Starting a running program can be exciting, but when you’re motivated to get in shape, it can also be easy to do too much too soon. From your first run to signing up for a race, use this quick guide for beginner runners to learn exactly how much you should be running to increase your mileage safely and avoid an unnecessary injury.
THE FIRST RUN
If you’ve never followed a running program before or have been inactive for any period of time, you should be conservative to keep from overdoing it. For this reason, it’s good to start by walking and see how your body tolerates the activity the following day. If you don’t have any soreness or other joint-related issues, mix in a few minutes of running during your next workout. Alternate 1–2 minutes of jogging with 3–4 minutes of walking for 20–30 minutes. From here, gradually increase the time you spend running and decrease your walking time until you can tolerate a continuous 30-minute jog.
For people who are already active in other sports and consider a 30-minute walk to be extremely easy, try a slow 3-mile jog for your first run. Stop and walk as needed, and even if the effort feels easy, wait and see how you feel the next day before bumping up the mileage or intensity.
Even if you tolerate your initial run well, the accumulation of miles can be hard on the body if it isn’t used to running. Beginners should run no more than 2–3 times per week so your body can acclimate to the activity. Avoid running on consecutive days to give your muscles and joints enough time to recover between runs. Aim for a max of 20–30 minutes of total running time per workout to begin with, keeping the pace light and easy. During the first month of running, your most important goal should be to avoid overreaching while you become accustomed to the effort.
INCREASING YOUR DISTANCE
The basic rule is to increase weekly distance by no more than 10% each week. For beginners, it can be a good idea to follow the 2–3 runs of 30 minutes for the first month to be on the safe side. After you’ve kept up a consistent routine for a few weeks in a row, you can increase the distance of one of your runs by about 10 minutes.
For example, if you’ve been running 3 miles three days per week, continue this same plan on two of your weekly runs. Plan to make the third run your long run. You can bump this run up to about 40 minutes (or 4 miles) and increase the distance each week by another 5–10 minutes as tolerated. If the effort becomes too difficult, back off and maintain this distance until your fitness improves.
YOUR FIRST RACE
A common question beginner runners may have is when to sign up for their first race. Running events are a good idea for any runner because they provide motivation to keep pushing yourself. When exactly you should sign up is different for every person, but a good rule of thumb is to base this off of your current long training run.
For instance, if you can already complete 5–6 miles on your long day, stick to a 10K or shorter for your first event. Aim only to complete the race and don’t worry about your finishing time. Try to have fun and stay within your limits. Once your mileage starts to rise and you’re near the 13-mile mark, sign up for a half-marathon. For most new runners, the half-marathon distance will be reachable within six months to a year of consistent running with no injuries.
WHEN TO BACK OFF
Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a beginner, running isn’t easy for anyone. Expect your efforts to be challenging and to experience some discomfort as you increase your mileage. With that being said, there is a difference between discomfort during your runs and feeling pain in your joints or muscles. If this occurs during a run, stop and walk and see if the pain subsides. Stretch, if needed, and return to running when the pain disappears.
If you continue to experience pain, cut your run short to avoid making the injury worse. Take a few days off to rest and ice the injury. If the pain doesn’t improve in a few days, it’s best to see a doctor to determine the underlying cause.