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How to Become a Runner if You're a Total Beginner

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Have you ever wanted to run one of those fun 5K races after you see your friends posting tons of pictures of it on Facebook, but you insist you aren’t a runner? It turns out that you can be a runner if you know the right tips to follow! If you want to start running and train for that Color Run all of your friends are doing, HC has some tips on how to start. With these steps, you can finally become the runner you’ve always wanted to be!

Make a Goal

Setting a goal from the get-go will motivate you to keep running. “It's sensible to begin with a goal of running [a] 5K (3.1 miles),” says Matt Fitzgerald, certified sports nutritionist and author of Diet Cults. “There are 5K events all over the country at most times of the year. Signing up for one of these is very motivating for many beginning runners.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to train for the race you pick. “If you are starting from zero, give yourself at least six weeks to train, gradually increasing your walk/runs and runs until you're ready to run a full 5K,” Fitzgerald says.

There are several fun 5K races out there, such as the The Color Run and 5K Foam Fest. You can find races by going to the race finder on Runner’s World and typing in your city, state, race distance and the date range for when you want to do a race. It will show you all the races in that time frame near you. Try signing up for a race six to eight weeks from when you decide to start running. That way, you will have a definite goal that you’re working towards!

Have a Plan

After you identify a goal, you’ll want to make a structured plan to reach it. Zoe Rousseau, a sophomore at the University of North Georgia, started running about a year ago and did her first 5K recently. “The best advice I have [to new runners] is to make a schedule and get a friend to run with,” she says. Having a plan and someone else to hold you accountable will help you to stay on track.

Pick a training plan that you’re sure you’ll be able to stick to. We recommend downloading the Couch to 5K app, which provides a complete nine-week training schedule and helps time your runs.  Couch to 5K follows a walk/run program to make sure that you don’t injure yourself by starting off with too much running. The plan has you run three days a week, which is a perfect plan for a beginner. It’s easy to follow because it’s right on your phone!

Find a friend and make a plan that works with both of your schedules. Determining set weekly run times and treating them like an appointment by marking your calendar will make it easier to fit the runs in. It also helps if you have a friend who already runs so he or she can help you out. If you don’t have friends who run, get any friend who’s willing and you can both learn together!

To be safe, map out the route you’re going on—MapMyRun is a great resource for planning routes. Make sure the route is in a populated area and you’re with a friend. Mapping out the route will also help you plan out your distance and track your time. After each run, track your progress in a notebook or on your phone by documenting your times and how each run felt. As you continue to train, your runs should get easier and your walking time should decrease.

What to Wear

When you’re shopping for the perfect running attire, you want to make sure you’re picking breathable fabrics. “I recommend wearing tops, shorts and socks that are specifically designed for running,” Fitzgerald says. “You will be most comfortable in these.”

As a runner, you’ll want to avoid cotton materials, as they will absorb sweat and cause your skin to chafe or blister. Look for technical apparel, which is designed to wick the sweat away from your skin rather than hold sweat. This material also tends to be lightweight and more comfortable. When you’re shopping, look for clothes whose tags say “Dri-FIT,” “TRANSPOR,” “DRYROAD” or “CoolMax.” These are all materials that will feel best on your run.

One of the most important parts of a runner’s attire is proper shoes, according to Melanie Ludwig, owner of Prestige Fitness in New Hampshire. “Shoes are crucial—if you are serious, make the investment and go to a store that can fit you,” she says. “Lower-limb injuries frequently occur because of improper footwear.”

Without the right shoes, you could potentially get injured, so you want to make sure you have a good pair. There is no one shoe that is perfect for everyone. Get your shoes from a running specialty store that caters to runners and can help you find the shoes that will be best for your feet specifically. Check out stores like Road Runner Sports to find your perfect shoe.

Go on Your First Run

Before you start running, make sure you warm up and stretch out your muscles so you get your body ready to run. Start by warming up your body and preparing it to work out. Wake your body up with a brisk walk for two to three minutes and then a light jog for another two to three minutes.

Once you feel warmed up, you’re ready to stretch. You want to make sure you’re targeting your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps, as these are the muscles you’ll be exerting most on your run. Fitzgerald recommends that “before a run, [you] do dynamic stretches to get your muscles ready to move.” Dynamic stretching is stretching as you are moving. This type of stretching warms your body up and prepares it for the intensity of running.

An example of a dynamic stretch is side leg swings. To do this, stand facing a wall with your fingertips braced against it. Now, tilt your body toward the wall. Swing your right leg from side to side between your body and the wall in big, relaxed movements. Do this about eight times and then repeat with your your left leg. You can find a full dynamic warm-up routine here.

After you stretch, you’re ready to start training, but don’t go crazy right off the bat. When you are a beginner runner, you don’t want to rush into anything too soon. “The biggest mistake new runners make is going out and running as hard as they can until they are out of breath, get side stiches or pull a muscle,” Ludwig says.

It is important not to push yourself too hard when you’re just starting out. Fitzgerald says, “Running is a high-impact activity. It takes time for the body to become more durable. If you do too much too soon, you'll get injured.” Even though you’re excited to get out there and want to improve every day, your body needs rest in order to heal after each run.

Start out by mixing walking and running. Begin with a brisk walk and work your way into a run. Alternate the running and walking by running for a minute or two and then going back to a brisk walk. “Gradually lengthen the jogging segments and shorten the walking segments until you are comfortably able to run the whole time,” Fitzgerald says.

Once you start running, track your progress to help you stay motivated. It’s always fun to see how you are progressing and it can help motivate you go out and run on days you feel like quitting.

Ludwig says, “Keep a record of your ratio of walk to run, and try to improve that until you can complete a mile. It's gotta be baby steps to appropriately train your body.”

After you run, it is important to do a cooldown and stretch out again. Ludwig stresses that post-run is the most important time to stretch. She recommends using this cooldown routine from the American Council on Exercise.

After your cooldown, you have officially completed your first run!

You definitely won’t become a runner overnight, but now you have tips and a plan to get you started! Remember to take baby steps and set goals. You’ll be racing to the finish line of your first 5K in no time! 


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