The Beginner’s Guide to Running
  • September 14, 2015
  • asweatlife_An Open Letter to the First-Time Runner I Saw Today

    Every now and then, I get a text/Gchat/Twitter message from someone in my various social networks that’s along the lines of “HEY! I just started running. You post a lot of obnoxious running photos on Instagram/you write about running a lot/I know that you know how to run. How do I do this?” And then I get really excited, because man, sometimes I really enjoy talking excessively about running, and I’m always thrilled when I sense someone else is about to catch the bug too. Welcome to my tribe, friend. You’re going to like it here.

    However, typing up these texts/Gchats/Twitter messages gets a little time consuming. So both for the sake of my run-curious friends and my own future self, I’ve compiled a list of the questions about running for beginners that I get asked the most often. It’s a Beginner’s Guide to Running, if you will. I’m passing on my wisdom in hopes that one of you who’s been teetering on the edge of running will just do it.

    After all, running is not rocket science. At its core, running requires only your two feet, a pair of shoes, and a space in which to run. That said, I know that the general public often perceives runners to be these hardcore, pavement pounding nutheads who run through rain/sleet/hail/snow, post PRs regularly, log everything with a Garmin and wear really tall socks for no apparent reason.

    Beginners: This does not have to be you. In fact, this shouldn’t be you.

    Here’s what you need to know when you’re just starting to run.

    Your First Step

    Literally, your first step should be to get a pair of real, non-Target running shoes. This is a different experience than going to Dick’s Sporting Goods, trying on a couple pairs, walking around in them for a second, and using your thumb to see if there’s enough wiggle room. Doing this will, quite literally, get you started on the wrong foot.

    It’s completely necessary for beginner runners to go to a real running store and try on running shoes with the help of a professional. I cannot stress that enough. If you buy the wrong pair of shoes, you risk blisters, discomfort, and in worst case scenarios, dangerous injuries that could derail you from running.

    Stores like Fleet Feet and Nike often have treadmills where you can hop on for a couple minutes, test different shoes, and have a professional analyze your gait. They’ll look at things like your arch type, how your fool rolls when you run (also called pronation), and where your foot strikes the ground. Once they have, they’ll point you towards the right style of shoes, which tend to fall in the following general categories:

    • Neutral
    • Minimalist
    • Cushioned

    From there, you can have fun with the bright colors and new shiny things. But only after you’ve had your gait analyzed.

    Also, beginner runners might balk at the idea of spending $100+ on a pair of shoes – I know I did. But think of it as an investment. If you spend $100 on a new pair of running shoes, and you run twice a week for three months, that breaks down to around $4 per use. Completely reasonable (and basically free).

    Your First Runs

    Now that you have the gear, it’s time to actually run. Your starting point will vary depending on your general fitness, but I think a great way for beginners to get started running is by following a run:walk ratio.

    Start by jogging for one minute and walking for one minute, alternating between the two for 20 minutes. Pay attention to how you feel, how quickly you can recover from the jogging portion, your breathing and any general aches and pains. Once you’re comfortable with that routine, gradually increase your running portions by 30 seconds at a time.

    Pro Tip: Set a Goal

    One of the best things beginning runners can do is set a goal for themselves by signing up for a race – ideally, a 5K. It sounds scary, but having something to shoot for will motivate you to make a regular habit out of running. Plus, you’ll feel amazing after you finish, and you’ll likely get hooked on that feeling.

    There’s a reason the Couch-to-5K program is so popular – it works. It gives you three workouts a week that help you to verrrryyyy gradually build up to running 3 miles without stopping. I recommend this to a lot of my newbie running friends for a couple of reasons. It’s a gradual buildup. It’s achievable. It doesn’t have you running every day, so you have plenty of time to recover as you get used to new muscles hurting. It encourages you to repeat weeks if necessary and not to skip ahead to longer workouts. I know that it’s all too easy to get caught up in comparing your running abilities to others, but when you’re just starting out, you really have to put your blinders on and focus on YOUR running; otherwise, you risk injury and getting burnt out incredibly quickly.

