Beginner running tips from our ‘In the Pen’ experts

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Our ‘In the Pen‘ series is where we speak to some of the runners who inspire the Lonely Goat Running Club community. In this special highlights edition, we have collated all the beginner running tips from the ‘In the Pen’ series so far, so you can learn how to start running from our expert interviewees.

Meet the experts

We’ve got advice for new runners from:

On top of that, we’ve got extra advice from another couple of experts who will be featured in ‘In the Pen’ very soon…

  • Coach, podcaster, and former élite athlete, Martin Yelling; and
  • Double Olympic Gold medallist, Col. Dame Kelly Holmes MBE.

We’ve asked each of these runners a whole host of questions about their running lives in their ‘In the Pen’ interviews, including what advice they would give to beginner runners. It’s this advice for new runners that we’re sharing here, in our beginner running tips ‘In the Pen’ special edition!

Adharanand Finn

Adharanand is the author of Running with the KenyansThe Way of the Runner, and Rise of the Ultra Runners, and is a pretty swift runner in his own right, with a 34 minute 10K PB. Here is Adharanand’s advice for new runners:

“Start each run slowly. Even if you’re quite fit, don’t race off at full pace, but ease your way into a run, wait for your body to feel ready to speed up. It’s much more enjoyable that way, rather than running hard and then trying to hang on.

Also, don’t worry too much about stretching. If you feel the need to stretch, do it after you run when your muscles are warm. Too many people injure themselves over-stretching a cold body before they run.”

Pete Thompson

In 2017, Pete ran an incredible 44 marathons in 44 European countries on 44 consecutive days. A year later, he ran the 2,000+ mile route of the Tour de France cycling race in just 70 days. Here is Pete’s advice for new runners:

“My main tip is not to run with a watch. It may sound strange, but I think it’s very easy to get consumed by watching time go by or being weighed down by the pressure of having to run for X amount of minutes or miles.

I now coach other runners and whatever level they’re at I always include ‘watch free’ sessions so that they can focus on their surroundings and how their body feels, not watching a clock count down or the miles clock up.”

Anna McNuff

Often known as ‘Barefoot Anna’, McNuff ran 2,600 miles across Britain without shoes. She has also run the length of New Zealand and is a big fan of fancy dress running. Here is Anna’s advice for new runners:

1. Don’t overthink it.

“Set yourself a schedule and set yourself a target that almost feels a little bit under what you’re capable of, because there is nothing worse than repeatedly beating yourself up because you haven’t hit your weekly mileage, or the dogs got sick and you’ve got to take it to the vet, or the kids need more attention than you realised.

Start with something that is a base level schedule, but gives you something there to refer to and takes the decisions out of it. I find the most difficult thing when you’re starting to get out there and run is that indecision of having to repeatedly, every day, make a decision. Do I run? Where do I run? How far do I run?

Do all that planning up front. It’s like a meal plan, but it’s a run plan. Get your plan sorted, and then have some optional add-ons. So say you do three runs in a week, but then if you’re having a great week, and you’ve got loads of extra time, here’s another two runs that you could go and do. Or here’s some bonus cross training sessions, or something like that.

Set the bar at a manageable level, because that way, every time you go out and run, you can tick it off and you feel you’ve achieved something, rather than repeatedly beating yourself up.”

2. It’s about what you want, not others.

“My second top tip for beginners is to remember why you started running. Why do you want to run? Don’t look at other people’s times or look at what other people are doing. Who cares what they’re uploading to social media? Remember why you run, remember why you’re out there, and remember to enjoy it.

Running is fun, innit!”

Marcus Brown

‘Marathon Marcus’ Brown is the host of the ‘A Runner’s Life’ podcast, where he has interviewed a wide range of people from the world of running, including élite athletes, activists, and the organiser of the London Marathon. Here is Marcus’ advice for new runners:

“Have patience and don’t rush the process: Running fast doesn’t occur in one 16 week training block; it’s built with consistent running.

My coach said “Don’t judge your running performance by three months’ work. Instead, judge your running performance by three solid years, compared from where you started to where you are at the end of that period.”

You will have dips in between the training blocks, but if you stay consistent you will improve. It just takes patience and believing, even in the tough months where it feels like you’re going backwards.

I don’t see myself as talented, but with staying patient and doing the work my coach tells me to do, I’ve gone from a 4:55′ marathon down to 3 hours and 19 seconds.”

Sean Conway

Extreme ultra-endurance adventurer Sean has cycled, ran, and swam from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Here is Sean’s advice for new runners:

“My main bit of advice is just don’t overthink it. Just go out and start small.

