This Beginner Running Program Has Stood the Test of Time

This program has helped thousands of new or returning runners get started.

With many of us working from home and with gyms closed for most of the year, 2020 has been a time where a lot of people have returned to or started running.

When shutdowns began in March, health experts encouraged solo outside exercise for physical and psychological well-being. And while there are still many unknowns about coronavirus spread months after it impacted the world, experts consider risk to be lower in outdoor settings where safe social-distancing practices are in place.

The below schedule was developed in 2011 by Budd Coates and published in the Runner’s World book Run Your Butt Off! It has helped thousands of beginners get started running since it was first published nine years ago.

Here’s what you should know about the program overall, with caveats as we still navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Don’t attempt a new exercise program if you’re not feeling well.
If you’re ill, this is not the time—as the world still deals with coronavirus —to introduce even small amounts of running into your routine. Get well first. If you have the following symptoms, definitely wait until you feel better.

2. You don’t have to do this alone, but only work out with someone in your immediate bubble.
If you can, start this program with someone who you live with or with a friend who you know is not displaying any symptoms and has been following proper COVID-19 protocols: social distancing, wearing masks, and washing their hands frequently.

3. Progress at your own pace.
This is a gentle progression from 30 minutes of walking to 30 minutes of running in 12 different stages. Yes, you can do it in 12 weeks. But you can also slow it down to take as long as you need, spending two weeks or longer on certain stages until you feel comfortable at each level.

The opposite is also true: You can skip stages or combine them and get through the program in fewer than 12 weeks if you’ve been a runner at some point in your recent past. But most people will need longer than 12 weeks, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

4. Make sure you can walk for 30 minutes at a time before trying to run.
If you haven’t been walking regularly and you attempt to go straight from a sedentary lifestyle to running, skipping the walking parts, you’ll increase your risk of injury. And the last thing you want to do during this pandemic is inflict an injury upon yourself by doing too much, too soon. So please, err on the side of caution. When in doubt, walk. And if you feel any pain, stop. You’re learning to run to make yourself healthier, not to cause harm.

5. Run slowly at first.
This part of the program has not changed in the decade since it was developed. During your first days of running, your running pace should be only slightly faster—or exactly the same speed—as your walking pace. The number one thing that derails people who are hoping to be runners is the feeling of not having enough air. It’s not a pleasant sensation. And if you’re running too fast, you’ll likely find yourself gasping for breath.

So take it slow, especially at first, as your legs and lungs are building up to running. Don’t worry at all about speed or distance covered. It simply doesn’t matter. You should be able to talk, at least a little, while you’re walking and running. If you can’t, you’re going too fast. (If there’s no one to talk to, well, that’s another issue of these times, but we give you permission to talk to yourself.)

As you build on your experience, after several weeks or months, you can start thinking about pace and distance and signing up for your first 5K race . For the early days, just moving for 30 minutes at a time is the name of the game. Besides, many races for the rest of 2020 have been cancelled, postponed, or moved to virtual events, so there’s no rush.

6. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
Consistency matters, and especially now, in the days when schedules have suddenly been upended and it seems we have a lot more time. But it’s easy for the days to get away from us.

Take a little time each evening to plan when you’ll walk or run the next day, or the day after that. You shouldn’t go more than a day without a workout—if the gap increases to two or three days or longer, you’ll in essence be starting over each time you get out the door. When I used to give talks about Run Your Butt Off! to beginner running groups, I’d ask participants to tell me when their next workout was going to be. And there were only two correct answers: the next day or the day after that.

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