Beginner’s running tips

I’m quite new myself to running so writing an article about advanced running tips would not be justified. However, when I started out in the summer 2009 I really dug into lots and lots of articles about running and managed to try some of the advices out. Many of them don’t work side by side and I wouldn’t say that one is good and one isn’t. I think it’s more about sorting things about when it comes to your own running and apply those that feels best for you.

Here are some of the tips I’ve found have worked great for me.

  • Buy a heart rate monitor (with speed/pace feedback)
  • Increase slowly
  • Keep a high cadence
  • Breathing patterns
  • Mixed running sessions
  • Give your body time to rest
  • Feel the surroundings
  • Listen to your body’s signals
  • Strength training
  • Devote to a running program

Buy a heart rate monitor (with speed/pace feedback)

A heart rate monitor is a good investment as it will ensure that you keep your running at an intensity that your body is able to deal with in the beginning. The cheapest, which will work splendidly in the beginning doesn’t have to cost more than 30 USD/20 EUR. But as you progress in your running and get used to the idea of running after a heart rate monitor you will find that a more expensive one, like a Garmin, Polar or Suunto will be more suitable. They tend to be a little more accurate and has a little more functions most often. Some of them use GPS for speed/pace feedback and for some you use a foot pod, which is a kind of kinetic sensor you attach to your shoe.

Increase slowly

In the beginning if your body’s not used to running, let alone exercising at all, it’s very easy to injure yourself if you start out too tough. The body needs time to adjust ligaments, tendons and muslces need to strengthen up to be able to deal with the increased workload. One way of dealing with it is to only run at a low heart rate in the beginning and also always run at time, not distance. A good guide line is to start out with 15 minutes running, 2 times a week. If you own a heart rate monitor make sure you keep the heart rate under at least 65 % of maximum heart rate. You can use this calculator. To get a good appromixation out of the calculator you should do a maximum heart rate test. It’s very important to not carry any sicknesses or having known heart problems when doing this – in other words, be cautious:

  • Put on your heart rate monitor
  • Find a road/track where you can run undisturbed for at least 200 meters
  • Run the first 100 m at 75 % ability and max for the last 100 m
  • keep an eye on the hr monitor in between
  • Rest for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 4 times. The last session you should really give all you’ve got during the last 100 m
  • Write down the maximum heart rate achieved

You should keep the heart rate below 65 % of maximum for at least the first 2 months to give the body enough time to adapt. Also another rule of thumb is to increase your time of running, or distance, at most by 10 % every week. If you start with 15 minutes of running two times a week, you should then be able to increase it with one and a half minute after one week. It’s a good rule to follow even if it might seem a little meaningless in the beginning only adding a couple of minutes. But believe me, if you need the progress to go slowly at any time – it’s in the beginning!

Keep a high cadence

Both experience and scientific investigations have shown that it in many ways is an advantage to keep a cadence between 85 and 95 when running. That means 170 to 190 steps per minute. It is also known that most mid distance runners keep that cadence no matter if they run 5 k’s or half marathons. It is good both for injury prevention and performance. At injury preventions, since it lessens the impact on the knees as well as corrects overpronation a little. When it comes to the performance it has shown that it’s more biomechanically correct as it forces you into a mid/fore-foot strike, which has less contact with the ground (leading to higher pace), and also makes you step down straight under or behind your center of gravity – then it won’t brake your speed forward, like a heel strike slightly in front of the body might do.

Breathing patterns

It’s easy to get caught in strange breathing patterns when not used to running. As a rule of thumb, when doing the easy runs (heart rate below 65 % of maximum, or the run/talk test, which is being able to keep a normal conversation while running) – breath in on 3 steps and out on 3 steps. In the beginning this will feel awkward since you switch which feet to breath in and out on every time, but it won’t take long until it feels as easy as, well, breathing 😉

When you’re running tempo runs or paced runs it’s easier to find a comfortable breathing pattern, which for most people is to breath in and out on every second step with the same foot. Like this: Left foot – breath in – left foot – hold – left foot – breath out – left foot – wait – left foot – breath in, and so on.

