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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?
Answer:

  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

Caution

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.



60 Comments
  1. jank on June 12th at 9:38 am

    Mark, this rocks.

  2. Sarah on June 12th at 10:29 am

    Wonderful, and convenient, too!The links are terrific as well.
    Thanks so much!

  3. Bruce on June 13th at 4:23 am

    Great article Mark, lots of good advice there.

  4. 100 Beginner Running Tips » Complete Running Network on June 17th at 12:12 am

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  5. booyaa dot org» Blog Archive » Web links for June 17th on June 17th at 6:32 pm

    […] Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginning Runners » Complete Running Network – I’m not so keen on the format, seems cluttered, but it is a comprehensive Q&A. […]

  6. Alan L (Malaysia) on June 24th at 10:41 pm

    Hey Mark,

    I wished I read what you said before I took part in my first half marathon recently. I definitely need to work towards being able to run non stop for an hour. Thanks again man.

    Alan L (Malaysia)

  7. Robbie on June 30th at 4:42 pm

    This is really helpful, and i appreciate it a lot!

  8. April on August 21st at 9:12 pm

    Hello, I am in Cross Country and I have in the range of middle and lower, I feel good when I’m finished because it feels as if I’m doing this for my health benifits. That is whY i joined Cross Country. But it feels as if alot of the girls on the team are so serious about this, and it makes me feel even worse of myself because I’m not going “full speed” as they are. I like going at my pace and I feel as if I do try my hardest. But then I am also confused by the fact of what everyone else around me thinks. What should I do/think?

  9. Karen Wu on August 30th at 5:04 pm

    Great article! Very helpful! Thank you…

  10. Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginning Runners | www.theirway.net on September 15th at 8:03 am

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  11. Getting Started Running on September 27th at 1:24 pm

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  12. Margus on October 1st at 3:50 pm

    Hi, found the guide through a friend of mine who’s been running for a while now and this gave me the final incentive to actually start running myself.

    Great guide, thanks a lot, seems to work very well for me as a beginner – especially the part about not feeling bad if I can’t run continuously for a long period in the beginning.

  13. Amber on January 18th at 5:40 pm

    I have sort of a question. In highschool, I do alot of “suicides” which involves alot of starting and stopping. Is that a bad thing?

    Amber

  14. Steve Ray on January 23rd at 9:31 pm

    Very helpful. You pointed out a lot of things that I feel like I should have known already, but just didn’t realize it I guess. I can’t wait to put some of the new found knowledge to use on my next run. Thanks again Mark!

  15. fahim on February 4th at 8:54 am

    iam going to run for my college sports…… but i havent run anytime….. how should i practice…….

  16. J.Cormier on March 6th at 4:07 pm

    As a beginner following your program, should you absolutely limit yourself to the prescribed time limits as far as walking is concerned?

    For example, say you do the first week, walking 1 minute and running 1 minute with 7 repetitions, giving you the 14 minutes recommended. Obviously your point is that you should not try to run more than this yet, but if you still feel energetic, is it OK to continue *walking*, or does this also not recommended?

    Thanks!

  17. Emya on June 12th at 6:47 pm

    hey this is great! i was wondering about lots of these this and this is very helpful!
    thanks!
    E

  18. Joy on July 2nd at 12:06 pm

    Wow, Mark! This is super! I have never ever ran a step before in my whole life! Now it’s my favorite thing to do!

  19. Nini on July 5th at 9:32 pm

    Wow, what a wonderful article!

    I will definitely forward this to my friends. =D

  20. Manuel Francisco on July 26th at 7:44 am

    Hello Mark, I’m 18 years old and I want to thank you cause there were a lot of things I had doubts with, It was so helpful and interesting. Regards from México.

    Run your long run and enjoy!

  21. There’s always a first time! « la otra barbie on December 8th at 10:36 pm

    […] courage to start! Everything seemed unknown. Until one day I found a wonderful post about the top ten questions asked by beginner runners and everything began to make sense. I was something! I was a beginner […]

  22. David A. Shaver on December 20th at 8:09 am

    I remember my first race and how hard it was for a friend to talk me into signing up. It was the best thing I have ever done.

    David A. Shavers last blog post..Sample Race Entry Form

  23. Tom on December 31st at 9:29 am

    Great information. I especially like the advice about staying motivated. It’s so important to also train your mind for running success — it’s such as under-trained tool for runners. As someone who runs 5-6 times a week, I’ve seen the benefits of what a proper mindset can do for your running. It makes the long runs so much easier.

