Updated: December 17th, 2019
How to Start Running: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

Wondering where to start when it comes to running? Do you just head out and run? What about clothes? What about gear?

This article will answer all the questions you have about running plus inform you on how to get started. We cover:

Are You Healthy Enough?

Even before you run out the door, the first step you should take is to pick up the phone, call your doctor, and make an appointment to find out if you are healthy enough to run.

This is especially true if any of the following apply to you: overweight, pregnancy, health issues (high, bp, diabetes, etc.), current or former smoker, family history of heart disease, have dizzy spells, feel faint, have heart issues, have been sedentary for over a year, are over 65, have chest pain.

Discuss your fitness goals with your doctor and talk about potential health issues that may arise. Do you have any health conditions running may make worse, or better? Have you had injuries in the past few years that may be aggravated?

If you are trying to lose weight by running, let your doctor know as they may have some tips and pointers for you.

If you haven’t been to the doctor in a while or haven’t even exercised in a long time, it is a good idea to get checked out even if you don’t think you have health problems to ensure you are healthy enough to start running.

Why Do You Want to Run?

Thinking about why you want to run will help motivate you and keep you going while your running routine gets started. Sometimes in the beginning runners can get frustrated because they don’t feel or see progress right away.

Don’t despair!

Think back to why you started running and keep working towards that goal.

Some common goals for beginner runners include:

  • Running regularly (three times a week)
  • Setting goals for specific distances
  • Run a 5k or 10k
  • Lose weight
  • Run with friends
  • Run for charity
  • Run a 12-minute mile

Overall Benefits of Running

Some people start running because of the overall physical, mental, and emotional benefits of running. So what are these benefits?

“Runner’s high” has been scientifically proven and it makes runners happy. About 30 minutes of walking, running, or a combination of the two can lift your mood. This can also help combat depression, especially when it is combined with meditation. One way to do this is to add meditation into your pre or post-workout routine.

Having trouble studying or remember formulas for the big test? Running has been shown to enhance and activate neuron reserves in the brain that are important to the brain’s capacity to learn. Furthermore, regular running can increase the size of your hippocampus, which is the area of the brain involved in verbal memory and learning.

Running helps heart function overall. A study from the University of Hartford showed that marathon runners habits reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, the American Heart Association says 150 minutes of brisk activity can keep your blood pressure at a healthy range for your age.

The National Cancer Institute has said “there is convincing evidence that physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast. Several studies also have reported links between physical activity and a reduced risk of cancers of the prostate, lung, and lining of the uterus.”

The best part is, all you have to do is run 50 minutes per week to get the health benefits.

There is no need to run long distance marathons or hours every day, just 50 minutes per week can increase your overall health according to an analysis published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Running Gear/Shoes

Before you head out, there are a few things you’re going to need. Running shoes, proper apparel, and other gear — the last one being optional, but more on that later.

Running Shoes

running shoes

Why do I need a good pair of running shoes? You may be asking yourself this, and the answer is because having the right shoes make running all the more comfortable and safer. Would you race a minivan on a racetrack? No, because it is not the proper tool.

Running shoes are the most important tool you will have so it is important to find the right ones. Without them, you will experience hip pain, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and other pain that comes with running in the wrong shoes.

Neutral shoes are for runners with a higher arch, efficient foot biomechanics (including mild supinating, or when your ankle rolls outward), and generally a lighter body frame. These shoes tend to be lighter models and can be used for racing. They do not “stabilize” the foot and arch when you hit the ground.

If you do want something to stabilize your feet when you hit the ground, you will need stability shoes. These have some form of structure to support the foot, ankle, and arch to prevent pronation or overpronation (when the ankle rolls inward). Overpronation can increase the chances of certain running injuries, so check with an expert to see how you run and help predict whether you need a stability shoe. If you do, check out the Asics Gel Kayano.

Motion control shoes are for those who need a maximum amount of cushioning and are designed for heavier runners and those who need ankle stabilization. While these shoes may be more expensive, they do keep your feet from becoming hypermobile when you hit the ground.

Minimalist running shoes have been trending the last few years, which are lower-profile and lightweight. They are designed to enhance your running form, strengthen the muscles of your lower legs and feet, and reduce injuries because of the lower impact force with each stride.

A good place to start are shoes that fall into the “neutral/cushioning” category, and not the extreme minimalist shoes. Make sure the shoes have a heel to toe offset of 8-12mm as this ensures a relatively firm platform to prevent injuries and improve biomechanics for more efficient running.

