Ten tips for a struggling beginner

In the pub last Sunday night with Nick, a girl – a stranger – came up and spoke to us out-of-the-blue. She was probably early twenties, petite, dark and so intensely pretty you had to concentrate hard to ignore it.

She was running a half-marathon; it was in aid of a friend who was terminally ill; she was struggling, couldn’t get into it; she was so very tired (and the wine had affected her more than it should); in fact, she was hating it.

We assumed she was about to ask for a donation, and Nick was probably worried that I would kick off into full-on “Coach” mode (to be fair, had Nick 2 been with us as normal I might well have done so, and left them to their cars and gadgets). And, she was right about the wine, was not entirely coherent, and was inordinately interested in whether we were a couple, even when we explained that we were married… to our respective wives, we added quickly, not each other.

But she didn’t want a donation: she just wanted to offload. She was trying, she really was, but it wasn’t working and it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t meant to be like this! Nick surprised me and said I’d run a bit, so we talked briefly. She seemed encouraged and wandered off in the end, probably – by morning – to forget anything we’d said.

But it got me thinking.

Ten Tips for Beginners

  1. If you’ve not run since you left school, then don’t expect to run a race and win, first time you go out. And don’t expect to run every day in the first weeks and months. Once a week is 100% more than you did last week. Add a second and you have doubled your running. Small steps.
  2. Start gently. Find a park or lake or playing fields or circuit of local streets, and walk round it briskly. Then put some 20-metre jogs into it. In time you will join those up until you can comfortably do the full circuit. In easy, gentle steps. Then extend it, add loops and figure-8s and you can move on to pick longer routes. In gentle, easy steps. The 10% rule. Don’t increase what you do by more than 10% in any week: number of runs, distance of longest run, total miles.
  3. The only thing you really need to begin with, are good shoes. You don’t have to pay £100, you can picked them up on sale sites for £30-40. Go to a proper local specialist running shop for advice. (Once you’re into it, you can of curse amass as much lovely kit as your budget will allow, and some items will become close companions which share special adventures with you.)
  4. Road or offroad? Try it, see how it feels. Road is easier for traction and progress. Off-road is better for your limbs (assuming you don’t sprain an ankle) and you may find it joyful to be out in the woods and seasons; but it is more effort. Try combining the two.
  5. Maybe try an event: it will give you a goal and a focus and a date to work to. Don’t be shy, they are not just for elite athletes: once you are there you will see that all shapes and sizes and ages do it. A 10km is a great event for beginners: a classic distance and definitely do-able. A half-marathon is a much bigger challenge and only to be tackled seriously. A full marathon takes over your life, and that of your family and friends. The personal emotional rewards are in proportion to the distance and effort involved.
  6. If you do an event, then take it seriously and manage it. Work back from the date: plot how many miles do you need to be able to run at x-weeks before the race, and plot some runs in between those weekly-long-runs, to build your fitness and as a base for your endurance. Treat this plan as a guide, not mandatory. And remember the 10% rule.
  7. Consider a local running club. Many people find the social aspect and regular sessions help with their motivation and get them out; and they are a great source of support. Ask at a specialist shop, they will know your local clubs; or look at the shirts and vests of people you see running, especially the groups. Clubs are not just for elite athletes: they cater for all ages and abilities, and they will welcome and embrace a beginner and share what they know. And everyone there had a “first time”, so don’t be shy.
  8. Listen to your body. Always. If it’s too much, ease off; if you get a pain, ask what it is and allow for it; if you feel you can do more, then do so. Your body will adapt to what you ask of it and become stronger with care; and it is sensitive and wise, it will tell you when to ask less of it. Always listen.
  9. For your first event, ignore times and splits and pace stats. Your goal is to get to the start-line healthy, to complete the event and collect your medal. In years to come, whatever you go on to, you will keep and cherish this one. Now you have a time; and for your next event you can set targets for yourself based on what you have learned.
  10. If it’s not working for you, change it or drop it, and maybe consider if this really is right for you. Running can be joyful and spiritual as well as physical, and if all you are getting is pain and frustration then question what that is telling you. But. Think about why you are doing it: what made you try running or commit to an event in the first place? Maybe it’s not meant to be easy; maybe the thing you are running for is worth some effort. You may find, with perseverance in the early days, that one day you find yourself running more easily, enjoying it more, even looking forward to the next time. Many people find they struggle to begin, then have a breakthrough and never look back. And that medal: it matters so much, precisely because it wasn’t easy.


So there you are, pretty dark-eyed girl. Lace up, and go in small steps… Good luck!


About johntleeds

In amongst the perpetual juggling of work, family and things on my mind, this is MY time, MY escape. Any this is what my mind comes up with when it has time to wonder, as I wander on the trails... twitter @johntleeds
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