Sometimes I read running tips for beginners and think, ‘Wow, I wish I head known that when I first started running!’ and sometimes I read them and think, ‘Wow, I should really remember to do that now!’ 😉 Whether you’re just getting into running, coming back after a break, or you’re a long-time runner who has fallen into some bad habits, these running tips for beginners will help.
Remember the important extras. Running accessories like hats, sunglasses, fuel belts, socks etc can actually be essentials. Having the right extras can make your run that much more comfortable and keep you focused on your training. It’s not all about the shoes! 😉
Choose the right shoes. It’s a great idea to go to a specialty store that’s recommended within the local running community to get properly fitted for shoes. But also pay attention to how you actually feel in the shoes – how shoes fit and feel is based on so many variables, it’s nearly impossible for someone to pick the perfect shoe for you.
Size up. Nearly always, your running shoe size will be 1/2 size bigger than your regular shoe size. Your feet will swell a little while you run, making your regular size pinch uncomfortably and cause blisters.
Rotate your shoes (and don’t wear them for walking). Your running shoes are your running shoes, so don’t wear them to strength train or just for walking around. And rather than have one pair you run in until they’re trashed, buy two pairs at once and rotate them for each run. As well as switching them up from run to run, also make sure you’re not always running your long run in the same pair.
Track mileage on your shoes. Without tracking mileage, it’s hard to guess when you need to replace your shoes. They may be losing their spring or padding before you actually notice physical wear and tear. Some apps like Runkeeper will track your mileage on your shoes for you, or you can just note which shoes you wear in your training log.
Dress as if it’s 10 degrees warmer outside. Remember you warm up and stay warm quickly when you’re running. If it’s 60 degrees out, dress as if it’s 70 degrees and you’ll be comfortable on your run.
Wear breathable tech fabrics. Cotton equals chafing. Nine times out of ten your new race t-shirt is made of cotton. It may make no sense, just know that if you wear the cotton shirt to run in, you will pay for it as soon as the shower hits your body. Ouch. Speaking of chafing…
Avoid chafing. Wear Bodyglide. Aquaphor works too, or Vaseline in a pinch (although I find that rubs off too quickly). You can’t put on too much, anywhere your skin is rubbing against fabric, or against other skin.
You can always walk. You can try a run/walk technique (which is a great way to start running or come back from a running hiatus). But just knowing that you can always just walk can also be a mental boost for you.
You can run for minutes instead of miles. Nearly every training plan or mention of training schedules you’ll see is in distance, whether you use miles or kilometers. But when you’re a beginner, it can be beneficial to run for minutes rather than miles – it takes some pressure off you, you know exactly how much time you need to schedule for and it can make you focus on form and effort rather than pace, which will help you in the long run.
Stretch afterward instead of before. Static stretching before you run is not an effective way to warm up. You’re actually priming your muscles to relax, rather than be ready to perform. Save your static stretching for after your run.
Find some dynamic warm up moves. This is a much more effective way to warm up. There are lots of dynamic warm ups you can utilize to get ready to run. Things like butt kicks, high knees, lunging, leg swings and more are a great way to get your muscles and joints warm and primed to perform.
Practice your goal pace during training. If you want to run a certain pace in a race, you need to run at that pace during training. Try several miles at goal pace in the middle of a long run, or do intervals at your race pace. Get your body accustomed to how your goal pace feels.
Run the slow runs slowly. It’s okay to run slowly for some of your run – in fact, it will benefit you. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to maintain a race pace over your distance when your event arrives. There are lots of physiological reasons to keep your recovery runs super easy. It can be a great idea to leave your watch at home during these runs to take away any temptation to pick up your pace.
Keep a training log. Keeping a log of mileage and pace can be a motivator, as well as an easy way to see when you’re progressing and when you may be in need of a new training approach. This tip will help you avoid overtraining, as well as pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses so you can work on them.
