My tips for Beginners

10 November 2019

"How should I start running?" is probably the 2nd most frequent thing asked from me, so... here it is.

I often meet people who are new to running, and for some mystic reason, they tend to believe that I know some stuff about running. So, before proceeding any further:

I have, however, been lucky enough to be surrounded by clever and trained people, and had the opportunity to learn bits of knowledge from them. Also, I have seen plenty of runners go from the first steps to the half marathon or beyond, and also did my fair share of mistakes. All of this will still not make me the best person to ask about this topic, but if you are already here, you may as well read on, and decide if anything was worth of your time. In the worst case scenario, you can correct me all you want in the comments. (Which is much appreciated.)

This post has been I procrastinated for a looong time, but there was a certain Turkish girl nagging me recently, so I finally sat down after a nice 10k, 2 am in the morning to do this once and for all ๐Ÿ˜‚.

One thing I was not sure about - and the 2nd biggest reason to procrastinate next to poorly managing my time - was the ideal structure of a post like this. How should I categorize my advice? If so, then how, and what order should I present them? In the end, inspired by this amazing book and post, I decided to go in the form of a dialog, which is what usually happens anyway. So without further ado, let's get into it.

So, Mรกtรฉ, what is the most important thing for me to know?

Left foot, right foot, le...

No, seriously, what should I buy, where should I run, how much, how fast,...

Woah, let's tackle one thing at a time. The most important thing is, that you have already decided to run regularly, you are off to a good start.

Ok, so how much should I run first, and how fast?

Just go out and try to stay active for 45 minutes. If you feel, that you are out of juice, just walk until you feel ready for some more running. There is no shame in walking. In fact, if you are overweight, it is probably a good idea to get rid of several kilos before you start running, otherwise you risk knee injury even with proper shoes on.

45 minutes?! I'm out of breath after 5 or 10 minutes at most.

Because you probably run too fast. If I were educated enough, I could go into the details of the whole "aerobic vs. anaerobic" topic. But I'm not, and you don't need that now. Basically, each person has a strain limit, above which different chemical reactions happen in your body than below it. The former is not sustainable for a long time, and will cause you sore muscles, I'm sure you are familiar with that.

So you are telling me to stay below that limit?

Exactly. Your first goal should be to reach that 45 minute without walking. Of course, the difficulty of that highly depends on your current shape. Maybe it will be easy-peasy for the first time already, or you have to work hard for a month or two. But if you go above that limit for several minutes, you are bound to stop to walk.

And how do I know that limit? Is it a certain speed?

It is different for everybody, but it has more to do with your heart rate.

So I should get one of those gadgets then to even start?

No, luckily, there is a much cheaper built in option in you. A general rule of thumb is, that if you can maintain a conversation, you are below the limit.

Talking? Are you kidding me? I'm happy if I can catch my breath!

Again, clear indicator that you run too fast. That is actually one of the most common "mistakes" I see among people who start running. The worst thing about this is, that short, very intensive runs will not magically get you in shape in two weeks, but are more than enough to make you feel utterly exhausted. Without much positive feedback, this often leads to disappointment, and ultimately giving up on running. Not to mention that the risk of injuries is also a bit higher probably.

Okay, okay, I'll try to keep slow, but no way am I gonna talk and run with others, while I am at a loser level.

You are running more than 90% of the population, I'd hardly consider that "loser level".

I get it, but you know what I mean...

Yep, but still silly. I have never seen any runner making faces or bullying another one because he/she is slow. Quiet the contrary, runners often encourage other runners, even if just by waving and smiling. Even if you meet a bully, just don't give a damn, you are awesome, keep that in mind.

Fine, fine, but let's skip the pep-talk, i still don't want to be a hindrance to others, who are faster than me.

If I had a penny for every time I heard this... The thought is kind, but don't patronize other people. If they agreed to run with you, they made up their mind, and know what they are doing. They probably also need an easy run once in a while, and if the distance is not enough for them, they can make up for the difference by going to the meeting place with a run, or something else. They are more experienced, remember, they know what they are doing.

Man, you are difficult. What is even the benefit of running in a group?

