How to start running: beginner's tips

Thinking of taking up running? Follow coach Laura Fountain's beginner runner tips and learn how to love the open road.

How to start running: beginner's tips

How do you start running?

Head outside with the goal of moving for 20 minutes in total. You don't need to run for 20 minutes - you can start by running and walking. Run for a bit, walk for a bit and then run a bit more. But keep moving for 20 minutes in total.

As a running coach, my beginners start with 1 minute running followed by 1 minute walking in week one. We then gradually increase the running and decrease the walking until they're running the whole way.

Make it a habit to get out three times a week and don't worry if some days are harder than others. Just do what you can do on the day and over time, you'll find it gets easier.

Walk the walk

It's perfectly OK if you have to walk, in fact I encourage it. You'll find you're able to go further if you take a walk break and then carry on running. I still stop to walk, even now after 9 years of running and 16 marathons.


Don't stretch! When your muscles are cold, yanking them and pulling them isn't going to do them any good.

Start by walking and take it up to a brisk pace for a few minutes. Then do some skipping (the kind without a rope - you remember that from school) and throw in a few 'drills'. So jogging with your feet flicking up to your bum, then jogging with your knees coming up high in front.

Do each of these - skipping, heel flicks, high knees - for about 30 metres each, walking back to the start between each.

You're looking to bring your heart rate up gradually and get the blood flowing to your muscles to warm them up and make them supple. For more on warming-up, click here


We never think about how we're breathing in normal life, but runners tend to overthink it when it comes to breathing and running. I've seen people advise that you should breathe in for 3 steps and out for 2, but if you're able to master than you're doing better than me.

Your body is very clever and will regulate your breathing appropriate to your activity level all by itself. And if you're struggling for breath it's your pace you need to change, not your breathing - slow down and you'll breath much easily. 

Also, breathe through your mouth rather than your nose. Your mouth is much bigger and will allow you to get more air in.

Weekly mileage

If you're just starting out, aim for three runs a week. It doesn't matter how short these are, but get into the habit of going out three times.

Don't up the frequency of your runs too soon. While it's admirable to plan to run every day in 2017, it's not a sensible idea if you're only used to running a couple of times a week.

Running kit

When you first start running, wear whatever you feel comfortable in. For your first couple of runs there's no need to buy fancy new kit, just pull on a pair of trainers and a t-shirt and head out there.

You'll probably want to buy some technical fabrics (polyester basically) that let your sweat evaporate instead of soaking it up eventually, but lack of kit is no reason to put off your first run.

What should you eat?

Avoid eating anything for an hour before you go running. If you've had a big meal, you'll need to leave it even longer.

It's a good idea to eat something about half an hour after you've finished running. Ideally you'll have timed it perfectly so some kind person will have your dinner ready when you get home. But if not, have a snack that includes a bit of protein and some carbs.

Your first 5K 

For your first 5K I'd say make it your goal to finish it. Then for your second 5K make it your goal to run the whole way without stopping. Once you have a time, look at trying to shave off 5 per cent of your time over the next 10 weeks. So if your time is 40 minutes, you're looking for a 38 minute 5K.

If you're a complete beginner, give yourself 8-12 weeks to work towards your first 5K. It is possible to train for a 5K in less time, but the longer you have, the more you'll enjoy it and you might just surprise yourself with how you do.

Your first marathon

If you'd like to run a marathon, the longer you've got the better. If you're just starting out running today, I'd suggest looking at marathons in2018. That's not to say that you couldn't run one this April, but the longer you have the more safely you can build up your distance and reduce the likelihood of getting injured.

For regular runners, a 16-20 week build up towards race day will give you enough time to get in some quality training. If you're looking to do your first marathon this year, you should come to my workshop

Laura Fountain is a UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness, a Level 3 Personal Trainer and a freelance journalist and editor specialising in women’s health. To book a beginner coaching session with Laura visit

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