How many times can you recall walking down the street completely in bliss without a care in the world before being overtaken by a runner. With their armbands strapped on tight and their slightly worn-out trainers looking cooler than the newest pair of air jordans; how many times have you admired that fierce look on their face, pushing through the heat and the fatigue, wearing that powerful essence of self-control and discipline and having it beam through them like the brightest of beacons?
And wishing for a lingering moment, that we too could be just like them.
Well, you’re just in luck. This is the ultimate and the only guide you’ll ever need to become a runner.
Now before we jump into the steps on how exactly you can achieve that glorious title, let’s have a quick talk. Why a runner?
Trust me, you’ll need to remind yourself of these particular reasons when you’re out and hitting the track because especially for new runners, your endurance will be pushed to extremes.
Read our article on 17 benefits of running that will make you want to run forever!
So long story short, becoming a runner not only helps you physically get fit, lose weight, maintain a healthy lifestyle in general but it also helps you mentally with everything from self-confidence and cognitive function to being part of a battle with depression or other mental illnesses.
1. Establish what kind of runner you want to be
This isn’t the most important step but it will definitely give you an idea of what exactly you want to achieve and that will then help you decide what goals to get and what expectations to hold for yourself. The two main categories of runners are the following:
- Speed Runner
These runners are more focused on how fast they can go rather than how long they can go. For this, you might want to train on a track or somewhere that gives you a straight and flat path to run on without many people there to get in your way. Speedrunning is great for whoever wants to work on their agility, muscle mass, anaerobic endurance and maintain a stronger stride.
- Distance Runner
This is for those of you that want to work on your endurance and set challenges based on distance. The good thing about distance running is that you can do it pretty much anywhere, you don’t need to do it on a track and you can incorporate a lot of fun routes to enjoy on your run. Distance running is great for strengthened cardiovascular health, low cholesterol, lower blood pressure and revamped metabolism.
And no, you don’t have to be one or the other. Both styles of running have their own perks. In fact, it is recommended to be a bit of both. However, it might come in handy to decide which of the two is to be your primary running style because it’ll help you determine your goals.
2. Just Run
Seriously. Just. Run. The best way to become a runner is to just start running. One of the most efficient and worthwhile ways of learning is through experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re sluggish at first and your form feels off and you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or whether you’re doing it right because, for the most part, as long as you’re running, that’s close enough.
The hardest part when it comes to running is starting. So conquer that first and give yourself an idea of where you are currently and that will help you estimate how much work you need to put in and where that work needs to go.
Don’t underestimate the importance of stretching before any workout. Not only will it make for a much easier workout, but it will help reduce your injury risk significantly and make your recovery time much less. So make sure you stretch before and after any workout, including a run.
It is vital you remember to especially stretch your calves and even your ankles due to the pressure that will be applied to them when you’re running.
4. Watch your running form
A good form makes all the difference when it comes to your run. Here are some things you want to watch out for when you’re running:
- Head – keep your head relaxed and keep your gaze forward.
- Back & shoulders – don’t slouch. Keep your back straight and push your shoulders back and make sure they stay relaxed.
- Arms & hands – keep your arms at a bent 90-degree angle and your hands should be in loose fists.
- Feet & ankles – keep your feet light, the last thing you want to be doing is stomping on the ground as you run. Light feet and slightly leaning forward at the ankle is the best way to avoid injury.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time. When you’re out for a run try to keep all of these pointers in the back of your head or simply practice the form in a mirror before your run.
5. Work on your breathing when running
Breathing techniques are less important when it comes to speedrunning as you run for very short intervals at 100%. However, when it comes to distance running, your breathing makes all the difference.
If you’re just starting off, try primarily breathing in and out from only your mouth. Feeding your muscles the oxygen they need is of paramount importance, and breathing through the mouth is the most effective way to inhale and exhale oxygen.
For some advanced runners, breathing through your mouth for the entire run might come off as unnecessary and even annoying. In that face try to breathe in from your nose and out from your mouth and take slow and deeper breaths.
Your breath will probably quicken right at the start of the run but as you become an advanced runner, you will be able to learn how to catch your breath again so you’re not panting for the entirety of the run.
