Posted by on Mar 22, 2013

This starting guide was created by Jonathan Savage. Jonathan found himself inactive and out of shape in his early 30s, then turned to running and ended up losing 70 lbs. Jonathan is now a running expert and ultramarathon runner that competes at the international level. He also runs the site, which is a great resource for runners of all levels.

Visit Jonathan on Fitocracy or Google.

Running is a simple and cheap sport, requiring nothing more than a pair of shoes and the open road. These guidelines will provide you with the core information to help you to begin running.

Why run?

There are many ways of getting fitter, so why choose running?  As with any exercise there are mental and emotional advantages in addition to the physical benefits. However, I believe that running provides additional scope for relaxation and meditation. It may not seem like it when you first start to run, but as you improve you will reach a point where you can run will less effort and feel like you can run forever. At that point you can find “Stillness in Motion“, where you can relax and think freely.

Getting good at running allows you to find "Stillness in Motion"

Getting good at running allows you to find “Stillness in Motion”

Checking with your doctor

An annual medical checkup is an important part of maintaining your health. For many medical problems, early detection can dramatically improve the outcome and it’s wise to have your doctor’s approval before starting any training program.

Beginners Plan

Rather than just going out and running as far as you can, this plan uses a structured approach of running and walking to get you to where you can run for 30 minutes. The plan starts with establishing a base of fitness through walking, and then moves on to walking with running intervals, before finally reaching the point of pure running.

Baseline fitness

Before you start to run, check your level of fitness by walking briskly for 30 minutes. If you cover 2 miles (3.2 Km) in that time, then you are ready for the run/walk plan below. If not, then concentrate on building up your fitness by walking for 30 minutes at a time, building up your pace. If you have difficulty in maintaining the 15:00 min/mile (9:20 min/Km) pace, consider using the incremental Run/Walk program shown below, but substitute walking at the required pace for the run intervals and do the walk at a more comfortable pace.

Incremental Run/Walk

Once you can walk 2 miles in 30 minutes, introduce the running gradually. Start off with two one minute runs in the 30 minutes; walk 14, run 1, walk 14, run 1. Try to keep the walking pace at 15 min/mile pace, which is a fast walk and do a short Warmup before the 30 minutes, starting off with a moderate walk and building up to the right pace over a few minutes. As that ratio of running to walking becomes comfortable, gradually shift from walking to running.

Warmup Walk Run Walk Run Total Running Notes
5 30 0 Baseline 30 min walk
5 14 1 14 1 2
5 13 2 13 2 4
5 12 3 12 3 6
5 11 4 11 4 8
5 10 5 10 5 10
5 9 6 9 6 12
5 8 7 8 7 14
5 7 8 5 8 16 Crossover to more running than walking
5 6 9 6 9 18
5 5 10 5 10 20
5 4 11 4 11 22
5 3 12 3 12 24
5 2 13 2 13 26
5 1 14 1 14 28 You can go from this stage to running 30 minutes, or if this is difficult, use the next few stages to ease the transition.
5 16 1 13 29
5 20 1 9 29
5 25 1 4 29
5 30 30

How Often to Run?

I generally recommend running only 3-4 days per week, which gives your body chance to recover and grow stronger. If you want to train more frequently, I’d suggest High Intensity Interval Training (see below). Try to make your run into a habit, as this helps with motivation. Habits, good and bad, are powerful.

Running Form

While there is some controversy over the best running form, there are several components that are generally considered worth adopting.

  • Cadence. The number of steps you take per minute, known as cadence, is important for reducing impact, and effort. Aim for about 180 steps per minute counting both feet.
  • Forward Lean. A simple way of learning to run is to stand still, then gradually lean forward until you have to start running to prevent falling over. This will naturally put you into a slight forward lean, with your weight over the front part of your feet. This forward lean should come from your whole body leaning forward rather than bending at the waist.
  • Arm Position. Your arms should be high, with your hands near the bottom of pectoral muscle. The swing of your arms only needs to act as a counterbalance to your running motion, so don’t try to drive with your arms.
  • Run Tall. You should run with a relaxed, straight back and without hunching over.
  • Avoid Overstriding. Don’t stretch forward to lengthen your stride, but have your feet land roughly under your hips. A good cadence will naturally help with this.
  • Foot Strike. As a beginner, don’t worry too much about how your foot lands; just do what comes naturally. If you listen to the sound your feet make when they land, it should be a soft patting sound rather than a slap or a scrape. (If your calves are painful after running and you’re landing on your forefoot only, without your heel touching the ground, then you may want to modify your form slightly to allow your heel to land and take your weight.)

Running and Obesity

Being overweight creates more stress on your body, and being too heavy may make running too stressful. Being able to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes should be indicative of a body that can begin to run, but use caution. If you are significantly overweight, you may be better off focusing on walking and weight loss before you start running. Including a little High Intensity Interval Training may be effective in improving weight loss.

Starting to Run If You’re Already Fit

What if you are not a runner, but quite fit? The run/walk plan is still a good idea, and your fitness should allow you to progress up the scale to 30 minutes of running quite quickly, while reducing the risk of injury.

High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) uses short bursts of high intensity exercise combined with recovery periods. If you want to get fit more quickly or want to lose weight faster, then HIIT may help. HIIT should be performed on a stationary exercise bike rather than running. Do a warmup and then do repeats of 30 seconds of high intensity followed by about 4 minutes of easy cycling. Initially the high intensity should be “comfortably hard” and gradually work up over a number of sessions to an all-out intensity. The number of repeats should also build up over time, starting off with 2-3 repeats and building up to 4-6 repeats. Add 1-3 HIIT sessions per week.


An often overlooked aspect of exercise is the need for massage to keep the muscles functioning well. This does not have to be at the hands of a massage therapist, thought that’s ideal if you can afford it. I’ve found that a few minutes a day with The Stick can work wonders, as can time on a Foam Roller.


Expensive running shoes are not needed, especially for a beginner. You can run barefoot if you choose, but if you do wear shoes, make sure they fit well and are comfortable.

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