How to Start Running | Part 1: Adjusting Your Mind-Set & Setting Expectations


Lately I've gotten a few requests to do a "how to get started running" post. I've been wanting to write a post about this for a while now, but the main thing keeping me from it is because I don't feel qualified. 

I'm not a physician or a personal trainer or coach. I'm not fast by elite standards, and I don't follow any sort of normal training plan. I don't diet and I don't do as much cross-training as I should. 

I'm just a regular person who fell in love with running. But I guess that's as good a qualification as any, right? 
hello, squinty eyes
So just keep in mind, those of you who are interested in reading this series, that what I'm about to say is based solely on my own personal experience as well as a number of articles and book I've read on the sport of running. You should consider consulting your doctor before beginning any kind of regular fitness regimen. Also, I realize that some of you might be way more in shape than I was when I started running, so not all of this will apply to everyone. Again, I'm just speaking from my experience.

Okay, so, now for the million-dollar question: How does one get started running?

The answer is as simple as putting on a pair of shoes and as complicated as an advanced algebra equation. I'm going to split this into a few different posts, because in order to go into the detail you're probably looking for, this is gonna get long. For today's post, we'll focus on two things: adjusting your mind-set and setting realistic expectations. I really think this is where your running success or failure will be defined. 

First, realize that it's going to take time.

I've been running consistently for over 3 years, and it was only over the course of this past year that I've been able to honestly say that I think running is fun. Fun. Like, pack my shoes in my suitcase and go running on my vacation fun.

What I want you to understand is that it wasn't always like this. Many All of my early runs were filled with pain. This pain was both physical and mental. The physical pain was obvious: burning lungs, stomach cramps, leg cramps, blisters, and nausea. The emotional pain was even worse in some ways. It was facing the embarrassing realization that I couldn't hold a light jog for more than 2 minutes at a time. It was wondering when, if ever, I would be able to call myself a runner.

Both of these pains took time to overcome. And it's not like every run I go on now isn't hard. But for me, running is so much easier than it used to be when I was huffing and puffing after half a block. (However, it isn't ever going to be easy. Read this awesome post from one of my favorite running bloggers about easy running.)

If you're just starting up running, it's not going to be instantly easy, which is where realistic expectations come in.

As you're considering starting up running, you need to figure out where you're at physically. Maybe you're able to run a mile or two. Or maybe you're able to walk for 30 minutes. Let's assume you're the latter. You're not a blob on a couch stuffing your face with cheesy puffs, but you're also not sure how far you can run, if you can handle running at all.

Setting realistic expectations means working with what you've got. The Couch to 5k program is all about building up your running in slow steps. (See also: How Stuff Works: How the Couch to 5k Running Plan Works.I didn't follow that, or any, program when I was first starting, but I basically did the same things they recommend: alternate walking and running for a set period of time. Continuously build up your running time as you lower your walking time. Eventually you'll be running more than walking, and soon enough you'll be running the whole time! 

At this point you could care diddly squat about distance. We're focusing on time.

For my birthday I bought myself a copy of Run Less Run Faster. It has a lot of great advice for experienced runners, and it also outlines a novice 5k training program that I would totally try out if I were just starting. 

Here's the first workout of the 12-week program: 

Total time: 32 minutes
Walk for 10 minutes
(Run: 1 minute | Walk: 2 minutes) x 4
Walk for 10 minutes

It's a 32-minute workout, and you're running for a total of 4 minutes. You're probably thinking that sounds ridiculous. Surely you can run for 4 minutes over a 32-minute time frame. And you probably can. But the point is to be realistic about it. You aren't going to be blazing any trails for the first few weeks or even month. Just keep your eyes on the prize. Start with something somewhat manageable.

Now, check out what the first workout in week 4 looks like (this is still according to the aforementioned book):

Total time: 36 minutes
Walk for 10 minutes
(Run: 3 minutes | Walk: 1 minute) x 4
Walk for 10 minutes

Do you see how the running time has increased and the walking time decreased? The overall time of the workout also increased just a tad. This is how you build up. But it takes time. I think a lot of people start running and then drop out after a few weeks because they get discouraged. I know from experience that it's totally embarrassing to admit that you're running a total of 3 minutes at a time. 