Glad you asked ๐Ÿ˜ There are many. First and foremost, they provide motivation. There will always be days, when you would stay at home were you to run alone. However, if you know, that your friends are waiting for you, and you also wanna meet them to discuss whatever the hell your mutual interest is, then you will move your ass through the door, and go running.

I think the mirror in the mornings will motivate me just enough...

Have you ever talked to a gym owner about about the peak they have in January? Maybe you are different, but for most people, that doesn't really work out. (Pun intended.) If weight loss is one of your goals, think in long term, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Also, in the beginning, you may as well see an increase in your weight. Running needs muscles, that are heavier than fat. I gained 10 kilos from running actually.

Fine, fine, so what are those other reasons?

Probably there will be people in that group, who can give better directions than me. Not just about running, but diets, cross training, stretching, warm-up exercises, etc.

Ah, I wanted to ask that: warm-up and stretching. Even if I go with a group once-or-twice a week (not that I know how I'll find one), what should I do on the other days?

Ok, so first: local running groups often have a facebook site, or website. Just search, or ask around in local forums, go on Strava and ask someone randomly who did a segment in your city, whatever. Or if you see a group irl, just stop them, and ask, they will be helpful I'm certain. Also, there are more and more brands organizing teams, and you can also ask at your local running shop if any. Hm... where was I...

Warm-up and stretching

Oh, yes, before that: don't even think about running every day.

Why not?

Because you just increase the chance of burning out and stress injury without actually achieving results. If you wanna know more than me, google up supercompensation.

Don't want to know more than what I need, you already told me a ton of stuff, so how often should I run?

In the beginning I would say 2-3 times a week. If you feel good, you can increase it later. It is better to start small and make it into a habit, than overdoing it in the beginning and burning out. If you really want to exercise more often, do some core training, yoga, cycling, etc. in-between.

Will you now tell me about warm-up and stretching?

I am probably the worst person to ask this ๐Ÿ˜‚ Both are important, but tbh, I hold with the hare and run with the hounds in this. I'm guilty of often skipping those, so don't take me as an example. But yes, warm-up is important for at least two reasons: it opens up the capillaries in your lung, which are usually closed, but very much needed during exercise. Warm-up can also help to lower the risk of injuries...

Enough, you mention injuries over and over again. I'm starting to think that this is more dangerous than I thought.

Well, sorry about that. Injuries definitely can happen in running. I'd say, that in general, running is less prone to those than other sports, where you have to make sudden movements, body contact, etc. But still, there is a risk, especially if you are stupid. Most of the injuries come from overdoing it, having bad shoes, having an unlucky step, etc. While the latter can happen anytime anywhere, the others can be avoided by abiding some simple rules, like the ones I said before.

Writing a pretty long list by now...

Good, so add stretching to it. There are nearly religious debates about when and how you should stretch. What I tend to suggest is to do stretching only after a workout. Static stretching for 20-30 seconds on each side. For the types stretching exercises for running, just ask Google. And while you are there, do the same for warm-up exercises as well.

This is taking much longer than I anticipated, the rumor about runners being able to talk about running for hours seems to be true.

You have no idea. We haven't even started talking about shoes and races yet.

I'm not interested in races (yet), but I heard that shoes are important.

Indeed they are. They are the single most important thing you should buy if you consider doing running in a regular basis. Nearly everyone agrees on this, except for barefoot runners, and again, that is another hot debate in the running community.

Barefoot? Like... literally?

Yes, and while I sympathize with it, I would not suggest it to a beginner. It is kind of another technique, which will need a different strike (different landing on your feet), and strain your calves much harder. If you are interested in it, read a lot about good practices for the transition, not just go head on, and start running barefoot.

'Cause I'll get injured.


I think I'll stick to them shoes. Which one should I buy? They seem to have hefty price tags, but I've seen a good discount on a Nike in...

The brand doesn't matter that much. The big names all produce excellent shoes, I personally had Adidas, Asics, Saucony, Nike, Solomon, Mizuno, Hoka so far, and I was satisfied with all of them. It is more important to go to a proper shop if possible to try them on, and let an expert see you running in them. There are shoes specifically made for people whose ankle tilts a bit inwards (called pronation) or outwards (supination). I could bore you further with these, but the important thing is, that at a proper shop, there will be someone who can give good advice, better than I ever could. They probably also have good equipments, like a camera setup on a treadmill to see, how you run.