Keep in mind that not all shoes are not for everyone, so be sure to consult with your local specialty store or check out our running shoe finder. A minimalist shoe is not a “goal” to work towards; instead, if you find yourself constantly injured you should think about trying a minimalist shoe.

When to Replace Your Shoes

A good pair of running shoes will last 300 to 500 miles before they need to be replaced. Keep two or more pairs of shoes in your rotation to extend the life of the shoes. This is because of daily drying, bacteria accumulation, outsole breakdown, etc.

Another good idea is to alternate between brands/models of shoes you wear so your body becomes accustomed to different stressors when you begin to run.

Important note: As with training, ALWAYS avoid extremes in footwear. Do not decide to go with a pair of Weirdo Bare-Toes just because they are popular or a pair of Super Clunker Pain-Pods just because they are expensive. Use common sense when it comes to footwear and find what works best for you.


You don’t need to pay a lot of money for fancy gear, hydration systems, heart rate monitors, iPhone apps, etc. to enjoy running or get into better shape.

While these may seem nice, they should be secondary when it comes to the thrill of running. Sometimes people lose sight of running because of the number of accessories and consumerist clutter that makes its way into the sport. These are not necessary tools to get faster, fitter, or drop extra points.

Gear you will need includes the right running apparel. Stay away from cotton clothing and socks because when cotton gets when it tends to stay wet. Look for clothing and socks that wick away moisture. Some of these include: CoolMax, Thinsulate, DryFit, Thermax, silk, or polypropylene. These clothes will wick moisture away from you during hot weather and keep you warm during cold weather runs. Furthermore, they prevent chafing to help keep you comfortable.

A good supportive sports bra is a must have. Before finding the perfect bra, you may need to try on several kinds. While trying them on, jump up and down. Everything should stay in place and be comfortable when you do this. In addition, if your old sports bras are stretched out it is time to buy some new ones.

If you are running in unfamiliar places, a GPS watch may be helpful. These are much more expensive than fitness trackers, so that is something to keep in mind. If you want to track your run, calories, steps, etc. then a fitness tracker is a good option.

Gear for Advanced (Beginning) Runners

  • High-Density Foam Roller (such as Trigger Point Therapy’s “The Grid”) — this is a good tool to massage tight muscle groups like quads, IT bands, calves, and hamstrings.
  • Reasonably Priced GPS Sports Watch — great for travel or measuring your favorite routes, a GPS can be useful as volume and intensity of training increases. Check out our Running GPS Watch recommendations.
  • Electric Shoe Dryer (such as Peets, Inc) — a shoe dryer prevents odor-causing bacteria and keeps shoes from breaking down prematurely.
  • Gym Membership at a Facility You Enjoy — some days the weather won’t allow you to run outdoors or for safety reasons you want to add strength training to your running program, so a gym membership can be very useful. Furthermore, it is helpful to be around like-minded people when training for your next big race.

Eating and running

Are you afraid to eat before you run because of stomach cramps? Or are you unsure what to eat and how long to eat before you run? You are not alone, many beginners have these same questions.

The best thing to do is eat a light meal about an hour and a half to two hours before a run. If a light meal is not possible, eat a small snack about 30 minutes before you run.

Eating the right food before you run is important because if you eat the wrong food, you will be looking for a bathroom soon after the start of your run. The best option is a light meal that is high in carbs, low in fat, fiber, and protein.

Some healthy options include:

  • Turkey and cheese on whole wheat bread
  • Bagel with peanut butter
  • An energy bar and a banana
  • Oatmeal with berries

If you need a snack 30 minutes before your run, try one of these:

  • Some goldfish crackers
  • Low-fat frozen yogurt
  • Energy bar
  • Apple with cheese

If you wake up early in the morning and don’t have time to eat, or your stomach can’t handle it, remember to drink enough water during your workout. Remember that not eating before you run will make you fatigue sooner because your body will run out of energy, so that is something to keep in mind.

Your First Run

Now that you have all the information and gear, it is time to go on your first run.

What to Take on Your Run

You will want water before, during, and/or after your run. The general rule is to drink 5 to 12 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during your run. So if you head out for 20 minutes, you might leave your water in the car and drink it when you get back.

If you have a handy water bottle carrier or a camelback, then it can be easier to drink while on your run.

If you run more than an hour, you will want to think about adding a sports drink instead of water. Why? Sports drinks contain carbohydrates to help you absorb fluid more quickly. Furthermore, carbs also give you fuel while electrolytes keep nausea, cramps, and hyponatremia away.

Think about the weather before you head out. Is it raining? Do you need a rain jacket? Is it sunny? Don’t forget sunscreen if you are running in warmer weather. Purchase sweat-proof and waterproof sunscreen so you can stay protected during your run.

