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Getting Started

Running is booming and there is no time like the present to improve your health, fitness and lifestyle through running. This section will introduce you to the basics of getting started with your running lifestyle. A new runner who is healthy (with no family history of heart disease), under 50, within 20 percent of their ideal weight, probably does not need to get their doctor’s approval before starting a running program. In fact, some people use their poor health or lack of fitness as an excuse to never getting moving—“I’m too out of shape to run!”

If someone is 20 percent or more above the ideal weight for their height and age, over 50, or if they have any real or possible health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or joint or bone problems, they should consult their doctor before beginning the running program.

Setting a Goal

Most beginning runners have a reason to start to run. Often that reason centers around health, feeling and looking better and getting out more. These goals provide inspiration needed to get out the door for the first few weeks of a running program. Some new runners may be vague or undecided about their goals at the beginning of their running program. It’s OK to simply want to “feel better”, but to stick with it, it helps to establish some concrete, specific goals. Here are some examples of goals to suggest to beginning runners:

  • I want to jog for 20 minutes without stopping.
  • I want to complete a 5k race.
  • I’d like to be able to play actively with my kids for 30 minutes without getting winded.

Make the time

The following outlines some creative time-finders:

  • If you don’t have time to warm-up and stretch, just start with a couple of minutes of brisk waking, gradually easing into a slow jog, then a run.
  • Run for transportation: Run to and/or from work (if it’s safe and practical), run to do errands, leave early on your way somewhere and have your family pick you up along the way.
  • Get up earlier. Running first thing in the morning guarantees that it will get done, no matter how busy the rest of the day gets. Plans to run after you dinner, on your lunch hour, after work often don’t happen as planned.
  • Make a commitment. Busy, overcommitted people have to be reminded that their time counts as much as anyone’s. Encourage women who say they “don’t have the time to run” to make time. Write down the appointments in their appointment book, explain to their spouse and children how important running is to them, so that the whole family can help make accommodations.

What to Wear?

One of the best things about running is that it does not cost much. All you need is a good pair of shoes and some suitable clothing.

Choosing a Running Shoe

  • Choose a shoe that is made specifically for running. It does not need to be the most expensive shoe available.
  • Purchase your shoe from a running specialty retailer where knowledgeable staff ensures you get the right shoes for your feet and running style. The sales person will analyze your gait and in-step to make sure that the recommended shoes will provide the needed support and fit to ward off discomfort and injury.
  • Try on several different brands. Different people have different feet and needs.
  • Test run the shoes at the store, and compare them with other brands. Be aware of the store’s return policy when you purchase the shoes.
  • Don’t pick a shoe based on the look; Pick a shoe based on the fit. Pretty is not always comfortable.
  • Replace your shoes every 300-500 miles to keep yourself from getting hurt and keep your feet, back and body in working order.


Clothing choice depends more on your own personal needs. Remember the importance of weather appropriate clothing. Also, make sure that your clothing is breathable. Cotton clothing (including socks) often causes discomfort and chaffing. A warm-up suit does not do a very good job of letting air in or out. Here are some tips on what to wear:

Cold Weather Running

The onset of winter needn’t bring a seasonal halt to a runner’s enthusiasm or routines. Outdoor exercise in the winter can be a pleasurable experience. The major risk posed by running in subfreezing air is frostbite and minor irritations to the respiratory tract. With some minor precautions these risks can be eliminated.

Wear clothing in layers so that warm air can be trapped between the layers. Depending on the weather conditions, two to four layers on the trunk and one to two layers on the legs are appropriate. It is helpful if the outer layers have vents and zippers to allow excess heat to escape as you become warm. On windy days the outer layer should be of wind resistant material.

Clothing made of material which carries the sweat away from the body is best, like wool, silk, or “space age” synthetics like polypropylene or polyester. Avoid cotton as it tends to hold the sweat.

Hat and gloves are crucial as these regions of the body have a substantial role in the regulation of body temperature. Mittens tend to be warmer than gloves. On very cold days mittens worn over gloves are very effective. Stocking caps or ski masks are desirable. On very windy days goggles or eye glasses can provide additional protection.
The outer layer should be light-colored and have reflective material if you are running during darker hours. Reflective material works only if there is a light source. Blaze orange becomes poorly visible brown at night. Light-colored material is visible even without a strong light source. During snowy days dark colors provide visible contrast and attract solar energy.

Avoid overdressing. Feel a bit underdressed and chilly as you start, knowing that later as you run in your layered environment the temperature will rise about 20 degrees.

Warm Weather Running

Running in the heat can be dangerous if the proper precautions and preparations are not followed. Make sure to follow the RRCA recommendations for running in a hot environment

Wear breathable clothing that will keep you cool and wick away the sweat.