That sounds very professional... and expensive

Obviously, this depends on the shop, but if you do it at the shop, I think it is usually free of charge. But even without equipment, the eye of an experienced shoe seller is worth the trip even to another city.

So how much will the shoes cost?

It depends on the shoes, the shop, and the country of course. If you are not really tight on budget, I'd suggest you to take your time, and carefully select the shoe from the options the seller brings for you without looking at the price tags. Make an ordered list, and start from the first one. If it fits into your limit, don't even look at the others. Otherwise go to the second option, etc. I think you can get a decent pair of shoes around $100, and for much less, if there is a discount (at the end of the year for exampmle). Maybe it seems a lot, but it is good for 1000-1500 km, meaning 7-10 cents per kilometer. That is much cheaper than treating your knees later, or any gym membership, etc.

Any other upfront expenses?

Not really. Just grab your shoes, and go out running. If you can run on tartan (synthetic running track surface), you can even postpone the shoe thing if you really must.

What about technical clothing?

They are really useful, and you should definitely get your hands on them sooner or later. Here you don't have to be so cautious as with the shoes. As long as it is technical, it will do a better job, than a 100% cotton one. But in the beginning, cotton clothes will not be the biggest issue, so if you are tight on your budget, just postpone this. Also, experienced runners often have tons of unopened shirts from races. Just ask around in your running group (see? advantages again), they will be happy to get rid of some of them.


I ran in simple cotton socks for a long time. Had some blisters on marathons, but that was kind of expected. Good running socks have special material and stitching. If you can afford a pair for longer races, go for it. Or in the case your feet get easily irritated. Otherwise, it is low priority.

What about compression socks?

I'd say you don't need it until you run half marathons, and even then only for longer races, and post-run for recreational purposes. It helps the blood flow, and whatnot, but again, there are people who advise against it. Bottom line: not your immediate issue.

Belts for gadgets?

I prefer to bring my phone with me all the time, even though I have a Garmin on my wrist for years now. I like to be accessible, and able to call 911 if anything happens. And to post on Instagram once in a while ๐Ÿ˜œ So, a belt for me is essential, it is also good for keys, tissue papers, a credit card, etc. They are generally not that expensive, and there are very cheap options on ebay as well.


A brand for sport watches (and many more).

Do I need that?

Need? No. You need your legs and those shoes. Is it a good idea to have them? I'd say yes, but it depends on many things. There are people, who don't want to know how much they run, they just run as they feel. As much as I respect them for their "pure" attitude, I'm not one of them. I like to see, how I did, making statistics about my total mileage, competing with my friends in challenges, looking at my tracks on maps, etc. I like to look at these, and I think they can provide a lot of motivation for a beginner as well.

Are they expensive?

Yes... and no. It depends. If you want the brand new flagship model, you will be surprised by the price tag. If you are short on cash, and just want a gps watch, that can reliably track your runs up to a (half-)marathon distance, and show you some basic stats during the run, then you can have good bargains with second hand old models, like a Forerunner 15 for example. That will not have all the advanced cool features, like syncing with your phone automatically, navigation, etc. However, I think it is better, if you find out first what you want to have in your watch, and then buy a more sophisticated and expensive one. I started of with cheaper old models as well. My current watch cost me around $300, but I use it every day, 24h, as a smartwatch, tracks my sleeps, my runs, my commute rides, etc. And, after a few years, I'll probably still be able to sell it for a good price.

Can't I just use my phone? It has GPS.

Of course you can. I did that for years. Having a watch is something that you can live without until you tried, and probably not miss it that much. I could sing ballads about how much better it is to have a watch than to deal with smartphone apps, but you will only understand that if you tried both. And I'm not here to convince you, maybe in another pos... ehm, discussion. If you are really tight on budget, I'd even dissuade you from it. Just a bit of advice: if you stick with a phone app, select one, that has the option to easily download the data later, or sync it to other databases. One last thing: I'm the type of person, who gets motivated if I buy something expensive. When I bought my cello a couple of years back, I had the "Damn it, if you have spent that much money on this, better use it a lot" thought at the back of my mind all the time. So if that works for you, go ahead.

