Most people start running programs guided by time or by mileage, which are both well and good. But if you’re new to running, know that there are other ways in that might suit your personality—or even just your mood—in a way that’ll get you really, truly hooked on running once and for all.
Adapted from Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It), these plans are tailored to beginning runners but can work for runners burnt out on their current routines.
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Learn to Love Running: By Time
» Best if you: Don’t mind having your hand held a little; want a fairly fail-safe method to easing into running; are a rule-follower; don’t mind frequently looking down at your wrist.
» Needed: A watch. (A digital chronograph watch is easiest to follow and can be preset to beep at you when it’s time to run or walk.)
» Where: Outside on the road, a trail, the track, or inside on a treadmill. If you do it on a trail or on hilly terrain on the road, you’ll need to adjust a bit based on feel: run for longer on a downhill, shorter on an uphill.
» How: Follow any given run-by-time plan, like this Runner’s World walk-to-run plan that has helped thousands of beginners get started. Unless you have a photographic memory, either print and cut out the workout to take with you, or jot it down on something small like a business card and take that with you. Alternatively, you could try to memorize it, and/or you could take a picture of it with your phone to reference if you forget (and don’t mind taking your phone with you). Some watches can be preset.
Learn to Love Running: Abstractly, By Time
» Best if you: Have a rebellious streak and want a looser approach to increasing running by time
» Needed: A watch
» Where: On a road, a trail, a treadmill, a track
- Walk for roughly the first five minutes. If you feel like walking for six, go nuts.
- Run until you don’t feel like running anymore. Maybe this is 30 seconds, maybe it’s a few minutes.
- Walk again, dammit.
- Run again, laughing in the face of structure. (Or just run.)
- Repeat for the remainder of your run, aiming to run for a total of 2 or 3 minutes on your first time out. Break down those 2 or 3 minutes within a 30-minute outing however you want. The other 27 or 28 minutes, walk.
- Walk to cool down.
Improve (Week 3ish): Increase your total run time to 5 minutes.
Improve more (Week 5ish): Increase your total run time to 10 minutes. And walk more if you bloody feel like it.
Improve even more (Week 7ish): Increase your total run time to 15, 20, and eventually 30 minutes or more.
» Tip: Make sure you’re entering this plan, and any other, from where you are physically and mentally as a runner. If you run regularly (but maybe hate it) for instance, do the above by running, say, 20–30 minutes total, broken down however you want, for your first time out.
Learn to Love Running: By Feel
» Best if you: Don’t love watches; need a break from technology; want to feel more in tune with your body
» Needed: An ability to listen to your body and mind
» Where: Anywhere
- Start by walking.
- When your body feels moderately warmed up (less creaky than when you started; usually about 5 to 10 minutes in), break into a jog.
- Stop running and start walking when you still feel sorta okay, but when you notice a hitch in your stride or a light strain (more than usual) in your muscles or breath. Do not wait to walk until you can’t breathe or talk.*
- Start running again.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 three or four times.
- Walk for a few minutes after your last run segment to cool down.
Improve (Week 3ish): Run for longer during each segment, but don’t make jumps that are too big. Give yourself at least two to three runs with similar run-length segments before adding time.
Improve more (Week 5ish): Run for longer still during each segment. Again, do this gradually.
Improve even more (Week 7ish): You got it. Run for longer during each segment, still listening to your body.
» Tip: Choosing natural markers, as in “Run until that big tree,” “Walk until the stop sign,” can help motivate... but if your body tells you to stop before then, listen.
* The Talk Test: If you can no longer speak a full sentence, it’s time to slow down and walk. Walk until you regain your breath and your muscles feel semi-ready. (Don’t wait until you feel perfect, because you won’t.)
Learn to Love Running: With Music
» Best if you: Need music to make your heart beat; don’t like watches but want some structure on your runs; can’t fathom getting out the door without music blasting in your ears
» Needed: Some way to play music into your ears and carry said music player comfortably » Where: Anywhere
- Walk for the duration of two songs (avoiding jam band epics).
