How Do I Start Running?

The tweeter behind the Chicago Blogger Network asked …

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My phone has been anti-Twitter notifications lately (regardless of the app I use … weird), so I totally missed this until the following evening, well after Erin and Katie chimed in with their advice. But this is my advice!


Start where you are. You can’t get up off the couch and run a 5K. That’s why most Couch to 5K plans are 8-12 weeks long. Don’t pay attention to all those seasoned runners streaming past you on the Lakefront Trail, or the person pounding the treadmill next to you, or your friends who post to Facebook about their double-digit runs every weekend. They didn’t start there. Heck, even some marathon training plans start with a long run of 5 miles. (Um, hi, that would be the plan CES assigned me based on my “where I’m at with my fitness” survey.) So make peace with where you are right now.

Set a goal. Usually “finish a 5K” is a good first goal. Notice, I didn’t say “run a 5K” or “run a 5K in 30 minutes.” Focus on just finishing. Your second goal can be time-specific. And I highly recommend that your gol 5K be a race, and not just a stroll on the Lakefront Trail. But racing is optional. But totally fun.

Focus on endurance first. Some people want to run longer distances and get faster at once. That’s an amateur move that will lead to injury. (And one that even veteran runners make.) Focus on endurance first. There is no shame if it takes you 10 … 12 … 15 minutes to finish a mile. It’s still a mile. You’ll naturally get a little faster as you build up your endurance. And once you have built it up (after a few months), then you can actively try to get faster.

Warm-up. I’ll be honest. It takes me until mile 4 to really feel good during my run. I think a lot of people who start running get discouraged because it’s hard, so they quit. Well, it IS hard. But eventually what feels hard now won’t feel so hard after a few weeks. And then you can set a new goal. But anytime I head out the door to run, the first mile or so is the warm-up.

Don’t change your diet … yet. To be honest, you shouldn’t really change your diet until you start logging some long miles. As long as you are currently eating a well-rounded, balanced diet. If you’re eating crap, clean it up. But don’t use this as an excuse to eat anything. I’m not a nutrition expert by any means, so if you need guidance figuring out how much to eat to fuel your workouts, try a site like

Don’t change your strength/yoga/whatever else routine … yet. If you get to a point where you really want to take your running seriously, you can work in certain strength moves that will improve your running and prevent injuries. (Apparently most runners have weak asses.) And you can plan specific “cross training” days to balance your running. For now, if you’re already doing yoga or cross-fit or pilates or spin class or whatever else, just keep doing what you enjoy.

Get legit running shoes. From a running store. If you’re in Chicago, that would be Fleet Feet, Universal Sole, Road Runner Sports … any store that clearly caters to runners. Sports Authority and Dick’s Sporting Goods are not it. If they say things like “gait analysis” “arches” “pronation”, and they let you try on shoes and watch you run in them, you’re probably in a legit running store. (Personally, I would stay away from getting my shoes at stores that only carry one brand, unless you’ve tried their shoes and know for a fact that that brand works for you.)

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Get a legit sports bra. Whoever said the only thing you need for running is a pair of shoes … was obviously a guy. I highly recommend Moving Comfort or Under Armour for good sports bras if your sweater monkeys are of a size that needs a “good” sports bra. If you’re smaller, then you can probably get away with the cheaper sports bras from Target.

Body Glide. You might start chafing. Maybe it’s under your sports bras. Maybe it’s where your thighs brush together. If you ever train for a marathon, it’ll happen in some really fun places. (If you want to know, you have to buy me a beer first.) But if you chafe or get blisters, pick up some Body Glide and rub it on before you head out the door. I didn’t discover this under after my first half marathon … that was uncomfortable.

Set your own goals. Not every runner has to run a marathon. Or even run a race. (But races are super fun!!!) There is no qualification to be able to call yourself a runner other than running. Be proud of whatever you accomplish, because unlike team sports, you accomplished that. Just because someone else runs 10, 20, 30 miles a week (or in one day) doesn’t mean you should not be proud as hell that you ran 3.1 miles. Or whatever distance. A 13-minute mile is the same distance as a 5-minute mile. And it won’t make you puke. 


Find a group. I was a solo runner for a while before I finally got up the guts to check out a group run. To say it had a vast improvement on my running and my social life would be a huge understatement. Not only will you get faster, and challenge yourself to do more, but you will have someone to have post-run beers with! And have post-race brunch with! And someone to travel to destination races with! Someone to do a relay race with! Someone who won’t roll their eyes at your FB updates about running and races! Someone to turn to for advice! Declan has put together a handy map of all of the group runs in Chicago.