What you don’t want to have is all these questions, like: What trainers do I need? Do I need a heart rate monitor? Should I have this fancy watch? Should I be putting everything on Strava?

People get caught up in the tech and things, but just go for a run for fun.

We’re all to blame for this and I’m certainly the same. If I haven’t been for a run for a while, I go “Right, I need to go and do 20 miles now” and of course I’m going to get injured or hate it.

So my biggest tip for beginners is to start small and enjoy it. Run for fun. Go slowly. Stop in cafés. Stop in the pub. Don’t take it too seriously. Make it enjoyable, because if you do that, you’re more likely to stick at it and you’ll naturally just get a bit fitter.”

Laura Muir

Laura is one of the top British athletes. She has set British records, won international championships, and is a serious medal contender for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. Here is Laura’s advice for new runners:

“Learning from my own journey, it would just be to enjoy it. Find a way of running that works for you and enjoy it. For some that might be running alone, for others it might be in a group. The model is different for everyone, but ultimately we should all be running for the love of the sport; so finding that when you start is important.”

Jamie Ramsay

After quitting his job, Jamie ran 17,000km solo and unsupported from Vancouver in Canada, all the way South to Buenos Aires in Argentina. He has since spent his time seeking out and completing other endurance adventures. Here is Jamie’s advice for new runners:

“I hear a lot of runners say that they get to the second and third kilometre and it just feels hard. Well, the truth is that that never goes away. Running is like everything else in life; the more work, dedication and commitment you put into it then the bigger the rewards.

Also, make sure you have the right shoes. Take the time to visit a running shop and ask an expert. So many times I hear people say “I have bad knees” and I suggest it might be their shoes and they say “No, can’t be, I have Nike”, for example. That means nothing.”

Martin Yelling

Martin is a coach and co-host of the long-running Marathon Talk podcast, having previously been an international standard athlete. Here is Martin’s advice for new runners:

1. Don’t doubt yourself, and be more patient.

“You can achieve more than you think you can. This doesn’t necessarily mean you can achieve everything straightaway, but it does mean that you can keep going when perhaps you thought you couldn’t.

New runners are often full of self-doubt, so they question themselves a lot and think they can’t do it. They can, but sometimes they’re just not patient enough.

Many new runners yo-yo their training. They get excited, do a lot too soon, and then run out of enthusiasm quite quickly. You see this characteristically in January, where people start running on the first of January, and then three weeks later they either have no motivation, are properly pissed off with it all, or injured.”

2. Manage your expectations

“If you’re a new runner, be really kind to yourself and not ‘over-promise and under-deliver’ to yourself.

When you over-promise, the likelihood is you’ll under-deliver, get frustrated or disappointed, and stop. Whereas if you under-promise, just a little bit, then it’s more likely you will over-deliver. Then, your motivation stays higher because you’re making constant progress.”

3. Running doesn’t define you

“It’s really important to accept, when you’re a runner, that it doesn’t define who you are. So, contrary to popular belief, the time you run a marathon in, or your Strava segment splits, or your race times don’t define your identity as a human being.

When you meet a runner for the first time, you might default into asking them how fast they’ve run a particular distance, when it shouldn’t really matter. What matters is what runs they enjoy, or what they get out of running.”

Dame Kelly Holmes

Dame Kelly Holmes

If you’re after running advice, asking one of the greatest ever middle-distance athletes – a winner of Olympic gold in the 800m and 1500m – is a good place to start. Here are Col. Dame Kelly Holmes MBE’s tips for beginner runners:

“Ensure you have the right footwear. You don’t need to have expensive trainers, but you do need to have trainers that are suitable for your running style, so go to a running shop and get an analysis of your style done.

Also:

  • Having high-vis and lights in the winter is really important;
  • Find a programme to follow;
  • Set yourself goals so you can see progress;
  • Entering an event or challenge of any level will help you have something to go for.”

In summary

Despite their different experiences, the advice of our experienced runners tends to fall into a few common themes:

  • Start slow;
  • Don’t stress about times or distance;
  • Follow a plan, but don’t be afraid to change it;
  • It might be hard at first, but stick with it and it’ll get easier;
  • Remember why you started running;
  • Enjoy yourself!

As Sean Conway said, you can even stop at the pub if you want to!

Thank you to Adharanand, Pete, Anna, Marcus, Sean, Laura, Jamie, Martin and Dame Kelly for sharing their advice for new runners

You can read their full interviews by checking out our ‘In the Pen‘ series.