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So You Want to Be a Runner: A Beginner’s Guide to Running

You can train to run a 5K, even if you’ve never run before

By Jennifer GeerPublished 12 months ago 11 min read
Photo by Nathalie Désirée Mottet on Unsplash

I’ll never forget my first real run. It was in high school gym class. We had to run around a track for 10 minutes. It had been years since I’d played a good game of tag or had run very far at all. And when I ran around that track that day, my breathing was ragged, my chest burned, and my legs felt like lead.

It was early fall in Kansas, the sun was hot and I was struggling. Just when I thought I couldn’t go one step more, I developed a side stitch that felt like a piercing knife. But I didn’t stop, being the ‘A’ student that I was, I refused to stop. The assignment was run for 10 minutes, and I was going to run for 10 minutes, even if it killed me.

You would think I would avoid all running after that fiasco, but it had the opposite effect on me. I realized this was something I could control. Running was something that would get better if I kept at it. And that’s how I became hooked. I’ve been running ever since.

Maybe you’ve given running a try in the past, but felt the side stitches, the burning lungs, and the lead in your feet. And now you’ve decided that you hate the sport. I’m here to argue in defense of running. And to tell you it doesn’t have to be painful. You can start slow and before you know it, you will feel stronger. You may even begin to enjoy your runs. You may get hooked on running the way I did.

Benefits of running

If you are reading an article about how to get started running, chances are you are already convinced of the benefits.

But, in case you need a little extra motivation, running…

  • Helps you lose weight.
  • Helps you maintain your weight.
  • Strengthens your bones. (It’s a weight-bearing exercise.)
  • Doesn’t damage your knees, contrary to popular opinion.
  • Boosts your mood. According to this study, running for 15 minutes a day reduces the risk of depression.
  • Adds years to your life.

You can run a 5K (3.1 miles)

You don’t have to have burning lungs and painful side stitches when you begin running. There are easier ways to get into running shape without pushing yourself the way I did that day on the track.

But first, you need the proper gear. Not too much gear, running is a simple sport, but you want to make sure you’ve got the right kind of shoes and clothing to avoid blisters, chafing, or any other discomfort on your run.

Why did I choose a 5K for the first distance to aspire to? It’s a popular distance and you’ll find a lot of 5K races. It’s just far enough to be a challenge, but not so far that it’s an unreachable goal.

A race is a fun way to test yourself and feel part of the running community. But if there aren’t races in your area or races aren’t your thing, don’t let that stop you from doing a 5K. You can still train for the goal of running a 5K. On the day of your ‘race’, measure out 3.1 miles and time yourself.

1. Choose your running shoes.

Running shoes are the single most important equipment for a runner. You don’t want to skimp on this. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hundreds on the latest brand name model. But you don’t want to throw on a pair of generic shoes with no support either.

What you need to do when you are new to running is to go to a good running store in your area and have them help. They should be able to watch you run and help guide you into what type of shoe you need.

You have to try shoes on, there’s no way around it. At least until you find what works for you, then you can order online. But first, go to the running store.

Typically, experienced runners work at running stores. I’ve found most runners to be a friendly, cheerful group. They love to share their love of running and will be happy to get a newbie fitted into the correct shoes. They’ll probably have all kinds of running tips for you too. And they usually have a list of local races in your area if you are still looking for your 5K.

Some running stores are so intent on getting you into the right pair of shoes, that they’ll let you return shoes that don’t work, even if you’ve worn them outside. Check their policies first before trying this of course.

I really can’t stress enough how important shoes are to running. The wrong shoes can cause all sorts of injuries.

When you run, your foot will naturally move from side to side. It can roll inwards a bit, or roll outwards, This is called pronation.

There are three types of pronation:

  • Basic pronation. This is considered neutral pronation and it’s when your foot rolls naturally inward a little bit.
  • Overpronation. This is when your foot rolls inwards more than the basic pronation. It’s usually when you have flat feet without much arch, and it can lead to injuries if you don’t have the proper supportive shoes.
  • Supination. This is when your foot rolls outwards, and it often happens to people that have high arches. You need special footwear to correct supination to avoid injuries.

Types of running shoes:

  • Neutral. These work for the basic pronation runners and also those that supinate. They don’t have a motion control feature that stops the foot from rolling inwards.
  • Stability. These are for runners with mild to moderate overpronation. They have some stability at regulating the foot from rolling in, but they aren’t overly rigid.
  • Motion Control. These are for runners with severe overpronation. They are rigid, with stiffer heals and denser foam. If you don’t overpronate, these will feel uncomfortable for you. If you do overpronate, these shoes protect your foot from rolling inwards, preventing you from injury.

Tips on choosing running shoes:

Try them on at the end of the day, your feet can swell and will be largest at the end of the day.

You want them to be large enough that you can wiggle your toes. For example, my running shoes are an entire size bigger than my street shoes.

Try shoes on both feet. It’s common to have one foot larger than the other. Make sure they fit both feet.

Walk or run around in them. You want them to be comfortable right from the start. You shouldn’t need to break in running shoes.