6. Start small and work your way up
Let’s be real here. You’re not going to go from being a couch potato to running 5k in a week. And neither should you. There is no point in having one intense and challenging run if it’s gonna leave your body too worn and in need of recovery to do one for the rest of the week. So start small.
If you’re just starting out a fresh runner, run 1 mile and walk 3 and then run another mile. Definitely push and challenge yourself and change your goals as you go along your journey as a runner. Add more miles and make the run harder, but when you’re just starting out, start small. The goal isn’t to tire yourself out in a week. If you want long term success you have to work with your body not just push it constantly.
7. Occasionally set yourself running challenges to reach
Sometimes, challenges can be great things. They’re amazing tools to not only push yourself but also to motivate yourself. Nothing feels better than setting yourself a goal for your run and then achieving that goal. After you have some experience in running, you can start to push yourself now and then.
For example, if you’ve only been running 2-3 miles, give yourself the challenge of running 5 for one day. Give it everything you have and really push yourself. By the time you actually get to 5 miles the feeling of accomplishment and pride will be so overwhelming all your cramps and aches here and there will feel like medals. Plus now you know you’re capable of so much more and that will help you set yourself more challenging goals and advance on your fitness journey.
8. Don’t forget Strength Training
Running is a form of cardio that is great for burning calories and losing fat. If that is your sole goal, fair enough. However, for those of you who want to be more advanced runners, strength training is incredibly important. It will not only make you stronger and help you increase muscle mass, your runs will become significantly easier and it is a good way to maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass while you’re also losing weight.
You don’t have to sign up for a gym membership and start lifting weights every day, but instead, either try to incorporate 10 minutes of cardio every single day you have a run scheduled or 2 strength training sessions a week, each that last around 15-30 minutes.
For strength training you can do the following:
- Working with dumbbells or kettlebell weights at home
- Doing bodyweight strength training at home (There are many YouTube videos that offer equipment-free workouts)
- Lifting at the gym
9. Consistency > Intensity
When it comes to exercise, more often than not, consistency is more important than intensity. This is especially true if you’re trying to train to build healthy lifestyles and habits. So if you’re a beginner, instead of pushing yourself to exhausting extremes, shorten the workload by having more of less intense workouts.
Instead of running for 2 hours in one day, split it into 30 minutes a day over a period of 4 days. It can be very easy for beginners to injure themselves and often their recovery time isn’t as quick as advanced runners because their body is still adjusting to the new routine, and the faster you want your body to do that, the more frequently you have to indulge in running, even if it is for shorter intervals.
10. Persevere through the hard running days
Anyone who has been doing any form of exercise for a while will know that some days are just hard. There is no reason for it, and no explanation for why your body seems to have just given up for the day and there are a large number of factors that can come into this. However, some days, whether we are the best runners in the entire world or not, will just not be up to it. Sometimes we can even have entire weeks where we just want to not. And that’s a completely fine and very normal thing to experience. Sometimes our bodies have just had enough of the change. But it is important for our minds to know better and persevere through the hard days.
If you’re having one day where you absolutely just cannot get yourself to want to move, that’s okay, take the day off. But if you’re having one of those weeks, don’t give in and let yourself take the week off. Pushing yourself and teaching yourself self-discipline is just as important as giving yourself breaks.
So on the days you don’t feel up to it and you’ve already taken yesterday off, tell yourself to at least make it up to the halfway point and if you still don’t feel like doing anymore, you can stop. But as mentioned before, the hardest part is always going to be starting the run. And if you conquer that it’s okay to decrease the intensity now and then. The point is you stayed consistent with your plans to run and the days which you scheduled to run.
11. Get the right running shoes
Investing in the perfect running shoes cannot be stressed enough. As much as you just technically need feet to run, your running shoes should melt into the shape of your foot and fit snugly and comfortably. They should feel light and sturdy so that your runs feel easier and much more comfortable.
The right pair of shoes is also very important because they not only protect your feet but also help you keep the form of your feet correct during the run so that you can avoid injury to your foot or your ankles.
Have a read of our guide on things to watch out for when buying running shoes!
