Novice running

Just recently, I've run a few sessions with mates who are keen to start running for fitness - and despite their being keen, it seems I'd overestimated their abilities.

I'm trying to go easy with them, and remember what it was like when I started running, but it seems like the three years of nearly daily running I've done have made me into some sort of superhero in comparison with someone who doesn't run at all... and that's clearly not right.

So I thought I'd better think back harder to my first few runs, and what it was like for me then, and how long it took for me to get to the fitness I'm at now - and look at recommendations for novice runners.

What I quickly saw in writing this post was how far I've come, and how crap I was to start with. I hope I can also take away lesson about training novices constructively, too.

Starting out
It was the week of my 40th birthday when I went out running for the first time since school. My basic fitness was the residue left behind from having cycled to work each day about a dozen years prior to that (about 10 miles each week day), and that immediately prior to my running, I'd been walking daily, for half an hour, each lunch time at work.
I was trying to build up my ankle strength after spraining it badly at a party, and trying to build up my stamina - better stamina puts less stress on my lungs, and stress on my lungs is what triggers my asthma.

So I wasn't in good shape, but I had an underlying ability to run when I started out.

Nevertheless, my first attempt to run the same distances as my daily walk was dreadful. I managed it in 25 minutes - just a few minutes less than I would if I were walking briskly. I couldn't run the whole distance in one go. I didn't run it at all the following day, but I did go out and walked it again.

For the first few weeks, I didn't manage to run the whole 30 minutes. I was walking for sections each time - but those sections were gradually getting shorter, and my speed was increasing.

I was running 3 or 4 or 5 miles nearly every day, and getting quite confident and comfortable with it within about six months.

Longer distances
What I really wanted to do though, was run for a long distance. I started to increase my weekend runs with a friend who ran for very long distances (this is the guy whose fault it was I started running at all, really - his first ever marathon was day 1 of a multiday ultramarathon in the Sahara).

With some encouragement, and plenty of short daily runs by myself, I ran till I got happy with 10 km. I increased my weekend distances gradually. Then one day I found I'd done 10 miles (16 km), and I still felt relatively fresh - so I decided to try for a half marathon distances: 13.1 miles (21 km).

This was about a year after I'd started running, though. I've heard of people starting out with a basic level of fitness and training to run a marathon in six weeks - but I certainly didn't even try to do that.

Since then, I've trained to run longer and longer, and I've got a couple of marathons and one ultramarathon under my belt - but my idea of a fun distance is really the half marathon, or on a really good day, the 30 km.

Starting from scratch
For novices, Runners' World magazine recommend that you start with a 2 mile goal - aiming to be running for 30 minutes non-stop at a slow relaxed pace.

It also plans this goal to be the end of 8 weeks of training.

So, while I pulled my mate along straight out the gate of his house for three minutes of running, up a hill, at what I thought was a relaxed pace, Runners' World suggests we should have started out with 1 minute running, then 2 minutes walking, repeated for the whole session.
This probably accounts for why, after about 2 km - 10 minutes of a good long distance pace (for an established runner), he flaked out and had to slow to a walk.
He managed  a few more bouts of running - a minute or two for the rest of the 30 minutes - but we walked for most of the rest of the distance.
When I compare that with what the experts say is good for a novice - and how I was when I started - I'm impressed he managed as well as he did.

Essentially, the training plan for novices should be based on starting walking twice as much as you run, every other day - with a walk of the same length on the other days - and building up gradually to run / walk in even amounts, finally culminating in running continuously for a whole 30 minutes.

Which is rather like what I did, without knowing it was right - it was just what I found comfortable.

Better training
So good news for my novice running mates - I know what we should be doing now! Keep it up for a month, and we should be running most of the sessions, with just a couple of 1 minute walks.

Keep it up for 2 months, and I should find these youngsters outpacing me, and pulling me along. Everyone wins.


  1. One of the things I tell newbies is that they can lie to me but be honest with themselves. When you are tired and want to stop, ask yourself do I NEED to stop? Most of the time the answer is No, if you are honest with yourself.

  2. We tried a run of 1 min walk / 1 min running - and I think it was a success. Now we'll just increase the run / walk ratio till they're running all the way.