  • Do wear light-colored breathable clothing that allows you to be visible to others.
  • Do not wear long sleeves, long pants or sweatsuits. Purposefully running in sweatsuits on hot days to lose water weight is dangerous!

Wear a hat to avoid having the sun on your face. You might also want to wear sunglasses as extra protection for your eyes.

Make sure to wear sunscreen, even when protected by hats and clothes.
Wear or carry some sort of water bottle or water storage sack in order to maintain hydration in the heat and/or on long runs.

Staying Safe

Safety is one of the most important things to focus on when running. Review all of the RRCA safety tips.

Taking the First Steps

When you first start running you might not be able to run that far or for too long without taking a break to walk a bit. Don’t let that discourage you! The more you run, the better you get. So how do you get started?

Find a Running Club

The great thing about running is you can almost always find someone to run with and somewhere to run. The RRCA maintains a database of clubs around the country. Many local running clubs offer beginning running programs that teach you the beginning fundamentals of running as both a sport and a habit.

If running with a group seems itimiating consider working with a running coach one on one until you feel more confident in your running endurance to join a group. Learn more about finding a coach.

Start with the Run/Walk Method

Now that you have the support to get you going, you need to make sure you don’t overdo it when you first set out. You should start out with an initial goal that gives you something to look forward to and something you can accomplish.

Is there an upcoming 5k race that you might want to run by yourself or with friends/family? Running a 5k is a great goal for a new runner. You should plan to build up your running for 10-15 weeks before running the 5k. Remember, you want to give yourself enough time to build a base of miles so that you don’t risk injury. Find an event. If you have not been running it is discouraged to go “from couch to marathon”. Instead be realistic and build up from “couch to 5K” then progress to a 10 K or 10 mile event followed by a half marathon then determine if you are ready to tackle the marathon distance. By building up to the marathon distance over the course of a year or more will help ensure a more positive experience, reduce your chance of injury, and will help establish running as a lifestyle as opposed to being a one-off goal.

The best way to build your base if you are not in the best of shape or have not incorporated any running into your life in a while is to use the run/walk method. If you have not run in years, start with walking and continue the activity until you can walk for ten to twenty minutes minutes consistently. Then switch between running and walking. This method allows you to run for a bit and then walk for a bit and then repeat. You might only get in a few minutes of running the first few times, but don’t let that get you down. It takes time to build up.

You should not run more than three to four days per week (including a long run, which may only be one mile at first) when you first start out. You should not be working out everyday since your body needs at least one to two days to recover. Building up to be able to run a 5k or more is a journey not an immediate activity.

When you structure your workout, you need to include your warm-up, which might include walking a bit just to loosen up. However, as your running progresses you’ll probably just start off by running a bit slower than your normal pace to make sure you don’t injure yourself by going too hard too soon. Your warm-up will be followed by your run. When you finish your run, remember you still need to cool down and stretch before you can call it a day. Cooling down should consist of slowing your run to an eventual walk so that you can get your heart rate back down to below 100 bpm. You don’t want to just stop running and sit down because you body needs to be eased out of an exercise state.

Train, don’t strain

You do not have to work “all out” to benefit from running. In fact, doing may bring your running to a quick end. Getting in shape is not effortless, but it shouldn’t be exhausting either. Here’s how you can train, not strain:

  • Take the “talk test”. Runners should be able to talk (but not sing or whistle) while running at training pace. When running faster, such as during a race or a speed session, talking should be an effort but you should not totally winded.
  • Walk when needed. Many beginners feel that walking is “giving up”. Not so! Remind them that the key is to keep moving, even if you walk 90% of the time at first. Consistency is much, much more important than intensity.
  • Take water breaks. Especially in the summer, but all year long, it’s vital to stay hydrated before, during and after running workouts.
  • Take a day off when needed. Beginners should NOT run every day. Every other day (three or four runs a week) is plenty. A day off gives muscles a chance to rest, and encourages runners to try other activities to keep their program varied and interesting.
  • Don’t give up.

Sample 10 week training program

Week #1

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 1 minute, walk 4 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #2

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes.
  • Alternate: run 2 minutes, walk 3 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #3

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Stretches and Strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #4

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #5

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #6

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 6 minutes, walk 2 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #7

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 7 minutes, walk 3 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #8

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 8 minutes, walk 2 minutes for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #9

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Alternate: run 9 minutes, walk 1 minute for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

Week #10

  • Warm-up: walk 5 minutes
  • Run at talking pace (or 140–160 pulse) for 30 minutes
  • Cool-down: walk 2–5 minutes
  • Stretches and strength work
  • ___ days per week

By the end of week ten you’ll be running anywhere from 2 ½ to 3 ½ miles per day, 10 to 21 miles per week!