It is a good idea to bring your cell phone on the run in case of emergencies, listening to music, or tracking your time. There are many apps available to track your mileage or pump you up with running music. If you don’t want to carry it, consider an armband to put your phone in. Also add your ID, key, and a little bit of cash just in case.

What time of the day are you running? If you are running in the early mornings or around dusk, think about wearing or bringing a reflective vest. The more visible you are the less likely you are to get hit by a car.

Warm-ups and Cool Downs

A warm-up is important before you head out because it helps loosen up your joints, bones, and muscles. Another benefit of a warm-up is it gradually brings your heart rate up so you can get into the rhythm of running easier.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • The easiest way to warm-up is to walk for three to five minutes. It gets your body ready for exercise and out of sitting mode.
  • Strides are another simple warm-up. Do five to six 100-meter strides to push blood to your muscles and help your body transition into running mode.
  • Butt kicks can be done while jogging. Start out with 10 on each side. As you get better, and they become easier, you can add high knees into the rotation. Eventually, you can do five butt kicks then five high knee steps. This combination stretches the quads and glutes.
  • Skipping is a fun and simple warm up. Skip for 25 to 50 meters while increasing the height of range of each skip.

A cool down keeps the blood flowing so the blood doesn’t suddenly stop flowing through your body. If the latter happens, you might get light-headed because of the drop in heart rate and blood pressure. A good cool down also helps work lactic acid out of your muscles to reduce the soreness you feel the next day.

Some ideas for a cool down include:

  • After running, slowly jog or walk slowly for about five to 10 minutes. This will help your heart rate come down and your breathing to return to normal.
  • Drink water or a sports drink during your cool down to rehydrate.
  • A good stretch is the quad stretch. Stand straight and lift your foot toward your butt then grab and hold your foot. Hold for about 15 to 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
  • The calf stretch is done on stairs or an exercise step. Put the ball of your foot on the edge of the step and drop your heel to the ground. Bend the knee of the opposite leg. You should feel the stretch in the leg that has the dropped heel. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

First Time Out Routine

Running plans can be individualized to your need. The running community is very supportive, check your area for groups, online groups, apps that help you get started, running coach can help you get started, certified coaches help you succeed in running. That said, there are some basic plans to help you get started.

One of the most popular is the walk to run method. This should be done three to four times a week, or every other day. Make sure to do your warm-ups and cool downs as well.

Week 1:

  • Run 2 minutes — walk 3 minutes
  • Repeat 7 times for a total of 28 minutes

Week 2

  • Run 3 minutes — walk 1 minute
  • Repeat 7 times for a total of 28 minutes

Week 3

  • Run 4 minutes — walk 1 minute
  • Repeat 6 times for a total of 30 minutes

Week 4

  • Run 5 minutes — walk 30 seconds
  • Repeat 6 times for a total of 33 minutes

Week 5

    Add 3 to 5 minutes to workout time and decrease walking every one to two weeks until you reach your goal

The following is a ten-week plan to run a 5k. There are other training plans on the site to check out as well.

Week 1 and 2

  • Walk 5 minutes — jog/run (slowly) 20 minutes — walk 5 minutes
  • Total of 30 minutes

Week 3 and 4

  • Walk 5 minutes — jog/run (slowly) 26 minutes — walk 5 minutes
  • Total of 36 minutes

Week 5 and 6

  • Walk 5 minutes — jog/run (easy pace) 30 minutes — walk 5 minutes
  • Total 40 minutes

Week 7 and 8

  • Walk 5 minutes — jog/run (easy pace) 36 minutes — walk 5 minutes
  • Total 46 minutes

Week 9 and 10

  • Walk 5 minutes — jog/run 40 minutes — walk 5 minutes
  • Total 50 minutes

The Start to run program, developed exclusively for Running Shoes Guru, eases runners into training so you can run a marathon strong, injury-free, and ready to go.

Running Basics

While you are getting started running, it is a good idea to think about the basics, such as form and breathing. Starting out with good habits will help your success in the future.

running form infographic


Running with proper form is a good thing to think about as a beginner. This way, you start out with good habits and decrease the chance of injury.

When you start out running, run tall, look straight ahead, and open up your shoulders. Think about your core, it should be strong and stable while you are running.

Your arms will set the rhythm and should be set at 90 degrees or less, relaxed, and they should reflexively come forward. The knuckles of your hand should be close to your sternum and the foot lands under your hand. Make sure to keep your hands relaxed and your torso slightly forward, like you are leaning into the run.

