5 Day Plan to Start Running

“I don’t want to hear any more excuses!”

How many times have we said this line, or at least had it silently run through our heads, when dealing with our kids, our partners, our coworkers? Why won’t they just do what we ask them to do, when we ask them to do it?

Well, if you have been thinking about trying a running program but haven’t gotten started yet…

What’s YOUR excuse?

One of the best things about running is its accessibility –  it can be done pretty much anywhere at just about any time.  However, for someone who has never run before or hasn’t run in months or even years, the sense of not being “prepared” or not knowing where to start can be enough of an excuse to not even take that first step out the front door.  Below, I’m going to outline four steps that you can take over four consecutive days to get yourself mentally and physically prepared to start running with confidence on Day 5.  No more excuses!

(Reminder: Before starting any new fitness routine, you should first consult with your doctor.)

Day 1: Pick Your Plan

There are a lot of beginner running plans available for free online – so many, in fact, that it can be a little overwhelming trying to determine which one might be the best fit for you.

Many new runners choose to start with a Couch to 5K (also known as “C25K”) program, as this allows you to pick a “goal” race that you will run at the culmination of the plan. Another popular option is a plan that allows you to progress from run-walk intervals to running for thirty minutes straight.  Either of these options is good for a beginning runner – keep in mind that if you can run for thirty minutes straight, you can likely complete a 5K even if you have to walk a bit at the end, and if you can run a 5K, then you can very likely run for thirty minutes straight.

Nearly all beginner running plans start with run-walk intervals. One recommendation I will make is to choose a plan that offers specific intervals (i.e., run for 1 minute, walk for 2 minutes), rather than one that has you run until you start to breathe heavily and then walk until you catch your breath, without providing definitive times for how long these intervals should last.  As a new and ambitious runner, it is tempting to push yourself too hard (or, in some cases, perhaps not hard enough), and I find that these plans tend to be too unstructured for someone who is just getting used to learning their body’s signals during a run.

One last consideration to keep in mind when choosing your plan is how many weeks you want to commit.  Beginner’s running plans typically range from six to twelve weeks.  If you have little to no running experience and live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, you may want to choose a longer plan that will allow you to gradually and safely build up to thirty minutes of running or a 5K race.  However, if you have some experience running or walking, or feel that you may lose interest in a plan that takes more than two months to complete, a shorter beginner’s plan may be your best bet.

Here are some good options to consider:

Day 2: Get Fitted for Running Shoes

Okay, listen up. This step is really important. If you’re going to spend time running, you need to take care of your feet. Taking care of your feet with properly fitting shoes will have a trickle *up* effect in protecting the rest of your body from injury while running.

Although you can go to a major sporting goods chain to find running shoes, I would strongly encourage you to go to a local running store instead.  Employees at running stores are typically runners themselves, and are usually more than happy to talk your ear off about running shoes and proper fit, and spend the time necessary to find the perfect pair of shoes for you.  More importantly, they are often given some training in gait analysis in order to watch you run, look for form issues, and find a shoe that meets your specific needs.

Although I’ve been to several running stores in my area, my favorite is Roadrunner Sports, a national running store chain.  One of the reasons I prefer Roadrunner Sports is their 90 Day “test run” policy that allows you to run in the shoes you buy and return them as late as 90 days after purchase.  That is a lot of time to decide whether or not you like a pair of shoes, plus it gives busy parents like myself a huge buffer in which to find the time to return the shoes if needed.  They also carry a wide variety of running shoes, and do a thorough in-store analysis of your running gait to help you find the best fitting shoes. These qualities are all things to look for when locating and venturing off to your local running store, as these features are not unique to Roadrunner Sports and similar offerings are often available at even very small running stores.

One last piece of advice: don’t be afraid or intimidated by a running store or its employees! The first time I went into a running store, I felt extremely nervous.  I thought I would be surrounded by Boston Qualifiers and other super fast runners who would give me the side-eye as I mentioned I was training for my first 5K.  This was, however, not the case at all.  In fact, I have found running store employees to be some of the most encouraging people to new and beginning runners, and they have experience working with all types of runners and walkers. So again – no more excuses! 😉

Day 3: Find a Watch and Some Clothes to Run In

Today’s tasks are pretty straightforward. If you don’t have proper clothes to run in, you’re going to be uncomfortable – so uncomfortable, in fact, that you may not be able to finish your run or want to continue running.  When you’re just starting out, it’s really not necessary to invest in the most expensive running clothes or the most high-tech watch on the market. If anything, you should put your money towards getting a high-quality pair of running shoes, and use your leftover funds to buy a few pieces of athletic wear to rotate through each week.

