starting out something new, it can often feel very challenging but don’t let that stop you from doing it or knocking your confidence. In order to get better at something, things require practice and time take, and it’s no different for running.
Charlotte assures that running will get easier!
“It just takes time. The more consistent your training is the greater the likelihood running will feel easier, quicker.”
If you’ve set a goal to run your first marathon, congrats! Marathon training isn’t an easy challenge. It will require preparation and planning, but it will be really rewarding when you cross the finish line.
To help you get started, check out our marathon guide for beginners.
Running races might be postponed or on hold at the moment but if you’re planning to run your own race to see where you’re at or even go for a personal best, it’s a good idea to go with something you regularly eat and familiar with. The last thing you want trying something new and experiencing stomach issues.
Try to avoid eating anything new and eat a meal that has a good balance of protein, carbs, fats and vegetables.
Check out our runners guide on how to fuel for a running event which goes into more detail about what to eat before and after a race.