Where do I start? Your beginner running questions, answered

If you’ve got questions before you hit the road, our experts have all the answers.

It’s rare to find a runner who doesn’t want to talk about running. Everyone has a friend who never misses a chance to discuss her latest race, or the bells and whistles on his fancy new GPS watch. If you’re just taking your first strides in running you may not find this chat all that riveting. But put on your best ‘interested’ expression and pay attention because for a new runner, the knowledge and experience of the run geek is a very valuable resource.

You’ll have questions and the best way to get them answered is to talk to other runners. The chances are you’ll walk away with both the information you need and a sense of the great camaraderie you can expect.

However, there may be times when an experienced runner is not on hand to answer your queries. So we polled new runners for their most pressing questions and got time-tested answers from a panel of experts on training, nutrition, injury prevention, and more. Whether you’re a knowledge-hungry new runner or an advice-giving old-timer, you’ll learn a lot from this article.

‘I want to start running. What do I need?’

First, get decent running shoes. Go to a specialist running store and ask a salesperson to put you on a treadmill, watch you run and find a pair that suits you. Shop at the end of the day, when your feet have swelled, to ensure you get the right

Of course, if you’re a beginner in the coronavirus lockdown, this isn’t an option. Have a read of our guide to choosing the right running shoe for you. As a general rule, you shouldn’t run in the same size as your casual shoes, so depending on the brand, think about going up half a size, or a full size (most brands will have size guides on their websites). If you’re looking for an affordable beginner shoe to get you going during this time, these £55 Asics shoes won our best buy award in our 2020 running shoe guide.

‘I’ve got my shoes, what do I do now?’

Start slowly. Begin by alternating between running and walking. This keeps your muscles from tiring too quickly and means there’s less impact on your joints and tendons, while still giving you the heart-health benefits of a longer workout.

Plus, those walk breaks split the run into segments, making it mentally easier to go the distance. In the beginning, go by time instead of miles to make tracking easier. Gradually decrease your walk breaks and increase your running time. In nine weeks you should be able to run 5K (3.1 miles) with this plan by running coach Ewan North.

‘Ouch! Is running meant to hurt this much?’

A little muscle soreness is normal, and often it won’t even kick in for a day or two after you run. But if you have pain that sticks around for more than 48 hours, or restricts your movement, that’s a red flag. Take sometime off and consider seeing a physio. It may also mean you need to re-evaluate your regime. New runners tend to get injured when they ramp up their mileage too quickly, or when they run too fast or too often.

‘My skin is getting rubbed raw – is this normal?’

We runners call that ‘chafing,’ and it’s not one of the sport’s selling points. Put a little petroleum jelly (or an anti-chafe balm, such as Bodyglide) on sensitive areas before you run. If you’ve lost weight and have extra skin causing chafing, investing in compression garments – tights or a baselayer – can keep everything in place. And whatever you do, don’t wear cotton, which traps moisture and worsens chafing. Look for shorts, tops and socks made of technical fabrics that will wick sweat away from your skin, keeping it dry.

‘Now that I’m burning all these extra calories, do I get to eat more?’

If you’re running to lose weight, don’t go crazy on the snacks as soon as you get in. Remember this: running burns roughly 100 calories permile–a bit more or less depending on your weight, your speed and how efficient you are at burning fuel. So if you’re running just a few miles, that’s not a lot of extra calories. Overdo it on sports drinks, nutrition bars and too many extra snacks, as some new runners do, and you may actually gain weight. It’s best to stick with roughly the same quantity of calories as you ate before (assuming it was a healthy amount) and focus on improving the quality. That means ditching empty-calorie snacks and processed foods and taking in lean protein (such as salmon and chicken) for muscle building and repair, good fats (think nuts and avocados) to keep you feeling full and minimally refined carbs (such as wholegrain pasta and quinoa) for sustained energy.

‘Wait, don’t runners need to eat more carbs?’

If you’re running a 5K the next day, you should have more than enough glycogen (the sugar that fuels exercise)stored in your muscles to take you that distance. You don’t need to dive into a bowl of pasta the night before the event and you won’t need to take on any fuel mid-race (that comes later, in longer races). Instead, eat a healthy balance of around 45 per cent carbohydrates, 35 per cent lean protein, and 20 per cent healthy fats every day.

‘All this running means I’m going to lose weight, right?’

Maybe, but only if you also eat a healthy diet. Very overweight runners may drop weight quickly in the early stages of their training, when their higher body mass and lower fuel efficiency makes them burn more calories per mile, but once they slim down, their weight will tend to plateau. The beauty of running is that it keeps your appetite in check and boosts your calorie burn for hours post-run, which makes it a great way to keep weight off once you’ve lost it.

‘Should I eat before I run?’

You don’t have to eat specifically to run a few miles, but you don’t want to start on empty, either. You should take in some calories during the three-hour window before you head out (this could be your usual breakfast, or mid-afternoon healthy snack). If you often find yourself racing for a toilet halfway through your run, try skipping fibre-rich foods pre-run.

‘What should I eat after I run?’

Within half an hour of finishing your run, have your regularly scheduled meal or snack. Try to always include some protein (ideally 20-25g) to help your muscles recover faster. Try a Greek yoghurt or an apple with some cottage cheese.

‘I’ve started running on a treadmill – is it the same as running on the road?’

Not quite. Treadmill running can feel harder than running outside because it takes balance and coordination (and, sometimes, considerable willpower) just to stay on the thing and tune out the pounding gym music. In reality, it doesn’t give you as much of a workout as running on varied terrain, fighting against the wind. Also, because it sets the pace for you, the treadmill isn’t very good at teaching you how to pace yourself.

‘I enjoy running, but I always struggle to find the motivation to get out the door. Is this normal?’

Lots of runners have that problem before they learn how to plan their runs. First, it helps to know the time of day you get most enjoyment from running. Then, schedule your runs just like you would a meeting at work or a drink with a friend. Stick to your schedule and try to create a pattern. If you can get yourself into the habit of running at a certain time, the absence of it eventually starts to feel weird.

‘I want to sign up for my first race – any advice?’

The more prepared you feel, the less nervous you’ll be, so lay out your gear (and anything else you’ll need) the night before.On race morning, eat a low-fibre breakfast of 200-300 calories, steering clear of slow-digesting fat or protein. Give yourself time to park and get to the start area at least an hour before your start time. (There may be queues for the loos, and you will want to use one. Trust us.) Start closer to the back of the pack – going out too fast isn’t a recipe for an enjoyable run. And don’t forget to enjoy the experience – there’s nothing quite like your first race.

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