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Beginner’s Guide to Running or Reintroducing Cardio

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  • Post last modified:September 26, 2023

Whether you’re a true running neophyte, hitting your stride for the first time, or returning after a lengthy hiatus, getting into the groove (or rhythm) of running can be overwhelming. The key to maintaining your enthusiasm for the activity is simply taking it at a leisurely pace — and following the guidance below from a professional runner, a running coach, and a sports psychologist. Let these running pointers for beginners steer you towards discovering that euphoric feeling of being a runner, achieving your best race ever, or simply committing to a regular running routine that you genuinely enjoy.

Here are our expert running recommendations for beginners or those re-entering the world of running.

Beginner Running Suggestions and Racing Counsel

1. Release the need for speed.

When you’re just starting out (or getting back in the game) with running, you should probably go without technology (meaning, ditch the smartwatch or fitness tracking app). “Instead, abandon pace and go by exertion,” says Elizabeth Corkum, Road Runners Club of America and USA Track and Field running coach based in New York City. “Enthusiasm is fantastic when captured and stored appropriately, but it can also blind you to intelligent thinking.” What does intelligent thinking look like exactly? Going at a pace that feels comfortable for you in the moment instead of striving to reach a specific speed dictated by your watch — and walking breaks are always welcome.

If you need some convincing, letting go of pace worked for professional runner Molly Seidel in the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, where she finished in second place — her first time competing in a marathon no less. Instead of constantly checking her watch, Seidel kept up with those around her. “I would say definitely try and stay present,” she told Shape. “Don’t be too fixated on the watch. Don’t be too fixated on the pace.” One word of caution for those aiming for a 26.2-mile race or any longer distance: “Try and remember, it’s a very lengthy race and you want to remain patient in the first half so that you have some energy left for the second half,” says Seidel.

2. Embrace your body’s current state.

If walk-run intervals were your preferred method six months ago, but you haven’t done much walking since then, one professional running tip is to start with some more frequent strolls, aiming for three times a week, suggests Corkum. “It prepares those muscles, tendons, and ligaments for running.” The same goes for those who ran 10 miles per week but took a few months off from running. It’s probably wise to start with some walk-run intervals, alternating between periods of strolling and periods of pounding the pavement. Test how that feels before attempting a straight run.

And while it can seem frustrating to regress to workouts that used to feel effortless or to run at a slower pace than you were once capable of maintaining, it’s crucial to begin slowly, explains Corkum. That’s how you prevent injuries and stay motivated to continue running.

New endurance athletes must establish realistic expectations,” echoes Robert Weinberg, Ph.D., sports psychologist and creator of the National Academy of Sports Medicine’s “Mental Toughness” course. “Avoid demanding too much from yourself too quickly, and refrain from comparing yourself to others prematurely,” says Weinberg. Determine what your physical activity has looked like over the recent months, and proceed gradually in increasing your stamina.

3. Be compassionate towards yourself.

There’s no denying that running is challenging. Some runs will feel exceptionally difficult (hello, blustery winter weather!), while others will feel quite effortless. “The triumph lies in merely getting out there and allowing your body and mind to engage in motion,” says Corkum. Keep that in mind, regardless of how the run unfolds.

Moreover, it’s commendable to set ambitious goals for yourself, but Seidel suggests not becoming overly absorbed in those aspirations, particularly if they don’t come easily. “Ultimately, you can derive something positive — irrespective of your performance,” she says. Perhaps you achieved your longest distance, remained engrossed in the pleasure of moving your feet during a lengthy run, or surpassed five individuals in the latter part of a race. “Identify something positive to concentrate on during each run, in order to maintain the positive momentum going forward,” adds Seidel.

Finally, reverting to your “why” for running — the motivation behind starting a regular routine in the first place — is always beneficial. This is especially true if your motivation stems from internal factors (e.g., seeking stress relief) rather than external factors (e.g., fitting in with friends), says Weinberg. By reminding yourself of the initial reason that compelled you to go out there and cover miles, you will remain motivated to continue.

4. Acquire some quality equipment.

The summer heat and humidity can intensify the challenges of running, so Corkum suggests ensuring you possess apparel with moisture-wicking properties. Additionally, opt for non-cotton socks to prevent your feet from sloshing around as you pick up speed, and consider utilizing anti-chafing balms like Body Glide, available at Target, which will undoubtedly prove useful. (By the way, you might want to learn how to prevent chafing in the first place, too.)

If the temperatures are dropping, make sure to layer up with a sweat-wicking long-sleeve shirt and possibly a running hat and running gloves if it’s extremely cold. Believe it or not, what you wear can directly impact your performance and overall experience.

Thus, preparing oneself for the circumstances can provide that slight enhancement you required to accomplish a fresh personal record or simply regain a sense of ease while engaging in outdoor running once more.

5. Make it social.

“A great number of individuals assume that running must always be difficult or that you must experience pain for it to be valuable,” expresses Seidel. “I discover that running, for me, is the most satisfying and optimal when I use it to connect with individuals and simply have a good time more than anything else and utilize it as a stress reliever.” Maybe you join a running club and complete your lengthy runs with a group on the weekends, or perhaps you encourage your closest friend to sign up and train for a race alongside you. Regardless, a running buddy will make the time pass quickly and offer you a great way to connect with others. (It helps to find someone who’s at a similar skill level and pace, too, so you don’t have to worry about keeping up or slowing down.)

