Get a Running Start

Get a Running StartHere on Chi, you’ll find my plans to get you through a fast 5K, 10K, or half marathon race.  The key word there is race — the training schedule gets you ready to be speedy (define speedy however you like). But if you’re not already running, that doesn’t mean it’s out of reach. You just need to start with a few months of base training to get you ready to go faster.

There are many good plans and tools to help you get a running start. (Check out Cool Running and Runner’s World online. The May 2009 issue of Runner’s World has lots of tips for beginners.) Each of these plans incorporates short periods of running in the context of a walk. It boils down to this: walk at a pretty quick pace, occasionally break into a jog, then return to walking. Repeat. Gradually increase the proportion of time you spend running, then very gradually increase the length of each workout.

Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. At this stage in your running career, speed, distance, and duration are all far less important than consistency, accountability, and the right equipment. Bring these three things to your walk/run routine, and you will see progress.

You need to make your running a routine. Prioritize it by scheduling it on your calendar and holding yourself to your plan. Three times a week is good. Four or five times a week works, too. Just start with a schedule you can stick to consistently, and be persistent.

Persistence means that sometimes you’ll have to psych yourself up and head outside in less-than-favorable conditions. Cold out? Add a layer or two. Hot? Put on sunscreen and carry a drink. Raining? A brimmed hat keeps water out of your eyes. Windy? That’s built-in resistance training. Electrical storm? OK, this would be a good reason to use the treadmill.

Having a buddy provides accountability. Your buddy could be a workout partner who meets you under the streetlight at 5 a.m., or at the front door to the office building at 5 p.m. Your buddy could be a dog who shows unadulterated excitement every time you touch your running shoes. Your buddy could be you: running gives you time to work through ideas and emotions in a separate space, one where you can think and feel but don’t have to immediately act on those thoughts and feelings. Choose a buddy whose company you enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to run consistently.

Tracking your workouts also holds you accountable. Writing down what you plan to do and logging each completed outing will give you a tangible record of your progress. You can use a sheet of paper, a logbook, a spreadsheet, or an online program (look at TrainingPeaks, WorkoutLog, or Daily Mile, among others). Keep track of your time running, mark the distance if you know it, and note how you felt.

Running requires minimal equipment. The most critical piece, though, is a good, fresh pair of shoes that fit you properly. Visit your local running store and have your stride evaluated. The shop’s employees will make recommendations. Choose the pair of shoes that feels best — not the ones in your favorite color — and expect to spend around $100. When your log shows you’ve put in 50 or 60 hours of training on those shoes, it’s time to start looking for a new pair.

Depending on your size, a good quality sports bra can also be very important. Try a few models and stock up when you find one that works for you. Like shoes, sports bras need to be replaced regularly.

Beyond shoes and a bra, you can keep your equipment basic or gussy yourself up with wicking clothes, a watch with GPS to measure your speed and distance, lightweight sunglasses, hydration belts—you name it. There’ll be time for all of these extras as your running progresses. For now, check your shoes, schedule time with your buddy, and get out there consistently.


May 19, 2009 at 3:39 am

I’ve run for more than hour on a treadmill for many months and started running outside just 3 months ago. The first 2 months, I did just great and got into 1.5 hour runs in a month of starting road running. Problem is, I ran into some sort of a “runner’s block” 2 weeks ago. My body just would not “wake up” in the mornings and I’m ending up feeling terrible everyday. Is this normal for runners? Could it be that I over-ran too soon? Today, I ran 5K and boy, was it terrible! I walked a couple of times…worse run ever! Feels like the 2 week period has de-trained me.


May 19, 2009 at 11:41 am

Hi, Priyanka,

Without knowing the intensity, duration, or frequency of your runs–as well as the cumulative effect of your other commitments–I can’t tell if you’re overdoing it, but it’s certainly a possibility. Two crummy weeks won’t detrain you; they will, however, show you that something is a little off.