2. Don’t wear cotton running clothes.

Yes, I said you don’t need much gear, but in addition to good running shoes, you need clothes with the right material for sweating in. Running in cotton is uncomfortable. When you sweat, your clothes will get wet and cling to you, causing chafing. Chafing is bad for running, avoid it at all costs. You want activewear that wicks the moisture away from your body and dries quickly.

You don’t have to spend a fortune on top brands. You can get relatively low-priced running clothes at big box stores. Look for discounts offseason.

The key point about running clothes is to be comfortable while you are running. You don’t want anything tight that will creep up as you run. But clothes that are too loose can be miserable too. You want to be able to focus on your running, you’ll be a lot more likely to keep going if your clothes aren’t bothering you.

One last word on running clothes, they can hold odors in even after you wash them. They do make a special type of detergent for activewear materials. I have also found that a vinegar rinse does the trick for a lot less money.

3. Pick your training plan.

You have your shoes, you have your clothes, now you need your training plan. I would love to include the perfect training plan right here for you. But there are two reasons why I can’t do that. 1. Copyright infringement. 2. There is no perfect one size fits all plan. You need to choose the right plan for your lifestyle, body type, and personality.

What you need to look for in a training plan:

Do an online search and you will find dozens of training plans for running a 5K. When choosing your plan, be sure it has the following components:

  • Rest days. Don’t neglect to rest. Rest days are as important as your running days. Your muscles will strengthen when you rest and you will feel stronger for your next run.
  • Cross-training. It can be walking, swimming, cycling, yoga. You need some kind of moderate exercise to help keep your muscles balanced.
  • Run/walk. When you are beginning, you will benefit from a walk/run combination. You don’t have to start out running continuously.
  • Run at a level you can stay conversational. Your very first 5K is not the time you need to do speed training. Run at a level you can hold up a conversation without huffing and puffing.

Here are my favorites:

Hal Higdon. I have a special affinity for Hal Higdon because I used his training plan to run my first marathon. His plans are simple and easy to follow. And they work! He has different levels from novice to expert. Here is his novice 5K training plan. He will get you to your first race in eight weeks.

Jeff Galloway. Jeff’s plan differs from Hal’s in that he likes to measure time spent running rather than distance. You run based on times, except for one day a week when he has you run a certain distance for your long run. Here is his 5K plan, he has a 10K follow-up training plan there as well. I like his plan for beginners because he is a huge proponent of taking walking breaks during your run.

Jeff’s training plan for the 5K goes for 15 weeks. Some people are motivated by reaching their goals faster. If that’s you, choose Hal’s plan. But if you don’t mind taking your time, almost doubling your training time will help you feel strong as you reach your 5K goal.

Couch to 5K. If you are a fan of apps, there are a lot of 5K training apps to choose from. I like this one from C25K available on iOs and Android. It’s an eight-week program that has you run three days per week. This is a gentle start to running that gets a lot of positive reviews. Note that there are in-app purchases and you can upgrade for a price to remove the ads.

4. Run!

You’re ready. You have your shoes, your clothes, and your training plan. There are no more excuses and nothing to stop you. It’s time to run!

Some miscellaneous thoughts on running.

  • Run with music, don’t run with music. You will hear people say music is distracting. Don’t worry about this unless you find it is distracting to you. I like running with music and I believe that you’re more likely to continue with a habit if you’re enjoying yourself.
  • Use a smartwatch if you like to combine technology with exercise. Smartwatches and fitness trackers can make it easier to track your runs. But you don’t need this to be a runner. Again, it comes down to personal preference.
  • Find a running group if you think running is lonely. Running is a popular sport and there are lots of running groups. You can search online to find one near you. Don’t be intimated if you don’t think you can’t keep up. They usually have runners for all different paces. I love running groups for longer distances. I’ve made some great friends this way as well.

Beyond the 5K…

One day I was in Washington D.C. when the Marine Corps Marathon was being held. I hadn’t planned it, it was a coincidence. But when I saw those runners, an idea formed in my head and I knew I wanted to run a marathon. A couple of years later, I found myself running the Chicago Marathon.

This may be you one day, once you get started running, you never know what can happen. It can take hold of your life and there’s no going back once it does.

Running keeps me sane, which is even more important to me than staying fit. I’m not training for speed or distance these days. I haven’t run a marathon in years. But running is more important to me now than it was during my marathon training days.

Running is my time alone, my solace, sometimes the only quiet moments of the day. I am alone when I run, lost in my thoughts. The rhythm of my feet falling is its own mediation.

Give running a chance, start with the right gear and the right training plan, and maybe you’ll learn to love it as much as I do.

The beauty of running is in its simplicity. It’s not an elitist sport. Anyone with a good pair of running shoes and a heavy dose of willpower can be a runner. All you have to do is get out there and run.


This story was originally published on Medium.


About the Creator

Jennifer Geer

Writing my life away. Runner/mama/wife/eternal optimist/coffee enthusiast. Masters degree in Psychology.

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