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A Plan for Beginning Running

How to get started in running

You want to run. Maybe to lose weight, maybe to have better health, maybe to fulfill a half-buried dream. For whatever reason, you've decided to run, and you are excited to get started. Here is a plan to get you going.

This plan is a suggested approach that will help you become a runner. This plan observes both the 10% rule and the heavy/light rule, and it includes a monthly recovery week of reduced running/walking that is followed by a week of the distance you ran before the recovery week. Because of the relatively small increases in distance, this plan takes longer than some of you might want to spend. Feel free to adjust the plan to fit your interests and body condition. As you follow the plan, focus on completing the distance and don't worry about speed. Just run or walk at a comfortable pace. In fact, this caution about focusing on distance not speed should be your guide later on as you advance to longer distances.


This plan will help persons who want to run to progress from no running to running 30 minutes three times a week. There are four phases to this plan. Each phase has a measurable goal.

  1. You will first walk but not run three times a week, making small increases in the time you spend each week, until you are walking for 20 minutes. You will be walking approximately a mile, but you are walking by time not distance. This will help your body adjust to the increased stress of walking without having a high risk of injury, since walking is much easier on your body than running. Take as many weeks for this phase as you need.
  2. Next, you will add small amounts of running while continuing to walk the same amount of time that you did in the first phase. When you are finished with this phase, you will  be running for 10 minutes and walking for 20 minutes. Some runners may want to split the walking into two parts and put all of their running as one block between the walking. Other runners may want to mix the walking and the running in small segments. For example, walking for a minute and then running for a few seconds.  The length of the running is increased until it is equal to 10 minutes. The length of the walking is not changed. Take as many weeks for this phase as you need.
  3. Third, you will continue to add small amounts of running until you are running for 20 minutes. You are still walking for 20 minutes. Take as many weeks for this phase as you need.
  4. Finally, you will slowly increase the amount of running and decrease the amount of walking until you are doing just running and are doing it for 30 minutes. You are welcome to include short walking breaks with your running if you would like. If you do take walking breaks, it is your choice whether or not you include the time spent walking as part of the 30 minutes. I take 30-second walking breaks every half-mile when I run. I enjoy the few moments of walking, and I feel invigorated when I resume running. And, I have more energy for the final part of my run. Take as many weeks for this phase as you need.

All of the increases in time that you make should be small, typically about 10% of your weekly time. Based on how you feel, you may make smaller increases in some weeks and larger increases in other weeks. At the end of this plan, you will be ready to graduate to an intermediate plan for running. That plan will take you from your 30 minutes of running three times a week (approximately 9 miles or 14.5 km a week) to 24 miles (38.6 km) a week.

It is important that you modify this plan to fit both your interests and the capabilities of your body. For example, you may decide to do more running and less walking. Or, you may decide to run/walk more than three times a week by adding additional days in which you run/walk about half the distance you do in the main three days of your training. These additional days could be days of cross training, such as swimming or cycling.

Remember that this plan is just a guide to help you manage your training. It is not something rigid that you must slavishly follow. As you modify this plan to be your plan, keep in mind the two rules of running that should govern all of us as we run: the 10% rule in which we make small increases in our distance or speed, and the heavy/light rule in which we follow days of heavier stress with days of lighter stress to give our bodies the 48 hours (or more) that it needs to recover from the days of heavier stress.

Fall-back Weeks

It is critical that you give your body sufficient rest after your heavy days such that your body can repair the damage to its cells and in so doing become stronger. In many cases, running and walking heavy/light will not give your body sufficient rest. It is thus advisable to include fall-back weeks in your schedule such that once a month or so you reduce your weekly time by 20 - 30%. At the end of each fall-back week, take one or two weeks to return to the time you were doing before the fall-back week. Then continue with your training.

Deciding How Much Distance to Add

Some of you will be concerned that this plan doesn't tell you exactly how much to walk or run each day. Instead, the plan tells you to follow the 10% rule and the heavy/light rule and to make wise decisions about how much time to spend each day. For some of you, having this amount of freedom will be a new experience, and it may take you a few weeks to adjust to this freedom. Hang in there and do the best you can to slowly increase your distance while listening to your body, and you will soon get the hang of it. When you have reached your goal of 30 minutes of running you will be thrilled with your ability to manage yourself, not having to be told exactly what to do. After all, by listening to your body, you are listening to the greatest coach you will ever have.

Remember, you don't have to run or walk for exactly the number of minutes given in the plan. On days that you feel fine, you may want to run more and walk less. On days that you are tired, you may want to walk more and run less. Listen to your body and react accordingly.

Be a Runner not a Slave

Don't feel like you must follow this plan, or any plan, exactly as it is written. You are different from all other people on this planet. This plan should serve as a guide but not a blueprint. Modify this plan to be your plan -- your plan becomes your blueprint. Learn to listen to your body and to make decisions about your walking and running based on how your body feels.

bulletIf you find yourself huffing and puffing and gasping for air, slow down until you feel comfortable with your pace.
bulletOn some days you will feel great, like you are in heaven so to speak. On other days, you will feel like your legs are made of lead and that you are lucky to be out of bed much less trying to run. These feelings are normal. We all have our ups and downs in running. We call them peaks and slumps. The down days come because our bodies can't handle the stress it is receiving, and we need more rest. Thus, take an extra light day, or take a day off from walking and running. If you're having a really bad time, take several days off.

The page on Overtraining has a nice list of the symptoms that indicate you are doing too much in your training and need to back off a bit.

Graduate to the Intermediate Plan

When you are able to run for 30 minutes (approximately three miles), and you feel comfortable with that distance, you are ready to graduate as a beginner and to begin training as an intermediate runner. Click here for the Intermediate plan. Congratulations!

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The information in this site and in my podcasts is for informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical or physical therapy advice. For medical advice, consult a physician. For physical therapy advice, consult a physical therapist.

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The information in this site and in my podcasts is for informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical or physical therapy advice. For medical advice, consult a physician. For physical therapy advice, consult a physical therapist.

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