Take a few days of total rest, then try a short run. (Thirty minutes should be plenty.) You might also sprinkle in some faster segments of twenty to thirty seconds’ duration in that short run. If, after a few of these short trial runs, your mojo is still gone, I’d suggest you check with a medical professional. Any number of issues, from anemia to hormonal imbalance, can affect how you feel during exercise.

Hope that is helpful!


May 29, 2009 at 5:46 am

Thanks Sage! Worked like a charm though it took longer than I would have liked. But I’m back now and it feels great! Thanks again for the very helpful advice!


June 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Sage, I have been running for 30min a day @ 4-5 days/wk @ a speed of about 4.5mph (slow). I feel like I just can’t “rev” up my energy to go any faster. I would love to someday run a 5k but at my pace now I feel like I would just embarrass myself.


June 26, 2009 at 11:42 am

Hi, Kristine, sounds like you need to introduce a little variety into your workouts. I’d suggest making one a little longer by adding five minutes to one run each week, so that it grows from 30 mins. to 35 to 40 to 45, and maybe beyond. Then I’d add some high intensity to another run by putting a few 20- or 30-second pickups in, with 2 or 3 mins. easy running between. Once that feels OK, you can add some medium intensity in a third. By then, you’ll be ready for the 5K plan on this site!

If you’re feeling sluggish, be sure that you are eating enough over the day and especially before your workouts. While you don’t want a full meal in your stomach, a little snack of 100 calories or so in the hour before your run might make a huge difference. Sleep is important, too–basically, you can’t get too much.

Finally, don’t worry about embarrassing yourself as a runner. No one but you is worried about your pace!

Good luck–please let me know how it goes.


July 31, 2009 at 4:55 am

I have been running 3 miles 4x a week for years now with very little weight training in my workouts. How essential is weight training to my running? Also since I have been running for so many years why is it still such a struggle to reach the 3 mile line?

Thanks for your input…


July 31, 2009 at 6:03 am

Hi, Randey,

On the second question, I’d tell you what I told Kristine: add variety. I’d also recommend you run on trails, which is softer, cooler, and more interesting. There, focus on time rather than distance.

The question of weights is a good one. Run-specific strength training can include squats, lunges, core work, and exercises that train your arms to hold form as you tire. If you’re lifting a lot of heavy weight with your lower body, you might be too tired to run well. I’d encourage you to think about *strength* training rather than *weight* training. You can do a lot just using your body weight (think yoga!). But adding some resistance can be useful for bone health. Check with a qualified trainer familiar with runners’ needs, and let me know what you come up with!

Century Trainer

September 28, 2009 at 12:48 pm

some great advice here. consistency is they key from my experiances.

I have run two marathons in recent years and both times have got injured in training while increasing the distances i ran. As a rule i believe you should only increase your weekly mileage by no more than 5%. I think this is where i went wrong and got injured as a result.


April 08, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Hey Sage!

I am a pretty young athlete and I play soccer and rockclimb. I have (soccer) practices 4 times a week that last up to 3hrs each and have 4 games every weekend, so I run 10+ miles every week. In addition, I would work out quite often as well.

I have been unable to do any physical activity for about 4 months due to undiagnosed medical problems though, so I have become very out of shape (mentally and physically)and I’m having a hard time motivating myself to begin working out again.

What do you reccomend for me to do to regain endurance and strength so I can become even healthier then before, stay motivated, and maybe set ambitions for some marathons?

Thank you very much!


April 09, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Hi, Sadie,

First step is to keep working with your health care provider on a diagnosis, because depending on what’s got you sidelined, your return could look very different. Next step is to walk, short amounts at first, and then more and more. If that goes well, then you start to think about peppering in some running segments. But put your overall health as your first priority, and your sports should come around soon!

I hope it all goes well!