Here are some recommendations for basic workout attire in warm or cold weather. You may or may not need everything I’ve listed below, and you may also want to mix and match between the two lists in order to find the right combination for the weather in your area (i.e., a short sleeve shirt with leggings if it’s cool, but not cold, outside).

  • Warm weather:
    • Short sleeve shirt or sleeveless shirt
    • shorts, running skirt, or capri-length running tights
    • sports bra
    • socks
    • hair tie, headband/hat/visor
    • sunglasses
  • Cold weather:
    • Long sleeve shirt
    • vest or jacket
    • running tights
    • gloves
    • hair tie, hat or headband to cover ears
    • sports bra
    • socks
    • sunglasses

Ideally, your workout clothing will be made of a synthetic fabric, typically called “technical” or “high performance” fabric, that can wick the moisture (sweat) away from your skin and help regulate your body temperature.  However, if all you have is a cotton t-shirt and some old gym shorts, that is fine for now. Unless you have a lot of spare income, building a running “wardrobe” takes time.

(Protip: You can combine this task with finding your running shoes if you want, since most running stores often carry athletic wear that is perfect for runners!)

Another item you’ll need to track down is a digital watch. This assumes that the running plan you’ve chosen is time-based rather than distance-based (in other words, it tells you to “run for 5 minutes” rather than “run for 2 miles”), which is typical for beginning runner plans. Right now, it’s not necessary to go out and buy the most expensive Garmin watch on the market (although if you really want to, go right ahead!).  When I started training for my first 5K, I bought a very cheap digital watch on Amazon and used this watch for almost a year before investing in a Garmin.  All you need this watch to do is tell time and be easy to read, so that as you’re completing run/walk intervals, you can quickly glance at the watch and know how much time is left until the next interval starts.

Many runners – beginners included – also choose to use an app like Map My Run, RunKeeper, or Strava to log their runs.  While I won’t dive into these apps right now, you should certainly investigate them if this is something you’re interested in, or if your plan is distance-based and you don’t have any other way of tracking how far you’ve run. My app of choice, prior to buying my Garmin watch, was Runkeeper, and it did a fine job of tracking my distance (the app will alert you when you have reached certain distances based on your settings – every 0.5 mile, 1 mile, etc.). If you’re going to use a phone app to track your run, you may also want to consider purchasing an armband to hold your phone while you run.

Day 4: Scope Out Your Path and Find Your Support Person

So you’re one day away from starting your running program.  Today’s tasks are fairly straightforward and will hopefully allow you to feel fully prepared and excited for your first day of running/run-walking.

This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it’s worth a few minutes of your time to consider the path that you’ll be running/walking on tomorrow.  Are you going to run around your neighborhood? Are there sidewalks, or will you be running against traffic? Will you run on a trail? Is it paved? Or are you planning to use a treadmill? Will it be dark when you’re running (if you’re outside)?

In a best-case scenario, you’ll be running in daylight in a familiar area that either has sidewalks or is a paved recreational trail.  Always stay alert when running on the road – be sure to wear attire that is highly visible, stay on the shoulder, and run against traffic. If you’ll be running on gravel, take some time to get used to the feeling of loose gravel under your feet, and be very wary of tripping on the trail.

After you’ve scoped out your path and hopefully envisioned yourself running/walking on it tomorrow, it is also a good time to identify and talk to a person who will support you through your training.  This person might be your partner, parent, friend, neighbor…anyone who is willing to listen to you vent and rave about running (because you will do both, believe me), and who will cheer you on as you make progress toward your goal.  This person may also be the one you turn to for childcare or other assistance so that you can complete your run.  Whether you think you will need it or not, it’s always a good idea to let someone know you’re about to go out for a run, and let them know an approximate time for your return.

Once you have identified your support person, tell them about your training plan! My guess is that they will be very excited and encouraging, and will be happy to hold you accountable to completing your training.  Having that extra boost of confidence from your support person will help you get out the door tomorrow if you happen to wake up making excuses or doubting yourself.

Day 5: Go RUN and Have FUN!

Congratulations! You’re all prepared to start your first day of your beginner running program.  Now is the time to put your plan into action.  If your run/walk is more difficult than you expected, don’t worry – running is HARD, especially when you first start, but the beauty of running is that you will get out of it what you put in.  Lean on your support person if you need a quick confidence booster.  But, most importantly, be proud of yourself for doing something that will have a substantial positive impact on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing – it’s way better than sitting on the couch watching TV or with your face glued to your iPhone, amirite?


Have you just started running, or used the steps above to prepare to start running? Let me know how it’s going in the comments below! Are there any other steps you’d recommend for someone who has never run before, but wants to get started?

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