Running when you’ve never done it before can seem daunting. Here’s everything you need to get started, from beginner tips to the best trainers and jackets
Running is an excellent form of exercise for many reasons. It burns more calories than any other mainstream workout (including cycling and swimming), can reduce your risk of long-term illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, and even has the ability to boost your mood.
Plus, unlike most other exercises, it is free. You can do it anywhere and it requires very little equipment – all you really need to get started is a pair of the right shoes and the motivation to hit the pavement.
But, as simple as running may be, it isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re a newbie. For this reason, it’s a great idea to learn a few basics about the sport first, such as the different gear options and which apps you can use to help you on your way. In doing so, you will undoubtedly make your training more effective and could even increase the enjoyment you get out of it.
If you’re completely new to the exercise, visit our IndyBest running section for all our tried and tested reviews of the kit you may need, from the best trainers,watches,belts, leggings, sunglasses, armbands and sports bras.
But, before you lace up your trainers, read on for our expert guide that’s full of extremely useful tips for beginners, including how to stay driven and the best ways to track your progress.
How to start running 5K
Setting a target is one way to add structure to a run and give you something to aim for. We recommend downloading a running app like MapMyRun to help track the distance, pace and time you achieve, as this will help you keep track of your progress and see how you’re improving each time you head out.
Running 5km is a common goal for new runners, not only because of the viral challenge, but because it’s long enough to require stamina and a level of fitness and easily achievable if you stick to it. But you can start with any distance suitable to you.
Once you work up to 5k, you can then set new goals like running a 10k, a half marathon and maybe even a marathon. Or just work on improving your time on the 5k.
“If you’re looking to build up to your first 5km, the most important thing is to build gradually,” says Kieran Alger, founder of Man V Miles. “If you aim to run too far, or try to run too fast it can increase your risk of injury but also just make it all feel horrible,” he adds.
Rather than attempting it all in one run, he suggests building up distance slowly, with a mix of running and walking. “Run for a bit, walk when you feel the need and then run again when you feel recovered.” “It’s also good to find somewhere to do laps close to home so you’re always within walking distance should you need to stop,” Alger recommends.
Get the right kit
During the winter, it’s especially important to make sure you have the correct gear as the right layers and accessories will help keep you running longer. When choosing a running jacket, you need to decide if you’re after something completely waterproof to battle through the harshest of blizzards or if you just need something windproof and warm to take the edge off.
In our guide to the best running jackets for women, our tester picked 66°North’s straumnes Gore-Tex onfinium jacket (£250, 66north.com) as the best buy. “The straumnes jacket effortlessly balances performance with classic design. Breathable and lightweight, the stretchy softshell fabric – made with Gore-Tex technology – is built to take a beating from both the wind and the rain,” they said.
For men, our tester chose the Montane spine waterproof jacket (£250, Montane.com) as their top pick, giving it a solid 10/10 rating. “The spine waterproof jacket from Montane is the ideal running partner from September through to late spring,” they said. “The fabric helps to prevent typical hot spots (under the arms and the back) and, if it’s mild, you can manage your temperature courtesy of two mesh-lined pockets and two popper buttons on the full-length front zip, which enables you to get the full benefit of a breeze without the jacket flapping around you.”
When it comes to your bottom half, our tester loved Lululemon’s fast and free high-rise tights (£108, Lululemon.co.uk) for women, which are sweat-wicking and quick-drying. “After testing hundreds of leggings over the past five years, nothing quite compares to Lululemon’s fast and free,” our reviewer said. “With two side drop-in pockets to fit your phone, plus five waistband pockets, you can stash your tech and mid-run snacks with ease – and they never fall down. Lightweight and cool to the touch, they’re the first pair we reach for on race day due to their unparalleled comfort.”
In our guide to the best men’s winter running tights it was the Adidas terrex agravic trail style (£70, Adidas.co.uk) that stole the top spot. “The tights are made from a stretchy and breathable blend of polyester and elastane, but it’s the nylon front blocks that make these truly stand out,” they said. “Not only does the hard-wearing fabric keep your thighs warm from any gusts of wind, but they offer added protection from any brambles or overhanging foliage that might be blocking your path.”
How to find the right running shoes
Once you’ve decided on how far you want to run, it’s important to be well-equipped to assist with your training. Although the only real essential piece of kit you need is good trainers.