At the end of 10 weeks, you may choose:

  1. continue with the daily workout as you did at week ten
  2. gradually increase your distance/time of the daily run (no more than 10% per week)
  3. begin to try some strengthening work for upper/lower body
  4. try some alternative workouts (speed work, hills, cross training)

Here are some tips that will help you plan your workouts:

  • Build mileage and running frequency gradually: 5–10% increase in distance per week.
  • Plan your run/walk intervals so you can build-up to run a 5K without taking walking breaks. It may take a few weeks to train your body to achieve this level of exercise. Do not push yourself too hard, too far or too fast or your will wind up with extra sore muscles and potential injuries.
  • Use the hard/easy system of training: follow hard training days (longer runs) with easier training days (shorter runs or slower pace). Be sure to build in off days for recovery.
  • Don’t be a “weekend warrior”: don’t do all of your running on the weekend with nothing during the wee. The mid-week runs help with recovery from the long run.
  • Warm-up and cool down every time: start each run with some easy jogging and finish the same way; better yet, use walking for both.
  • Don’t forget to rehydrate and refuel post-run. This will assist in the post-workout recovery. Here are a few important things to remember at the end of your run.


replenish lost fluids from your run. Weigh before you run and drink enough water to return to same weight pre-run.


consume higher energy foods to restore muscle glycogen within 30 - 60 minutes post run.


post run is the time to relax muscles with gentle stretching and massaging.


soak feet and legs in cool water after your run. Ice areas of discomfort.


spend some quiet time off of your feet after running, but avoid consuming excess alcohol. A short walk later in the day promotes circulation and recovery. Reward yourself by walking around in comfortable shoes.

Avoiding Aches and Pains

When you first start running you may experience some soreness caused by activity of previously underused muscles. Do not worry about this initial soreness; It should not stick around too long. You should expect a little soreness, especially after your first run, which may be worse on the second day post-run than it was on the first. This second-day soreness is referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Do not let that discourage you or keep you from running. Even once you have been running for a while you might have some soreness from running a different route or distance than usual. Soreness is a good thing; pain is not. So how do you know the difference?

Soreness is good pain. It is the feeling of satisfaction after a good run or workout. It is not that feel of crunching joints or sharp pains. If a pain persists or worsens after a few days it might be time to ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Am I trying to go too fast or too far too soon?
  • Have I been running on any unusual or hard surfaces lately (e.g.: concrete sidewalks, slanted sides of roadways, unaccustomed hills or rough uneven paths)?
  • Have I been stretching before and after I run?
  • In what condition are my shoes? Remember that it is important to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles because your shoes will break down. (A good way to keep track of when you need new shoes is to write the date you started wearing them on a mileage log or on the shoes in permanent ink.)
  • Have I been careful to give myself an easy day or two after a hard effort?
  • Have I done anything differently lately?
  • Have I run in a new brand of running shoes?
  • Did I pick up a new sport recently?
  • Have I been under a lot of stress?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions then you should first think about trying to fix the issue yourself. If you don’t feel better after a week or so you might want to consult a medical professional to seek advice or treatment. Remember, it is important not to try and self-diagnose as this may lead to additional injuries and the need for prolonged time off from running and other activities.

There are certain health issues that are common to many runners, including new runners. Some may result from going too far too fast and others can come from underlying problems in running form. Either way, it is important to pay attention to your body and make sure you are not overdoing it. Some common runners’ issues are:

Shin splints

a pain in the front lower part of the leg that seems to originate from the shin. Shin splints will often go away with time as you build up your running, but it is important to pay attention to them and make sure to stretch properly and run on softer surfaces if possible. Shin splints can sometimes lead to stress fractures if they persist through overuse.

Stress fractures

these are slight fractures in the bone that are often cause by overuse, imbalance or a nutrient deficiency. Stress fractures should and can not be ignored. Although there is not much that can be done to improve a stress fracture beyond taking time off to let it heal, it is important to take note of the fact that if you continue to run on a stress fracture you will exacerbate the situation and cause a full fracture. It is better to take a little time off to heal if you have a stress fracture or your doctor thinks one is forming than to wait until you have a total fracture that requires months off from running.

Illiotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band)

this usually is a pain that usually manifests itself in the hip or the side of the knee. It is an overuse injury that is often seen in marathon runners, but it can be caused by a number of things including the surface on which you run. The IT Band runs along the side of the upper leg to the knee and can become inflamed and rub against the bone causing a painful fluid build-up.

