10 Tips for Beginner or Aspiring Runners

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You already know that walking, jogging and running are good for you. They enhance your physical fitness, cardiovascular endurance, mental health, weight control, stress management… it’s a run-on sentence you’ve heard many times before.

If you’re thinking about getting started, you don’t need the “why,” you need the “how” part. Running can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Often, the intimidation factor is self-imposed, meaning you’re the one talking yourself out of it. So, if you’re ready to talk yourself into it, here are some start-up tips and advice.

Look around you.

In the last few months, have you noticed that more people are out walking (with and without dogs) as well as jogging and running?

“When fitness centres and gyms closed, people needed an outlet for exercise,” says Shari Chantler, a Running Room store manager and mom of two. “Everyone is staying closer to home, so it’s a natural choice to step outside and explore the neighbourhood.”

If you look a little closer at the folks on the sidewalk, you’ll see walkers and joggers of every shape, size, age and speed. These aren’t Olympians – they’re just regular people getting out of the house for some fresh air. This could absolutely be you, too.

Skip the self-bashing.

“I’m terrible at running.” “I can’t do it.” “I’m not athletic.” These statements are taking you nowhere. It’s time to ditch the memory of the super-mean grade-school Phys. Ed. teacher who made you feel like a klutz. If we’ve learned nothing else in these times, it’s that good health is a gift that should be cherished. So, be grateful for what you can do, and take action.

Although she now manages a running store, Shari wasn’t a lifelong runner. “I started running when I was 45 years old,” she explains. “I was nervous at the start, but I found friends who supported me. My various running accomplishments, from 5K to my first-ever marathon in New York City last year, showed me that most of the trepidation was in my own head.”

Choose the right footwear.

Do not attempt to run in old, beat-up runners or trendy fashion sneakers. “In our store, we’re seeing many newcomers who have started a walking or running routine and want the appropriate gear,” Shari says. “The first thing I always recommend is a proper pair of running shoes, to provide the necessary support and prevent injuries.”

Before making a purchase, feel free to chat with friends or relatives who are runners, as they’ll be happy to tell you about their go-to brand and model. In the end, though, it comes down to personal preference and your individual needs in terms of size, stability, and cushioning. So, your best bet is to be fitted by a qualified employee at a running-focused retailer.

Lose the excuses.

Too boring? Load up that podcast you’ve heard so much about, or crank your favourite music playlist (full disclosure: mine is all 90s boybands).

Too lonely? With all the stress in the world right now, you might actually appreciate some uninterrupted “me time.”

Too hot? Check your weather app’s hourly forecast to find the best window for cool, clear conditions.

Too early? Be honest with yourself – if you’re not the 6:00 a.m. type, don’t pretend that you will be. Maybe lunch hour or evening is your best time to be active.

Too busy? Take charge and block off the time in your calendar. If you’re worried that you’ll hesitate or procrastinate, recruit your spouse (or another member of your household) to give you that final nudge out the door.

Too far? There is no minimum distance. Read on to find out how you can start wherever you are and work your way up.

Walk, then run.

“In our Running Room programs, we start with intervals of running and walking,” Shari says. “This ensures a gradual increase in both distance and time, to help build endurance, consistency, and pace judgement. Many runners continue to use a variety of intervals for all distances, including marathons.”

You can alternate the running and walking in a number of ways — for example:

  • A measured distance on a GPS watch – jog a quarter mile, walk a quarter mile, repeat.
  • A visible distance, such as a loop around the block – jog one loop, walk one loop, repeat.
  • Time – jog two minutes, walk two minutes, repeat.
  • Music – jog for the length of one song, walk for one song, repeat.

Following a system like this (or another one that you invent) can be encouraging because it takes the thinking out of it and allows you to focus on carrying out the plan. As you progress, you can adjust the variables and ratios to be different or more challenging. In the early going, keep the jogging and walking amounts the same. As your endurance increases, you may be able to shorten the walk breaks – for example, two minutes of jogging and one minute of walking – before picking up the pace again.

Involve the family.

Put little ones in a stroller and invite older kids to bike or rollerblade alongside you. If you’re in a home-based school situation, add some walking or running to your “recess” breaks. If you’re taking your child to a sports practice, put on your shoes and do a few laps around the field.

Kids love technology, so enlist them to help you measure distances or track your time. My 13-year-old will run “with me” if I let him wear the GPS watch (and if I stay at a socially acceptable distance of about 50 yards behind him). We agree on the route in advance, so even though he finishes (way) ahead, I still know how far I went that day.

Track your progress.

Whether it’s an old-school wall calendar or a smartphone app, be sure to record every walk, jog or run you complete. Set a personal goal for a certain number of sessions, then reward yourself with that stylish sports bra you’ve been admiring online, or a cool hydration belt so you can carry water like a pro.

Adopt a mantra.

Corny as it sounds, this can make a difference. You don’t have to say “I think I can” like the Little Engine That Could, but it can be motivating to have a statement that is meaningful to you, to give you a sense of purpose when it would be easier to give up. I like to remind myself: “No matter how slow you’re going, you’re lapping everyone who’s on their couch right now.” For her part, Shari’s favorite running saying is: “You may see me struggle, but you will never see me quit.”

Get inspired.

Running can be hard work, especially at first, but you are not alone. Try clicking on blogs or social media accounts targeted at beginner runners, to read about others who are following a similar path.

Give back.

To add more meaning to your mission, you can also put your running efforts toward supporting a worthwhile cause. Many national charitable races, like the Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women (in support of women’s mental health programs) and the CIBC Run for the Cure (for breast cancer research) are hosting virtual events this fall.

“The virtual option allows you to participate in the event from anywhere,” Shari explains. “There is a registration fee, and most events still provide bonuses such as a t-shirt, swag bag or finisher’s medal. While it’s not the same as the in-person race experience, a virtual event provides external accountability to train, which can be very powerful.”

Now, you’re ready to take the next steps. There is no shame in being a beginner – it simply means you’re at the beginning. In running, that’s a great place to be, with all kinds of tangible progress and visible improvement waiting to happen. Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you are doing something positive for your health and fitness, that is a good thing. Period.

Picture of Kristi York

Author: Kristi York

Kristi York is a freelance writer and mom of two sports-loving boys. Her work has been published by ParentsCanada, Running Room, ParticipACTION and The Costco Connection.

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