Seven tips for new runners

Lots of people decide to start running at this time of year, usually to lose weight, look after their health or control stress.   This year perhaps some people will have been inspired to become more sporty by the Queen’s Christmas message.

In the hope that it will help other people to be happy runners like me, I’ve published online the full text of my 2002 bookRunning for Fitness.  The book includes lots of advice for beginners, so if you are considering making a New Year’s Resolution to take up running, you may want to browse through it.

To get you started, here are seven tips for new runners:

  1. Take it easy
    Running for Fitness includes a training programme for beginners which begins with walking only for the first three weeks.  This helps your body to adapt and avoids injury.  Once you start to run, make sure you don’t go too fast.  Lots of new runners have a vague memory of sprinting at school, and think that when they run they should be completely out of breath. A good rule of thumb for new runners is the “talk test”: if you can’t speak to your running buddy in complete sentences, you are running too fast.
  2. Get a running buddy
    Running with someone else is more fun, and if you have committed to meet someone it will be harder for you to change your mind or decide that you are too busy. (You might also want to join a running club, which is not as scary as it sounds.) You are much more likely to enjoy running, and keep at it, if you run with a friend or as part of a group.
  3. Give it three or four weeks
    Many people find exercise a bit of a grind when they first start; but generally after about 3 weeks, something clicks into place. After that, many people are hooked; and often they wonder why it took them so long to start.  So give it three or four weeks.  If you don’t like running after that, find something else that you do like.
  4. Get the right shoes and a bra that fits
    Please doon’t run in a pair of old plimsolls, or trainers you bought when they were fashionable: you’ll get injured in no time.  There is no “good” brand or model of running shoe: the only good running shoes are the ones that suit your particular running gait.  There is more detail about shoes here, but the best advice is to go to a specialist running store, if you can, and get them to watch you run and help you pick out shoes that will keep you running injury-free. If you are a woman, you also need a running bra that fits you well. (There is advice on bras here.)
  5. Set a sensible goal and keep a log
    Many people find it motivating and rewarding to have a goal, such as taking part in a 5km charity run, or losing 3kg; and most people find it motivating to keep a log of their progress towards it.   Set yourself a goal that is achievable.  (Please don’t try to run a marathon – at least not until you’ve been running for at least six months.) Tell your friends about your goal, so you can’t wriggle out of it; and perhaps you’ll inspire one of them to join you.   Become geek-chic and start a running log. Make a note of how many minutes you run each day, how far you have gone, and which route you did.  Here is more advice about goals and training logs.
  6. Don’t diet when you start to exercise
    Let’s face it: lots of people start running to lose weight.  But it is not a good idea to increase the demands on your body and at the same time to deprive it of the nutrition it needs to cope with those demands.  One you run regularly, your metabolic rate will rise, you’ll burn more calories running, and you’ll find you shed the pounds naturally.  There is lots more advice on running and losing weight here. If you find yourself constantly worrying about what you eat, and never really enjoying food, please talk it through with a family member or your doctor, as you may be on the edge of an eating disorder.
  7. Be safe
    Some people – such as people who have heart disease – should see a doctor before starting to exercise. Here is a checklist of who should see a doctor.  Carry a card or runner’s id with your name and contact details.   If you run in the dark, don’t run alone and wear a bright, fluorescent or reflective shirt.  Don’t run with headphones in the city.  If it is sunny, wear sunblock and a hat, and keep your shirt on.

Once you get started, I hope you’ll find the Running for Fitness website a good resource to help you continue to enjoy your running, and – if it is something you want to do – to improve. The website includes various online calculators, which help you design training programmes, adjust your running times for your age, and improve your nutrition.

If you have other suggestions or tips for people starting to run, please put them in the comments.

4 comments on “Seven tips for new runners”

  1. 8. Get yourself a pair of cross-country skies (if you’re somewhere where that would make sense.) It’s without doubt the funniest way to exercise at this time a year + it’s possibly the most anaerobic sport existing. – just my tuppence worth

    Owen replies: I think you mean the best aerobic (rather than anaerobic) exercise: I agree. Cross country skiiers have terrific aerobic conditioning

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and