How to start running

Author: Laura Fountain

Read Time:   |  July 20, 2022

We've all got to start somewhere, and a 5K is a great place to make that start. Running coach Laura Fountain shares her advice on how to start running and train for your first 5K

Taking a walk round your local park, it probably feels like everyone but you is a runner. But how do you start running? Is it as simple as popping on a pair of trainers and going for a jog?

For a lucky few of us, yes. But most of us should ideally do a little bit more prep before we try to train like Eilish McColgan. Even the most natural-born runner has some things to think about before they start pounding round the park.

How to prepare for your first run

  1. Do you have the right kit?
    Running is a really accessible sport that doesn’t require much initial expense, but it’s a good idea to have a really great pair of running shoes. They don’t have to be expensive – you can get some fantastic cheap running shoes these days.
  2. How are your fitness levels?
    In Laura’s guide to doing your first continuous run below, we’re assuming that you can already walk continuously at a reasonable pace for an hour. If you’re not quite there yet, build up slowly and then come back to us!
  3. How far do you want to run?
    Before you start running, it’s a good idea to have a goal distance in mind. It helps to keep you motivated, and gives you something to work towards, rather than just running aimlessly. Most people start with a 5K.

We’ve asked running coach Laura Fountain to share her tips with us for how to start running, and how to train to run your first ever 5K. Read on for her expert advice…

Start by walk/running

Starting running with a run/walk programme has several benefits. First off, it allows you to do more running and get more time on your feet in a session. Both are important factors if you want to run your first 5K.

If you were to head out the door and run for as long as you could and then go home, you’d end up running for less time in total than all of your running intervals added up in a run/walk session. And with the walk intervals counting towards your training too. Because you’re still covering distance, you get more of a workout than you would if you just ran until you had to give up.

Most importantly, though, a run/walk method means you’re less likely to get injured than if you just ran and tried to increase this every week. Adding in walk breaks puts less of a strain on your body and allows your legs to ease into your new training regime.

You might hear the run/walk method referred to as ‘Jeffing’ in reference to the American Olympic runner Jeff Galloway who advocates a run/walk method. Many runners of all levels of fitness will adopt a run/walk approach to races, including marathons. It’s not just for beginners.

I’d recommend starting with 1 minute of running, then 1 minute of walking. Repeat this eight to ten times, then continue walking as long as you’d like to finish your workout. See if you can do this 3 times per week. Don’t forget to do some stretching for runners afterwards – it’s a good habit to get into right at the beginning of your running journey.

Slowly increase your running time

Increasing your distance slowly is key to avoiding injury and noticing your progress. As a rough guide, I’d say that you should increase the length of your running sections each week by a minute. See if you can keep the walking intervals the same length. You should also try to keep the length of your workout the same. So, by Week Five for example, you would be running three 5-minute running intervals, with a 1 minute walking break in between.

Remember though that this can be totally personalised to suit you. If you’re finding that it’s tough to increase the running time so dramatically, add 30 seconds on each week instead. If you need a bit more recovery, add a minute on to your walking intervals. This is all about making slow and steady progress – it’s not a race!

Want a bit more guidance on increasing your running time? The most famous beginners runner’s first 5K training programme is the NHS Couch to 5K plan. This will guide you to your first 5K over eight weeks.

Don’t run too fast

One thing that new runners often get wrong is their speed. It may not feel like it, but when you first start out, you’ll be running too fast. Slowing right down will make running more comfortable and allow you to keep going for longer. You can work on getting faster later, but your main goal to begin with should be extending the duration of your runs.

A good target to aim for is ‘conversational pace’. This means that you can hold a (slightly breathless) conversation while you run. Don’t worry if this seems out of reach when you first run, though! It’s something to aim for as you train.

Turn running time into running distance

Once you can run for 20 minutes non-stop, it’s time to start thinking about what distance you’re covering. If you’re not sure how to measure that, there are a few options:

  • Run a well-known 5K route
    A quick Google can tell you the route that your local parkrun takes, or your town may even have a marked 5K route. You don’t have to be running all of it yet – but you know roughly what you’re currently covering and what you’re aiming for.
  • Track your runs using your phone
    There are loads of amazing running apps out there that use the location software in your phone to measure how far and fast you run.
  • Invest in a tracking watch
    If you can already feel that running is the sport for you, a running watch could be a great investment. Lots of runners enjoy tracking intricate details about their runs and comparing them over time!

Once you know how much you’re currently running, you can work out how to plan the last few weeks of your training for your chosen distance. You want to keep gently extending your runs until you reach that goal. I recommend adding no more than 5 minutes on each week, and keeping up with that 3 times per week schedule.

What to do after your first 5K run

Once you’ve mastered 5K, the world is your oyster! Here are some ideas:

  • Run a race
    A lot of races start at 5K, so you could sign up for one and use a 5K training plan to keep making progress.
  • Become a parkrun regular
    parkruns are free races that happen all over the country every Saturday. They’re very relaxed, and are a great way of covering weekly miles while meeting other like-minded runners.
  • Keep increasing your distance
    You don’t have to have run a 5K race to start thinking about 10Ks – or beyond! If you want to keep adding to your running distance, here’s how to transition from 5K to 10K.

About the author

Laura Fountain is a journalist, author and running coach. Her books The Lazy Runner and Tricurious describe her journey from reluctant runner and non-swimmer to finishing 20 marathons and an iron-distance triathlon. She coaches women-only running groups and is a tutor on England Athletics’ coaching courses.

Written by

Laura Fountain

Laura Fountain

Journalist, run coach and author of the The Lazy Runner, Laura has run over 20 marathons

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