There are so many reasons why millions of people around the globe enjoy running. Whether you're training for a race or logging miles for fun, running is good for your body and mind, and it requires very little equipment. All you need is a good pair of running shoes and the willingness to get started.
Running may seem so simple that preparing to start a running routine may sound silly. But by learning a few basics about the sport—such as the different types of running and various gear options—you can increase your enjoyment and make your training more effective.
From the benefits of running to the gear, nutrition, and proper form that will help you get started and keep running safely and injury-free, this beginner's guide to running will have you taking strides in no time.
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Most people who run casually do it for the physical, social, and mental benefits it brings. Running is one of the most effective ways to build cardiovascular endurance. If you run outdoors, you benefit from exposure to nature, which can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and boost your mood.
Running also has a low entry bar—you don't need fancy equipment, it's relatively inexpensive, and you can do it almost anywhere. It's also an activity that spans ages; it's never too late to start running. Many people who have taken up the sport do so in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.
Running is a sport that can bring families together. For example, some families participate in charity fun runs or jog together to spend quality time enhancing healthy values. Kids participating in running programs may learn how to overcome obstacles and persevere.
Why People Run
Here are some of the many other reasons why people choose running:
- It's one of the most efficient ways to achieve aerobic fitness.
- Running can be a smart strategy for weight loss.
- Running is an excellent stress reliever.
- You can run by yourself for peace and solitude, or with others for social interaction.
- You release endorphins when running and may even experience a runner’s high.
- You achieve better overall health with improvements such as higher lung capacity, increased metabolism, lower total cholesterol levels, increased energy, and decreased risk of osteoporosis.
While running seems like a reasonably straightforward sport, there are different types of running that you might want to explore. Most runners engage in one or more of the following types of running.
One of the most popular types of running is called road running. It includes running on paved roads, paths, and sidewalks. It’s the most convenient type of running that most runners participate in at some point in their training. It is also one of the easiest ways to start your running program—all you have to do is step out your door and get moving.
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A great alternative to running outside is treadmill running. Running on a treadmill is a smart choice if the weather is bad. But this type of running is also (usually) easier than outdoor running and can be gentler on your joints.
Most treadmills allow runners to change their pace, incline, and resistance to simulate outdoor running and vary their workouts to prevent boredom.
Some runners enjoy the thrill and competition of participating in races. Racing events vary in distance from 5Ks to half or full marathons and even ultramarathons lasting 100 miles or more. The terrain for races varies from roads, trails, and tracks.
Most people enter races not to win (or even come close) but to set a personal goal and achieve it.
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For those who love to enjoy scenery and peaceful surroundings while exercising, trail running is a great option. Trail running usually takes place on hiking trails of varying terrain, from deserts to mountains. Trail runners may be sidestepping roots, climbing over logs, running through streams, or traversing steep hills.
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Track events include shorter distance races such as the 50-yard dash, 100, 200, and 400-meter sprints, and hurdles. Training to run track often includes doing more targeted speed work and less endurance running outdoors.
You can also compete in races. Track races can be as short as 55 meters (indoor tracks) and as long as 25 laps on an outdoor track (10,000 meters)
Some road and trail runners like running on a track occasionally for safety and convenience. On a track, you don't have to worry about cars, cyclists, or animals, and it's easy to measure how far you're running.
The track is also great for runners training for races to work on targeted speed workouts once you're ready to pick up the pace. Try an interval session on your local community or high school track.
Rules for Running on a Track
Whether you're new to running or getting back to it after a long break, it's crucial to start easy and gradually build up to avoid injury. Here are some tips to get you started on the right foot.
Get Medical Clearance
If you've been sedentary for over a year, check with your doctor before you start a running program. While your doctor will most likely support a new exercise habit, they may offer some advice and precautions.
Also, if you've had an injury, if you take medication, or if you manage a medical condition, ask if there are particular guidelines you should follow. For example, people with type 1 diabetes may want to carry a snack if their blood sugar drops. Those who take certain blood pressure medications may need a heart rate monitor to monitor intensity.
