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How to Start Running if You Haven’t Run In A While… Or At All

10 Tips: How to Start Running Today - The Best Way to Improve

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!

If changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic or life itself have gotten in your way – maybe it’s been weeks or months since you’ve run.  

Or perhaps it’s been years – or you’ve never started! Or, you may be returning to running after injury or illness. 

But it’s possible to prevent injuries and demotivation by starting back in the right ways, so I wrote this post to help you prevent problems while you get back into it.

So here are ten tips from a professional running coach on how to kick start your (re) start!

1. Start with your mindset first: think BIG with your running goals!

What are your actual goals beyond just putting your running shoes on? What motivates you? How do you picture running influencing your overall health and life? 

Perhaps you want to run to get into shape or lose weight – what does that look like to you? 

Maybe you were inspired by how you used to feel when running, what you’ve heard about it, or by someone who ran the Boston Marathon. That could be you! 

Picture your personal vision goal – think BIG – inspire yourself. Then, write it down

When you run with a goal in mind, you will be running TO and FOR something. When obstacles inevitably occur, you can look at your BIG goal and STAY MOTIVATED!

2. ...but physically start running - small...

Paradoxically, it’s often best physiologically to start in small steps. Perhaps you used to run miles a day. Or, others make running look so easy that you want to start there even if you haven’t. 

However, it’s good to be conservative after a layoff or starting. Just trust that you will eventually get to where you want to go. You will lessen your chance of injury and premature burnout if you start small and build gradually. 

Running is jumping from foot to foot, so the body must adjust to the impact forces with each step. This may mean a lot of walking with short running intervals, running on softer surfaces, and limiting how much time you run at first.

It may even mean just totally walking. If you have not been walking at all, try to start walking consistently for 15-30 minutes before incorporating run intervals to help your body adjust. 

So, starting small might mean walking, or jogging and walking down the block, or for someone else, maybe it is running one mile. 

If you are returning from an injury, also pay attention to how the injury responds. For example, does it feel stiff afterward if you sprained your ankle? Is there any pain or swelling? Call your doctor and ask if you are in doubt.

A 10% increase in total mileage per week is often recommended, but everyone differs in what they can handle. Pay attention to how you feel and how fast you recover from your workouts – and build from there.

3. Get social with your runs

Running with others can motivate you, improve mental health, and hold you accountable. 

Perhaps the weather isn’t ideal, but the thought of five people asking you, “Hey, where were you last night,” can be enough to get you out the door. 

When coming back to running or just beginning, most of your runs will likely be at a pace that I call “Conversation Pace.” This is a leisurely pace at which you can hold a conversation while running. 

As part of a running group, these miles can go by faster if you have others with whom you can talk. 

No running groups in your area? Think about starting one of your own, or recruit some friends to get healthier informally. 

Some also rely on a personal trainer, coach, or social media for similar encouragement and support. 

4. Focus on positivity: your running wins

Let’s look at an example for this one. When running in the pouring rain, there are two ways you can look at the situation. 

One is to think negatively about the rain and, as a result, skip running altogether or feel miserable the entire time. 

The other is to view it positively: “Just think how much of a badass I’ll feel when I get done!” 

Sometimes, non-runners look at me like I’m crazy for running in challenging conditions. I say, “The Marathon won’t pause for me because it’s raining/cold/hot.” 

You can think of all the others who didn’t go the extra mile and get the mental edge you will have for doing it anyway. No matter the situation, think of what good can come from it, and it will keep you moving!

I also often say, when you do hard things, the rest of your life seems more manageable. Then, you can add to your collection of wins.

If you run but are cut short due to conditions or fatigue, focus on your running win. Concentrating on what you DID accomplish versus what you didn’t can help keep your mood and motivation high.

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Trail Running Photo
5. Just keep running: consistency reaches goals

When obstacles inevitably occur, and things get hard, read your Goal Vision that you wrote from Tip #1. 

Because one of the most significant assets any runner can have is consistency

Scheduling your runs, even if you need to put them on a calendar, helps you stay consistent. It can help to work out in the morning if you are a morning person or in the evening if you are a night owl. 

However, pick a consistent time and stick with it. Your mind and body will adjust to your new routine better.

Then, when that time comes around, maybe you feel tired, you’re frustrated that you’re not where you were before, or you think you should be progressing faster. Keep going anyway. 

If you have a long run planned but it feels overwhelming, tell yourself you’re just going to run for five minutes. At worst, you still got in a short run. 

