During lockdown in the UK, my social feeds have been filled with people taking up running for the first time. And who can blame them? With indoor gyms currently closed in the UK, running provides a free and accessible way to keep fit, get some fresh air and improve your mental wellbeing.

But don’t just take my social feeds’ word for it: the latest stats show that downloads of the Couch to 5k app have increased by 92% compared to this time last year.

I started up running around 4 years ago using the Couch to 5k app so I have a really soft spot for it. I had tried a few times before to start running, but it had always felt so unachievable. The Couch to 5k app really helped break down the mental block I had. (If you haven’t tried the app before, it basically builds you up to running for 30 minutes straight over nine weeks of runs that alternate running and walking for different lengths of time). You can download the Couch to 5k app on the NHS website.

When I first started running I did it to lose weight and improve my general fitness levels. But over the years it has taken on a greater prominence in my life as a way to unwind, usually after a tough day at work. I’m definitely not going to be running marathons anytime soon (if ever!), mind. However, I find getting out for a couple of 20-30 minute runs a week is easy to stick to – and also not too overwhelming.
Greenwich 10k running tips for new runners

Me after running my toughest 10km race to date in Greenwich park.

As a Couch to 5k ‘veteran’, I thought I would talk about some of the things that I’ve learned over the last four years. These little tips have transformed my running ability and helped keep me motivated during tough times!

My top 11 tips for new runners

1. Couch to 5ks isn’t just for newbies

Couch to 5k is a running plan that’s targetted at ‘absolute beginners’. But that doesn’t mean that once you’ve wrapped up your 9-week course you can never use the app again! Even now, I sometimes return to the app to keep me motivated. After recently moving to a new area with lots of hills, I found returning to the later weeks of the app really helpful in building up my stamina and endurance levels. And, let’s face it, some days there’s nothing worse than the thought of heading out the door for a 30-minute straight jog – knowing that your run will be an easier one with walking breaks can really help mentally and give you that push to get out the front door.

2. Free up your hands

When I first started running I would run with a huge water bottle in one hand and my phone in the other. Not only did I drop my phone several times, my hands would feel so uncomfortable by the end of my run. In the end, I ditched the water bottle and invested in a running belt to hold my house keys and phone (you can also get running armbands to hold your phone/keys/cash). Freeing up my hands made SUCH a huge difference – I could run without feeling extra sweaty, without objects weighing me down and without worrying about dropping things. If you haven’t made the transition yet, I highly recommend it!

My running tips for new runners

Never seen running without my running belt!

3. Invest in proper trainers

Your feet receive the brunt of the force when you run, so it’s only right that you spend a little extra on proper running trainers that are designed with support in mind.

That definitely doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive pair in the shop (I’ve got my last two pairs from Sports Direct), but I’d recommend getting a gait analysis to find out more about your running style. Runners Need offer this for free! Oh, and don’t forget to get your running trainers after every 500-750km you run.

4. …And buy running clothing you feel comfortable in!

Are my leggings see-through? Are my thighs going to be rubbing together uncomfortably if I wear shorts? Is this sports bra supportive enough?!

These are all ridiculous questions that you don’t want to be worrying about when you’re trying to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other! I do my best runs when I don’t feel self-conscious about what I’m wearing, so I make sure my running outfits aren’t too tight or uncomfortable. Ultimately, the fewer worries you can eliminate from your mind, the more enjoyable your runs will be.

Running tips for new runners
In my very very very early running days when I didn’t know if I was going to stick to it or not, I just wore an old t-shirt and some tracksuit bottoms. One thing worth investing in sooner rather than later (aside from a supportive pair of trainers – see #3) is proper running socks – there are some pretty cheap ones available at Sports Direct. Ironically I’m not wearing mine in the picture above…! But wearing tighter running socks helps reduce blisters and are ultimately much more comfortable.