“I believe that’s most likely the most crucial thing for someone just starting with running: If you’re struggling to establish a consistent habit, find a group, discover a running partner, find someone to share it with. And that not only helps you get out the door, but it also makes it much more fulfilling,” adds Seidel.

6. Build up slowly.

Most running coaches will recommend the 10 percent rule for runners. This essentially implies that you’ll increase your weekly mileage by 10 percent each week. But if you’re completely new to the sport, start very slowly and consider focusing on time rather than mileage. After those initial few weeks of simply finding your rhythm, maybe add five minutes to every workout or 10 minutes to just one of them. “Small but challenging adjustments,” are the way to go, shares Corkum. This not only safeguards you from overtraining but also provides you with small victories along the way as you witness your fitness improve.

With this in mind, make sure you allow yourself enough time to train for a race if you wish to schedule one. You want to gradually build up to it while feeling confident in your training, adds Corkum. If your first race is a half marathon, and it’s only eight weeks away, that’s most likely not enough time to safely reach your best, risk-free performance.

7. Give yourself rest days.

“We need to strike a balance between maintaining the consistency necessary for making adaptations and rest and recovery,” says Corkum, who shares this tip for beginner runners: Consider an every-other-day schedule so that you’re running about three or four days a week. “Establishing a habit requires time, but eventually, it becomes part of your lifestyle,” she says. After four to eight weeks, evaluate how you feel and whether you’re prepared to add another day of running to your schedule.

8. Practice dissociative thinking.

Dissociation is essentially the mental process of disconnecting from your thoughts, emotions, memories, or sense of identity, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

This approach is an especially effective tip for individuals new to running, according to Weinberg. Therefore, disengaging from the act of running or diverting your thoughts away from the activity can assist you in avoiding fixating on the difficulty of the workout. This, in turn, can prove beneficial in maintaining a positive mental state. You can effortlessly achieve this by engaging in conversation with a companion or listening to melodies, an audiobook, or a podcast. “Rather than affiliating yourself with discomfort or exhaustion, you redirect your attention towards something encouraging,” he explains. However, it remains crucial to remain observant of your surroundings, particularly when traversing urban roads.

9. Next, shift to associative thinking.

Conversely, you may choose to engage in associative thinking or connect with your physical sensations, according to Weinberg. Inquire, “What is my heart rate or breathing rate?” “How are my legs sensing? “What are my arms engaged in?”

Seidel states that she frequently practices this type of mindfulness, which aids her in her workouts and competitions. Checking in with her body during a race, for instance, helps her be less judgmental, she adds. For instance, if you’re feeling terrible at a particular point during a run or race, instead of telling yourself that the run is ruined, ask yourself why, she suggests. “Look at it objectively,” Seidel adds. Meaning, even if you’re not feeling great, simply acknowledge that thought and let it pass through your mind — observe it — rather than allowing it to spoil your run.

10. Concentrate on your own run or race.

This tip for beginner runners applies to race day as well as training. Focusing on your own abilities is the most beneficial thing you can do for your mindset during the run and how you feel afterwards. So, stop constantly comparing your pace, finishing times, or mileage to the person beside you (or the individuals you follow in your social media feed).

Granted, this can be easier said than done, but always bear in mind that “‘the only thing you control is yourself and your own training,'” says Seidel.

11. Embrace competition, but without fear.

Competing against others can sometimes be the driving force you need to perform at your best, so it’s perfectly fine to strive to outdo the person beside you at the starting line or even those nearby during a training run. Keeping up with someone faster may bring out a speed you didn’t know you possessed. “I adore going out and solely focusing on the race without necessarily paying attention to the split [or mile times],” says Seidel. “I want to concentrate on who’s around me, stay engaged, and make aggressive moves in a race.”

12. Employ visualization and goal establishment.

Another useful mental technique is visualization, or picturing yourself running. “Experience it, perceive it, interact with it,” suggests Weinberg. “See yourself progressing through the run, maintaining a steady pace, focusing on rhythmic breathing, noticing the trees, finding pleasure in your surroundings, and so on.” This will all contribute to better preparation for your runs (whether in a race or not) as you will have a positive mental image of completing your mileage.

Setting short-term goals is also wise for both your regular running routine and race days. Determine what you want to accomplish mile by mile, rather than thinking about the entirety of the run or race in one go, says Weinberg. That goal might be reaching the next tree or stopping at a particular water station along the way. This provides you with small victories to celebrate throughout the course, without overwhelming you with the thought of long distances.

13. Maintain an open perspective.

Seidel reveals that she did not enter the February 2020 Olympic Trials with the expectation of placing in the top 10 — but she also did not rule it out. “I approached [that race] with the mindset of, ‘I simply want to give it my all,'” she says.

According to Seidel, this is essential advice for those participating in their first race, especially a half marathon or full marathon: “Do not restrict yourself with preconceived notions as you approach a race,” she advises.

You absolutely have to be clever with it — don’t attempt and completely hit it out of the ballpark in the initial half. But I believe going in being pragmatic, but also not ruling yourself out simply because it’s your inaugural one is crucial.