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Running has beaucoup benefits, but going from couch potato (and proud!) to Usain Bolt takes a lot of practice. And it’s important to do so safely, because doing too much too fast can lead to overuse injuries.

Not sure where to begin? We’ve got you. Here’s how peeps of all ages and activity levels can start running, safely.

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Running might seem simple, but it can be intimidating AF if you’ve never done it before. Here are some steps to help you get to steppin’.

Step 1: Get your gear

You have to be prepared before you hit the pavement. Here’s what you need:

  • Shoes. Any sneakers you have in the back of the closet will work, but investing in a solid pair of running shoes can help reduce injuries and increase comfort. Cushioned running socks can also help a LOT.
  • Workout clothes. You can run in a paper bag if you want to, but it won’t get you as far. We suggest sweat-wicking material that can help keep you cool. And if you’re running in the winter, don’t forget to layer up!

Step 2: Pick a motivation station

Getting started is the hardest part. Once you make running a habit, it can turn into something you look forward to. Here are some tips to get you going:

  • Create a bomb playlist to help you hit that runner’s high.
  • Try to run at the same time each day. This helps you get used to your race routine.
  • Treat yourself to something healthful yet special at the end of every run. A chocolaty protein shake can do the trick.

Step 3: Start slow

If you try to run a marathon your first day out, you’ll wind up disappointed and EXHAUSTED. You could even hurt yourself.

That’s why it’s super important to set realistic goals that allow you to get up to speed (and distance) at a safe pace. Hit one milestone at a time and it’ll all be fine.

Step 4: Track your progress

Activity apps can help you hit your goals and can make the experience a lot more fun.

They can keep track of your:

  • pace
  • steps
  • distance
  • heart rate
  • calories burned

MapMyRun, Garmin, and Fitbit are all popular options.

Step 5: Build up endurance

Once you’ve gotten into a good groove, it’s time to take it up a notch. Try to increase your distance and running time each day. You can also challenge yourself by running steeper inclines on the treadmill or tackling hills outside.

These easy-to-follow programs will help you get going. How do you know they’re legit? Each was designed by certified personal trainer Daniel Bubnis.

Total beginner

Going from 0 to 100 isn’t a good idea. This program will help you get used to running step-by-step. Some days you’ll walk the whole time to build up your muscles, and some days you’ll alternate between walking and running to practice getting your jog on.

Total timeWorkoutRepeat
Week 1: Walk30 minutes30-minute walk3 times a week
Week 2: Brisk walk40 minutes40-minute walk4 times a week
Week 3: Run/walk combo45 minutes45-minute rotation [1–2 minute run, 1–3 minute walk]4 times a week
Week 4: Run at moderate pace45 minutes7-minute walk
31-minute run
7-minute walk
4 times a week

Some experience

If you have the hang of it, here’s a program to help you run farther and faster.

Total timeWorkoutRepeat
Week 1: Jogging30 minutes5-minute walk
20-minute jog
5-minute walk
every other day
Week 2: Running30 minutes5-minute walk
20-minute run
5-minute walk
every other day
Week 3: Running40 minutes5-minute walk
30-minute run
5-minute walk
every other day
Week 4: Fartlek running40 minutes5-minute walk
30-minute rotation [5-minute jog, 5-minute moderate run, 5-minute fast run]
5-minute walk
every other day

FYI: Fartlek running is when you train at different paces throughout the run. You’ll do a mix of jogging, moderate running, and sprints. This can help you build stamina and get faster.

Having a hard time adjusting to #RunnerLife? Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:

  • Make it competitive. Try a fun race with friends or try to outpace yourself day-to-day.
  • Feel the burn. Running is a killer cardio exercise that can burn cals and help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Mix it up. Try to run different routes so you don’t get bored.
  • Treat it as “me time.” Use your runs as a way to unwind and de-stress.
  • It’s OK to feel sluggish. Don’t worry — you’ll get more stamina as you go along.

Note: Stretch the programs out over a longer period if you’re not ready to level up yet. You can also tweak each day’s workout according to your needs and goals. Don’t give up — you’ve got this!

As fun as it would be to run wild like Phoebe, that’s a one-way ticket to injury. Here’s how to keep your form on fleek:

  • Look ahead. Focus on the ground in front of you and keep your head steady. This puts less stress on your neck and shoulders and can reduce your risk of tripping.
  • No spaghetti arms. Keep your arms at your sides and bent at 90-degree angles. This reduces tension and exerts less energy.
  • Frankie says relax. Avoid clenching your fists and tightening your muscles, which can cause strain. Also, be sure to square your shoulders, since rounding them can restrict your breathing.
  • Check your posture. Keep your head up, back straight, and shoulders even. Leaning forward can make you feel tired faster.
  • Don’t bounce. Vertical oscillation — bouncing as you run — wastes a ton of energy. It can also put more pressure on your feet as they absorb the shock.