Invest in Shoes and Gear
Wear a pair of running shoes that fit comfortably and are the correct type of shoes for your foot and running style. Visit a specialty running store to get fitted for the best shoes for you.
While there, you might want to check out technical gear such as running shorts, tops, or tights made out of lightweight wicking fibers. While these garments aren't necessary for running, they help you to stay dry and comfortable when you work out.
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Take measured steps to keep your body safe and free from injury. First, do a warm-up before you start running. Walk or do an easy jog for 5 to 10 minutes before increasing your intensity. You might also add warm-up exercises such as dynamic stretches or running drills.
Second, follow running safety advice, such as going against traffic when running on roads. You should also always remember to carry an ID when you head out for a run so that you can be identified quickly in the unlikely event of an accident.
Use the Run/Walk Method
You can start your running program by combining running with intervals of walking. For many new runners, this is the easiest way to build endurance with less joint stress and a manageable intensity level.
Start by alternating one-minute intervals of running with one minute of walking, and then try to increase the time spent running. As you become more comfortable, cut down the time spent walking.
Tips for Using the Walk/Run Method
Make It Manageable
Your running workouts might be challenging initially, but they shouldn't be so hard that you never want to run again. During each workout, keep a comfortable, conversational pace. If you can't speak in complete sentences, slow down.
Breathe through your nose and mouth so you can get the most oxygen. Try doing deep belly breathing to avoid side stitches or cramps.
After each run, cool down by doing some easy jogging or walking. Some gentle stretching after will help you avoid tight muscles.
Aim for consistency in your new running program rather than speed or distance. Establish a weekly running schedule to get into a regular running habit.
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Running is a natural movement, but that doesn't mean you can't improve certain aspects of your running form to improve your experience. Proper running form can help you become a more efficient runner.
You can learn to conserve energy, improve your pace, run longer distances, and reduce your risk of injury by paying attention to and tweaking different elements of your running mechanics. There are a few basic form rules to follow.
Practice Good Posture
Keep your posture upright. Keep your head lifted, your back long and tall, and shoulders level but relaxed. Maintain a neutral pelvis. Make sure you're not leaning forward or back at your waist (which some runners do as they get tired).
As you run longer distances, be especially mindful of your shoulder placement. They may start to hunch over. Rounding the shoulders too far forward tends to tighten the chest and restrict breathing. It helps to look ahead. Focus your eyes on the ground about 10 to 20 feet in front of you.
Swing your arms naturally back and forth from the shoulder joint (rather than your elbow joint). There should be a 90-degree bend at the elbow. In the proper position, your hand will almost graze your hip as it moves back and forth.
Keep your hands as relaxed as possible. Gently cup your hands or let them relax; avoid clenching them into fists because it can lead to tension in your arms, shoulders, and neck.
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Monitor Your Footstrike
There are different ways that your foot may approach the road. You might land on your heel, in the middle of your foot, or on the toes or forefoot (front of the foot). The way that your foot hits the pavement is called your footstrike.
You may notice that you are a toe runner or a heel-striker. If you land on your toes, you are a toe runner and may experience tight calves. You may also develop shin pain.
If you land on your heels, you are a heel striker. This can mean that you are overstriding—taking steps that are longer than they need to be. This can waste energy and may cause injury.
Many coaches suggest that you should try to land in the middle of your foot, and then roll through to the front of your toes. You may want to experiment with this form to see how it feels.
However, if you are naturally a toe runner or a heel striker, it may be best not to change your stride. Some research has indicated that forcing yourself to run with a mid- or forefoot strike does not improve running economy, eliminate an impact at the foot-ground contact, or reduce the risk of running-related injuries.
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Nutrition and Hydration
You'll learn quickly that eating well and staying hydrated can influence your runs. Here is what you need to know about both.
You lose water through sweat, whether cold or hot, so you need to drink before, during, and after your runs. When running, you should pay attention to your thirst level and drink when you feel thirsty.