5. Don’t do too much too soon

It may not feel like it when you’re first huffing and puffing your way around a park, but running is addictive. So much so that it can feel tempting to throw yourself into too much too soon – either going out too fast, too long or too often. Multiple people I know (myself included!) have been blighted by shin splints after overdoing it. These can be so painful and can also put you out of action for days, or even weeks.

Make sure you build rest days into your running week, and slowly build up to longer distances. (There are some places that advise only ramping up your mileage by 10% each week, but I’ve seen others dispute this – however, this could be a good indicator when you’re first starting out).

6. Little and often to help build a routine

Would I rather do three 3km runs a week, or one 10km?

Well. As much as I would love to be able to run 10km right now (!), I would definitely take the three shorter runs any day of the week. I find keeping to a routine helps me stay in love with running, and helps keep my fitness ticking over. Building in different types of runs over the week really helps boost your endurance too, for instance intervals (running/walking), quick and fast runs around the block, and recovery runs.

7. Mix up your routes

Running the same route every run has its pitfalls: for instance, you may know that it’s exactly 2km at ‘that tree’ so you automatically stop without pushing yourself. You might remember the last time you ran up ‘that hill’ and it was awful, so you don’t attempt it again. And that’s not to mention the fact that running the same route several days a week for months – or years! – can get pretty darn boring.

By mixing up your route you runs can feel fresh and exciting. There have even been times when I’ve gone adventuring around my local area to explore new routes and roads and have ended up running further than I thought was possible!

Running tips for beginners New York Turkey trot

Ian and I after finishing the Turkey Trot 5km run in New York, November 2019.

8. Try listening to podcasts and audiobooks when you run

This is a top tip from my boyfriend who swears by running to podcasts and audiobooks while running – not music. He says it helps distract him from the actual running and stops him running to the tempo of the music (and potentially running faster than he wants to).

Full disclosure: I’ve tried it and they’re just not for me – I’m not a huge fan of podcasts anyway, and I prefer running without people talking and laughing in my ear! But I know a lot of people rave about running to podcasts, so maybe it’s worth a shot?

9. Don’t feel that you HAVE to get a running buddy

When I first started running, lots of articles suggested running in a group or with a friend. While running with others can have its benefits – it’s sociable, can help you pace yourself and holds you accountable to actually getting out the door in the first place – don’t assume it’s best for you. I find running by myself therapeutic, and I love getting out there by myself, zoning out and just moving.

When I run with others I get frustrated when they try to talk to me or when their pace is so much quicker than mine. It’s not a fun experience for me, so now I just keep running a solo venture.

Scarborough 10k running tips for new runners

Me (in the yellow) running my first race – a 10km in Scarborough. Note how I’m trying to zone everyone out…!

Running tips for new runners Cancer Research 5k run Race for life

Love doing races with people though – this is me and Sophie (Luggage Tags and Ticket Stubs blog) after doing a 5k Race for Life for Cancer Research!

10. Warm up and down!

Both are essential in order to help your muscles acclimatise. I also find warming up helps me mentally, especially during lockdown where I’ve been working from home. It can feel daunting to go from 9 hours sitting at your desk in your kitchen straight into a half hour run. By starting out with a 5 minute warm up walk (in addition to muscles stretches etc), you can give your mind and body that little extra time to acclimatise to the change.

11. Run whenever suits you

I know some people who swear by an invigorating 5am run before starting work. And I’ve lost count of the number of articles saying that an early morning pre-breakfast run is the best way to burn calories and lose weight…

Except, every time I have tried to exercise before midday my body does not have a good time. I feel extra sluggish, I get aches and pains, and I ultimately end up having a horrid run and feeling really unmotivated.

It didn’t take me long to realise late afternoon or early evening runs work better for me. They’re easier to fit into my lifestyle, it helps me relax after work, and my body feels happier when I’m exercising while not completely starving. Remember, the best way to run is whatever works for you. If an evening run is easier to stick to and more enjoyable, then that’s exactly what you should do.

Those are my 11 top tips for new runners – what else would you add?