- Jog/run for the first verse of the next song.
- Walk during the next verse and chorus of that song.
- Jog/run for another verse, before walking until the end of the song.
- Repeat the run/walk for four songs.
- Walk home during the duration of two songs to cool down.
Improve (Week 3ish): Warm up by walking for two songs. Once you feel comfortable jog/running for the duration of a verse, increase the jog/run duration from one verse to two.
Improve more (Week 5ish): Warm up by walking for two songs. Jog/run for two verses and through the end of the chorus (while still walking for the rest of the song). Repeat for four songs.
Improve even more (Week 7ish): Warm up by walking for one or two songs. Jogging for an entire song, then walk a song, then jog/run for another entire song. Repeat for four or so songs.
» Tip: Playing the same music/playlist will help you gauge your improvement.
» Another tip: The cadence of a song can affect the speed with which your feet hit the ground, so choose songs accordingly. Look for a running playlist online or just choose songs that have an upbeat tempo. It’s tough to crank out miles to “The Way You Look Tonight,” unless you want to force yourself to run slower. Likewise, especially if you’re first starting out, avoid superfast dance beats. You don’t want the cadence of a song to make you feel badly about your stride or make you trip on yourself trying to keep up.
Learn to Love Running: By Distance on a Track
» Best if you: Are a visual thinker; feel more comfortable in controlled environments; are competitive
» Needed: A track
» Where: A track
- Walk two laps.
- Jog/shuffle the curve of the beginning of the third lap.
- Walk the rest of the lap.
- Jog/shuffle the curve of the beginning of the fourth lap.
- Walk a cool down lap or two.
Improve (Week 3ish): Walk two laps. Jog/shuffle the straightaway and half a curve, walking the rest of the lap. Repeat for four laps total. Walk two laps.
Improve more (Week 5ish): Walk two laps. Jog/shuffle the straightaway and curve of the third lap (half a lap!), walking the rest of the lap. Repeat for four laps total. Walk two laps.
Improve even more (Week 7ish): Walk two laps. Jog/shuffle a lap, walk a lap. Repeat for four laps (running two laps total). Walk two laps.
» Tip: If you get bored, try music in your ears.
» Another tip: While you’re trying hard, take an inside lane. While you’re not, move to an outside lane. Always look over your shoulder before switching lanes so you avoid collisions and annoyed track mates.
Learn to Love Running: By Distance, Not on a Track
» Best if you: Are a visual thinker; don’t want to go by time
» Needed: An ability to listen to your body (see “Learn to Love Running: By Feel”); a treadmill, if doing this on a treadmill; a GPS-enabled device, if doing this by device
» Where: On a road, a trail, a treadmill
- Walk until your body feels less creaky than when you started.
- Spot something ahead of you, but not too far ahead of you—a tree, a telephone pole, a stop sign. If you’re on a treadmill or if going by distance measured by a device, choose a distance.
- Jog/run to that thing/mileage.
- Walk until another thing—a different tree, a different telephone pole, a yield sign. Or to the next mileage increment on your treadmill console or smartwatch.
- Repeat, listening to your body. If the thing/increment you chose makes you go into overload—your muscles or lungs scream—walk sooner. Likewise, if you feel ready to run again before the rst thing you chose, adjust said thing. Pick something closer/shorter.
- Walk to cool down.
Improve (Week 3ish): Pick natural markers or distances on the treadmill or smartwatch that are farther than the first time you tried this.
Improve more (Week 5ish): Pick natural markers that are farther still and/or choose natural markers for your walking breaks that are closer together.
Improve even more (Week 7ish): Choose natural markers that are farther than you ever thought you could run at one time, only after you’ve built up to doing so.
» Tip: If you run the same route once a week, you’ll be able to gauge your progress easily. That said, don’t run the same route every time you head out. Your body wants to run varied routes, as does your mind.
The story was adapted with permission from Running That Doesn’t Suck: How to Love Running (Even if you Think You Hate It) by Lisa Jhung (Running Press)
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