Starting from scratch – tips for beginners

Me at my first race back in 2007 - maybe I wasn't a beginner then, but it's the earliest running photo I have!

May Mileage: 2 (it’s not much, but it’s a start!)

Injury Update

I went for my first run in two months last Saturday. Earlier that week I’d been out and done a few strides to see how my shins would feel the next day. As it turned out, they were fine, so I gave them a couple more days and then went for it.

I feel like two months should be long enough to heal the shin splints I’ve been suffering from. I still get the occasional twinge, but the weather has been just too good to stay inside. Even so, this is a very tricky injury. You might not feel pain while you are running, only after. Also, as with any injury, after you’ve done it once the chances of it occurring are much higher, especially if you were in good shape before injury- as you’ll be used to doing more and faster.

So, I need to take it easy, to act like a beginner. This is difficult, as I’m excited about the prospects of hitting the roads again. Coming home from work each day, I’ve wanted nothing more than to pull on my shoes and go. But I have to be patient, trying to come back from injury too quickly leaves many runners (even professionals) stuck on the sick-list.

As I’ve not run for so long, my muscles are not as used to the strain. After my first run, my calves were really aching (although my shins were fine). I took the first session as a walk-run, with three efforts of about 5 minutes, with 2 minutes or so in between. Then I’ve given myself a week before trying again. My only objective is to get fit again, I think it will take a year to get back where I want to be. If I come back right, I will be stronger when I get there.

Although I’m starting again from scratch, I do have several years of experience to build on, and so here is a rundown of what I’ve been doing to get back on track.

Beginners: getting started

The two key principles are constancy and patience: it will take time for your body to adapt to training, but stick with it!

Here is an outline of the kind of session I’ve been doing to come back from injury, which would also work for a complete beginner. It takes about 1 hr in total (don’t worry, you’ll only run for part of that!)

Before you start

  • Don’t try to run if you are injured, sick or worried about your health. If you are over the age of 40 or have any medical issues, check with a doctor before starting.
  • The first piece of advice people normally give is to get the right shoes. Whilst I agree that it’s important to do this, I also understand that you might not want to lay down 100 bucks for something you might give up in two weeks. Also, despite a common misconception, ‘the right running shoes’ doesn’t just mean that they say Nike or Adidas on them. As long as they are shoes designed for running (not tennis, soccer or casual sneakers) and they fit well (with plenty of toe-room) then they will do to begin with – especially if you run on soft surfaces. You can go to a specialist running store and get your gait analysed for some fancy shoes once you’re hooked!
  • Clothing should be comfortable, allow freedom of movement and be appropriate for the weather (an old t-shirt is fine in summer). The only special of clothing I would recommend at first is lycra/spandex shorts, to stop inner-thigh chaffing (you can always wear a baggy pair over the top!), and I guess a sports bra for the ladies, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.
  • Make sure you are well hydrated – sip water over time rather than chugging right before you go.
  • Food isn’t very important at this stage, but remember to leave it 2-3 hours from your last meal, and if you feel hungry within this time snack on something light.

Warming Up

  • Walk for 10-15 minutes. Find a place with soft ground to train, grass or sand are ideal.
  • Do some Dynamic stretches: butt kicks, high knee walk, walking lunge, side steps & straight leg walk (click here for a video) Do these very gently to begin with, walk the stretch for 4-5m then walk back normally.


  • Run for a hundred metres or so, or until it feels uncomfortable. Go as slow as you like. Stay relaxed, with your feet pointing to the front and your hips pushed forward.
  • Slow to a walk. When you’ve got your breath back, run another length.
  • Repeat this run-walk pattern for 20 minutes or until you feel tired or any pain.

Cooling Down

  • Catch your breath fully, then repeat the dynamic stretches.
  • Walk home.

After you Run

  • Do some static stretches for your calves, quads and hamstrings. (click here for a video)
  • Keep sipping water, especially if it’s hot outside.
  • To reduce muscle soreness (you might not feel it until tomorrow, or the day after), you can run some cold water over your legs.
  • Eat a balanced meal within an hour of getting home.

Keep it up

  • Wait a couple of days, or until your muscles stop aching (this will happen faster as you get fitter) Then you can repeat the session. Start with once a week, then build to 2 or 3 sessions (or mix in gym, swimming, cycling or other sports).
  • Each time you run, try and increase the time you spend running and decrease the walking. Don’t get hung up on speed or distance, in fact, I wouldn’t bother timing or measuring at this stage.
  • Once you can run 20 minutes straight, add 2 minutes extra each week.

Remember that patience and consistency are key. If you overdo it, you risk injury or burning out and losing motivation. So stick with it, and GOOD LUCK! 


Still skeptical? Think you’re not built to be a runner? Bill Bowerman  (University of Oregon Track coaching legend, co-founder of Nike and inventor of the modern running shoe) said: “if you have a body, you’re an athlete.” I agree, and here’s the proof: runner Steve Way gives an interview on how he lost 5 stone (70 lbs/30 kg) and went from being a couch potato to an elite marathon runner. To find out more about Steve, visit his site.

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One Response to Starting from scratch – tips for beginners

  1. Pingback: Are you built to be a runner? | 26reasonstorun

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