Five running tips for beginners

As I have mentioned before, I only started running 3 years ago. When I started, I did the classic thing of piling on too much mileage too quickly. I ended up getting injured, but I saw a physiotherapist who identified some issues for me. I have been working on these correctable weaknesses in my core, and with asymmetrical strength in my hips ever since, and have stayed pretty much injury free (bar a weird little calf strain).

If you are starting out on the path to running more, or even to start running, here are a few tips you might find helpful:

Get yourself a fitted for a decent pair of shoes. You may think it is a money-making gimmick, but for your first pair of trainers, going to a store that has staff that can assess your running gait and can match you to the right type of shoe can be a very wise investment of time and money. Essentially, you will need a shoe for 3 types of gait: a neutral running gait, or you may over-pronate, or under pronate (this is to do with angle at which your feet tend to hit the ground underneath you) – you will need a shoe to help you correct a little for this. Anything more complicated than this, and you might be advised to see a specialist to asses you for orthotics – little inserts for your shoe to help you stay injury free. If you buy a cheap pair of shoes and try to run any kind of meaningful distance in them, you are asking for trouble. Leave barefoot running, or barefoot style shoes, until you are a little more experienced. Don’t buy your first pair of shoes off the internet, unless you have had your gait assessed and know exactly what you are looking for. Even then, you might feel obliged to buy your first pair from the store that did the running assessment for you.

Start with low mileage. If all you can run is half a kilometre (or mile), that’s fine. If it is just a few tens of metres, that is fine too. Start with a gentle couch-to-5k plan over a number of weeks – here’s one that is three runs a week over nine weeks – that’s fast enough. You might be tempted, but resist the urge to add a whole heap of distance to your runs all at once. You will risk injury, or burnout if you have a horrible time.

Don’t run every day. Many beginners come to running thinking that they have to run every day. You don’t. In fact, 3-4 times a week is plenty. Strengthening and repair actually happens on your non-running days – running every day doesn’t give you body enough time to recover.

Drink lots of water. Running can dehydrate you, especially if it is hot. Drink about 30 minutes before you run, after you run, and if you can, during your run. Even being slightly dehydrated can make running harder, and severely impair your enjoyment – which can make you less keen to pull on those running shoes the next time around. Don’t overlook your water intake during the week and on non-running days too.

Beware of comparing yourself to other runners. The risk here is that you become demoralised through comparing yourself to faster, more experienced runners. Getting better takes time and practice – running is a skill. No matter how counter-intuitive it seems, we need to learn to do it right. Modern lives mean that we don’t use our bodies how they were designed to be used and our muscles are not as strong as they should be in the right places. So, it takes time to learn how to run in a sustainable way. There will be people who are faster, more fluid than you – but there will also be people who are slower, or who do not run at all. Set your own goals and try not to worry about others. For some people, comparing yourself with others is motivating – and that’s fine. Just be aware if it starts to become a stick rather than a carrot.

Leave a comment if you want to chat about this more – happy to help or discuss.

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4 thoughts on “Five running tips for beginners

  • Amy Russell

    Hi Sarb, great post – but I disagree about the shoes. If you’re comfortable walking barefoot and you’d like to run that way, there’s no reason not to start running barefoot (or in barefoot shoes) straight away. In fact, for total newbies, starting barefoot for the very first step, and building up slowly and carefully as all new runners should, is probably safer (and definitely psychologically easier) than switching to barefoot mid-career when you’re wanting to run long.

    There’s also no evidence that running in cheap unpadded shoes is more likely to cause injury than running in specially-designed running shoes. It’s really important that your shoes are comfortable, but if you’re comfortable in $15 unpadded Converse knock-offs, there’s no reason not to run in them. There’s some study evidence that running in unpadded shoes helps you land softer on your midfoot, which is more efficient form and is better for your joints.

    (There’s also my own anecdotal evidence, which I acknowledge doesn’t prove anything. But for what it’s worth, I have always over-pronated, both walking and running, and have worn orthotics to correct it since I was a teenager. I ran in stability shoes for years, always getting professional fittings from sports-shoe experts, but could never quite eradicate my knee pain. When I switched to going barefoot, my pain vanished, and I developed a beautiful midfoot strike (if I do say so myself). I no longer over-pronate unless I’m walking in shoes that have a raised heel, or don’t allow my foot to flex as it meets the ground.)

    What you really want to avoid is buying expensive shoes designed to correct problems you don’t have… and in that regard you’re dead right that buying your first pair off the internet is risky. You also need good moisture-wicking socks if you choose unpadded shoes, or you’ll be running straight to Blisterville.

    • DrSarbJohal

      Hi Amy,

      Great to hear from you and good to see that you’re reading my blog. Very flattering. Good points, you make, but anecdotally, and only anecdotally, I have heard of lots of problems of people who try to trsnsition to barefoot running without carefully preparing and thinking about the whole locomotor chain. By this, I mean head, core, hips, glutes, hamstrings, calves, feet – the whole chain.

      The view that we are born to run is one I have a lot of time for. And yes, if we spend the majority of our lives barefoot and in active lives, then yes, barefoot running should come easily and pretty painlessly. Especially, endurance pace mid-foot running. But, most peoples lives aren’t like that. They spend a lot of time sitting down in sedentary lives, and we don’t have particularly strong core muscles. This misalignment and the imbalance between our hip fldxors and glutes / hamstrings can mean that we can tend towards flinging our feet out in front of us, instead of pulling them more underneath us, not to mention the other imbalances all the way up the locomotor chain. The pain of chucking your foot out in front of ou as you run with no shoes on and your heel strikes the ground is a good incentive to change form. But can also risk injury. Little and often, as you say, is the way to go. But newbies tend to pile it on before their bodies are ready. I know I did and I am not alone.

      For this reason, I think it is better to err on the side of caution. I am a supporter of barefoot running. I run training drills barefoot, and also in Vibram five dings when I am unsure if the terrain or my feet can’t take the additional stimulation. Your experience of orthotics is an unfortunate one, and they don’t work everyone, no doubt. And people change, and get fitted or maintain using a supported show when racing flats might be better. But I would still get someone to take a look, and read and be mindful ourselves of our bodies and our feet as we contact and leave the ground. Tough ask though when we are still finding our proprioceptive compasses at beginner level.

      Definitely agree with you about socks. Completely underrated in terms of comfort and soreness prevention.

  • nate

    Thanks for the post Dr. Sohal and great feedback your sharing with your runners. I always tell mine, build slowly, think long term and believe in delayed gratification, the results will come. Appreciate what you do.

    • DrSarbJohal

      Hi, Nate. Thanks for reading and also taking the trouble to comment. Delayed gratification is a great way to think abou thist. Often people need to build in their own immediate gratifications to enable the delayed gratification goal, if you see what I mean. Will pop into your blog shortly. Cheers, Sarb.

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