How to start running: A beginner’s guide to getting started

Louise Whitbread
·8-min read
<p>Start slowly and build up to your goal</p> (iStock)

Start slowly and build up to your goal


Running is an excellent form of exercise for many reasons. It burns more calories than any other mainstream workout (including cycling and swimming), can reduce your risk of long-term illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke, and even has the ability to boost your mood.

Plus, unlike most other exercises, it is free, you can do it anywhere and it requires very little equipment – all you really need to get started is a pair of the right shoes and the motivation to hit the pavement.

But, as simple as running may be, it isn’t always easy. Especially if you’re a newbie.

For this reason, it’s a great idea to learn a few basics about the sport first, such as the different gear options and which apps you can use to help you on your way.

In doing so, you will undoubtedly make your training more effective and could even increase the enjoyment you get out of it.

Read more:

If you’re completely new to the exercise, visit our IndyBest running section for all our tried and tested reviews of the kit you may need, from the best trainers,watches,belts, leggings, sunglasses, armbands and sports bras.

But, before you lace up your trainers, read on for our expert guide that’s full of extremely useful tips for beginners, including how to stay driven and the best ways to track your progress.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

How to start running 5K

Setting a target is one way to add structure to a run, and give you something to aim for. Download a running app like MapMyRun to help track the distance, pace and time, too and is the easiest way to improve on your runs each time.

Running 5km is a common goal for new runners, not only because of the viral challenge, but because it’s long enough to require stamina and a level of fitness but easily achievable if you stick to it. But you can start with any distance suitable to you.

Once you work up to 5k, you can then set new goals like running a 10km, a half marathon and maybe even a marathon and sign up to next year's London marathon. Or just work on improving your time on the 5k.

“If you're looking to build up to your first 5km, the most important thing is to build gradually,” says Kieran Alger, founder of Man V Miles.

In our guide to the best women's running leggings, we loved this supportive pairUnder Armour
In our guide to the best women's running leggings, we loved this supportive pairUnder Armour

“If you aim to run too far, or try to run too fast it can increase your risk of injury but also just make it all feel horrible,” he adds.

Rather than attempting it all in one run, he suggests building up distance slowly, with a mix of running and walking. “Run for a bit, walk when you feel the need and then run again when you feel recovered."

"It's also good to find somewhere to do laps close to home so you're always within walking distance should you need to stop,” Alger recommends.

For men, our reviewers found this t-shirt fit well and is fast-drying Under Armour
For men, our reviewers found this t-shirt fit well and is fast-drying Under Armour

As the weather changes, make sure you’re keeping cool and dry in the right gear. Our IndyBest reviewers were impressed with the Under Armour women's UA rush cold gear running tights, (£45,, which supported our muscles during our sessions, preventing any signs of cramp and keeping us comfortable throughout.

The Under Armour rush run short sleeve (£38.97,, also comes highly recommended from our pick of the best men’s running gear. It feels and fits great, is quick-drying and has an ideal near-skin fit, which is particularly good around the chest and shoulders.

How to find the right running shoes

Once you’ve decided on how far you want to run, it’s important to be well-equipped to assist with your training. Although the only real essential piece of kit you need is good trainers.

“A good pair of running shoes isn't a golden ticket to becoming a brilliant runner, but it can make the difference between having an enjoyable time out on the roads and not. You want to have the right tools for the job, whether that is training for a marathon, running for cardio fitness or for a boost to your mental health,” says Alger.

He recommends not falling into the trap of thinking the higher the price tag, the better the shoes. "One runners' perfect shoes might be £60, while others are £200. It's just all about finding what works with your needs, feet and running style.”

He tells The Independent to consider what you need the shoe to do – will you run road, trails, treadmill, gravel paths in parks? How far will you run and how fast?

“Some shoes are made a bit more like a luxury saloon while others are stripped back sports cars for shorter, faster runs,” he says.

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If you're starting out with low mileage at a slower pace, Alger advises looking for a versatile running shoe that can cope with a wide range of running, for example, something that works well for road, light trail paths and treadmills.

“First and foremost you want comfort, the shoe should feel like it almost disappears on your foot. For a lot of people that will mean a more cushioned shoe,” he says.

However, if you’re an experienced runner, a pair of noticeably worn-out shoes suggests it's time for a change. It’s recommended that you should change your running shoes every 300-500 miles.

Alger says: “This is largely because the midsole foam degrades over time, becoming more compressed through impact and that can hamper its cushioning properties."

He suggests looking for signs of wear, such as the outersole heel and toes areas, before beginning to look for a replacement pair.

Just because a shoe is more expensive doesn't mean it's better for your feetNew Balance
Just because a shoe is more expensive doesn't mean it's better for your feetNew Balance

"If you suddenly notice a difference in how they feel on the foot while you run, eg, you develop blistering, sore spots on your feet or unusual niggles, this can also be a trigger to check your shoes.”

Most running specialist shops offer treadmill testing where staff can help you decide on the best pair for you, but since the lockdown has put a stop to that, you’ll need to head online to help in your choice.

Alger recommends watching videos on YouTube as part of your research, and there's many running specific channels such as the Global Triathlon Network, The Run Experience and The Running Channel.

IndyBest recommends the New Balance fresh foam 1080v10 London (£89.99, for both men and women, which were loved by our reviewers for being lightweight, giving a smooth ride on the road and keeping legs feeling fresh even after a long run. The midsole was praised for keeping the foot in place and anchoring the heel for an all-rounder shoe that excelled in comfort and performance.

Once you've bought a pair, Alger recommends wearing them at home around the house to get an idea for how they feel on your feet before heading out on a run.

Use an app to guide your runs

If you want to track your distance, measure your heart rate and increase your average speed, apps like Couch To 5K do just that. The NHS approved podcasts aim to get you off your couch and completing 5km in nine weeks through three runs a week.

You can pick a celebrity coach to guide each run including Jo Whiley, Sarah Millican, Sanjeev Kohli or Michael Johnson to keep things entertaining and the key is consistency.

Read more: 10 best men’s running shorts for clocking up the kilometers

It’s suitable for all ages and abilities, week one starts off small with just a brisk five-minute walk, with alternating one minute of running and one and a half minutes of walking for a total of 20 minutes. Download it here for Android and here for iOS.

Plug into your favourite music or podcast

Running can also be some time to yourself if you have children or are in a flatshare that offers little alone time.

One way to drown out the noise is with a pair of headphones that won’t fall out or be a distraction, but allow you to listen to that podcast you’ve been meaning to get around to or get an extra burst of motivation with your favourite album.

These Jabra elite active earbuds fit well without fear of falling out during our tester’s runThe Independent
These Jabra elite active earbuds fit well without fear of falling out during our tester’s runThe Independent

Our favourites are the Jabra elite active 75t, (£209, which performed superbly during high-impact exercises and are the most comfortable pair we found.

Our tester said: "Be prepared to run, jump and burpee without any interruptions or feeling the need to readjust the earbuds – they fit snugly without the feeling of completely blocking your ears."

For more running gear reviews, read our guide to the best running headphones, the best running sunglasses and the best running watches