Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginning Runners

Posted by Filed Under: Learn to Run, Our Best Running Articles, Plans & Schedules, Running Tips, Training

Article Summary: beginning runner loriThis article was written to answer the most common questions asked by new runners, and by people returning to running after a layoff of at least a few years.

Question: How long should my first runs be?
Answer: During the first week, 15 minutes is plenty. After that, your goal should be to increase the time very gradually.

Question: What should I do if I can’t run non-stop for 15 minutes?
Answer: Don’t feel badly. In the beginning, most people have trouble running for even a few minutes. In other words, you’re normal! I suggest the following training plan.

Stage One

Takes you from ground zero to running 45 minutes using a one minute walk, 10 minute run program. Stage one will get most people ready for a 5k race.
Week Walk Minutes Run Minutes Repetitions Total Minutes
1 1 1 7 14
2 1 2 5 15
3 1 3 4 16
4 1 4 4 20
5 1 5 4 24
6 1 6 4 28
7 1 7 4 32
8 1 8 4 36
9 1 9 4 40
10 1 10 4 44

The walk/run method I based the schedule above on is common among many running programs. Walk/run is probably most well known in Jeff Galloway’s program in the U.S. and in Running Room programs in Canada.

Stage Two

Gradually weans you off walk breaks so you can comfortably run 60 minutes without stopping. Stage two will get most people ready for a five mile race.
Week Walk Minutes Run Minutes Repetitions Total Minutes
1 1 15 3 48
2 1 15 3 48
3 1 20 3 63
4 1 20 3 63
5 1 30 2 62
6 1 30 2 62
7 walk 1, run 40, walk 1, run 18 (total=60 minutes)
8 walk 1, run 45, walk 1, run 13 (total=60 minutes)
9 walk 1, run 50, walk 1, run 8 (total=60 minutes)
10 run 60 minutes continuously!

Question: How often should I run?
Answer: For beginners, I recommend three or four days a week. I also recommend alternating between running and rest days. This will give your body time to recover and adapt to the stresses you’re giving it.

Question: How far should my runs be?
Answer: I intentionally avoid mentioning distance in this plan because if you focus on distance, you’ll likely also start focusing on speed. In the beginning, you should avoid an emphasis on speed because too fast too soon can lead to injury.

Question: How fast should I be running?
Answer: You should be able to comfortably carry on a conversation and you should not be out of breath. This is, for some people, a hard guideline to follow because they feel as though they are running too slow. If that’s you, please remember that in the beginning part of your running career it’s vital that you focus on a pace that is comfortable. Why? Because, without getting into the science of it, running too fast too early does not build the proper cardiovascular improvements you need to be a successful runner. So, take your time and enjoy yourself!

Question: I’m afraid I won’t be able to stick with the plan – how do I stay motivated?

  1. Sign up for a race. Do it now! Having a race goal (and race fees!) on the line will be a powerful source of motivation. I guarantee it.
  2. Run with a partner. And promise to get each other through the rough patches. Neither of you will want to let the other down.
  3. Focus strongly on getting through the first three weeks. It takes roughly three weeks to establish a habit. If you can get past the first three weeks, your mind and body will find it much easier after that.
  4. Don’t overdo it. Running too fast, too far or too often in the beginning can burn you out, make you sore or get you injured and none of those things are very motivating.
  5. If you are taking up running to lose pounds, try not to focus solely on weight loss. This is because especially in the beginning of your running career you will likely gain some weight due to muscle growth – a very good thing because muscles burn fat. To get your attention away from the scale, take tape measurements and photos of your body every few weeks. You’ll be happy to see the inches dropping even if the pounds don’t initially follow suit.
  6. Journal your experiences in a running blog or on a forum and connect with other runners for support. You’ll be amazed at just how much support you’ll get!
  7. Remind yourself often that at the end of the program you’ll be fitter, thinner and will be able to run for non-stop for an hour!

Question: How do I know if I’m running correctly?
Answer: This is a wise, common question among beginners. Unfortunately the answers are often not as good as the question. Beginners are often told to run in a manner that feels “natural”. I have a very different opinion. I believe that, for many of us, “natural” doesn’t always mean correct. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it is often said that 50 to 60% of runners are injured every year (please don’t ask me to quote sources!).

In the past, many experts told runners to land on their heels and roll forward toward their toes. As I see it, the problem with landing on your heels is that it means your foot is landing ahead of your body – your feet are acting like brakes. And this, in my opinion, can lead to all kinds of problems.

Thankfully, I am noticing many sources on the web starting to convey a different message – that landing on our mid/forefoot is the way humans are supposed to land. I recommend you check out the Pose Method of Running and ChiRunning – two methods that teach similar ideas. I have personally had a great deal of success using the Pose Method.

You may also want to spend some time reading up on barefoot running. Finally, you might ask yourself why most of the top distance runners on the planet do not land on their heels.

