How to start running: A guide for absolute beginners – ‘coronavirus edition’

We published a previous version of this article in January 2020, to help all those people inspired to run by the New Year.

Now, the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has led to ‘lockdowns’ and other restrictions in countries all over the world. With gyms and leisure centres shut, preventing people from doing their usual exercise activities, lots of people are giving running a go for the first time. This is certainly the case in the UK, where outdoor exercise is one of the ‘permitted exceptions’ for which we’re allowed to leave our homes (at the time of writing).

With all these new runners in mind, we’ve decided to update our beginners’ guide for people inspired to run during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’re new to running, read on. If you’re an experienced runner who has already been around the block a few times (literally and figuratively) please share this with someone who may benefit from the advice.

Welcome to running!

Congratulations, you’ve just become a runner!

Or, you’ve been for a run and think you might now be a runner, but you’re not sure yet.

Or, you’re thinking of becoming a runner, but don’t know where to start.

Either way, welcome to Lonely Goat Running Club. Hopefully this article will help answer some of the questions you may have about starting out as a runner.

First things first

As far as we at LGRC are concerned, if you have run, or want to run, you’re a runner. It’s as simple as that.

It doesn’t matter how far, or how fast. If you decide you’re a runner, then you are a runner. And that’s good enough for us.

It’s just one foot in front of the other

For such a simple action, running can seem very complicated with lots of questions or things to consider. How to move, breathe or avoid injury; what to wear, eat or drink; or understanding the terminology.

To start though, let’s keep things as basic as possible.

Put one foot in front of the other. Then repeat.

If you refer all your questions back to this point, then you can’t go far wrong. To illustrate this, here are some of the questions that many new runners ask. If there’s any we’ve missed, please head over to the Lonely Goat Facebook Chat Group, the discussions area of the Strava Group, or to Instagram and use the hashtags #lonelygoatrc or #lonelygoatrunningclub. There’s no such thing as a daft question!

How do I start?

Before you can run, walk. Before you can run far, run a short distance. Before you can run fast, run slower. Start small and build from there. You can do it.

Following the Couch to 5K (sometimes abbreviated to C25K) programme is a good start and has been completed successfully by a lot of people. The NHS and BBC programmes are great and can be found with a quick internet search or in your phone’s app store.

This is a 9 week plan that starts off with very short periods of running separated by slightly longer periods of walking. Over the course of the plan the amount of running increases as the walking decreases. By the end of the plan, the goal is to run for 30 minutes or cover 5km without stopping.

If you have a set back (such as an illness, loss of motivation, or something else that gets in the way of running) or feel you could do with a little longer to build your fitness, then you can repeat some of the weeks to stretch the plan out to whatever suits you.

Running is an essential part of human motion and we’ve evolved to do it, but lifestyle factors have dulled that ability. Even if you’re already fit from other sports, getting used to the movement can take time. Whether you decide to follow a C25K plan or do your own thing, the principle of building up your running gradually is well worth following.

You may have a day when you feel fantastic and want to make a bigger jump forwards and run further than planned. Try to resist the temptation to do this, as you need to allow enough time for your bones, muscles and joints to get used to what you’re doing.

People get injured if they try to do more than their body can handle at that moment. It’s best to be cautious and let your body get stronger gradually. If you’re patient and err on the side of caution you will improve and reach your goals with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.

How should I run?

The easiest way to keep putting one foot in front of the other is to do so efficiently. Imagine standing up and tilting forward at the ankles. Eventually, you’ll lean too far forward and have to put a foot out to avoid falling. Gravity will have helped pull you forward without using too much of your energy. The same principle works with running.

Imagine you are being pulled up from the top of your head and stand tall with a straight back. Bend forward slightly at your ankles and start moving forward with an easy jog, feet landing underneath your body. Start slowly as your body gets used to what you’re doing.

Keep your arms loose, with relaxed shoulders, a slight bend at the elbow and relaxed hands. Gently move your arms backwards and forwards in time with your legs to help propel you forward. Left leg moving forward with your right arm; right arm with your left leg.

Keep it slow at first, until you’re more used to running.

The best way to breathe is whatever comes naturally, using your mouth and your nose. If you’re getting uncomfortably out of breath, slow down for a bit until you reckon you could manage to get a few words out if you had to.