You may want to take in four to six ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. Runners running faster than eight-minute miles should drink six to eight ounces every 20 minutes.
If you don't have access to water on your running routes, you'll have to carry your fluids with you. Check out some fluid carriers you can use to hold your fluids while running. However, if you're running in a race, you shouldn't have to carry your fluids because there are likely water stops on the course.
During longer workouts (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intakes should include a sports drink (like Gatorade) to replace lost sodium and other minerals (electrolytes). The carbohydrates and electrolytes in the sports drink also help you absorb the fluids faster.
Staying adequately hydrated is essential. In general, you can use the color of your urine as a guide. If your urine is dark yellow, you're likely dehydrated. Aim for urine that is a light yellow color, like lemonade.
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Eating before, during, and after a run affects your performance and recovery. Before a run, it's best to eat something light and high in carbohydrates but low in fat, protein, and fiber. Aim to finish eating 90 to 120 minutes before you start running.
Some runners can eat 30 to 60 minutes before a run and finish the workout comfortably. Keep in mind, however, that every runner is different. It may take some time to work out the best routine for you.
If you're running longer than 90 minutes, you'll need to replace some of the energy you're burning. A general rule of thumb is to consume 100 calories after an hour and another 100 calories every 45 minutes. Good food sources that are easy to carry and eat on the run include energy gels and chews, sports bars, or candy.
After a long run, to restore muscle glycogen (stored glucose), eat some carbs and protein within 30 minutes of finishing your run. A good ratio of carbs to protein is 3 to 1.
When you start your running program, you'll probably feel excited and energized about your new commitment. But, you're likely to experience challenges along the way, which will test your motivation.
There are a few common strategies that runners use to stay motivated. First, many runners join a group or find a running buddy. Different types of running groups appeal to different types of runners. Some groups run to train for a specific race, groups that focus on the social aspects of running, and even groups that run for charity or a common cause.
Another common strategy is to run with music. Listening to a great playlist can be a great way to stay energized, especially on long runs. However, keep in mind that using headphones during runs comes with a few pros and cons.
A significant drawback of running with headphones is that it limits your ability to hear noises around you and may put your safety at risk. It might be helpful to do some runs with headphones and some without.
You might also want to start a running journal. Keeping a training log helps you express your ups and downs during your running experience. It also becomes a great testimonial to the hard work that you've put in. On the days when you don't feel motivated, look at all that you've accomplished, and you might get the energy to exercise.
Lastly, fill your home, workspace, or social media feed with motivational running quotes. Simply surrounding yourself with talented runners' words can be uplifting and inspiring.
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Cold Weather Running
While we can all wish for perfect, temperate running weather all year long, there will be plenty of times when the weather conditions will be less than ideal for running. Plan to do a few cold-weather runs if you run all year long. Here are some recommendations for staying safe in all weather conditions.
Dress in Layers
Start with a thin layer of synthetic material such as polypropylene, which wicks sweat from your body. Stay away from cotton because it holds the moisture and will keep you wet.
An outer, breathable layer of nylon or Gore-Tex will help protect you against wind and precipitation while letting out heat and moisture to prevent overheating and chilling. If it's really cold out, you'll need a middle layer, such as polar fleece, for added insulation.
Cover Your Head and Extremities
Wearing a hat will help prevent heat loss, so your circulatory system will have more heat to distribute to the rest of the body. Wear gloves or mittens on your hands and warm socks on your feet.
You're going to warm up once you get moving, so you should feel a little bit chilly when you start your run. If you're warm and comfortable when you first start, you will begin to sweat early in your run. A good rule of thumb is to dress as if it's 10 to 20 degrees warmer outside than it is.
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Hot Weather Running
Many of your runs will likely take place in warm weather. Here are the best tips to stay safe in the heat.
Wear Light and Loose Gear
Light-colored, loose-fitting clothing will help your body cool itself down naturally. Tight dress restricts that process, and dark colors absorb the sun's light and heat.