Plantar Fasciitis

pain in the arch caused by too tight of a calf muscle or movement unusual to the foot. It can be exacerbated by wearing of shoes without proper arch support. Although it begins in the arch, the pain may travel up the inside of the foot to the ankle.


these are caused by a rubbing of the skin on a surface, which usually occurs due to friction and/or dampness. The rubbing can cause a bubble of fluid to build up. Although the fluid will drain when the blister is “popped,” the raw skin area can still cause discomfort. Blisters usually occur on a runner’s feet.


this is caused by the continuous rubbing together of two surfaces, usually skin such as that of the inner thighs. Chaffing results in creation of a raw, red area of skin that may resemble rugburn or a rash. The effects of chaffing will usually go away within a few days, but there will be initial discomfort before the skin heals.

Muscle tightness and pulls

these can originate from either a lack of stretching or overuse. Make sure to incorporate stretching, a warm-up and a cool-down into all of your runs and workouts. These important components will improve recovery time and efficiency.


this issue is caused by not drinking enough fluid and/or water. It is important to remember to not only drink water while running, but also to drink before and after you run as well as throughout the day. Failing to hydrate properly can lead to a host of other problems, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and even kidney problems. Remember that being thirsty is a sign that you should have been drinking already.

Increased hunger

although not a problem, it is important, especially for new runners, to realize that just as with any other increase in physical activity, running will most likely increase your hunger. You need to be smart about the hunger increase or you might end up gaining unexpected weight because of overindulgence in sweets or other calorie-dense foods. Instead of giving into your sweet tooth to silence this unexpected hunger you should try to go for healthier nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Just make sure to pay attention to when you are actually hungry so you don’t overeat.

There is a great deal of information available on treating these common runner related issues. Consult with your physician if you experience any of the above symptoms and consult with experts in the field like Janet Hamilton, RRCA Coaching Certification Facilitator.

Energy Balance

Nutrition plays an important role in running. If you do not pay attention to what and how much you are eating you might end up with some unwanted fatigue or even some extra weight. Food is a source of fuel for the body, but too much fuel and too little use of it can be bad for the body. That’s where the energy balance equation comes in. The energy balance equation says that energy balance = energy in - energy out. The “energy in” is all the food that you eat. The “energy out” is all the energy (or calories) used up during the day from any form of activity and functions of living, not just exercise. If you take in more energy than you use or put out then you will have extra energy leftover (which can turn to unwanted weight). If you put out more energy than you take in then you will lose weight. However, if you maintain that balance between in and out then your weight will stay about the same.

In addition to eating well, you need to make sure you are always hydrated. You don’t necessarily need to drink sports drinks with electrolyte replacement, but you need to make sure you take in enough water or other type of fluid that will maintain hydration. Staying hydrated actually helps your body function and helps make sure that your body is able to perform all the necessary functions it needs to keep working as a well-oiled machine.

One great resource for helpful nutritional information is the USDA. You can find facts and suggestions, including Food Pyramid and food log information on its website.

Tracking Your Progress

Now that you have all your running gear and have found your niche, it is time to see where you’ve been and where you’re heading. With the help of a running log and a mapping tool you’ll be on your way to new adventures in no time.

A running log simply helps you reflect on your runs. You can set your log up any way that you like. There are even online logs that you can use if you prefer to track it digitally instead of in a notebook. You can visit the resources section to access the several different online logging tools. Some helpful information to track might be length of run (both time and distance), time of day and how you felt during and/or after the run. These different categories will help shape your future runs.


Many runners enjoy their activity for years and never enter a race. At the other extreme are those who race every weekend (or more!). Beginning runners are often nervous about racing and full of questions. They assume that everyone at the race will be faster and know exactly what they are doing and they may finish last place. Do not let this misconception deter you from experiencing the joy of participating in a race. Many events attract many first time runners. Many events also have “back of the packers”, there are individuals are usually a mix of beginners and lifelong runners with years of experience but slower times. Never be afraid to finish last, it can be the most rewarding experience to simply finish regardless of your place in the pack. Find an event today.

Why Race?

  • To challenge yourself!
  • To get the t-shirt and enjoy the post-race party
  • Fun of running with a big group of people
  • Charitable causes
  • Awards
  • See new places, meet new people

Things to bring on race day

  • Race number, ensure it is your name listed on the bib
  • Safety pins for pinning on your bib number and if you need any ID for your bag (some longer races have bag check)
  • Timing chip, if handed out at packet pick-up and used for the race
  • Racing outfit. Allowing for variations of weather (get an up-to-date weather report)
  • Warm, dry outer garments to wear before and after the race (i.e. long sleeve shirt, long pants, rain gear, hat, gloves, dry socks, etc.)
  • Petroleum jelly or other product to help prevent chafing and blisters.
  • Food, to eat before and after the race. Something that is easily digestible. Don’t try anything new on race day.
  • Water bottle.
  • Sunscreen.

Review the RRCA Runners Etiquitte information before running in your first event.

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