A balanced diet is a major part of any healthy workout regimen. Running burns a lot of energy, and you need to keep your body fueled before, after, and during a race.

Before your run

You should eat 3 to 4 hours before your run for the max effect, especially if you’re doing long distances. According to fitness experts, this also helps prevent a yak attack while you’re on the move.

The best pre-run snacks are easy to digest, so avoid fatty, fried, or fiber-heavy foods. Carbs — things like toast and fruit — are a top choice since they break down into glucose, which will keep you energized. A little lean protein can also be beneficial.

Reminder: Don’t forget to hydrate! Drink at least 17 to 20 ounces of H₂O during your pre-run meal.

During your run

Your glycogen stores drop within an hour or two of running. This can lead to an energy crash. Both older and more recent studies have noted the importance of maintaining healthy glycogen stores.

That’s why you should eat 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour if your run lasts longer than 90 minutes. Space these mini carb boosts 15 to 20 minutes apart.

Some good options:

  • Sports drinks. Good ol’ Gatorade (or a similar drink) can restore electrolytes.
  • Energy bars. They tend to be high in carbs and lowish in protein, perf for a midrace pick-me-up.
  • Energy gels. They’re a concentrated source of carbs and often contain caffeine and electrolytes. Plus, they’re endorsed by Dwight Schrute.

You also need to drink water throughout your run. Aim for 17 to 34 ounces per hour in normal conditions. And if it’s uber-hot out, you’ll need to drink more.

After your run

You should eat within the first 2 hours after a run, but the sooner you get your noms in, the better. Experts suggest this can minimize muscle soreness.

Keep in mind that what you eat is just as important as when you eat. You don’t need to have a whole meal, but try to get a combo of carbs and protein. A recovery smoothie or almond butter on whole-grain bread should do the trick.

PSA: Don’t booze it up after a run. Research suggests that alcohol can prevent protein from repairing your muscles.

Rest days

On rest days, your bod needs fewer calories because you’re not burning as many. But that doesn’t mean you have to cut your cals in half. Just listen to what your body needs.

Also, be sure to get enough protein. This helps your body bounce back from your workouts. It’s also important to eat complex carbs to help restore your glycogen levels.

There are lots of races out there, but 5Ks, 10Ks, and marathons are the most popular. Here’s how to train for each.

Training for a 5K

If you’re new to running, start with this 4-week plan until you’re ready for your first 5K (3.1 miles).

Total timeWorkoutRepeat
Week 1: Fast walking/running50 minutes25-minute run
25-minute walk
every other day
Week 2: Endurance running 50 minutes5-minute walk
40-minute run
5-minute walk
5 times a week
Week 3: Fartlek running50 minutes5-minute walk
40-minute rotation [7-minute jog, 7-minute moderate run, 7-minute fast run]
5-minute walk
4 times a week
Week 4: Fast walking/jogging, tapering30 minutes2 days: 30-minute rotation [2-minute jog, 2-minute walk]
2 days: 30-minute walk
4 times a week

Training for a 10K

Now that you’ve slayed your first race, it’s time to prep for a 10K (6.21 miles).

Total timeWorkoutRepeat
Week 1: Endurance running50 minutes5-minute walk
40-minute run
5-minute walk (cooldown)
5 times a week
Week 2: Fartlek running60 minutes5-minute walk
50-minute rotation [5-minute jog, 5-minute moderate run, 5-minute fast run]
5-minute walk
4 times a week
Week 3: Jogging/walking40 minutes20-minute run
20-minute walk
4 times a week
Week 4: Fast walking/jogging, tapering30 minutes2 days: 30-minute intervals [2-minute jog, 2-minute walk]
2 days: 30-minute walk
4 times a week

Marathon

Training for a marathon might feel like an unthinkable task, but it’s totally possible. The most important things are to set realistic goals and not to push yourself past your limits too quickly.

Start off with a 10K (or a 5K if that’s where you are right now) and gradually build up to a half-marathon. From there you can work up to a full marathon.

It takes time and energy to build up running stamina, so if it takes you a while to get the hang of it, that’s normal. Just ramp up slowly and safely to make sure the process is not a *literal* pain.

Now choose a running plan to follow, get your pump-up jams flowing, and stick to it!