The Best Way to Start Running as a Beginner

If you want the best method for starting to run, look no further than the walk/run method.  Anyone thinking of running should consider this method for making a successful transition to becoming a runner.  I’ve found this method is great for new runners of all ages, experienced runners coming back from a break, or anyone looking to safely continue running. 

The walk/run method is the best way to start running as it allows the body to adapt to the stresses of running as safely as possible.  Over time one can start to run longer and walk less or continue with the same walk/run ratio to see other improvements or benefits.  Many have been able to succeed in becoming a consistent runner and even improve running performance using this method.

Alternating between walking and running can be a useful strategy to start running as you can gradually adapt to running while experiencing little or no soreness.  Knowing which ratios will work for you and reviewing why this method is so beneficial can help you become a runner and continue on to new running goals.  Read on for more information on how to implement the basic plan and some other tips to help you succeed. 

Benefits of the Walk/Run method

There are many benefits to the walk/run method including:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Reduced soreness
  • Faster adaptation to running
  • Customizable plan based on your fitness level
  • Higher rate of success to becoming a runner

Many people with the goal of running will just go out for a run and return feeling breathless and tired.  They may feel good that they accomplished a “run” but then are laid up for days with extreme soreness.

It is hard to make progress if you need to take a week off to recover between workout sessions.  In addition, the time off can derail even the best of intentions as motivation starts to wane and many concluded that running is not for them.

By sticking to a walk/run plan you will avoid many of the roadblocks that may prevent you from becoming a runner.  You should not experience much soreness during the process unless you are running harder than you should. 

Utilizing this method you are also decreasing the risk of injury by gradually incorporating running.  The walk breaks keep you from pushing through discomfort or pain which usually leads to injury.  Walking also refreshes your legs and aids in the recovery process.   

By following a plan that mostly involves walking in the beginning, you are more likely to be consistent with your workouts.  Sticking with three workouts a week of walk/run using ratios listed below will help you run be able to comfortably run for 30 minutes as safely and quickly as possible. See my article here on how consistency is one of the key elements to running better.

Basic plan for beginners

Any good beginner running program will start with a walk/run plan that will involve more walking than running for the first few workouts.  Aim to complete three walk/run sessions a week for best results. 

Below is the general outline to follow:

 Basic steps for being able to run for 30 minutes
1 Work up to being able to walk for at least 30 minutes with no issues. 
2Start walking for 3-4 minutes and then jog for anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute based on your current level of fitness.  Complete the workout alternating with the walk/run ratio for 30 minutes. 
3Take a rest day between walk/run workouts.
4If the last session was very difficult, perform the same walk/run ratio.  Move to the next 1-minute ratio (walking -1 min, running +1 min) when the current session can be performed comfortably.
5Repeat 3 and 4 until you can run for 30 full minutes

Your cardio fitness will likely improve faster than your bones, muscles, and ligaments so it’s important to work up gradually to running for the full 30 minutes.    Your body needs time to recover and adapt to the stresses of running.  Have at least one rest day in between your workouts and two if you are sore or otherwise not feeling well. 

Below is the walk/run program that I personalized from plans I found online for free.  I was able to move through the sessions rather quickly (about 3 weeks) as I was in relatively good shape at the age of 41.  While I was active and did an occasional gym workout, I had not run in almost two decades and then only occasionally.

Using the ratios below I did not experience any soreness during the three-week adaptation to full running. I have also been able to help other non-runners by sharing the below plan.

RatioWalkRunTotal Time
4/14 min1 min30 min
3/23 min2 min30 min
2/32 min3 min30 min
1/41 min4 min30 min
Run0 min30 min30 min

Timing your walk/run ratios

You can use your phone clock app which has a stopwatch feature or download an app to keep track of the walk/run ratios.  I first used my phone’s stopwatch which I carried in my hand before I got more fancy with holders and apps.  I was constantly looking at my phone to see when the walk break would come so holding my phone worked fine for my purposes at the time.  (Click here for an article on ways to carry your phone while running). 

Downloading an interval timer app on your phone is the best option as it will ping, ding, or give some other sound when it’s time to run and when it’s time to walk.  Search for “Interval timer” in your app store and you should be able to find a few free ones.

I currently use a free app called “Interval Timer – HIIT Workouts”.  The free version has a short advertisement when you open the app, but after the ad runs you have access to all the app features.  I currently have 5 different ratios saved that I use. 

The great thing about using an app is you can set different sounds at the start and end of the intervals.  You can also hear it with or without earbuds and you can still hear the dings when listening to another app for music.

Intervals I currently have saved on my app

Track your progress

You are more likely to improve if you measure your progress.  You will be surprised how fast you will adapt to running so keep a log of your runs and ratios.

There is a famous principal called Pearson’s law that basically says whatever you measure improves.  Further, it states that when performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.

Be sure to incorporate some form of tracking in your journey such as a running journal.  A running journal can be as short or long as you want.  At a minimum you want some notes about your run including date, time of day you ran, total time on your feet, pace or walk/run ratio, weather conditions, how your felt, and any other data you would like to track or that impacted your workout. 

You can use an app to track your workouts, but you will likely still need notes about the walk/run ratio , weather conditions, etc.  A record of your progress will give you the extra motivation to continue and it’s rewarding to see the progress you’ve made in just a few weeks.

To solidify your journey to becoming a runner, add some accountability into your plan.  Tell a friend, coworker, or someone that will check in with you.  You can also make a commitment by signing up for 5K (3.1 miles) race a few months out which is a reasonable goal for most people. 

Just the act of tracking your progress, telling others of your running goals, and/or committing to a race in the future will greatly enhance your experience.  I did all these things and only wish I had a more detailed running journal!  See my experience here on my journey to a half marathon in 6 months.

Don’t let your ego highjack your success

Don’t let your ego get in your way of sticking with the walk/run ratios.  Many are embarrassed to run or switch to walking when other people are around.  It’s really funny how the mind works so being mentally prepared ahead of time will hopefully keep you from running too long or hard or even worse, not running at all.

For some reason when we go for a walk there is no pressure.  Most, including myself, don’t think about how others perceive us when we are walking.  In fact, we may not even notice the people around us. 

Somehow when we plan to start running that all changes.  Suddenly you are aware of every person and car that passes.  You may be extremely self-conscious and even embarrassed.   Don’t worry about looking ridiculous (which you don’t) or trying to look like a fast runner (which you aren’t yet). 

The fact that I am bringing this to your attention basically means it happens to everyone regardless of age, size, or fitness level.  To remain as injury and pain free as possible, stick with the plan!  Don’t let your ego get in the way and prevent you from accomplishing your goal. 

To aid you in your journey if you are self-conscious, you may want to pick locations to exercise where there are not many people or cars.  As you continue through your sessions you will gain confidence and determination to help keep your unruly ego in check.

Final Notes

Make sure you consult with your doctor or medical professional before starting an exercise plan as running may not be the best exercise for you (see my article here for more information on determining if running is right for you). 

Hiring a coach can greatly enhance your experience and success.  Your local running store may be able to provide some good recommendations based on your fitness level and goals.

Running is a full body, high intensity workout that has some of the biggest returns for your investment of time, but it also comes with risks.  With a walk/run strategy you can reduce the roadblocks that prevent many from enjoying the sport of running.  Be patient and enjoy the journey!

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