What shoes should I wear?

You want shoes that will best help you put one foot in front of the other repeatedly. Running can put a lot of stress on your feet, so wear shoes that are comfortable and designed for the task. Don’t do them up too tight – as you don’t want to cut off the blood supply to your feet – but just tight enough to stop your feet sliding around in them.

Obviously, at the moment, it is difficult or impossible to get to a shop and try a load of shoes. That’s OK, as to start off, any pair of trainers will do (worn with sports socks).

As you start running more, and once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, you might find it beneficial to go to a specialist retailer to see which shoes are most suited to your running style.

What clothes should I wear?

As you run, putting one foot in front of the other, you will need clothes that allow your legs and arms to move freely. Look through your wardrobe and find something comfortable and preferably made from a breathable fabric.

A football shirt and swimming shorts would do; or yoga leggings and a strappy top. You want things that won’t chafe or get too heavy if you sweat. If you’ve got dangly bits between your legs, or wobbly bits on the front of your body wear supportive, comfortable underwear so your delicate areas don’t bounce too much.

The more running you do, and the more you learn about what you like to wear when running, you may wish to go to a running shop (once they’re open again) and invest in clothes that are properly designed for the task so you’re as comfortable as possible.

Do I need a fancy watch or a phone app to record my runs?

No, but you may choose to do so. The act of putting one foot in front of the other doesn’t require a watch or phone app. That said, it can be helpful to keep track of how far, or how long you have run so you can monitor your progress. At the very least, a standard wrist watch can help make sure you get home in time for tea!

If you decide to keep track of your running, you can keep a training diary in a notebook or online. Checking back on your progress can be a great motivator as you see how far you’ve come. It will also help you keep track of the days – as they can tend to merge into one another if you’re not able to go to work right now!

What should I eat and drink?

Putting one foot in front of the other over and over requires food for energy and water to stay hydrated. But it can be difficult to combine running with eating and drinking as the contents of your stomach can bounce around, making you feel sick.

Fortunately, as a beginner runner, doing shorter distances, your body will be able to store all the food and water it will need to get you through your run.

With this in mind, try to make sure your energy levels are topped up before you run and that you are generally well hydrated throughout the day.

Some runners are able to eat just before running, others need longer to digest in order to feel comfortable. With trial and error you’ll soon work out what works for you, but leaving at least an hour between eating and running is a good starting point.

If you run first thing in the morning, you might be OK running before breakfast, but it can take some getting used to and many people find they struggle with their energy levels if they do this.

After your run, try and eat something to give your body what it needs to recover properly. You won’t need any special ‘runner’ food, but trying to eat a balanced, healthy diet is always a good idea.

If you have diabetes or some other medical condition that might complicate things, then it is sensible to speak to your doctor first. That said, the chances are you’re unfortunately having to self-isolate anyway and not considering going outside for a run.

When should I run?

Whenever you like. The best time to run is the time that best suits you. That might be first thing in the morning, or later in the day. Feel free to experiment to see what you prefer.

Currently, as we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other people is important. You might need to try running at different times to work out when you’re less likely to have to run near other people.

What else?

Am I going to need the loo?

We’re not going to lie; it is a possibility. As mentioned above, bouncing food around in your gut can cause you to feel ill. Also, blood rushing to your limbs to propel you forward can cause your body to react in inconvenient ways.

However, it is very rare so please, please don’t let it put you off and make sure you’ve been to the loo before heading out. If you’re worried about this, then choose a route that doesn’t go far from home.

Will people laugh at me?

Unfortunately, there are some rude people out there who like to say mean things. There are also people who may say things to put you off running by talking about injuries or other bad things that could happen.

Fortunately, there are lots more people who will be supportive and encouraging of your running. If you’re struggling to find those people in the ‘real world’, there are plenty of them in Lonely Goat Running Club.

I don’t want people to see me running

Many new runners feel self-conscious at first. If you’re worried about people seeing you, then now might just be the perfect time to start as the streets are much emptier than they usually are!

We hope you soon feel confident enough not to be concerned about this, though – as then you’ll be better able to enjoy your running. If you would like some support, head over to the LGRC Facebook Chat Group where there are always other people who feel, or have felt the same way as you.

Will I be safe?