It’s supposed to be fun. I get sad when other runners beat themselves up because they didn’t hit their goal or they had a bad race or their training is wearing them down. We’re not professionals … this is supposed to be fun! And if it isn’t, reassess. Remember why you started running in the first place, and what it is you like about it.

Don’t know where to start? Check out the Fleet Feet No Boundaries program. I personally have never done it, but they know what they’re doing.

What’s your advice for a newbie runner? If you’re trying to get into running, do you have any other questions? 

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13 Comments on “How Do I Start Running?”

  1. My advice, which relates to your “Start where you are” section, is to not do too much too soon. Instead of running right away, start with a one to two mile walk where you do a slow jog for 100 meters then walk again for another 100m. After a few days of this, start to make the run segments a little longer and walk segments shorter. Injuries can plague runners who push past their limits. You have to have patience over several months and these slow, short runs will start to pay dividends in fitness and strength. Just keep things chill for awhile and slowly but surely you will be logging more miles at a faster pace and stay injury-free.

  2. I think one of the most important things to starting to run is to really believe that you–yes, you–CAN be a runner. One of the most common things I hear when I talk to non-runners about my running is, “Oh, I could NEVER run ___ miles.” I could never run a marathon, a half marathon, a 10K, a 5K — yes, you can! If I, the slowest, most negative person on the middle school cross country team who wholeheartedly swore off long distance running after 8th grade, can run a marathon, ANYONE (barring major health issues) can run a 5K. Seeing “normal” people be marathoners is what convinced me I could probably handle a 5K, which turned into a 10K, which turned into a half marathon, which turned into a marathon. You have to believe you can do it, though, if you’re going to do it.

    1. This is a great point. When I started running, I never thought I could do a marathon. After reading a lot of blogs, and seeing people “just like me” finish marathons, I realized I might actually be able to do one myself. So certainly anyone can finish a 5K. My parents have done 5K’s, although they walked much more than ran. But they still did it!

  3. GREAT tips. One that I would add is that taking periodic breaks while running is A-OK. I think that a lot of people feel that they aren’t true runners if they take walking breaks – but what matters is that you are out there covering the distance. And also, I think a lot of folks believe that running means putting forth a sprint effort all the time. They don’t realize that running can certainly translate to doing so at slow, easy paces!

  4. Great tips, the one thing I want to make clear that Dick’s is not Dick Ponds but Dick’s Sporting Goods. Our running store is Dick Ponds(in the burbs) and we think they are amazing.

  5. Great tips, Maggie! I think consistency is key. I see so many runners who only do their once a week long run end up injured. When you are consistent, running will become easier and your breathing rate with drop drastically. But also remember that running success is not an overnight process. You must be patient and let your body adapt.

  6. These are great tips, Maggie! I have to concur on a bunch of things and I have a couple adds.

    Walk/run is a legit way to start, like run 5 minutes and walk for 2, repeat. I’d also recommend starting with a time rather than a distance–instead of “I’m going to run a mile today” start with “I’m going to run ten minutes.” It’s easier to fit into your schedule that way and doesn’t require you to map a route.

    YOUR KNEES (sorry Maggie’s emo knee). Everybody and their brothers grandma will tell you that you are going to destroy your knees running. It’s not been proven by science, it’s an old wives tale. Good running form is key, as well as the aforementioned strong hips and glutes. That being said, if you aren’t used to running, your knees will probably hurt a little the first few runs. Be patient and let them get used to it gradually. Walking is okay. Big pain is bad, a little pain is okay.

    I also love Moving Comfort, since I’m trying to nurse my six month old daughter I need a mega-bra because the girls are heavy. An option for the budget-challenged ($50 for a sports bra? Yes.) Is to wear two of the cheapies from Target–this is much warmer than one bra, so for summer maybe rethink the extra cost for one or two awesome bras instead of a fleet of cheap ones.

    Dick Pond is a great resource! They are all over the suburbs and often have walk to run programs or fun runs on weeknights.

    I can’t agree enough that it helps so much to find real or online friends for support and group runs!

    And for newbie runners with small children….a good jogging stroller is worth the money. 🙂

    1. One of my fellow runners who is also a new mom (Kelly aka Running Kellometers) told me a bonus to the Moving Comfort bras are the detachable-in-front straps … instant nursing bra!

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