My long-winded answer is over but I’d like to leave you with two messages. First, that this is the time to figure out how to run correctly. After the beginner part of your running career, it is more difficult to change how you run. Second, that you should research this question until you are satisfied you have the right answer. You might start with searches on running form, running technique, or running mechanics. Good luck!

Question: Should I stretch?
Answer: Only a few years ago, the answer from just about anyone you asked would have been an absolute “yes!”. But more recent research has been telling us other things:

  1. Stretching before running may actually be bad for you. It may lead to injury.
  2. It is better to warm up slowly (e.g. by starting out walking) than to stretch before you run.
  3. Stretching after five minutes of easy running is more advisable than stretching before running.
  4. Stretching after you run is always a good thing.
  5. Doing stretching as a standalone activity (e.g. taking up Yoga) can be extremely beneficial to runners.

Complete Running Network has got more great information on stretching here and here.

Question: Should I change how I eat now that I’m running?
Answer: For beginning runners running under an hour a day, nutrition is not a big issue. You really do not need to add anything special to your diet. That said, if your nutritional habits were poor before you started running, this is a good time to fix them. Water is a runner’s best friend. Drink water before and after you run.

Question: I am taking up running to lose weight – how much can I expect to lose?
Answer: Ahhh, the age-old question. There are many factors to consider. I could/should write a book (hmmm…). For now, here are a few things for you to think about:

  1. Running is at the top of the list of activities for the number of calories it burns so you’ve made a good choice including it in your weight loss strategy.
  2. Many runners don’t lose weight because they reward themselves for running by eating more or binging. So, rewards are sometimes not very rewarding in the long term.
  3. While you are likely to lose weight running 30 or so minutes three times a week, more pronounced weight loss usually doesn’t happen until you are running more frequently and for longer durations. The message: Stick it through as a beginner and you’ll reap the benefits in much greater quantity for the rest of your running career.

Related Links You Might Like

CRN’s 100 Beginner Running Tips
CRN’s Learn to Run Article Archive
Our Three Part How to Run Series
Zen Habit’s Beginner’s Guide to Running
LifeHack’s Running for Beginners
CoolRunning’s Couch to 5k Running Plan


Please check with your doctor before beginning this, or any other running program.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope this has been helpful. Please leave me a comment if you have other beginner questions you’d like answered. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Good luck with your running plans!

About Mark Iocchelli

Also known as the "Running Blogfather", I'm a 40-something marathoner who has beaten stress fractures and terrible shin splints. Now I'm running double the mileage with no pain - and I'm getting faster. I love to talk about running form and Arthur Lydiard. I also enjoy taking photographs, have a beautiful (and very patient!) wife, and am the proud father of two crazy kids. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about the site.

  1. benny on January 7th at 10:47 am

    Thanks for the great article!

  2. Nix on February 27th at 6:41 am

    This is just what I needed – thanks!

  3. Melina on May 4th at 9:45 am

    My boyfriend and I have been working out together for the past 2 months now and we both feel great. We mix up our work out routines with cardio, stretching, power walking, light running and my favorite YOGA.

    We recently decided to sign up for a 5k race at the end of June. I am really excited to do it. I can’t wait to feel that “runners high” everyone speaks of.

    This article was definitely a big help…thanks!! =D

  4. Mike on May 5th at 4:44 am

    Thanks, man. I just ran my first 5k over the weekend. I did it with a run/walk plan (couch to 5k). I’m now looking for a training plan for the next step. I’ll do a few more 5k’s then I need to think about a 10k. You advice is SO helpful. I’ll be back to read and re-read this article.

  5. Rui on June 6th at 6:05 am

    Thanks a lot, Mark. it’s just what i need.

  6. Brian Bambl on June 6th at 6:16 am

    Question #5

    Running is a great way to burn Calories. Here is an awesome calculator that helps you calculate how many Calories you burn. There are four different options to enter information depending on what information you know.

  7. Victor on July 29th at 11:08 am

    Awesome tips. I just started running a few weeks ago. I try doing a few times a week for a short 2.3 mile loop. It’s been good so far!
    .-= Victor´s last blog ..Whitewater Rafting on American River South Fork 2010 =-.

  8. Runners Passion on August 10th at 6:28 pm

    I love the ways to stay motivated for new runners! These tips work not only for new runners but those of us who have been around for quite awhile and need a little motivation every once in awhile.
    .-= Runners Passion´s last blog ..Runner Update 8 =-.

  9. Porter Boy on August 29th at 5:14 am

    This is a great place to come for advice and tips. I now have a great source that will help me stay motivated, thanks!

  10. Andy Eaton on September 16th at 5:27 am

    You have a great blog, I have just started running and finding it hard to stay motivated, but came across your blog looking for tips. I’m so glad I found your blog. Its giving me loads of great tips.