To this day I remember going for a run with a friend of mine freshman year of college. I think we made it 5 minutes before collapsing. 

When there are people posting post-marathon pictures, your 36-minute workout won't feel like much, especially since you spent 75% of it walking. But at the end of the day a 5k is completed one minute at a time. So keep adding minutes. You'll get there.

Okay, that was a lot already! 

Next up: running gear. For now, just do some research on what plan you're going to follow and work on adjusting your mind-set and setting realistic expectations for yourself. Maybe even see if you can find a 5k to register for. Yep, I went there. Just make sure it's about 9-12 weeks out. Believe it or not, you'll be ready by then.

Do you have any questions? Anything to add? Leave a comment!
Also, if you have any questions or suggestions for what to put in an upcoming running post, leave a comment or email me at:

Until next time, happy running!
Claudz said...

I battle to run. It's like my body fights me every step of the way. But when I have a good run, it's worth it.
I am trying to get more into running and it's posts like these that help!

Michelle said...

That first picture of you is SO cute!

Unknown said...

I missed my Couch to 5k session last week due to illness. So not only did I miss the session, I also missed an entire week of training. And trying to get back into it, I've been going sans-watch and just listening to my body. Don't know if that's the way to go or not since my body pretty much always says: STOP RUNNING, YOU STUPID B****! But I've kept my average of just over 2 miles in 30 minutes. (15 minute mile!!! Woohoo!!! I brag to everyone about it.)

Laura said...

My husband is a half-marathon runner and I have always wished I could get in shape like him. I get discouraged easily and usually give up pretty quickly if I don't feel like I'm making progress. This is really encouraging and I think I may try starting with a couch to 5K program! I'm excited to hear more advice! Thank you for sharing!

Jordon said...

This is perfect! I am starting to train for my first 10k and I needed this :)

Beka @ Sunshine to the Square Inch said...

This is spot on! It was hard as ever to start and keep running but you eventually do build up and bust out a marathon. Have you heard of the 'running encyclopedia'? It's has everything from beginning running to elite marathon training. I'll try and find you a link and send it to you. Someone gave me that book and after reading the whole thing I ran my first half.

Jordan said...

I started running this year and it has taken so long to build strength (whether it be in my distance or my time). I've learned to stay patient but it took me a while to grasp that concept! Great post!

Anonymous said...

This was a great post! Thanks for the advice, and I can't wait to read the rest.

eileen ragan | leaner by the lake said...

I pretty much did the same thing as you in getting started. I've been running every week for the last 8 months and it has been hard and rewarding and challenging nearly every day. The easy hasn't come and maybe it won't because I'm constantly pushing myself and upping the bar. But I will say this, a 3 mile run is now considered easy - 9 months ago I would have laughed at myself making that statement!

Cheers to running and taking things in stride. Great post!

eileen ragan | leaner by the lake

Anonymous said...

Good tips -- I really think that so much of running is mental -- it's so important to manage expectations!

Unknown said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I always find myself doing great in beginning and then slowly quitting. Hello inspiration!

Unknown said...

Wait...How did you know I needed this EXACT post today?! I have had a long love/hate affair with running and have been in a major rut. I am so grateful for your post! I appreciated your honesty and for breaking it down into small achievable steps. Thank you! I’m going after work. Promise! Cindy Johnson

Raige Creations said...

I made up my own run slash walk training. Basically, I start with a warm up walk, and run when I feel ready. It is usually after the first hill, which is at the beginning of my course. Then I run until I feel like I need to walk, then walk until I feel like I can run. Now in the second full week after a 3 month break (where I was running the full 2 miles of my course) I am running more and more. Going be what my body is comfy with seems to be be working. And my 5k is in Dec. Plenty of time to work up to the full run, I think and hope. Can't wait to hear what other advice you have. THANKS!

Unknown said...

What a great post! I started with the Couch to 5k and it rocked. You're right, setting realistic goals is key. Most people just go out and run- which makes them hate it and never want to get back out there.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for writing this! It definitely is so hard to start running but yet awesome to have someone who definitely is a runner give encouragement! I can't wait to read the rest of this series!