    THAT SAID … I’ve definitely had friends sign up for longer races (say, half marathons) before they’ve really nailed running as a habit. That’s totally fine. You will survive – as long as you train smart and listen to your body. Ideally, you’ve signed up for this half marathon way ahead of time. Most half marathon training programs are around three months, so until you have to start following a training plan (I recommend Hal Higdon’s Novice 1/2 programs), you have time to build up to running three miles, three to four times per week.

    Your First Meals

    Contrary to popular belief, just because you’ve decided to run a little doesn’t mean you have to go full-on Paleo/vegetarian/protein powder consumer. While I’m definitely not a nutritionist or dietitian, I eat quite frequently, and I’ve never thrown up from running (Hardpressed, well, that’s another story). Here’s what I know to be true:

    • Don’t eat a lot of shit. Eat shit in moderation. Don’t do stupid things like eat a dozen atomic wings and try to go for a run immediately afterwards (you may try a beer mile, but only if you invite me).
    • Eat more green things. If you’re doing your body the favor of burning calories by going for a run, don’t ruin it by eating shit the rest of the day.
    • Make your protein count. Meat-eaters, think turkey, chicken breasts, and fish as your main protein sources. Veg-heads, you’re going to go for beans, peanut butter and eggs. Everyone should start buying chocolate milk because it’s literally the perfect post-run fuel.
    • Drink more water. Especially before and after a run.

    Before a Run

    Keep your pre-run snacks small and carb-rich, especially until you know what your body likes and dislikes. A banana, half a bagel, peanut butter on toast or an energy bar are all great options. Eat about 30-60 minutes before your run.

    After a Run

    Again, a run isn’t license to eat whatever shit you want (until you get to the 12+ mile range). Ideally, you want something after your run that has a 4:1 carb:protein ratio. Chocolate milk, a turkey sandwich on wheat, or a yogurt and fruit smoothie with some protein powder are all good options. This post by Runner’s World is super helpful.

    Do I Need to Brotein Powder?

    Honestly, probably not as much as you think you do. I have not found it necessary to take supplements regularly during my three seasons of marathon training, and I’ve only recently dipped my toes into the protein powder pool because it’s convenient after a tough workout when I have to immediately run to my next engagement. If you’re squeezing runs into a tight schedule, sure, buy a blender bottle and mix up some protein powder and almond milk and be on your merry way. If that sounds icky to you, don’t do it. Simple as that.

    If protein powder intimidates you or you’re not sure you’re getting enough protein, Cass broke it down in this post.


    There are a hundred different things I could tell you about running, and there are a hundred more questions I’m not answering for you. For the latter, I’ll direct you to one of my favorite websites,, and suggest that when you ask your running question, add “Runner’s World” at the end (they’re probably the most reputable running source on the web, and they have tons of helpful info for novice runners).

    For the former, I’ll fully cop to being a running nerd. I’m here to listen and I’m always down to talk about running over text/Gchat/Twitter message. Let me know in the comments section if you have other questions or comments, and I’ll happily get back to you.

    Every runner was once a beginner. Every runner once made the conscious decision to put on their shoes, go outside and start running. For some, that’s lead to a lifetime of half and full marathons and the lifestyle that goes along with constantly training. For others, it’s held steady at running for 20 minutes a few times a week for stress relief. It doesn’t matter which camp you fall into. If you run, you’re a runner. Welcome to the club.

    About Kristen Geil

    A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

    2 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Running

    1. Erin's Inside Job

      This is great! You’re right–it’s pretty simple and I love all the tips to make it less scary to those who may just be starting out. You could also be crazy like me and keep running halves with no training, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

    2. Sam Ruth

      I enjoyed the article and forwarded this article to my friend, who is a beginner runner. Keep up the good work. On side note, I haven’t gotten discouraged after my first half marathon. I have actually still running 10+ mile runs every other week and will be doing a Chicago half next year with my co-worker who lives in Chicago, just don’t know which one yet. You’ve created a monster, haha!

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