2. Choose a realistic first training goal.
Building up to a 5K with little to no stopping within about eight weeks after beginning to run is a realistic time frame, Mayer says. She recommends waiting about two years before considering training for a longer race like a half marathon.
Another key in tackling a longer distance—regardless of how long you’ve been running—is to make sure you’re running enough of a base before your new training plan starts, Mayer says. This means, for example, you should be able to run an easy 6 miles before beginning a training plan for a half marathon, and an easy 8 to 10 miles before beginning a 16-week training plan for a marathon.
“One of the most frustrating things as a coach is to get a call from someone wanting to start training for a marathon 12 weeks out, yet they are only currently running 3 to 4 miles max,” Mayer says. “That is the type of coaching request I would decline, as it’s too risky. I would rather protect a runner from getting injured by helping them reframe their goals to run something shorter along the way to the eventual bigger goal.”
3. Consider joining a social running club for one of your weekly sessions.
These days, it’s not hard to find a free group running option in just about any city or town, whether it’s hosted by a gym, running store, running club, or even a local pub. The beauty of these runs is that they attract runners of all levels because they are more focused on enjoying the sport rather than grinding out the speed. If you’re feeling insecure about how far you have or haven’t run, a social run is a great place to start because you’ll find many people in the same boat as you, making it easier to relax and feel confident.
“Social runs are very beginner-friendly and are a great way to meet people to build your motivation and chase your goals with,” Mayer says. You might just walk out of there with a new running buddy who can help keep you motivated and excited about logging miles.
4. Be patient when it comes to noticing progress.
It’s important for new runners to remember that it can take weeks before they’re running without needing walk breaks and before running actually feels more comfortable.
“There are always going to be plateaus, peaks, and valleys with starting a new program,” Balmer says. “Don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re not seeing immediate results while you adapt to those first few weeks of stress on the body.” If you keep at it, you’ll start to notice your body adapting eventually, meaning that running will feel easier and you’ll be able to run faster or longer than you did at first.
It’s also important to remember that while consistency is key, occasionally missing a planned session because life or bad weather gets in the way won’t make or break your progress, Balmer says. (This is true for both beginners and for seasoned runners.) “It’s also key to prioritize rest and recovery and enjoy days off both physically and mentally.”
And if you ever feel discouraged, remember this: Just getting out there and starting to run is a huge success in itself. Being patient with yourself, and giving your body the time it needs to get used to this new sport, will pay off down the road. Just think about how great it will feel to look back in a few months and see how far you’ve come.