Across the world, people have adopted running as an effective and rewarding way to improve their fitness. The physical and mental health benefits of running are huge, and getting started is as straightforward as lacing up your running shoes and stepping outside.
However, if you want to get the most out of your runs and work on boosting your health and fitness, then you might find the following tips helpful as you get started.
The benefits of running
Running is one of the most accessible sports in the world, and we all know that it’s good for us. It gives us a chance to get outside, clear our minds, and strengthen our hearts and lungs. But the benefits of running extend far beyond the obvious.
Some of the additional benefits of running include:
Healthy joints and bones – It’s a common misconception that running can wreak havoc with your joints, especially as you get older. But studies have shown that those who run regularly could expect to have less arthritis as they age, than non-runners. When you run, the muscles around your joints become stronger and are therefore better able to take the pressure from the joints themselves. It can also help you to maintain bone density and increase bone strength.
Decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes – Running helps to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, improving how efficiently it is able to regulate its blood glucose levels. So, by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, you could cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in half.
Improved memory – Studies have shown that those who build up exercise over weeks or months are likely to have an improved memory function. It is thought that regular exercise increases the size of the hippocampus – the brain structure which is responsible for learning and memory. You can read more about the effects of exercise on the brain in our article How exercise can lead to better brain health.
Stress relief – Running is just as great for your mental wellbeing as it is for your physical health. When we run, our brains release endorphins – natural mood boosters, which help us to feel happier and more relaxed. Some people also find running liberating because it allows them time to think, problem-solve, and refocus their minds on the present moment.
How to get started with running
1. Choose the right running shoes
The most important investment to make before your first run is a decent pair of running trainers.
A comfortable, supportive pair of running shoes will not only make your runs more enjoyable, they will also help you to make progress and reduce your risk of injury or blisters.
However, with so many different types of running shoes out there, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. But feel reassured that there is a shoe out there to suit every foot – and you can find yours by asking yourself a couple of simple questions.
What type of surface will I be running on?
If you’ll generally be running on pavements (or on the treadmill), then road trainers will usually be your best option.
Road trainers are the most common type of running shoe. Their cushioned heels make them highly shock absorbent, to protect your joints against the impact of running on hard flat surfaces. You can browse different types of road trainers here on Amazon.
If you’ll be running off-road on muddy tracks, nature trails, or beaches – then trail trainers are a better option. They have better ankle support, a firmer sole, and a deeper tread to give you better stability and traction. While the sole is pretty rigid, the tread is highly flexible so it can help your feet and shoes adapt to uneven and unpredictable terrain.
Trail trainers can be worn on pavements too but may not be as light or as comfortable, and are likely to wear down much more quickly. There are various types of trail trainers available to buy here on Amazon.
If you think you’ll be running on both pavements and off-road tracks – or you’d like to have the option to do both – then you could opt for a pair of hybrid running trainers. They offer enough shock-absorbency, grip, and stability to make them suitable for running on a much wider range of surfaces.
What is my pronation?
Once you’ve decided what type of running shoe is right for you – road, trail, or hybrid – you can start thinking about other features that you’d like your running shoes to have, based on your foot type and individual running style.
This is where it helps to know what your ‘pronation’ (also known as ‘gait’) is. Don’t be put off by this running jargon – it’s much more straightforward than it sounds.
In a nutshell, pronation describes the way that your foot strikes the ground with every stride, or more specifically, how much your foot rolls inwards, outwards, or flattens out.
Many sports shops will perform a free Gait Analysis for you – by getting you to run on a treadmill for a few minutes so that they can assess your stride. If you’re unable to visit a sports shop, then you can also determine your own pronation at home.
The video from Wiggle below will explain the different types of pronation – neutral, overpronation, and underpronation – and show you a technique that you can do at home to determine yours.
Once you’ve worked out what your pronation is, check out this handy guide from Wiggle, which recommends brands and models of running trainers that you could buy based on your pronation.
When it comes to choosing a running shoe, it’s usually best to go into a sports or specialist running shop, so that you can get advice from staff, try on different running trainers and make sure they fit properly.
However, if you’re unable to visit a sport shop, then your next best bet is to buy your running shoes online from a reputable retailer, following the criteria set out above.
Try not to settle for a running shoe that doesn’t fit right, just to avoid going through the online returns process. If you want to get off on the right foot on your running journey, then it’s better to put time, effort, and patience into finding the right shoe for you.
Note: If you’re someone who is in between shoe sizes and can’t seem to get a shoe that fits exactly right. Or, if you feel that you still need extra support in your running shoes, then it’s worth investing in a decent pair of insoles. Again, you can find these in sports shops or online.
2. Choose your accessories
So you’ve found the perfect pair of running trainers for your foot type. What now?