Wear synthetic fabrics (not cotton) because they will wick moisture away from your skin so that cooling evaporation can occur. Wear a visor if you want to wear something on your head to block the sun. A hat may be too constrictive and tends to trap heat.
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Use Water In and On Your Body
In addition to drinking water when thirsty, you can use water to cool yourself during runs. If you're overheating, splashing water on your head and body will cool you down quickly and have a lasting effect as the water evaporates from your skin. Your head, the back of your neck, and under your arms are good spots to splash cold water.
Don't Push Your Pace
Hot and humid conditions are not the time to push your pace. Especially on race day or during an intense workout, take the weather conditions into account.
Don't try to beat the heat. Slow down, take walking breaks, and save your strenuous efforts for cooler weather. If the conditions are brutal, do some treadmill running if that's an option.
Believe it or not, your running program should include more than just running. It's a good idea to mix other activities into your training regimen.
Cross-training helps to balance different muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries, and mix up your workout routine so that you don't get bored.
Cycling, swimming, deep water running, skating, or using an elliptical trainer are all complimentary aerobic exercises to help you avoid getting burned out. Strength-training one to two times a week can also help with injury prevention.
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Once you've established your running program, you might become interested in participating in a running event. There are different types of running events.
Running races are timed events where you usually wear a bib number and a timing chip. The chip records the time you cross the starting and finish lines. Results are usually posted after the race, and top runners overall and in age categories often win a prize.
Fun runs are often charity runs or runs organized to celebrate a common cause. You might wear a bib number when participating in a fun run, but you don't generally wear a timing chip. These runs encourage participation but not necessarily competition. Fun runs usually are 5Ks or shorter.
There are different distances for running events. These are the most common.
A 5K race is five kilometers or 3.1 miles in length. While these races are shorter, they don't necessarily have to be easier. Many seasoned runners participate in these events and compete at a swift pace. But because the distance is shorter, this is also an excellent race for a beginner runner.
A 10K is 10 kilometers in length or 6.2 miles long. These mid-distance events offer the opportunity to challenge your ability to run fast and a little farther. Once you've run a 5K comfortably, a 10K is a reasonable next step.
Ten-mile races further challenge your ability to run longer distances and require you to manage your pace for an extended period of time. This type of event is challenging but do-able for runners who have conquered 5k and 10K events.
A half-marathon requires substantial training and a smart, organized plan. At 13.1 miles, the half marathon is a slight bump up from a 10-mile race, but many runners find that small bump to be quite a challenge. Very few runners can complete a half marathon with little to no training, even if they include walking.
The marathon (26.2 miles) used to be the ultimate running experience, reserved solely for seasoned runners who could compete at a moderate or fast pace. However, nationwide marathons now welcome runners and walkers of varying abilities. If you are interested in participating in a marathon, check the time cut-off and qualification standards to ensure it fits your running level well.
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Consider the ultramarathon if you've competed in races of varying distances and still need a greater challenge. These grueling races often cover 50 miles or more (sometimes up to 100 miles), and many take place in challenging heat and on varied terrains. These events require serious training and sometimes require support staff's help on race day.
A Word From Verywell
Running can be a great way to work out, get outside, or explore your neighborhood. Because it requires relatively little gear — just a good pair of running shoes — you can head out the door and on a run with just some motivation and preparation. Proper fueling, hydration, and recovery will help you maximize the benefits of your running routine, and you'll soon be enjoying the runner's high and fitness gains.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How many miles should I run a day?
How many miles you should run each day depends on your current fitness level and goals, as well as what other training you are doing. However many miles you are currently running, try adding about 10% more distance each week.
How long is an easy run?
The length of an easy run is based on your current average distance. For someone just starting out, even a 1 mile run may be very challenging. For experienced runners, somewhere between 3 and 5 miles at an easy pace should suffice.
How can I control my breathing while running?
The most effective way to control your breathing while running is to breathe through your mouth and nose. Breathing through your nose alone is unlikely to provide you with enough oxygen. You can also practice deep belly breathing to help with oxygen delivery and prevent stitches.
Learn More:How to Breathe While Running