Top tips for new runners: advice on getting started

Expert advice for those lacing up their running shoes for the first time

Man going for a run
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Last year saw more people take up running than ever before – more than 850,000 people downloaded the Couch To 5k app between March and June, up 92% on the previous year. 

It's not surprising - with coronavirus-related lockdowns limiting the ways in which people can work out, running is the perfect activity: it's free, easy, and requires minimal kit.

The trend doesn't appear to be going anywhere, with more people than ever pulling on a pair of the best running shoes and taking to the streets for the first time. However, it's not without its challenges.

Starting a new sport can often be bewildering and overwhelming due to the raft of information and advice available. And sometimes all it takes is one injury or a dispiriting training session for newcomers to hang up their shoes for good.

So we asked On Run Crew ambassador and LDN Brunch Club founder Stephen Adjaidoo for his expert tips for new runners, to ensure you enjoy the sport as much as those who have been doing it for years. 

1. Look at where you’re starting from 

The first piece of advice Adjaidoo imparts is to think carefully about your starting point for taking up running.  

“It will be different for everyone, especially if you have a background playing other sports or you’re coming from a long period of inactivity," he says.

“Everyone has different goals; someone training for their first marathon will likely be running longer and more often compared to someone just starting to run once or twice a week or someone who has been ‘inactive’ for a while who is wanting to start running to get fitter."

The message? Set realistic goals and expectations of yourself when starting out as a runner, and look to build your fitness and endurance from there.

Initiatives such as Parkrun and Couch to 5k are great starting points if you want to become a regular runner.

“From there you could potentially build up to longer distances, such as 10k or half marathon, or maybe just work on sticking to 5k and trying to increase your running speed,” says Adjaidoo.

2. Get the right kit

Whilst you don't need to spend hundreds on technical gear, having appropriate kit for running will make a big difference to your enjoyment and motivation, especially on days when the weather is less than clement. 

The most important investment is a decent pair of running shoes. The right footwear will provide cushioning, stability and protection, all at a low weight, so it’s worth investing time researching and finding the right pair for your needs. See our guides to the best running shoes for men and the best running shoes for women as a starting point. 

If possible, it’s also worth getting a gait assessment along with some tailored expert advice before you choose which shoes to buy. 

3. Consider working with a trainer

“If the option is available, I’d recommend utilizing a personal trainer or running coach to help plan your running sessions and devise supplementary exercises and workouts for you,” says Adjaidoo. 

“This will help you form goals, build strength and make you less likely to experience some of the more common running injuries. There are lots of different workouts and exercises considered great for runners, but it can be difficult to work out how much to do and how often without professional guidance.”

Some of the best fitness apps, such as Peloton and Beach Body on Demand, have audio running sessions, where a coach guides you through runs of various lengths and intensities. This offers a low-cost way to get some hints and tips, although of course it's not quite the tailored-to-you approach of working with someone one-on-one.

4. Run with others

If a trainer is out of reach, then you can still draw on the help of others. Whether with a crew, club or a group of friends, it’s no secret that running with others it massively increases people’s enjoyment of the sport (when it's safe to do so, of course).

“It can also make you more committed and accountable, as you’re less likely to cancel a run with friends than if you’re running alone,” says Adjaidoo. 

“One key element is to try to run with people of a similar ability to yourself, otherwise be prepared to either run a little faster/slower or longer/shorter than you would normally," he warns.

"Be honest with people and you might find everyone is happy running a little slower to help accommodate the entire group rather than all racing each other and everyone struggling.” 

5. Don't be discouraged

There will be plenty of days where it feels more difficult to run than on others, or it might be that you feel tired mentally or drained. 

“Everyone – from those starting their running journeys to experienced marathoners and professional athletes – has off days,” says Adjaidoo.

"It’s important to remember life’s other stresses can also affect you physically. If you’re feeling particularly tried then give yourself an extra day off and try to do something to relax.”

Howard Calvert

Howard is a freelance health and fitness journalist and copywriter. He has written for publications including ShortList, Runner’s World, Trail Running, Women’s Running, Red Bulletin, Wareable and Cycling Weekly. He enjoys nothing more than lacing up his trail shoes and heading out to explore new trails. He’s run ultramarathons everywhere from the French Alps and Canadian mountains to the Welsh coast and Peak District. When not running, he’s usually found hitting his local MTB singletrack trails or on a quest to find the country’s best cinnamon bun.