The next step is to consider what else you will need to help you feel relaxed and comfortable while running. There are loads of running accessories out there, but we’ve selected a few below that we think are most important.
Comfortable, lightweight clothing
Running can be a sweaty business, so it’s important to wear clothes that will help you stay cool and dry in all weathers.
In recent years, synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester, and spandex have become popular choices for activewear. This is because, in warmer weather, they don’t stick to your skin when they become saturated with moisture – meaning that they won’t lead to chafing or leave you with an uncomfortable damp feeling. In colder climates, they also keep you warm and dry and are easy to layer up.
Comfortable lightweight clothes that are suitable for running are easy to get hold of online or at your local sports shop.
Note: It’s best to avoid cotton or any other materials that absorb moisture and stick to your skin as they can quickly cause chafing (especially on your nipples and inner thighs), which can make for an uncomfortable start to your running journey.
It’s also worth investing in some high-vis clothing that you wear when running at night or in gloomy weather – especially if you’ll be running anywhere near a road.
If you want something lightweight that you can easily throw over the top of your running gear as and when you need to, then you can purchase a high-vis vest online for as little as £1.42. Or, if you’re particularly keen to look the part, there are plenty of more expensive fashion-led items that you can choose from.
Believe it or not, socks can make or break a run. It can be next to impossible to feel motivated to keep running when your socks are sliding down in your shoes – or when they’re soaked with sweat and rubbing against your toes or the balls of your feet.
For this reason, it’s best to buy specialist running socks, which are breathable and have extra padding under the areas of your foot that take most of the impact when running – usually your heel, arch and toes. These (unlike normal everyday socks) will have a left and a right foot.
It’s also important to make sure that your socks aren’t too big or too small, otherwise, they’ll be much more likely to rub or slide down your foot.
Runner Click has published a handy guide on the best running socks with reviews and guidance on where to buy – which you can find here.
If you plan to listen to music on your smartphone when you run, or through another listening device like an mp3 player or an iPod – then the next thing to consider is where to put it so you can run comfortably.
In an ideal world, you’ll want to run hands free. Amazon sells a range of running armbands that will hold your phone for you. They’re lightweight, comfortable and will keep your phone nice and dry.
It’s also worth thinking about what sort of headphones or earbuds would be best for you. Standard everyday headphones/earbuds are often not waterproof and can slip out of your ears as you start to sweat. The weight of the wire on wired headphones/earbuds can also have the same effect.
If music makes a significant difference to your runs and you think it’s unlikely you’ll want to run without it, then it’s worth investing in a good quality pair of wireless earbuds or some special running headphones.
Wired have produced a helpful guide on the best wireless earbuds for any budget. It’s worth a read if you’re unsure what sort of brands are out there.
If you’re running anywhere near a road, it’s strongly suggested that you don’t run with conventional headphones in your ears as you won’t be able to hear the traffic noise over the music.
Alternatively, you might want to think about investing in a pair of bone conduction headphones. These sit on the outside of your ear and work by sending sound vibrations through your cheekbone and into your inner ear.
Because they don’t cover your ear cavity like conventional headphones, bone conduction headphones allow you to listen to music or podcasts without preventing you from hearing traffic and other possible hazards.
Wired has a great list of the best bone conduction headphones available for runners here.
3. Establish your running style
When you first start running, you might find yourself wondering whether you’re doing it right.
For example, should I hold my arms like this? Is there a correct way to breathe? How fast am I supposed to be going? The answers to these questions will become much clearer with time, but it’s a good idea to remind yourself that everyone is different – and a style of running that may work for someone else, may not work for you.
However, there are a few basic things that – as a general rule – will help you to get the most out of your runs and avoid injury. In the video below, Brad Kearne from Mark’s Daily Apple will show you what makes up the basis of proper running technique, no matter what your experience level or your running goals are.
It can also pay to spend some time experimenting with your breathing and finding out what works best for you – especially if you find yourself suffering from side stitches.
Anna from The Running Channel offers some helpful tips on breathing in the video below; including how to practice deep, belly breathing and how you can time your breathing with your music.
Above all, the most important thing you can do when you run is to relax and try to enjoy it.
If you’re worried about your style or the run itself, you’ll be more likely to tense your muscles, which can affect your form and lead to things like tension headaches and injury.
4. Set yourself small manageable goals
If you’re new to running, then it’s best to start by setting yourself realistic and manageable goals. Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
Public Health England offer a Couch to 5K programme, which is designed to help you run a full 5K by the end of 9 weeks. Each week, the programme will coach you through three runs, which are broken down into walking and running segments. The idea is that you will work towards being able to run 5K gradually, without it feeling like a huge, insurmountable task.
If you’ve not been active for some time and you’re finding the idea of running overwhelming, then you could start by going for walks at a brisk pace and building it up to a jog and then finally a run, when you feel ready.