Mixed running sessions

This tip is only applicable when you have been running for at least 2 months with just easy runs and want to improve. When it comes to running improvement it’s necessary to get a good mix of all types of running sessions. Some of the most basic are :

  • Easy run/recovery run (Endurance)
  • Long and easy run (Endurance)
  • Intervals (Pace improvement)
  • Fartlek (Pace improvement)

To begin with, add 1 of the pace improvement sessions, so that you have one every week. Mix which one you want to use from week to week. The day after that session you should either rest from running or do an easy/recovery run to give the body time to recover and adjust. After another month or two you can add one more so that you have 2 pace improvement sessions every week. Don’t add another if you don’t feel that your body is ready for it. It increases the workload a lot.

Give your body time to rest

It’s essential that you give your body time to recover, rest and adjust. Don’t keep the pace up in order to reach improvements faster when you’re supposed to do a recovery run. Listen to your body! If you feel a little fatigued, just keep the legs going forward without struggle, or maybe don’t run at all. Once you learn to listen to your body and how it reacts to the stress you will gain much in the recovery process. No matter how much you run, try to at least have one resting day completely without running every week.

Feel the surroundings

Enjoy the running! In the beginning running shouldn’t be about performance, but about getting your body in shape and leading a healthy lifestyle. It’s important not to get bored in the start up phase, which is easily achieved if it gets too tough or if you focus too much on your improvement. It takes time to get fit, especially if you haven’t done much training recently. If you run at a heart rate below 65 % it should be quite easy to focus on other things. Try to run in the nature and look at things, listen to the sounds and feel the wind wash your face with fresh air! It’s only you who know what will make your running something to long for. For me it is different. Sometimes even running in the city with up-tempo rock music is the thing making it worthwhile..

Listen to your body’s signals

Don’t run if you feel unwell, very tired or a little injured. It’s always better to take one or two days rest than to risk letting that little trouble evolve into a big injury or something far worse. Be aware of the signs to look for! Here’s an article for guidance.

There are extensive info on when or when to not excercise when it comes to diseases and injuries. Many injuries can also be prevented with the proper training. Look at this article at Time-to-run for guidance about running and injuries.

Strength training

The importance of overall strength in the body is probably more essential than some may think when it comes to running. To be able to maintain a high pace in all kinds of terrain one need strong muscles in the legs. And if you want to keep a high intensity in running through all your life, with lots and lots of km run per week, it’s very important to avoid injuries – that you do by keeping strong leg muscles, both in the thighs and the calves.

Some may also think that a strong upper body is unnecessary in mid and long distance running. This may be true if what you’re after is leading a healthy lifestyle. But if you search for major improvements in your running you will surely need the extra training. It’s a strong upper body core that helps holding an advantageous running pose when really tired – like during the second half of a race. If your are too weak to keep a straight back and high head it will drain out the energy left in you in no time at all.

One strength workout I warmly can recommend is the Bodyweight 500 workout. It trains the most vital muscle groups, doesn’t involve going to a gym or expensive equipment and is built upon bodyweight training – meaning it’s much harder to exaggerate the workload. Another nice thing about it is that it’s a good interval/fartlek substitute training since you shouldn’t rest in between the excercises, unlike traditional strength workouts teached at many gyms. This will push and pull your heart rate up and down throught the whole workout. Try it! I think you’ll like it 🙂

Devote to a running program

When you have built up a good running ground you may feel that it’s time to take it to the next step – improvement in tempo and later on cutting down time in races.

I strongly suggest that you then register at the Time-to-run forum, where you should start a thread where you state what your goals in the running are. There they will answer your questions, give advices and feedback on how to go further and even maybe put you on a training program during which they will offer you feedback on your achievements. I’ve done that, and there’s no easier way to get a personal running coach. So if you’re up to getting running improvement – register at Time-to-run forum and enjoy!

By the way, they also have a beginners section at the forum 😉

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