Common sense goes a long way. If you’re running along country lanes in the dark, then make sure people in cars can see you by wearing bright, reflective clothing. If you wouldn’t walk through a park after dark, then it’s probably not a good idea to run through there either.

Other sensible ways to keep safe include:

  • Telling someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Carrying ID and details of an emergency contact plus any medical conditions.
  • Use a torch if you’re somewhere without street lights.
  • Avoid cliff edges, motorways, slippery river banks and other potentially hazardous locations.
  • Try not to get lost if you’re out in the middle of nowhere!
Should I listen to music?

If you want to, go ahead, but you might prefer the peace and quiet – especially with less traffic noise at the moment.

Lots of runners find it motivating to listen to music and prepare playlists to help. If you want some inspiration, we made The Goat Mix playlist on Spotify. Other people like podcasts or audio books to keep them entertained. Just remember that having headphones in can make it tricky to hear traffic or other stuff around you.

Will I get injured?

You might, but it’s not inevitable. A few aches are to be expected as your body adapts to running. Sometimes these evolve into more painful, long-lasting problems.

To avoid this happening, ease off if something hurts. Either stop running, or do less for a few days. Rest up and allow your body to recover. It is much better to do this and skip a few days than try and run through it, make it worse and lose a few weeks.

If the problem doesn’t go away, seek the advice of a doctor or physiotherapist – just bear in mind this may have to wait until movement restrictions are lifted. All injuries are different and how to treat them can be dependant on the individual runner’s circumstances – so try and avoid self-diagnosing from the internet.

Runners commonly get comments such as ‘Running is bad for you; it’ll wreck your knees’. This can be true, but is easily avoided. Just take care not to push yourself too hard, too soon, and don’t through pain over an extended period of time. Your body will tell you if you’re doing too much.

An active lifestyle offers so many physical and mental health benefits that far, far outweigh any potential negative effects. Don’t let the negative comments stop you from giving it a go and enjoying all the good that running offers.

If you’re sensible and look after yourself, running can give you a stronger, more resilient body than you’ve ever had before

What is a parkrun?

They’re a series of free, weekly, timed 5K events that are known for being friendly and welcoming and take place all over the country (and beyond). For more information, read our article here.

At Lonely Goat, we’re big fans of parkruns, but they’ve all been suspended currently due to the coronavirus pandemic, which means you’ll have to wait a bit before doing your first one.

Do I need to run a marathon to be a runner?

No. Lots of people do marathons and you may decide you want to, too. There’s a lot more to running than doing marathons and other race distances. You may not like doing organised events and prefer getting out and doing your own thing.

It doesn’t matter either way. You’re still a runner.

Besides, there’s no races taking place at the moment anyway!

What about bad weather?

It is possible to run in almost any weather. It might not seem like much fun at first, but if you embrace it, it can be exciting and invigorating. At the time of writing, the UK has had a cold March and start to April, but it’s nothing that another layer or a pair of gloves can’t help with.

Should I run during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic?

This is up to you, making sure that you comply with the current government guidance where you live, which can vary a lot from country to country. For example, in France, Spain, or Italy, the restrictions on outdoor exercise are very strict with severe penalties for breaking the rules.

In the UK, at the time of writing, runners are allowed to exercise outdoors once a day. However, we can only do this on our own, or with people we live with. How far we can run has not been specified, but the recommendation is that we do not exercise in a way that might put ourselves or others at risk. So please use your common sense and don’t run more than is necessary.

Also, we shouldn’t need to say this, as we hope it would be obvious, but if you or anyone you live with is displaying Covid-19 symptoms, don’t go for a run.

Do I need to buy a club t-shirt to be part of the Lonely Goat Running Club?

No, but wearing one is a great way to make yourself known to other Lonely Goats. Just choose whichever colour you like the look of the most.

Get out there and enjoy yourself!

Choosing to be a runner can be one of the best decisions you can make – but it can seem like there’s a minefield of questions to negotiate along the way. We hope this article has answered some of those questions. Even if it hasn’t, we hope it has helped you realise that running doesn’t have to be complicated.

When it comes down to it, it’s just putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again.

Welcome to the Herd, runner. We hope you enjoy yourself.

PS: The fast-changing nature of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic means official advice on permitted exercise can change at any time. Before stepping out your front door for a run, please check the current government guidelines for where you live.


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