At best, you’ll feel so good once you’ve started that you go on to finish your whole workout. I find this works 98% of the time and can often weed out if you are not well enough for the task.

Always though, check in with yourself before each workout. If you are feverishly ill or feeling injured, it may be best to take a day off. Run for the long-term, and you will succeed!

6. Change up your running workouts

A key concept in running is to vary the “FIT” principle of your workouts – Frequency, Intensity, and Time. Try to avoid increasing too many of these at once. 

For example, if you start with 2 or 3 days a week, perhaps next week, increase the number of days you run or run a similar number of days for more minutes or distance. 

Intensity increases tend to cause the most stress on the body and can lead to injury, especially for new runners, so add with caution and avoid sudden, large spikes of changes in your routine.

Also, changing these variables of your run workouts can keep your runs from feeling “routine,” and you will also feel mentally refreshed.

7. Incorporate variety: change your running surface

One thing you may not think about in your running workouts is running on various surfaces. 

Especially if you train for better performance in road running or a road race, you’d want most of your running to be on roads. 

However, running on concrete can be hard on the body, especially when returning or starting.

A trail can be a softer option. I do most of my recovery runs on trails, even just in general training, which has helped me run up to 128 miles per week in training. Athletes like Olympic runner Meb Keflezighi also favor this option to reduce the total impact on the body.

Other less impactful options include treadmills or a rubberized track. One advantage to these two options is that you can exclude steep inclines if you are just getting adjusted.

This can also be useful to avoid irritating one of the many injuries that hills can worsen.

If you are recovering from injury, many physical therapy clinics have a supported treadmill such as the Alter-G, in which runners run on a treadmill supported by a “bubble” that counteracts gravity. This can counter some of the weighted impacts on the joints. 

Elite athletes like Dathan Ritzenhein have used the anti-gravity treadmill as a training tool.

Another option is to run in the deep end of a pool wearing a floatation belt, which utilizes the same muscles as running. Yet, water has up to 12 times the resistance of running through the air. I also include this option to handle adding more weekly mileage more safely. 

A final option is to cross-train using a lower impact exercise such as an elliptical or bike.

8. Tie in recovery with your running workouts

Skipping or not planning recovery days is a common mistake among newer and experienced runners. The more hard-core, the better, right? 

But recovery days are how the body gets stronger from hard workouts. Also, a workout on paper might not look that difficult compared to what you used to do, or you may not even mentally want to admit it

But it would help if you realistically went from your current level of conditioning. 

And as you come back or start running, the individual workouts may not feel that hard, but accumulated stress and fatigue can often build up if proper recovery is not taken. 

Take days off, easy days, and more challenging or longer days. You’ll get stronger and build endurance faster, and your body will thank you!

9. Have the right nutrition for running

Nutritional needs change when a person starts running. Increased calories are needed as the miles increase. 

If weight loss is your goal, it is ok to do a limited amount of running with the same diet to enable weight loss. 

But be careful that the deficit doesn’t get too much. Eating the same amount as the miles pile on can lead to poor performance, lowered recovery and healing, and nutritional deficiencies. 

That can even stall weight loss in some.

For some runners, exercise surpasses appetite. But for others, it can increase hunger. 

Others mentally over-justify excess calories because they feel they ran hard, so they “earned” another slice of pizza or pie. In this case, it can lead to weight gain or mood swings caused by excess sugar or processed foods. 

It’s the old saying, “You can’t outrun a bad diet!”

There’s even a term, “Rungry,” which refers to runner cravings and can result in excess calories, especially after long runs. A general rule of thumb is that runners burn 100 calories per mile on “average.” However, this can vary from person to person.

And remember, if you see the scale going up, this doesn’t always equal fat gain—Runners store extra carbohydrates and water in their muscles to power through workouts. 

Regular body composition checks or meetings with a dietitian or health coach can tell you more accurately what changes are occurring.

You may ask, “What should I eat for running?” An overall healthy diet in the right proportions will sustain you as you are starting or re-starting running.

10. Add in other changes that help you build up your running

Once you establish your running routine, what other changes can you make to keep going and optimize your performance? 

Looking at factors outside of your running, such as getting quality sleep, improving nutritional intake, lowering external stress, and adding in strength work, can all be beneficial, and help you recover faster, focus better and have better training.

I combine professional running and holistic coaching to make the big picture work for you, so if you want help to get back into running, lose weight and run a goal race, check out the->>> Lean and Fast Weight Loss Program.

And remember – if you put Life into your Running, your performance will soar! 

Run With Life! -Coach Amie

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