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How Do I Start Running? A Practical Plan for Beginners

04/25/2015 09:18 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2015

Sounds straightforward and easy enough. You're ready to start running and decide to find some good advice on the Web. You plug in your search terms and, uh-oh, information overload. You'll find plans that tell you cross train, plans with speed sessions and hill workouts, plans that emphasize walking, plans for 5k, 10k, and half marathon races. Mostly they're plans written for somebody other than you.

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A Practical Running Plan for Beginners

Let's try a different approach! I'm not going to give you a generic calendar of prescribed workouts. Instead, I'm going to give you some helpful tips on how to make running a fun part of your day. If you enjoy what you're doing, you'll keep doing it, right? Most beginning runners are looking for a way to improve their lives through regular exercise, weight loss, and the self-confidence that comes from taking care of your physical self.

You might become a marathoner someday, or you might join the legions of enthusiastic, mud-covered, obstacle course racers. But that's not why you're reading this blog. There's plenty of time for that later, if that's your thing. Right now, let's just focus on getting out the door and into the fresh air. Are you with me?

Everything Counts

Gardening, leaf raking, hiking, walking, picking blueberries, dribbling a basketball, shoveling snow, swimming, kayaking, paddling, hopscotch, taking the stairs instead of the elevator... these activities are all part of your total fitness plan. Don't be consumed with tracking miles and completing every workout as described. If you're active, and your heart rate increases, it counts. A day of yard work trumps a 2-mile run.

Wear Good Shoes

Wearing the right shoes can make or break your attempt at becoming a runner. Find shoes that fit well, support your feet, and look awesome. The best way to find your shoes is to visit a knowledgable retailer and ask a ton of questions. I would recommend visiting your local running shop. Even if they're too pricey, you can get some good advice for free before heading home to buy the same shoes online.

Walk Before You Run

Unless you're an athlete returning to running, you should walk before you run. It's up to you, of course. You can hit the road running if you want to, but while you're sitting on the couch icing your knees or nursing sore calf muscles, the rest of us will be outside playing. Walking for a few weeks will prepare your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones for what comes next.

Regular walks of increasing duration will help ease you into your new fitness routine without injury. Start with short walks that leave you feeling refreshed but not tired. Slowly increase your walking distance until you feel comfortable walking for 30 to 45 minutes, four or five times a week. Take this time to unwind and let go of your daily stress or invite a friend a chat away the minutes together.

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Eat Smart and Sleep Well

You're probably wondering where the running plan for beginners is hiding? We're getting there. It's a process. Trust me.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet will give your body the fuel it needs to adjust to the physical demands of regular exercise. Try to eat stuff that's locally grown, isn't overly processed, and was available to people living in the 1800s. Keep it simple. Ask yourself if what you are about to eat will help, or hinder, your efforts to become a better version of you.

Sleep is the very best way to recover. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Enough said.

A Running Plan for Beginners

Now that you're eating well, sleeping more, and have walked regularly for a few weeks, you're ready to begin your running program. Wahoo! I'll present this program in stages, not weeks. Everybody progresses at their own rate. In fact, you may be content to stay at a certain stage indefinitely. You're the boss.

Note: Each stage has a daily rotation. For example, Stage 1, Day 1 could be a Monday, Thursday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday...

Stage 1

Day 1: After walking for 10 minutes, test yourself with a short, slow run. You'll know what's comfortable for you. I would recommend no more than 1/2 a mile to a mile that first time out. Don't worry about going fast. Complete your activity by walking for another 10 minutes.

Day 2: Go for your regular 30-45 minute walk.

Day 3: Rest, enjoy some other physical activity, or go for a walk. It's entirely up to you.

Repeat three-day schedule until you can comfortably run for 1 mile at a time on Day 1.

Stage 2

Day 1: After walking for 10 minutes, run 1-2 miles at a comfortable pace. You'll know what's comfortable for you. I would recommend no more than 2 miles. Don't worry about going fast. Complete your activity by walking for another 10 minutes.

Day 2: Go for your regular 30-45 minute walk.

Day 3: After walking for 10 minutes, run 1-2 miles at a comfortable pace. You'll know what's comfortable for you. I would recommend no more than 2 miles. Don't worry about going fast. Complete your activity by walking for another 10 minutes.

Day 4: Rest, enjoy some other physical activity, or go for a walk. It's entirely up to you.

Repeat four-day schedule until you can comfortably run for 2 miles at a time on Day 1 and 3.

Stage 3

Day 1: After walking for 10 minutes, run 2-3 miles at a comfortable pace. You'll know what's comfortable for you. I would recommend no more than 3 miles. Don't worry about going fast. Complete your activity by walking for another 10 minutes.

Day 2: Go for your regular 30-45 minute walk.

Day 3: After walking for 10 minutes, run 2-3 miles at a comfortable pace. You'll know what's comfortable for you. I would recommend no more than 3 miles. Don't worry about going fast. Complete your activity by walking for another 10 minutes.

Day 4: Rest, enjoy some other physical activity, or go for a walk. It's entirely up to you.

Repeat four-day schedule. When you can comfortably run for 3 miles at a time on Day 1 and 3, you're ready to run a 5k race!

Run smart, stay safe, and have fun!