February 08, 2011 at 8:44 am

Hi, Sage: I am *new* runner (back from several year break) and just completed the couch to 5K program. I am running on the treadmill 3X week for 3.1miles; an avg speed of 4.8mph (includes warmup). I plan to run a 5k in May and looking to increase the duration (2-3min) of my runs with each week. I weight train 3X a week and cross train with spinning 1X week and yoga 2X week. I’m looking to take the running outside once the snow / ice melts. Any tips on how to transition from treadmill running to running outside?


February 08, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Hello, Omey! This is an interesting question. One consideration will be to check that your shoes are fresh and springy. Beyond that, I would advise you to feel free to include walking breaks once you’re out on the road. You’ll be coping with different grades of hill and terrain, and you don’t want to trash your legs. Hope that’s useful—and I hope you’ll let me know how it goes. Your plan to increase slowly is brilliant and should set you up for a great 2011!


June 03, 2011 at 7:35 am

How does one overcome asthma? I will never be a fast runner or even a runner….I would like just run one little mile without stopping to catch my breath. I have been walking/jogging for the last ten weeks….seeing some improvement but not much. It is frustrating wanting to keep joggging but your lungs are telling you to stop. (And yes I am overweight, nearing 50 but fairly active with hockey, golf, walking, biking etc.) Any suggestions?


June 03, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Thyra, this would be a good question to take up with your health care practitioner. From a conditioning perspective, slow and steady wins the race. Keep your walk breaks frequent and take them down by 30 seconds or so each week. But check with your health care provider about the asthma as it relates to training!


October 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Hi Sage,

I am a senior at college and I find it really hard to get motivated to run, especially on little sleep from studying. When I do run I find myself getting very bored after a mile. I start doing hill work and sprints but find that I can’t run more then a mile without changing things up. What would you suggest?


October 12, 2011 at 4:29 am

Stephanie, get a buddy to run with! It makes all the difference in the world. And don’t discount walk breaks. Play with the ratio between running and walking, seeking to reduce the time walking over the course of the semester. You can learn to love running!


October 12, 2011 at 6:35 am

i would love to start running. what are some good tips to inspire me?


October 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Hi I am new to running and just wondered if running on the treadmill would really affect my already questionable knees? I would like to keep running through the winter but do not want to run in the snow any suggestions?

Thanks alex


October 21, 2011 at 5:45 am

Alex, if your knees are iffy, include a smart strength routine to shore them up. Treadmill running may or may not work for you—the key will be to start with small doses, take a day off in between, and gradually build. Good luck!


February 15, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Hi Sage. Boy am I glad I found you! I need an honest opinion please. I am 53 years old. I’ve dieted down from 284 lbs. to currently 225 lbs. in a year and a half. I’m currently using SparkPeople to help me live a more healthy lifestyle. I started a couch to 5k program last week, and although I feel progress is slow, there does seem to be progress. The only other exercise I do is yoga (beginners dvds), and some Zumba. I plan to register for a 5k race in November of this year. Tell me, is my goal of finishing a race realistic? Thank you.


February 16, 2013 at 4:53 am

Hi, Val! Congrats on your weight loss and new exercise regimen!

Yes, your race goal is totally doable and realistic, and it’s far enough away that you have time to build nice and slowly. Remember that walking must come before running; don’t be afraid to put as many walk breaks in there as you need to, including during the race itself. Slow and steady wins—or gets you to the finish line smiling. Go get ’em, Val!

Molly Van Slooten

June 14, 2013 at 6:29 am

Hi Sage. I am alate starter with running. I really love it. I am 68yrs old and I will be in my first 5k in two weeks. I am so excited. A friend is training with me two times a week and run 2.5 miles to 3 miles a day. Today I really had to push. It. Why is. That?? I need to work hard this next week and I still want to enjoy it and push. I have whole grain toast with peanut butter and a banana before I run. I guess I just need a push. Thanks , Molly


June 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

Molly, you’ll be great. Not every run is going to feel wonderful—it’s totally natural to have crummy or harder ones, just like we all have off days sometime. If the trend is toward the happy runs, you’re doing it right.

Good luck in the race!!!

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