Curious Runner said...

Awesome post and great series! I will definitely be sending people here for some great tips and advice :)

kristyn said...

I've seen a lot of running programs before, but this one is so unique! I always get so discouraged because I honestly can't run more than probably 2 minutes straight haha, but 4 minutes? 4 minutes sounds much more reasonable then a straight out 10. Have to try this.

badgergirl said...

Great post! I go through months of loving running and then I will go a whole month without a single run.. Lately I set myself a goal of running a mile a day for a month. It really got me back into it!

Thanks for sharing!

Megan said...

What a great series! As a new runner, I'm excited to hear about your experiences and get some tips. I started with a walk/run plan, and this morning I ran 7 miles without stopping to walk ONCE! It felt awesome. And to think I couldn't even run 3 consecutive miles when I started two months ago! It's crazy.

Shaylynn... a girl, a story, a blog said...

Oh sweetheart, this will never happen for me. Ever. like never. not even close. but if it does, I'll call you.

Brian Baker said...

Great post. Up here in Canada, the Running Room offers Learn To Run ten week courses which essentially mirror the C25k and you're right, it is the best way to begin. Been running for over a year now and I can't believe that those two minute running intervals used to totally exhaust me!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for writing this! I am a lifelong non-runner, though I did complete the Couch to 5k program last year (and felt like a total champ). But once I completed that goal I totally slacked and didn't set a new goal--thus, I stopped running and I have had a hard time getting into the mental space to begin today. I am going to give the program you mentioned a try because I am really starting to miss the sweaty-face, heaving-lungs feeling of hard work that running gave me!

BooksandBoardies said...

some fab tips for beginners there - I sort of vaugely followed a couch to 5k like you more the principle of the thing rather than the plan itself. I am now up to running a whole 5k with no walking at all and just working on speeding that up now.
I have completed various 5k and my first ever 10 (where I had to walk for around 0.5k) but other than that I ran the whole thing :) Was so proud that day there were even tears!

I hope your post helps those brand new to running to lace up their shoes and get out there, running really does make any day better.


Anonymous said...

Personal trainer or not, you offer good advice in a fun, approachable way. This long-time runner enjoyed reading your running post and looks forward to more.

Betty said...

I've struggled to get back into running...I took some time off this summer since it was so hot, but now my endurance has definitely lowered. I guess I just need to take it slow and know that it's gonna take a while for me to love it again!

Anonymous said...

Great tips for someone trying to get into running! That's basically how I started...slowly increasing my ratio of running to walking. I was so excited when i could run 10 minutes without stopping! Good post. Look forward to hearing more. :)

Holly said...

This is a great post and an even better series!! I started running January 2012, almost 2 years ago. I did the C25K program and fell in love with running. This year, even though I ran my first half marathon and did great (by my own standards), I didn't love running as much. But I could tell I got better because I kept up with it more! It really is a process, more people need to realize that.

And So I Did said...

I know I'm late to this party, kind of like I was late to post today, but I love this! I was running, and doing great, and then I just quit. Now I'm in the extremely frustrating part of not being able to run like I used to and having to start all over. Running is about mentally preparing yourself and setting the realistic expectations. Thanks for the reminder, and I look forward to more running inspiration from you! :)

Amanda said...

Wooooo!!!!! That is awesome, Kalyn!

Kendwy Valdez said...

This is such an amazing post!! Moving on to the next one....

Saba said...

I think I needed to re-read this post. I had built up "running" for a little while before I was faced with an IT band "injury" and stopped for over a year. Recently I printed the Couch to 5k plan and well, it's not been going to plan. I can't get over week 4 and also, it doesn't help that I don't run consistently (I know, I know). I think I'm not facing the physical struggle that much anymore (yoga stretches help with the IT band aspect) but I am just so depressed every time I try to jog for 5 mins and fail and then look at my friends' photos as they finish marathons without their mascara running. It's just so demoralising (is that even a word?). *sigh* I want to get back into it as I felt my most fit when I was jogging 3 times a week. I hope I will be able to change my mindset and set realistic goals. Thanks Amanda.