  24. Sanjay Reddi on February 19th at 4:34 am

    any one help me, to run 100mts in 13seconds.
    i am practicing,but my legs are not helping.daily i am getting pain severly
    which causes very hard to stand and walk.i consult doctor also,he told me that it is just due to stree,dont feel tension, just do light jog for 800mts per week,automatically u regain u r streangth.
    plese help me by giving some tips and suggestions.
    thanks in advance

  25. Detox Diet Recipes on March 12th at 7:22 pm

    When I started running and got stuck at a 3 mile limit, drinking double the water helped me get up to 5 miles (with my regular training).

    Just be careful not to get hyponeutremia.

  26. namrta on March 30th at 10:26 am

    i found your guidlines very realistic and inspiring. i am a begginer , really facing the problems of lack of guidance. i have been starting running and quiting because of excessive fatigue and pains. i hope your tips will help me to start in a better way than i’d ever done. infact everything that you have written somehow points at the general problems faced by the beginners. so wish me luck and thank you

  27. Alfred on April 2nd at 8:05 pm

    I am a high school sophomore and this has encouraged me to run in track even though i was not a good runner. I ran a 29min 3 mile course freshman year and because of the stages and “way of running” i have lowered it this year by 11min. i now run a 18:41 min 3 mile. The stages can and will help if u try and have the motivation to succeed as a runner =). Never give up and if u do…. START again.

  28. Therese on April 11th at 1:04 pm

    This is helpful. Thanks. I have another question.. If I am flat-footed, will this affect my running?

  29. Charlene on April 17th at 4:07 pm

    I am a beginner runner.  I would like to make running part of my lifestyle, as it is a part of my husband’s.   I run relatively slow, but can run up to 5 miles without stopping.  Which, for me is an accomplishment in itself.  I am very proud of my new running abilities.  I have learned to control my breathing, take hills in stride, prevent shin-splints, and not quit.   I would like to do a 5k to start with.  There is one coming up on the 17th of April in my area.  I have never done any type of relay before.  I do not want to race for time; as I previously stated I run very slow….almost a 13 minute mile.  But I would like to do a relay for the cause and also for me.  I want to see if it is something I like.  Am I out of my league here?  I don’t want to be the last person running 45 minutes after everyone else has finished.  Can you send me some information regarding a first 5k?  And do you think this is something that will motivate me or embarrass me?  That is what I am afraid of…..being embarrassed and feeling as if everyone is waiting on me to finish so they can go home….    Thankyou.

  30. Jon (was) in Michigan on April 17th at 6:28 pm

    Hi Charlene,

    If you can run 5 miles, then you can race a 5K (3.1 miles). 

    You haven’t said anything about your general fitness level or your age, so its hard for me to tell how fast your 13 minute miles really are. 

    That said, unless you are running in an extremely small, competitive race (like 8 guys from the local High School track team), you will not finish last.  Even if you did finish last?  You still beat everyone who stayed home in bed.   If 80% of success is just showing up, then you’ve got most of them beat already.  :)

    For folks like us (who don’t run for a living), its about beating your own time.  Its about running in a race because you can.  Its about doing something that most people you know, would never think of even trying. 

    You’ll see when you get to the race, that runners come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and speeds.  There will be people that look like they are ready for the olympics, and people who look like they ended up at the race because they got off at the wrong highway exit.  Every single one of them have two things in common: 1) they showed up, and 2) they are there to race.

    Hopefully you decide to go race.  I think you will like the experience and you might find that running will take on a whole new level of interest for you.

    Good luck!

    Standard Disclaimer:
    I am not a physician.  This is not medical advice.  You are advised to seek the advice a licensed medical professional before beginning any exercise program.  Running is an inherently dangerous sport and has associated risks including, but not limited to, injury, death and excessive foot odor.  Do not stand forward of the white line while bus in motion.  Close cover before striking.

  31. Meao on April 21st at 7:36 pm

    Hello there,
    This Saturday april 25.. I will run /walk  for
    Lake county,Fl  March of dimes walk .I am beginner runner and have been walk/run for a month..any advice ? The walk start at Wooden park  Tavares at 8.00  am .Anyone can come and joy us..
    See you there.(Look for me)

  32. tapasya on May 19th at 4:00 am

    hi!i have read it everywhere that for a beginner its advised to run for just half an hour.however i have progressed with quite an ease to a 45minute jog by the end of 1st week itself! so is that a problem?? and also i jog everyday,which again is not recommended.so please help me

  33. What Are You Doing To Help New Runners? | Complete Running Network on June 19th at 11:20 am

    […] to this wonderful point in her running career? By following the little table I made as part of my Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginner Runners […]

  34. Nikki Loville on June 25th at 7:40 am

    In 2003 I was running 2 miles per day easily. I was rocking a size 18 and went down to
    a 12 within 3-4 months time. But in 2005, I was in a Car accident that caused me to gain
    all the pounds back and this time it’s mostly in the abdomen area. I have been trying
    to work my way up to it again but it’s harder at 37. I found that running caused me to feel
    sexy and empowered. Any suggestions on how to get back into it?

