Beginners Running Plan
Not surprisingly, I'm a big fan of running as a way of keeping fit and healthy. But starting to run is not always easy, and advice to 'just go out and run' can be counterproductive. Humans are built to run, but there is a level of fitness required before running is practical. The best approach for many people is to introduce running gradually, using an Interval Training approach of mixed running and walking. This plan is intended to get you to the point where you can run 30 minutes comfortably and effectively. See Starting to run for overall guidelines on beginning to run.
1 Baseline fitness
Before you do any running, you should start by walking. If you are unfit, walking can be sufficient training to raise your fitness level. First, check you can to walk 2 miles (3.2 km) in about 30 minutes. This is based on the idea that walking is more efficient than running up to about 13-14 min/mile (7:30-8:00 min/km) pace. So running slower than 14 min/mile (8:40 min/km) pace is unproductive; you are better off walking. If you can't walk 2 miles in 30 minutes, focus on walking and building up to that pace. You should build up to walking at that pace over a few minutes as a Warmup. If it takes you a lot longer than 30 minutes to walk 2 miles and you can't maintain a 15:00 min/mile (9:20 min/km) pace for long, consider using the incremental Run/Walk program shown below, but substitute walking at 15:00 min/mile pace for the run intervals and do the walk at a more comfortable pace.
2 Incremental Run/Walk
So, once you've reached the point of walking 2 miles in 30 minutes (or verified you can do it), introduce the running gradually. Start off with two one minute runs in the 30 minutes; walk 14, run 1, walk 14, run 1. Try to keep the walking pace at 15 min/mile pace, which is a fast walk and do a short Warmup before the 30 minutes, starting off with a moderate walk and building up to the right pace over a few minutes. As that ratio of running to walking becomes comfortable, gradually shift from walking to running. If you prefer to extend your overall distance rather than dropping the last few minutes of walk, see the longer plan below. (Note that there are many benefits to taking Walking Breaks, so it's not critical you aim to run continuously. Another option is to keep taking short walking breaks and focus on building up the distance.)
|5||30||0||Baseline 30 min walk|
|5||7||8||5||8||16||Crossover to more running than walking|
|5||1||14||1||14||28||You can go from this stage to running 30 minutes, or if this is difficult, use the next few stages to ease the transition.|
3 Running Pace
The pace of your running needs to be fast enough to be smooth and efficient. It must be faster than the walking pace, and should be 12:00 min/mile or faster. However, don't go too fast; it must not be a sprint, or even a hard running pace.
4 Rate of Progress
How fast should you shift from walking to running? Listen to your body; if the level of stress is very low, then shifting to more running is good. However, shifting to running more quickly may increase your fitness more rapidly, but it will also increase the possibility of injury. Fatigue is cumulative, and it accumulates over much longer periods that you may expect, so the fatigue in your body now can be the result of training you did 2-3 weeks ago. That means you can raise your level of exercise dramatically and keep it up for a week or two, but then suffer some level of failure. One rule of thumb with marathon training is to only raise your mileage every two weeks and this could be applied to initial running as well. Remember it is better to progress too slowly than it is to get injured.
5 Alternative Plan
This plan uses a slightly different mix of running and walking, starting off with three run/walk repeats, then reducing to two repeats.
6 Longer Plan
This plan starts with 30 minutes of running and walking, but increases to 45 minutes.
|Warmup||Walk||Run||Walk||Run||Walk||Run||Total Running||Total Time||Notes|
|5||30||0||0||35||Baseline 30 min walk|
|5||5||15||10||15||30||50||Drop a walking break|
7 Comparison with Couch to 5K
Another popular and successful program for starting to run is the 'Couch to 5K' program. The Couch to 5K has worked for many people, and uses a similar approach to mine, using interval training to incrementally move from walking to running. The big advantage of couch to 5K is the level of support for the program, with organized groups, applications, forums, etc., to help a new runner. However, there are some caveats to the program, which is why I use an alternative approach:
- Couch to 5K does not have any baseline fitness requirements. While I'd like to say that anyone can start to run, I think that for some people it is better to 'learn to walk before you can run'.
- The rate of progression for Couch to 5K is fixed at 8 weeks, which may be way too short for some people and too long for others.
- The Couch to 5K program uses time or distance, which can cause confusion. I believe that for most beginners, focusing on time rather than distance is more effective.
- After week 6 the Couch to 5K moves from interval training to pure running, incrementally building up the distance.
- R. Kram, A. Domingo, DP. Ferris, DP. Ferris, Effect of reduced gravity on the preferred walk-run transition speed., J Exp Biol, volume 200, issue Pt 4, pages 821-6, Feb 1997, PMID 9076966