Build up your mileage gradually. You often hear the 10% rule used – that you shouldn’t add more than 10% of your total mileage per week. The problem with this is it doesn’t really work for true beginner runners – you’re starting out with no mileage or a very low mileage. If you’re training by time, you can start with two 20 minute runs, then two 30 minute runs and build up from there.
Quality over quantity. There are conflicting theories about whether ‘junk miles’ – miles run with no real plan, just to add to total weekly mileage – are a good idea or not. But when you’re first starting out running, just focus on having a plan for each run. Remember that even running two quality workouts twice a week is way better than running more often without any plan or specificity.
Finish fast. Whether you’re training for an event or you’re not quite there yet, it’s a great training habit to get into to practice a fast finish. You can make the last mile of a long run faster than usual, or throw in a few minutes of fast running towards the end of any run. Get your body accustomed to pushing itself when you’re feeling tired – it will only help you when you do start racing.
Practice your race during your long run. This is not just a tip about pace – we already mentioned making sure you run some miles or intervals at your goal pace. Practice your race means try out everything you’re planning on doing or using on race day when you’re in training, specifically in your long run. From the clothes you plan on wearing, to the fuel you’ll be using, take them on a trial run (literally!) and make sure everything feels comfortable so you don’t have any nasty surprises during your event.
One day the PR’s will end. It’s easy to forget this fact when you’re a beginner runner. For a while, every time you go out you set a new record, whether it’s distance, time, or pace. And when you first start racing, PR’s are almost a guarantee. And then, they may be fewer and farther between, or at least harder to achieve. You should mentally prepare for when the slowdown happens, once your body adapts to being a regular runner.
Set a goal. It’s important to have something to work towards. A lot of new runners have begun to get healthy, or to lose weight. But once running grabs hold of you and you fall in love with it, it’s important to have a more concrete goal to strive for. Usually, that ends up being some form of race, but if racing isn’t your thing, you can set yourself certain time goals or distance goals to hit at certain times.
You will run faster on a treadmill. If you’ve started out running on a treadmill in the gym, you may be surprised when you first run outside that it actually harder. There’s a lot of talk about how tough it is to do a long workout on a treadmill (I’ve certainly mentioned it before!) but it’s more that it’s mentally tough. The treadmill offers you a uniform pace, no hills unless you program them, no wind resistance, or uneven terrain. Don’t be discouraged if your pace is slower the first few times you run outside.
Your pace does not define you. Neither do your race times. Don’t get too hung up on characterizing yourself a a ‘fast’ runner or a ‘slow’ runner. The important thing is you enjoy it and you do it – that you’re a runner. And if your concern is other people’s opinions, just know that non-runners not only don’t care what your pace or PR is, most of them have no idea what’s a fast pace or not. And fellow runners think you’re awesome because you’re a runner too.
Try everything. You never know what’s going to click for your personality, or for where you are mentally on any given day. Some people run better in groups or with a friend. Some prefer running solo. Same goes with music or silence; trails or pavements; morning or evening. Just try it all out and see what feels best for you.
Visualize. This is one of the most important mental tools a runner can use. You can use it for everything. If you’ve heard of it, probably it’s been along the lines of visualizing yourself at the starting line of the race, feeling strong throughout, and finishing well. But it’s not just a strategy for race preparation. Use it to mentally prepare for a tough workout, or a long run. The technique is just to imagine yourself feeling strong and running well. Be as specific as possible when you visualize and try to imagine using all your senses.
Use a mantra when you’re digging deep. ‘Dig deep’ is actually one of the mantras I use, repeating it to myself when a run or a race becomes hard-going. Words have power and words you repeat to yourself can have a great deal of power when you apply them in a physically stressful situation. They seem to work better when they’re short phrases, or even single words.
Unclench your fists (and shoulders and jaw). Especially as the time goes on as you run, it’s important to do a check-in on your body to make sure you’re not tensing up and diverting energy away from running. Take a moment to shake your arms out, pull your shoulders down and back and loosen your jaw. Make sure your hands aren’t clenched into fists, too. A quick shake up when you’re starting to feel tense can do wonders to making a hard run a little less miserable.
