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A smiling RNLI runner wearing sunglasses gives the thumbs up while passing a St John’s Ambulance tent during London Marathon

Top tips: Running for beginners

Whether you’re lacing up for your health or to raise lifesaving funds, these running tips for beginners are a great place to start.

Whatever the terrain – coastal or inland, pavement or trail – running is one of the most loved ways to look after our physical and mental health. Yet a lot of us grimace at the prospect of getting started. If that’s you, you’re not alone and we’ve got your covered with some practical advice you can put into action.

How can a total beginner start running?

If starting to run feels daunting, try not to be intimidated by how easy experienced runners make it look – they’ve been where you are! Here are some simple steps you can take to ease yourself in and help you build endurance.

1. Set your sights on a goal, make it personal

Some people run for their health, some to get outside, some for the community or for a cause that’s dear to them. Spend a moment thinking about your why.

Deciding for yourself what’s motivating you to start running will help you stay the course. You’ll find unexpected things you love about running as you get into it, but if you set an initial goal such as raising funds with The Mayday Mile or a marathon, you can return to your purpose each time you need a boost.

2. Kit up with the right running gear

One of the great things about running is that it requires very little specialist kit. Most important is having suitable clothing (particularly footwear) that feels comfortable.

Before you choose your running shoes, choose your socks so you can wear them when you go to try some on. A good pair of running socks is designed to hug your foot and wick moisture away from your skin to reduce the risk of rubbing and blisters – don’t run in cotton socks, which retain moisture.

The most technical and important bit of kit is your running shoes. They’re an investment in comfort, protection and injury prevention, so it’s worth visiting a specialist sports footwear retailer who can assess your requirements and recommend suitable shoes for your particular gait and running style. 

Choose running shorts that are comfortable, lightweight and wick sweat away from your body. A drawstring waistband can be tied to get the perfect fit, whereas elastic-only shorts will need to fit well so they neither cut off circulation nor slip or flap around. In colder weather, snug and comfortable tights keep your legs warmer and reduce the chance of injury. They can also stop wind and rain from penetrating.

A good fit for running tops means they neither flap around nor hug your figure. Choose long-sleeved tops with cuffed sleeves so they don’t ride up. Again, fabrics that wick away sweat will keep you cooler and allow better air circulation. A waterproof long-sleeved top is advisable in cold or wet weather to prevent the wind or rain from penetrating.

What else you choose to wear – from hats and gloves to sports bras – will depend on the weather and your body’s needs.

A smiling RNLI runner on a wet city street, with other runners around them. They smile to supporters off camera

RNLI/Natasha Schofield

3. Learn how to stay safe when running

If you’re road running, take steps to keep yourself safer. Look to organisations like England Athletics for road safety advice such as running against the traffic flow, keeping someone informed of your plans, running in daylight where possible and carrying a phone so you can call for help if needed.

If you’re running on the coast, our advice for coastal walking applies too. It may surprise you to know that one of the main types of rescues RNLI volunteer lifeboat crews make is to coastal walkers and runners. Always check conditions – and tides, where relevant – before you head out and be prepared to change plans if it’s not safe. On coastal paths, it’s especially important to have technical trail running shoes that will give you a more secure grip and tread.

535 walkers and runners rescued by RNLI crews in 2022

4. Fuel your running

Before a run, eat something light that’s high in carbohydrates; aim to finish eating 1½ hours before you begin. After a run, eat carbohydrates and protein to help your body recover. 

Stay hydrated at all points in your run. Begin well-hydrated and carry fluids with you on your run.

Three runners stretch on a sandy beach. Stretching and warming up before a run helps to prevent injury

RNLI/Adrian Don

5. Warm up and stretch to prevent injury while running

Warming up helps to keep you safe from injury. An effective warm up raises your heart rate, gets blood flowing to your muscles and prepares your body for exercise. Your warmup should be for a minimum of 5 minutes and replicate the movements of the main activity. Include dynamic stretches that put your limbs through the range of movement they’ll need for your main session – this helps your joints to loosen up and be lubricated so they can function more efficiently for you. And always make sure you cool down at the end of a run with gentle stretches.

6. Find a running schedule for beginners that works for you

How far should you run as a beginner? Whether you’re running for health or with a particular race or fundraising event in mind, there are beginner running plans available to help you build towards your goal.

We have a half marathon training plan for beginners available as a resource to help you, as well as a beginner marathon training plan. The NHS Couch to 5K beginner running plan will get you from a standing start to a 5km run over the course of 9 weeks.

The run/walk method can be a good way to start running for beginners. It mixes intervals of running with intervals of walking, which puts less stress on your joints as you build up your running. Begin with a short interval of running with a matched time of walking, and increase your time as you build stamina.

7. To find staying power, keep your pace manageable

Try not to put yourself off by pushing yourself too hard. It can be uncomfortable to start running but try to keep as comfortable a pace as possible. Focus on time over distance. It’s okay to run slowly, you will build your strength and stamina in time.

And when things do get hard, be kind to yourself. Then get back to it!

Two smiling runners set a steady pace while taking part in an RNLI Reindeer Run

RNLI/Harrison Bates

8. Listen to your body and remember to breathe

Getting out of breath from exercise is very normal but can feel similar to panic. Keep your breathing steady and watch out for breath holding. Deep breaths in through your nose and mouth will give your muscles the most oxygen to support their movement. Imagine filling yourself with air from the belly up. Exhale fully to keep your breath cycling effectively and enable you to take in enough air on your next breath.

Always listen to your body with any pain or discomfort. Know your limits as you learn, resist any internal and external pressures, and slow down as you need to.

9. Check your form

Drop and relax your shoulders. Scan your upper body for tension – from our eyebrows and jaw to our hands, we sometimes tense up from the exertion and this burns through vital energy.

Tense your core – very slightly – and push your elbows back to prevent twisting your upper body as you run. Lift your knees so your feet don’t shuffle and can instead land confidently with each step, centred and directly underneath your body.

10. Rest restores

When we don’t get enough rest, our bodies struggle to recover fully from exertion. Different things work for different people, so consider your caffeine and sugar intake through the day. And get smart about your routine before going to sleep – taking a shower or bath before bed, putting away your device and reading a book before settling down to sleep, and curtains or blinds that keep the light out will all help you have a more restful night.

Remember that getting a good amount of rest also means taking days away from running.

A group of runners, including RNLI crew members, lifeguards, fundraisers taking part in the Mayday Mile.

RNLI/Nathan Williams

11. Find your running community

Running in a pair or as part of a group is not only safer, but can also be fun and help you maintain motivation when you’re flagging.

Look in local media and websites to find one near you that you can get involved with. And find other RNLI runners in our RNLI Runners Facebook page.