Once you start making progress with your runs, you can challenge yourself using apps like Nike Run Club and Strava. These use your GPS to track and time your run – which can be great if you want to start beating your running time or distance and building a running routine. You can also connect with your friends, keep up with their running progress and congratulate each other on every run completed.
5. Find out how you run best
How you run and how far you run is completely up to you. For instance, you might want to treat your runs as a chance to be alone with your thoughts and work towards specific goals – or to connect with others and have some fun.
Some people report using running as a way to connect with friends and family, and it can be helpful to encourage and motivate one another.
You could also consider joining a running community. This is a great way to commit to running regularly and can give you a chance to meet plenty of like-minded people.
Run Together and Beginners 2 Runners are a couple of examples of websites that have been set up to bring runners all of ages and abilities together. You can search for your nearest running community and get information about how to join and where to meet.
6. Don’t forget to stretch
One of the most important things that you can do both before and after a run to enhance your performance, prevent injury, and reduce stiffness the following day, is to make sure that you’ve stretched properly.
Stretching before you set off will increase your flexibility and range of motion and help you to get the most out of your run. Stretching after a run will give your muscles a chance to warm down and help to prevent you from feeling too stiff later on.
Runner’s World has published a helpful guide on how to stretch before and after a run – with videos showing you exactly how to perform each move.
Is it safe to run every day?
When you’re new to running, it’s best not to run every day to allow your muscles a chance to recover.
Consider going for a run 2-3 times a week to start with, while you build up your strength and stamina. Some experienced runners do run daily, but everyone is different and it’s not usually advised to jump from nothing to running every day without building up to it.
It’s important to listen to your body, know your limits, and not overdo it – especially when you’re just starting out – it’s almost always better to get going at a slightly slower trajectory if it means avoiding injuries and setbacks.
Extra tips from an expert runner
Hopefully, by now you will feel a bit more confident about getting out there and going for your first run. But before you get going, here are a few extra tips we picked up from an expert runner.
When it comes to deciding what and when to eat before a run, it’s important to remember that everyone is different. While most people agree that running on a full stomach is a very bad idea, some people prefer to eat nothing at all before a morning run – while others prefer to have a light breakfast, wait an hour, and head out. I personally find that having a light meal, about an hour or two before I start running, helps me to feel energised, and to avoid getting stomach aches or cramps.
Have something small and sugary about 30 minutes before you head out for a run. This could be a couple of jelly babies or a glucose tablet – just something to keep your blood glucose levels up and give you an instant boost of energy.
Consider doing some resistance training to supplement your runs, focusing predominantly on your core and your legs. The muscles in these areas – such as your glutes (bum) and hamstrings (back of the thighs) – are what help to power your runs. So generally, the more in tune you are with them, the more control you will have over your runs as you continue to progress.
Enjoy your runs – it’s important that running doesn’t feel like a chore. For me, the sense of accomplishment that I feel after a run makes the effort worthwhile. I love challenging myself beyond what I thought I could achieve and knowing that with each run, I am improving the condition of my body and mind. Others describe the feeling of stress and anxiety simply disappearing as they progress along their route. Whatever works for you – the important thing is to try and re-frame running as something to look forward to, rather than as a chore to get through.
Don’t be disheartened if you have to stop midway through a run. Running progress isn’t always linear. One day you might leave your house feeling really tired and surprise yourself by sailing through a 6 mile run. Another day, you could leave the house feeling great and find yourself having to stop after 2 miles because you’ve got a stitch. Your runs can be affected by multiple factors that aren’t always directly related to fitness – from what you’ve eaten that day, to how hydrated you are, through to whether you are dealing with difficult issues in your personal life.
Be kind to yourself no matter what the outcome of your run is, and be proud of the fact that you still went out there and did it. One golden rule in running circles, is that it’s always better to go for a run, than not to, regardless of how short your run is – just the process of getting out of the house helps to reinforce the routine, even if you only run to the end of the road and back.
Drink little and often in the lead up to a run. It’s important to be hydrated before a run, but it’s not a good idea to guzzle loads of water just before you head outside. Having a full belly of water sloshing around can be uncomfortable and distracting. It’s also much more likely to give you a stitch or make you feel an urge to go for a wee part way through!
Take it slow. When I first started out, it took me a while to be able to finish a 5K run because I was trying to rush the process. When I eventually slowed my pace down, I managed to complete my first full run! Since then I have been able to work on increasing my pace.
A final thought…
Running is popular around the world and has well-documented health benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Try to challenge yourself to go for at least four or five runs before you decide whether it’s something that you want to commit to regularly. You might surprise yourself!
And above all, try and have some fun with it – especially when you’re first starting out. If you finish a run then great, and if not then at least you got outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery. Be kind to yourself and chances are, you’ll enjoy it much more.