“A good pair of running shoes isn’t a golden ticket to becoming a brilliant runner, but it can make the difference between having an enjoyable time out on the roads and not,” says Alger. “You want to have the right tools for the job, whether that is training for a marathon, running for cardio fitness or for a boost to your mental health.”
He recommends not falling into the trap of thinking the higher the price tag, the better the shoes. “One runners’ perfect shoes might be £60, while others are £200. It’s just all about finding what works with your needs, feet and running style.”
It’s also important to consider what you need the shoe to do – will you run road, trails, treadmill, gravel paths in parks? How far will you run and how fast? “Some shoes are made a bit more like a luxury saloon while others are stripped back sports cars for shorter, faster runs,” Alger adds.
If you’re starting out with low mileage at a slower pace, Alger advises looking for a versatile running shoe that can cope with a wide range of running, for example, something that works well for road, light trail paths and treadmills. However, if you’re an experienced runner, a pair of noticeably worn-out shoes suggests it’s time for a change. It’s recommended that you should change your running shoes every 300-500 miles.
Alger says: “This is largely because the midsole foam degrades over time, becoming more compressed through impact and that can hamper its cushioning properties.”
Most running specialist shops offer treadmill testing where staff can help you decide on the best pair for you, but it’s also worth watching some videos on YouTube as part of your research, and there are many running specific channels such as the Global Triathlon Network, The Run Experience and The Running Channel.
When it comes to the best shoes for men, our tester highlighted Saucony’s endorphin speed “£154.99, Sportshoes.com) for their ability to add to the momentum of a run. “The mesh upper was comfortable and secured the footwell,” our reviewer said. “The endorphin speed is a lightweight shoe at 221g, which means it’s very versatile and performed just as well when we tried to turn on the speed with some interval work as it did when we took it out for a long haul.”
In our round-up of the best women’s running shoes, it was the Brooks adrenaline GTS 21 (£120, Brooksrunning.com) which won best buy, with our tester calling them a great “all-rounder”. “Comfort is still king in this update, and the DNA Loft (a mix of Brooks’ DNA foam, air and rubber) now runs all the way through the midsole, giving a responsive but highly cushioned ride,” they said. “You’re not going to break any speed records in this shoe but we’d happily do the majority of our miles in it.”
Once you’ve bought a pair, Alger recommends wearing them at home around the house to get an idea for how they feel on your feet before heading out on a run.
Use tech solutions to guide your runs
If you want to track your distance, measure your heart rate and increase your average speed, apps like Couch To 5K do just that. The NHS approved podcasts aim to get you off your couch and completing 5km in nine weeks through three runs a week.
You can pick a celebrity coach to guide each run including Jo Whiley, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli or Michael Johnson to keep things entertaining and the key is consistency. It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, too. Week one starts off small with just a brisk five-minute walk, with alternating one minute of running and one and a half minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Download it here for Android and here for iOS.
If you love data and geeking out over your stats, then a running watch could prove great motivation, too. In our guide to the best fitness trackers, the Fitbit charge 4 (£99.99, Argos.co.uk) won best buy with our tester hailing it as “the undisputed king of the tracker realm”.
“It’s really much more than a tracker, offering workout modes, an ECG sensor and sleep tracking, alongside features such as smartphone notifications, Spotify and contactless payments – all in a slimline body,” they said. “The charge 4 also includes an inbuilt GPS, letting you step out of the door without your phone and syncing your workout with the class-leading Fitbit app when you get back.”
Plug into your favourite music or podcast
Running is also a great opportunity to get some much-needed time to yourself and listening to music while you’re out and about is a great way to get in a good mood for your training.
If you’re in the market for a pair of headphones that won’t fall out or be a distraction, but allow you to listen to that podcast you’ve been meaning to get around to or get an extra burst of motivation with your favourite album, consider Earfun’s air pro (£69.99, Amazon.co.uk), which are both sweat and water resistant, with varying ear tips sizes for a snug fit.
Winning best buy in our round-up of the best running headphones, our tester said: “The first thing you’ll notice when you press play on these buds is the crisp, sharp treble, big bass and the kind of noise-cancelling technology that you usually get with earphones double the price.” They added: “They also offer an ambient mode, which lets voices and sounds into your ear through the microphone and speaker, which is useful if you’re running in a built-up area and want to stay a little more aware of your surroundings.”
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