Costs piling up. You mentioned no gym membership, but I don't have a treadmill, where do I run if it rains, or gets cold? Or too hot?




You are crazy. Get soaked up, freeze to death, or burn alive?

Of course things highly depend on the climate of your country. I live in Hungary, so I'm lucky to be able to go out and run all year around, but things were a bit more limited of course, when I was, for example in Malaysia in March or Egypt in the summer. So again, don't do stupid things, like running mid-day in the summer in a warm country with direct sunshine, or run on slippery ice (that is not perfect texture for running). But you can go run at sunrise or sunset in a hot country, or during the night. Running in snow is fine, just watch your step. Running in the rain is fine, just make sure to quickly get into a warm place (just quick stretching), and have a hot shower. But if you prefer the gym, by all means, go there, it is up to you. For me, that is boring and unpleasant, but I'd do the same if I were in a city where air quality or general safety is really bad.

Isn't running boring by definition? As you said in the beginning: left, right...

I don't think so. There are many types of runs. Group runs where you chit-chat with friends. Serious training group runs, where your don't have time or energy to waste on being bored. Peaceful solo runs, where you listen to birds, think about the big questions of life, etc. Races, big and small, and other organized events. Swimruns, triathlons, Spartan races, the list is endless. Heck, you can even go on a running date with a someone (yes, that's a thing).

Runners are really crazy.

You haven't heard half of it.

Anyhow, I think I'll just stick to that group run, and turn on Spotify for the rest

See? That's another thing you can do. For a long time now, I'm thinking about listening to podcasts, audiobooks while I do the lonely long runs. But as always, I'm lazy to get those, and end up listening to the birds, and thinking about those big questions. With music, however, I suggest to use a special earphone, or only use it on one side. It is generally good to be aware of your surroundings. Sidenote:the bpm might influence your cadence (steps per minute), so many people oppose listening to music. Ultimately, if you feel really bored while running, maybe it is not for you.

Aren't you supposed to motivate me? ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

I am, but I'm not thinking that everyone should love what I do. If, after months, you still have to "force" yourself, then probably you should also try skating, cycling, nordic walking, climbing, zumba, snowboarding whatever.

That sounds dangerous. Speaking of the devil, isn't safety an issue?

Again, depends on your neighborhood. You should know the answer to that better than I do. In Hungary, for example, it is generally safe to run anywhere. But there are general rules, that I think could be applied more or less to other countries as well. Running in group or a frequent place is safer than alone in the wild, especially during the night. Unfortunately there are *** people everywhere, so try not to run alone in questionable districts, especially if you are a pretty woman. How to tackle this could be another long post, so let's move to "natural" dangers. In Hungary, it is rare, that an animal harms anybody. Wild animals are a lesser threat than stray dogs. But not all countries are like this. Bears, scorpions, snakes, you name it. This can be especially important if you bring your running shoes on a vacation with you (which you absolutely should).

This is really taking long... let's finish up with food. What and when should I eat?

Be vegan.

You are messing with me.

Kind of. It is nearly 6 am, so I'm writing this post for hours now, and probably nobody will read it, because it got really long. So yeah, maybe I'm losing it.

Anyhow, there are as many "best practices", for nutrition in the field of running, as there are in general. Some religiously believe in one thing, others in other things. And again, I'm too lazy (and tired of debates) to pay proper attention to this. So I'm not the best example to have, and definitely not one to follow, but:

My general rule is to try to pay attention to my body, and eat, what I think I desire. If I'm on a race, and see something that I immediately desire like nothing else, I just eat it. If something feels fishy, I don't eat it. During training, if I have a long run, I bring a gel or two, or some muesli bars, drink water and isotonic drink. After a training session I often drink a protein shake. Or a beer ๐Ÿ˜‚ Many say, that it is not so good to eat a few hours before running, and many have problems running that way. I'm not one of them. Probably I'm not at my peak, but I rarely push myself to the limits.

This is more complicated and tiring than calculus. I'll just go and watch netflix instead.

I've heard that there are some nice documentaries about running there.

Oh, ffs, I'm out.