12. Allow yourself recovery periods
Recovery periods are incredibly important, especially for new runners whose bodies aren’t used to strenuous exercise. You use all of your body when running, and it can become exhausting and tiring very quickly when you’re not used to it.
That is why it is very important for you to take recovery periods. Beginners shouldn’t aim for intensity in their runs, rather try to get used to the feeling of running.
Therefore, 20-30 minute runs around 3-4 days a week is a great place to start.
Give yourself the rest of the days of the week off to allow yourself to recover. Slowly your body will gradually get used to the feel of running so when you do increase intensity it won’t cause injuries or long-lasting recovery periods and you can very easily slip into any new challenges you wish to set for yourself.
13. Incorporate healthy running-friendly diets
The act of running is only part of the equation. Just like you need money to fund lifestyles, you’ll need food to fuel your activities. It is important to maintain a healthy diet and make sure you are giving yourself enough energy for your runs. Even if you are trying to lose weight, eating right is still vital. Running is a great way to burn a lot of calories but because of this it is also exhausting and you can very quickly start to feel fatigued and nausea if you’re not fueling your body with enough of the right foods.
Here are some great foods for runners to incorporate into their diets
Packed with potassium, this is great for long-distance runs or in hot temperatures when you are likely to sweat a lot and as a result, lose a lot of your bodily minerals. Potassium compensates for this loss and helps lowers your blood pressure at the same time.
Oats have loads of carbs and are high in fibres. They have a low glycemic index so basically, they cause your blood sugar level to rise slowly, provide you with sufficient energy over a longer period of time. Oh, and they help you feel full for longer!
Eggs are a super great source of protein and they also help you maintain a lean body weight, help fight inflammation and prompt bone strength (due to their high levels of protein, choline and vitamin D).
This fish is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential to improved heart, lung and joint health. The high level of vitamin D found in wild salmon may also play a role in increasing muscular strength. Plus, it has shown potential to boost your immune system!
Potatoes are a goldmine source of potassium which we have already established should be essential in every runner’s diet. 1 large sweet potato can make up for your total daily requirement of vitamin A – an antioxidant that improves your eyesight strengthens your bone tissue and boosts your immune system. Sweet!
Eating chocolate before a run can increase your blood sugar levels for a more sustained amount of time and can also help lower your stress levels and allow you to relax to have a more enjoyable run.If you’re more of a dark chocolate person, you’re in luck! Dark chocolate may lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and the secondary metabolites can help reduce inflammation.
Yoghurt has the perfect mix of both carbohydrates and proteins. If you eat it right after a run, it can play a role in speeding up your recovery time and protecting your muscles. The calcium contained within yoghurt is also a great way to strengthen your bones. Yoghurt also contains a little something called live lactic acid bacteria (probiotics). These stimulate your gut flora and thus boost your immune system too!
Sleep is such an important aspect of life, especially for runners. It is a great time to rest your body and also heal and recover. While the average person is recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night, for runners (and other active folks) it is advised to have 8-10 hours of sleep.
When you start off running you might need more sleep than you’d expect because your body is not yet used to the new lifestyle you’re becoming accustomed to therefore, it will need longer to rest and recover.
A good night’s sleep is essential if you’re looking to have a productive and enjoyable run, or else you might just end up exhausted, restless and fatigued.
15. Keep things interesting
As challenging as running can be, it doesn’t have to be daunting and scary. It is important, as a new runner to explore different styles of running. See what works best for you, what motivates you and what excites you. You will learn a lot about not just your running preferences but also about yourself as a person.
Read our article on 13 ways to have the most fun on your next run!
16. Go easy on yourself
And last but not least, go easy on yourself! Becoming a runner is about more than just getting to that 5k, it is a lifestyle that will change more than just the fitness aspect of your life. Be kind to yourself and be forgiving. Give yourself rests when you need them, listen to your body, respond to your body’s needs and make sure to motivate and reward yourself.
The most important part of being a runner is being your own #1 fan. Whether you want to run for personal fitness or are striving for marathons, remember that your happiness doesn’t have to be attained in the moment of success. Becoming a runner is a journey, and it is an incredible one worth enjoying.