The knees should be in line with the middle of your feet and the full foot should contact the ground with each step.


Breathing is an important part of your form because it plays a key role in a successful run. Proper breathing can help keep you comfortable, injury free, and reduces stress on your body.

Breathing properly helps you get enough oxygen to your muscles during your run. It is necessary to breathe through your mouth. If you want to breathe through your nose as well, that is okay as long as you are breathing primarily through your mouth.

The type of breathing you should be doing is “belly breathing,” or breathing from your diaphragm.

Keep an eye on your foot strikes because exhaling on the same foot can get you into rhythmic breathing, which reduces overall stress on your body as you run.

Run at a conversational pace, which means you should be able to speak in full sentences.

Make Some Goals

Congrats on finishing your first run! Now what are you going to do? What goals do you have in mind? Your running goals (or any goals in life) should be SMART — which means Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-related.

A few common beginning runner goals include:

  • Running non-stop
  • A specific distance
  • Run a personal best
  • Enter a run for charity
  • Run regularly

Run a Marathon

Running a marathon is a great goal and there are many training programs to help you achieve this goal. Start with a simple marathon such as a 5k or a 10k. If you are unsure of running a straight race, check out fun marathons.

Some of these include The Color Run, April Fool’s Day Twinkie Run, Hot Chocolate 5k/15k, A Christmas Story Run, Rock ‘n’ Roll Series, runDisney, and The Electric Run.

Running for Weight Loss

Running for weight loss is a good goal as long as you make it attainable and realistic. Running is one of the most effective ways to lose weight, but you also need to make diet changes as well.

The healthy weight loss amount is one to two pounds per week. Anything more than this can be unhealthy, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

High-quality foods to eat include: fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, dairy, fish, poultry, and unprocessed red meat.

Try to stay away from low-quality foods such as: refined grains, processed meats, fried foods, and sweets.

Everyone loses weight in different amounts, so don’t worry if you do not see changes right away. Stay on track and stick to your goals.

Run for the Fun of It

If you don’t have specific goals in mind, run for the fun of it. There are running communities both on and offline to connect with. Many of these can be done through apps on your phone or searching for local runners communities. This is a great way to meet people and genuinely have fun running.

Common Mistakes to Watch Out For

We all make mistakes, it’s okay. Here are some common mistakes to watch out for as you start your running journey.

Wrong Shoes

Are you throwing on an old pair of shoes that you found buried in the back of your closet? This is a bad idea. Check out our shoe buying guide or head to a specialty store when experts can evaluate your feet so you can purchase the right shoes for you.

Running in the wrong shoes can cause blisters, irritation, injuries, and be extremely uncomfortable. Keep in mind that running shoes last 300 to 350 miles, so they will need to be replaced once you feel the cushioning starting to wear out.

Running Too Much Right Away

Do you want to head out and meet your goals right away? This is not realistic, and it can also be detrimental to your health. Running too much too soon can cause injuries such as runner’s knee, shin splints, or IT band syndrome. In addition, you may get burned out and not want to run anymore.

While running, listen to your body as this will let you know if you are pushing yourself too hard. Notice if you have aches and pains after a run, or even a few days after your run. If they don’t go away or get worse, take some time off and rest. Furthermore, don’t ignore rest days as they are important to your health.

Bad Form

Bad form can impact your breathing, cause pain, and make you more tired during your run.

If you swing your arms side-to-side, you may cause tension in your shoulders and neck which will get uncomfortable very quickly.

Overstriding is another case of bad form. Overstriding can cause injuries and waste precious energy. Make sure to land on your midsole and keep your stride light and quick.

Not Eating or Drinking Enough

Your body needs energy and fluids to properly handle runs. Without these, you may experience dehydration or be prone to more injuries. Before you head out, drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or sports drink.

If you are still thirsty before you start, drink 4 to 6 more ounces. Eat a light snack or meal about an hour and a half to two hours before your run. Make sure the meal is high in carbs, low in fiber, fat, and protein.

Clothing — Too Much or Too Little

The wrong type of clothing can leave you too hot, too cold, or with a lot of chafing. Make sure you wear technical fabrics and stay away from cotton. You want your body to stay cool and dry in all types of weather.

In cold weather, add 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit to the outdoor temperature when determining what you should wear. This is how much you will warm up during your run.

Final Thoughts

Running is a fun and simple hobby that you can do anywhere you go. Starting to run takes a little preparation by purchasing the right running shoes, getting the right gear, and heading out for a run. Remember to keep an eye on your form and practice proper breathing techniques. Within time, these will become second nature to you.

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