Think about carrying eggs. Seriously – this is a real tip. It’s easier said than done to just stop clenching your fists and relax your grip. I guarantee if you check in next time you’re running hard and you feel tense, that you will be white-knuckling your hands. So, imagine you have an egg held in the palm of each hand. You want to hold it gently, so it’s secure, but doesn’t break as you run. If you can’t do the egg trick, try resting your thumbs on the outside of your forefinger, rather than gripping it.
Pay attention to your cadence. Cadence is a great way of increasing your speed without feeling like you need to sprint. Next time you’re out on a run, focus some of your time on noticing the pace of your footfalls and trying to speed them up. It may feel a bit like you’re taking shorter steps, or decreasing your stride – you are! And that is actually making you cover ground a little faster. If you become very aware of your cadence, you can even eventually start listening to the rhythm of your feet and have a good idea of what pace you’re running.
Spring off rather than overstride. The cadence tip works because it forces you into not overstriding (overstriding is when your foot lands on the ground well ahead of your hips). The faster your cadence, the more steps per minute you’re taking, and the closer to your body your foot is landing. Likewise, to increase speed you should also focus on springing off from the ground, rather than lengthening your stride to try to cover more ground. Use the force of your push-off from the ground as assistance and you’ll automatically be setting yourself up for a faster overall pace.
Take time off when you first suspect an injury. It sucks. It’s hard to take time off. We’ve all been there and every runner you meet knows the siren call of ‘just trying a run to see how it feels’ is very, very tempting. But if you feel something that doesn’t feel right, or any sort of pain, force yourself to take some time off running. Maybe you need to take a few days, or a week, or a month even. It may seem interminable and it will be frustrating, But imagine what it would feel like if you ran through an injury and ended up unable to run for many months. Be smart, listen to your body.
Get more sleep. The unofficial rule is a minute per night for every mile per week. So if you’re running 25 miles a week, you should shoot for 25 extra minutes of sleep every night. Just as rest days are super important in your training, actual rest while you’re sleeping is also important.
Hydration (and over hydration). Drink enough…but not too much. This is a tip that can be very much trial and error. It’s important to not just consider drinking water when you’re running, but also the amount of electrolytes you’re ingesting, either through salt, sports drinks, or gels and other fuel. Flushing your body of essential electrolytes by drinking too much water can be disastrous for your performance, as well as being potentially dangerous.
It’s not just running. Strength training is so important for injury prevention in runners and it can also make you a stronger, faster, more efficient runner when you strength train appropriately. Likewise, cross training is also an important part of training and running. Give your body a break from performing the same activity over and over by giving it different stressors and ways of moving. If you feel like you have no time in your week to do anything but run, you can always swap an easy run out for swimming, biking, walking, rowing, yoga…you get the idea.
Adjust goals and expectations on the day. You can have a perfect training period and then have a perfect storm of bad conditions and bad luck on race day. You could have felt lackluster about your training and suddenly feel fresh and ready at the starting line. It could be humid, rainy, or icy. Take stock of what’s working in your favor and not and reassess what you want to shoot for as your goal.
Have an A, B, and C goal. Speaking of goals, having only one goal can set you up for failure. Since you just don’t know what will go right or wrong on race day, make sure you’re prepared by having three goals for the day. Your A goal is your best possible outcome, B goal is a good result based on the conditions and C goal is what you want to achieve at the very least. It might look something like A Goal: PR; B Goal: Run under x amount of time; C Goal: Run the second half of the race faster than the first.
Don’t go out too fast. It’s okay not to negative split a race – sometimes that just doesn’t happen. (A negative split is when you run the second half of the race faster than the first.) But those first miles, especially in longer races, are crucial. Spending too much energy and speed at the beginning of a race can mean you hit the wall – hard – just when you need to be able to dig deep down and keep your pace.