  35. fitness entertainment on June 29th at 3:22 pm

    the pose method thing you posted looks extremely helpful and I plan on giving it a try!

  36. What Are You Doing To Help New Runners? « Daily News on June 30th at 9:07 pm

    […] to this wonderful point in her running career? By following the little table I made as part of my Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginner Runners […]

  37. Heather Gavin on July 19th at 3:46 am

    Wow, thanks a lot for this great article/guide I really feel as though this will help start out my running that I plan to be doing in highschool by next year. Thanks again for this.

  38. halee on July 22nd at 5:35 am

    omg i am a teen and have to take a runing test and waz freaking out thanks yaall hel[ped so much:)

  39. pligg.com on August 10th at 2:14 pm

    Top 10 Questions Asked by Beginning Runners…

    An article from CompleteRunning, 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….

  40. Dave on August 25th at 1:15 pm

    I enjoyed the straight forward answers without a lot of personal opinion added. Perfect for getting me started.

  41. Gaye Ferguson on August 29th at 3:30 am

    I am 59 years old and have been running for about 2 years (late starter). I find the first 10 minutes the hardest and then I settle in to a fairly slow pace. I recently did a 5km in 33 mins which wasnt too bad on the day but the pack still pulled out of sight fairly quickly. Any tips on how to make the first 10 minutes easier?
    I am running 4 times a week – varying 30 mins to 50 mins. (50 mins I have some walk breaks)

  42. John on August 30th at 7:55 am

    Gaye – The first 5-10 minutes should be a warmup jog.

    Do this at an easy pace and then stop and stretch. (You can find stretches at http://www.runnersworld.com/topic/0,7122,s6-241-287-0-0,00.html )

  43. Gaye Ferguson on September 1st at 3:14 am

    Thank you John – I will do this and see how I go.

  44. Josep on September 16th at 2:08 pm

    Are we not supposed to ask you about your sources because you just make junk up?
    Good stuff other than that odd little comment

  45. bob Babinski on October 19th at 1:05 pm

    Those are excellent tips. The mental approach is as important as anything else. There are no limits when we set our minds to things.
    Meantime, you might be interested in having a peak at this inspirational story from the Chicago marathon, and perhaps commenting on it!

    http://good4sports.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/montrealer-battles-back-from-car-accident-to-complete-chicago-marathon/

    Cheers,

    Bob
    .-= bob Babinski´s last blog ..How small is your world? =-.

  46. Matt on November 19th at 4:09 am

    The only thing I disagree with here is intentionally not talking about speed. I think that all beginner runners should do a trial mile run and then enter the amount of time it took them to complete this run into the McMillan running calculator located here: http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/mcmillanrunningcalculator.htm

    This calculator is a great tool to figure out where your level of running fitness is. Since beginners should only really be focusing on endurance at that stage of the game (at least in my opinion, some like to have a more balanced training schedule at the beginning but I think that just leads to more injury) you stay in the guidelines of the Endurance Running paces it gives you. If they want to use the walk/run program posted in this article, just stick with the long run pace in that program to build up that endurance.

  47. Sarah on December 5th at 1:06 am

    Wow! This is really helpful! I thank you! I am getting ready to join the Navy so I am preparing myself know…I was never to much of a runner. But I printed out the Stages 1&2

    I was never really a runner…but this makes it seema peice of cake!

    Thanks, Sarah

  48. Stephanie B on December 15th at 1:55 pm

    i am a track runner, but i didn’t do it last year because of family issues and now i wanna start up agian but my weight gain and bad eating habits over the year span have really got be into being lazy…… what should i do to start training?

  49. mugs on December 17th at 8:10 am

    totally helps keeping a journal
    .-= mugs´s last blog ..Wake Up With Me =-.

  50. Tanya on December 19th at 3:03 am

    Just reading this has got me motivated =]
    Awesome article, really helps with things I was unsure of.
    Thanks!

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

    Thanks for the great article!

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

    This is just what I needed – thanks!

  53. 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

  54. 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.

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

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

  56. 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.

    http://nutritionfirstfitness.com/tools.php?tool=running

  57. 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 =-.

  58. 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 =-.

  59. 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!

  60. 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.

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