There's no one set plan or training program that works for every single runner; it is, by nature, an individualistic sport, says Sean Fortune, the owner and founder of Central Park Coaching. But there are a few simple guidelines that can help can any new or returning runner get into the swing of things. Here, Fortune's top tips.
Start by stretching
Before heading out on a run, it's best to do some dynamic stretches to loosen up your legs, Fortune explains. "I have all my runners do a minimum of 10 leg swings front to back on each side, and then 10 leg swings side to side."
Fortune says that dynamic stretches like these will help with long-term mobility, and that plays a role in helping to keep you injury-free.
Run, then walk
Run for one to five minutes, then walk for as long as you want, suggests Fortune. Repeat three to five times. "During the walking interval, take as much time as needed, recovering both physically and mentally, before you start the next run segment," says Fortune.
The mental recovery is key. Running, at first, is hard! It's tough to find a sustainable pace, and you can feel achy, off-rhythm, and out of breath. All of that will get easier over time — but only if you don't quit entirely. Knowing you only have to keep up a job for a finite number of minutes before you get a break is motivating. And don't worry. Since you're moving the whole time, you're still building up cardiorespiratory endurance, despite the walking intervals.
Start running slowly
There's no need to set off sprinting as soon as your feet hit the pavement. "The biggest mistake beginner runners make is running too fast from the outset," says Fortune. He says purposely going slow and easing into it is better for you, and your body.
And he really means "go slow." Like, slower than you think. You shouldn't be gasping for breath. You might even be thinking, "This is too easy!" You can always ramp up the speed on the next interval; whereas if you gas yourself right off the bat, it's harder to recover.
Set a running schedule
Planning out your runs ahead of time helps ensure you'll stick to them. But Fortune recommends taking a conservative approach at the start, to "allow the body to safely absorb the stress of running and avoid mental burnout."
He suggests beginning by running one to two days in a row, then taking one day off. "If you're completely new to running, I'd advise not to go more than three runs without a day off," he explains. "Being smart now with your running will pay off down the road with being able to do more while keeping you healthy."
Take time to recover
"Make the recovery portion of your running just as important as the running portion of your running," stresses Fortune. After all, your muscles actually get stronger when you're resting, not when you're moving them. So while you're starting out, prioritize getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and listening to your body.
Post-run stretches are important, too, and you might want to invest in a foam roller, a yoga strap for stretches, and an ice pack to help you with recovery.
Set goals for yourself
Being super-clear about what your end goal is gives you something concrete to work toward, which is motivating. Maybe one day you want to run an entire marathon or maybe you just want to be able to make it around your block once without huffing and puffing.
When Fortune's wife first started running, for instance, she set a goal of completing a 10k. "It's a goal that seems challenging to her, something she's never done before, but also something she aspires to do and can actually visualize herself doing," he says. "That's the kind of realistic goal a beginner runner should look for."
"The most important thing when starting a running regime is establishing consistency," says Fortune. "This will be the hardest challenge to making it stick."
Of course there will be days where you just don't feel like getting up off your couch and going for a run — we've all been there — but consistency is key. "What helps me on those days is just taking one step at a time," says Fortune. "I change into my running clothes. I put my shoes on. I get out the door. I put on music. By that time, I usually can't not start running."
If you find that you're still feeling bleh once you get out the door, slow down to a walk. Even if you never pick up the pace, at least you're covering some distance. When you're done, you'll feel more accomplished than if you'd stayed on the couch.