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So, you’ve caught the running bug and want to get into a regular running routine. But where do you start, and how do you pace yourself?
Not to worry. We’ve got the tips, strategies, and training plans you need to get started and stay motivated. And if you think you’re ready to tackle a 5K, we have training advice for that, too.
What do you need to get started?
Running is simple, right? All you need is a pair of shoes and out the door you go. Well, not so fast.
Yes, you do need a good pair of running shoes, but other essential items can help make your training more successful and more enjoyable, too. And, let’s face it, if you enjoy an activity, you’re more likely to stick with it.
Invest in a good pair of running shoes
Hitting the pavement requires more than a pair of Vans or Converse. To reduce injuries and increase comfort, you need shoes that are designed specifically for running.
Ideally, you should get fitted for a pair of shoes at a running specialty store or with a podiatrist. If that’s not possible, do some research and look for a pair of running shoes that fits your needs.
Opt for comfortable, sweat-wicking clothing
When it comes to clothes, comfort is key. Stick with lightweight pants, shorts, and shirts designed for fitness activities.
Look for sweat-wicking material and also consider the weather. Wearing layers in the winter helps keep you warm and allows you to remove clothing as necessary once you start warming up.
Cushioned running socks are also essential. Again, look for labels that say “sweat-wicking,” and consider wool running socks in the winter. And finally, don’t forget a supportive sports bra.
Use technology to track your progress
Activity and fitness trackers like Fitbit, Garmin, and others can help keep you motivated and on track with your running goals. Many of these wearable gadgets can keep track of:
- the distance you’ve run
- how many steps you’ve run
- how many calories you’ve burned
- your running pace
- your heart rate
Shop for Fitbit, Garmin, and other fitness trackers online.
Create a running playlist
A great way to stay motivated is to listen to your favorite tunes while you’re running. Create a playlist with the music that’s most likely to keep you moving. You can also select your favorite tunes from music apps like Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music.
That said, be sure to use your headphones wisely. You may want to use just one earbud, which allows you to stay alert and aware of what’s going on around you.
A beginner’s guide to running
The first priority when starting a running routine is to keep it simple. Don’t worry about following a complicated program.
Your initial goal is to build confidence and stamina. To do this, Steve Stonehouse, NASM CPT, USATF run coach, director of education for STRIDE, suggests aiming for two to three runs each week at an easy to moderate pace.
“You can always add techniques like speed work and tempo runs later, but right now it’s just about getting your body used to the work,” he said.
For example, a beginner’s week-at-a-glance running routine might look like this:
As you gain strength and stamina, you can gradually start increasing the distance you run, or you can add an extra day of running to your weekly routine. Decide what works best for you, but do it slowly.
How to train for a 5K
So, you’ve committed to running a 5K, and you’re ready to start training. While it might be tempting to go all out right away, it’s not the best way to get started.
“Following a structured training plan that increases your mileage over several weeks is essential for your health, safety, and motivation,” Stonehouse said.
This advice is based on the fact that he’s seen many first-timers crank out too many miles during the early days of their training.
“Those extra miles can take their toll, and I’ve seen more new runners injured in training than in the race,” he explained. To avoid this, Stonehouse suggests increasing your weekly mileage by 10 percent at a time, at the most.
“While this may not seem like much of a weekly increase, the No. 1 rule is to stay healthy, and being conservative usually helps you accomplish that,” Stonehouse said.
Steps to training for a 5K
You can take as long as you want to train for a 5K race. Many online training plans for beginners are divided up by 4, 6, 8, and 10-week cycles.
To get started, you can follow the sample training plan outlined above, but add the following:
- Weeks 1–2: Follow the sample training plan outlined above.
- Weeks 3–4: Swap out the cardio day on Saturday for a 3-mile run. Run/walk this day.
- Weeks 5–6: Swap out the cardio day on Saturday for a 3-mile run. Try to run with minimal walking.
How to stay motivated
Running, like many other activities, has a honeymoon period — a time where everything feels great, and you can hardly wait to lace up your shoes and hit the trail.
Then, you may find that this enthusiasm starts to wane. Whether you’re already struggling in the motivation department, or you want to get in front of it, it’s helpful to know how to prevent getting burned out.
- Keep it simple: Rule No. 1 to staying motivated, especially in the beginning, is to keep it simple. Stick to a fitness plan that includes 2 days a week of running.
- Increase miles gradually: As you gain stamina and confidence, you can adjust your running schedule from 2 days of running to 3. You can also add mileage to your running days — but don’t add an extra day and miles at the same time.
- Run with a partner: If you need some accountability to keep you motivated, try enlisting the help of a friend, family member, or running group. Meeting up with others who share a common goal can help you feel energized.
- Set and track goals: When you set goals and challenge yourself to meet them, it can keep you motivated. When you reach your goal, reward yourself, then set a new goal.
- Monitor your progress: Keeping track of your running progress can keep you inspired and motivated to reach new goals. You can use an activity tracker to log your weekly miles, running pace, or calories burned.
- Food and hydration: Sticking to a running routine requires proper fuel in the form of food and liquids, preferably water. Be sure to stay well hydrated by drinking fluids before, during, and after your run.
- No headphones or maybe just one: Whether it’s cars, cyclists, or other runners, Stonehouse says hearing what’s going on around you is key to staying safe. If you want to listen to music, he recommends wearing only one headphone, or ditch the headphones and turn the speaker up on your phone and listen that way.
- Slow and steady wins the race: Ask any seasoned runner about their biggest training mistake, and you’ll likely hear they ran too much too soon. Whether you’re running as part of an overall fitness plan or you’re training for a race, increasing mileage gradually over time is key.
- Cross-train for overall fitness: Running shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. To reduce your risk of injury and increase your running performance, it’s important to cross-train. Strength training, swimming, cycling, and yoga are all excellent additions to your weekly workouts. Aim for 2 days a week of strength training, with a focus on major muscle groups.
- Stretching before and after running: Carve out 5 to 10 minutes before and 5 to 10 minutes after your run to stretch. Focus on dynamic stretches before you exercise and static stretches such as the quad stretch afterward.
- Rest up: Rest days not only help you recover, but they also allow you to become a better runner. Active rest days and total rest days can help prevent overtraining syndrome (OTS). According to the American Council on Exercise, OTS can cause your fitness levels to decrease and increase your risk of running-related injuries.
The bottom line
A regular running routine offers a wide variety of benefits. Not only will it help boost your cardiovascular fitness, but it can also improve your blood flow and brain function while reducing stress and lowering your risk of certain health conditions.
Finding success with a running routine requires patience, persistence, and time. Making a commitment, following a plan, and being consistent with your training is a great place to start.
Make sure to check with your doctor before you start a running program, especially if you have a health condition. Your doctor can help you decide how much and what type of activity is safe for you.