Want to start running but don’t know where to begin? Follow these tried and tested tips from runners on how they found their feet.
We all know how to run – it’s just a case of putting one foot in front of the other… fast. But if you’ve ever tried to go for a jog without the proper gear and technique, you’ll know how hard running can be. It’s difficult to make something into a habit when it hurts like hell and you’ve no idea what you’re supposed to be doing.
So, how do you start running and how do you stick with it? Some of us have spent years trying to learn to love or tolerate running. Others still hate it but do it anyway because the benefits are so worth chasing. Running really can be amazing. It can make you feel invincible, strong, empowered. The running community is one of the most positive spaces both online and in real life. And once you get into it, you may just start a life-long love affair with jogging, running, racing or sprinting.
We roped in 20 runners to share their top tips for getting started and finding your feet in the running world.
How to get into running and stick with it, according to other runners:
Go for time, not distance
Rather than thinking about working up to a 5k, work on how long you can run on your feet, as Susanne Wakefield explains: “Start with a fixed time rather than a distance; run out one way for 5/7/10 minutes, then just run back.
“Gradually increase the time until you’re comfortable enough to plan a small route. I found that if I tried to run a loop route straight away, I’d go off too fast and not keep it up.”
Take it easy
Zuva Seven says that going out nice and easy is the key to enjoyable running: “You need to run at a pace where you feel like you can run forever. Also, I loved Coach Cory on the Nike running app. He does a bunch of beginner programs that are really fantastic. He’s also hilarious.”
Load up on podcasts
Forget your Fast and Furious playlist, loads of us prefer to listen to podcasts on the trot instead. Molly Campbell explains: “With music, you know how long you’ve been running by judging how long the average song is. With podcasts, you can get more lost in the audio.”
Podcasts are also easier if you’re keen to maintain a steady pace (you’re not tempted to slow up or down according to different song tempos). You may even learn something on your run!
Focus on the non-physical benefits
Dr David Honeywell started running back in 1978 after reading that it could help alleviate depression and anxiety. “Running is incredible for mental health, which is why I’m still running 42 years later! It’s the best buzz ever!”
Get to know your area
You never really know an area until you’ve run around it. Being on foot allows you to explore new nooks and crannies, go off-road, focus on new neighbourhoods, parks, cool buildings that you’ve not noticed before. Once you see how close green spaces are to you, you’ll clock just how much you were missing out on before.
Join a running club
The idea of joining a running club can seem scary even if you’re a long-time runner. But not every club is ultra-serious and full of marathoners trying to race their way to a sub-3 hour PB.
The Hythe Blister Sisters is a group designed to get women of all ages and sizes moving. “We’re not all traditional serious athletic clubs, there are loads of more relaxed groups like us!” they tell Stylist.
“We are all about supporting beginners, and once you start with a group you will meet new ‘running’ friends who will keep you going.”
Rope in a running partner
We’ve said this again and again: running with someone else can be hugely motivational. Runner Naomi agrees: “You are more likely to do it because you don’t want to let them down. Then, after a while, it becomes a habit.”
Forget the clock
“Stop worrying about time,” says Nicola Slawson. “Getting injured early on is enough to stop a beginner trying again so take it easy and give yourself enough time to go as slowly as you need.”
Choose your running days
Nicola also advises picking the days that you run and making them non-negotiable. “That might be Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for example. If you miss a day, you notice.”
There are loads of running documentaries out there, from The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (maybe not for the beginner runner!) to Finding Traction, which you might find on YouTube and is genuinely inspirational.
Ever come across a runner who operates under the “if it’s not on Strava, it doesn’t count” motto? Tech can be toxic but it can also be hugely motivating; Strava allows you to plan routes, record runs and connect with runners around the world.
For Esme Fillingham, the app allows her to look back at the progress she’s made in distance, pace and/or frequency. “I understand that these stats don’t matter to some people though and that’s great if it works for them.”
Set your expectations low
At Strong Women, we’re all about setting big goals and striving to achieve them. We can do hard things! But the key to success is being realistic and that may mean setting the bar low.
Catrin MacDonnell says: “Don’t have high expectations. It’s OK to run for 10 minutes to begin with. Thinking I should be running 10k straightaway put me off! Something is better than nothing.”
“It sounds bizarre but try to think of anything but running itself,” advises Holly Freemann. “If you concentrate on running while you’re out, all you will think about is how hard it is or how long left you have. I’d recommend using the time as a kind of therapy; spend it day dreaming and as time for yourself.”
Try Couch to 5k
Perhaps the most common piece of advice for beginners has been to do a Couch to 5k programme. “I couldn’t run for 10 seconds before getting breathless last year – but Couch to 5k literally turned that around,” says Kimberley Bond. “Having realistic goals, making sure you give yourself plenty of time to achieve them and making sure you take plenty of rest between runs is important too!”
But sometimes, you do need that extra push. “Someone recently said that the hardest bit of couch to 5k is ‘couch to front door’. My tip is to just focus on getting out of the house with your gear on, and see what happens,” Martha Hampson offers. “If you do some running, great. But if not, at least you’ve started the first step of the routine. I try not to have running as my goal at all. It’s just ‘twice a week I’ll leave the house for half an hour while wearing my trainers’.”
Forget about falling in love with running
Of course, not everyone’s going to love running right away and the last thing you need is the pressure to enjoy something. So, if you are struggling to like running, forget about falling in love with it. As one runner told us: “There is so much pressure out there to pretend that if you run, you have to act like you love it. I run but I don’t love running at all. I love how I feel after a run and focusing on that feeling is what motivates me to go.”
Sign up to something
Signing up to ‘low-key events’ really motivated Michelle Wickham in the beginning as it gave her something to aim for.
“I loved the buzz from other runners and the spectators. Also, it made me realise that I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t super speedy. I then grew to (mostly) love running!”
Read up to get out
Two books changed my running life: Born To Run and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. They’re both about long distance running and the power of mental endurance, but don’t go thinking that they’re only worth a read if you’re a prospective marathoner.
“It’s amazing how motivating being told that humans are better equipped for long distance running than any other animal is,” says Robbie Hawkins about Born To Run.
Understand what you want from running
“Work on your relationship with running first,” suggests Julie Gonzálezová. “A lot of people first think about how to get better fast, but not about how they feel about the activity itself.”
Have your gait analysed
The trainers you choose to run in can make all the difference. Unless you have your gait and run style analysed, however, you won’t know what that perfect pair is. Research suggests that up to 75% of runners wear the wrong size shoe, and everyone has a unique way of placing their foot on the floor that requires a specific trainer.
Put on your sports bra as soon as you get up
My own top tip is simple: get dressed in your running bra, pants and socks as soon as you wake up. You might not have time to run until this evening but if you’re dressed in your running under-armour all day, you’ll have a constant reminder that that’s what you’re doing later on. When the time comes, all you have to do is whip off your jeans and T-shirt for your best lycra and you’re all set!
Feeling inspired? Get stronger by joining our four-week Strength Training for Runners plan.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.