Stick to the familiar. Remember the tip about trying out the gear you plan to use and wear on race day ahead of time? Well, by the time race day comes along, plan in advance to know what works as a meal the night before and morning of a race, whether you can stomach coffee before running, whether you need to make sure you have access to a bathroom before your race, what gels or fuel you’re going to be using. Basically, you don’t want to try anything new on race day – just stick to what you’re already used to so you don’t have any nasty surprises.
Your race time does not define you. This one’s so important I (sort of) mentioned it twice. Just like it’s important mentally not to define yourself by your pace, it’s so important if you have a less than stellar time, to acknowledge that while it may be disappointing, it is not a reflection of your worth. It’s hard because a race is a culmination of a long period of training and we’re programmed though school and career to always achieve and do well, so it’s difficult not to feel a sense of failure when we don’t achieve a goal. But in running, more than in any other sport, those unfortunate races really do make us stronger and smarter for the future.
Keep it in perspective. I have one semi-regular reader who is an elite runner, with brand sponsorship. But the rest of my readers are just like me – we run for fun, for our own self-competitive nature, as well as to stay fit and active. If we have a crappy race experience, if we miss a PR, if we have to drop out of a race because of injury, there is no financial repercussion. Our career is not tied to our running. It’s just one bad race. Remember that as you feel sad and disappointed about it, then use that knowledge to let it go.
Safety On the Run
Run against traffic, except on blind corners. If you’re road running, always make sure you’re running on the side of the road facing traffic, so oncoming drivers can see you from a ways off. Pay attention to the road, though – running against traffic on a blind corner can be very dangerous. Use your best judgement and stay aware of the road.
Don’t run with headphones on outside. If you have to have music, leave one ear bud out to listen for traffic or for other people. It’s so important to stay aware of what is going on around you while you run outdoors and your sense of hearing is vital.
Look for traffic even if you have the light. When you’re road running, don’t assume just because you have the pedestrian walk light, that turning cars have seen you and will yield. Hang back a few seconds at intersections when you have the light, just to make sure you’re seen.
Wear reflective clothing if its dark out. If you’re a morning runner (and my anecdotal research says many runners are), much of the year you’re going to be running at least part of your run in the dark, or in very early morning light. if you’re an evening runner, this tip goes for you as well. This is the time to revel in your neon and even kick it up a notch by having reflective qualities on your clothing, buying reflective gear, or you could even get crazy and buy a headlamp.
Follow road rules on a trail or running path. Whether you’re running on a sidewalk or trail, the road rules still apply. If you drive on the right and pass on the left, do the same on your running route. Call out ‘On your left!’ if you intend to overtake someone on their left side.
Vary your routine or route. Don’t run the exact same routes at the same time on the same days of the week. As well as getting boring for you, it’s never a good idea to be predictable with your routine.
Tell someone when and where you’re running. Let people know where you’re running and roughly what time to expect you back. If you’re alone, leave a note with your route and what time you leave.
Wear an ID or carry one. You never know what will happen, so it is important to carry a form of ID, whether that means carrying your license, or getting one of those road ID bands to wear that includes all your vital information in case of accident or emergency.
Carry a phone. There’s no reason not to have a phone on you – there are tons of lightweight belts you can use to stash it, or use a pocket on your tights or top. It’s peace of mind to know you can call if there’s an emergency, or if you try to convince your husband to come pick you up when you don’t think you can suck up the last part of a long run.
Trust your gut. You know that prickly sensation you get when you feel like something just isn’t right, even if everything seems to be normal? When you’re out alone running, heed that gut instinct. I’ve only felt this once, when I saw a truck parked on the side of the road out running on a not heavily trafficked route. The driver was standing outside of his door and something in me rang warning bells. I furiously memorized the license plate, color and model of the truck and turned around as if I was doing an out and back. Nothing happened and it was most likely an innocent reason for the driver to be there, but it doesn’t hurt to let that gut instinct have its say and listen.
What advice would you give to a runner just starting out?
What was the best advice you received as a beginner?