Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania. He prefers a slower pace to his travels to explore destinations more in-depth and to get a feel for what life is actually like there. When he’s not writing, he’s usually off exploring trails with his fiancée, Kaitlyn.
New to running? Do you see these terms, plans, and workouts and don’t understand what they all mean? This is natural when beginning a running program.
You sometimes feel like you stepped into an advanced-level physics class when you should be in an intro to physical science.
So, let this serve as your introduction, and I’ll be your wonky professor.
Mind you, I learned all this through my own confusion and failures, and I’m still learning.
So, let’s learn together. Below, I’ll detail some of the specifics of a training program and give some tips for beginning a running program.
The 5 Types of Runs
When beginning a running program, these runs won’t apply to you as most of your runs will be easy runs to build a strong base.
But, as you progress, you’ll want to add in runs with varying intensities to work different systems in your body.
There are more types of workouts, but they typically fall under the five listed below.
So, here is some terminology to be aware of.
Base runs are the primary runs of your training plan. They’re the backbone of your training and help you build volume and your aerobic engine.
You’ll do base runs at a leisurely pace and one you can carry for an extended time. This should be an enjoyable pace that isn’t exerting you too much.
Generally speaking, you should be around 50-70% of your max heart rate or a 3-5 on a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale.
Benefits of Base Runs
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Strengthens muscles and bones
- Improves aerobic engine
Threshold, in this case, refers to your lactate threshold. Skipping the scientific explanation, this is the speed at which you’ll fatigue quickly. Your legs will get that lead feeling and will feel heavy and tired.
This is usually around 70-80% of your maximum heart rate or a 6-7 on an RPE scale.
If that doesn’t help, it should be the pace you could hold for around an hour of running.
One of the main types of threshold runs is a tempo run, which requires you to maintain your threshold pace for 20 minutes or more.
This type of run gets you accustomed to running at a more challenging effort for extended periods.
Example Threshold Workout
- Run 1-2 miles for warmup
- 3-8 miles at threshold pace
- 1-2 mile cooldown
Benefits of Threshold Runs
- Improved VO2 Max
- Increase lactate threshold
- Reduced fatigue at slower paces
- Improved mental endurance at faster paces
Interval workouts are a staple of track athletes. These involve running a set distance at a specific pace (usually on a track) to make you faster.
You also get the feel of running at different paces and intensities with intervals.
Example Interval Workout
- 10-15 minute warmup
- 400-meters at mile pace with a minute rest after, repeat six times
- 10-15 minute cooldown
Benefits of Interval Runs
- Builds fitness fast
- Improves running pace
- Burns more calories
Fartleks are a form of intervals and a Swedish word for “speed play.” But, these are less-structured intervals.
The idea of a fartlek is to mix up the speed you run at. For example, you may choose a point in the distance and pick up your pace until you reach it, then slow down until another point in the distance.
The entire point of a fartlek is to be unstructured. Mix up your speed as you see fit, and vary the intensity.
Benefits of Fartleks
- Improved strength and endurance
- Improves fast and slow-twitch muscles
- Improved weight loss
And we finally arrive at the most essential run workout listed here.
Every runner benefits from long runs as they make your body more efficient at running for extended periods. Plus, they’re a lot of fun if you do them right!
Typically, a long run will be about 20-30% of your weekly volume and should be run at a comfortable and conversational pace.
Long runs (in most cases) shouldn’t be done more than once a week.
Benefits of Long Run Workouts
- Increase VO2 max and blood volume
- Muscles become more efficient at underlying processes
- Builds mental endurance
- Body gets better at using fat for fuel
How to Start with Running
To begin, you should be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping or struggling. You should work up to this point if you’re not yet.
Don’t feel discouraged or embarrassed if you can’t complete this feat yet; we all have to start somewhere. And, besides, this will make it much sweeter as you see your progress.
Imagine running an entire 5k after being unable to run for 30 minutes straight. Now that’s some damn progress!
So, if you’re at this stage, let’s get you started with a plan that prepares your body for the impact of running.
The impact on your joints and muscles is no joke, so you must prepare yourself to stay healthy. One other way to reduce the impact to your joints is to start running on hills. The reduced impact helps your legs stay fresh and helps you avoid injury.
Running Plan to Get You into Running Shape
Who’s this plan for?: Anyone who has not exercised, is coming off a long-term injury or is over 60.
How long should you do this plan?: 6-7 weeks is ideal, but it can be extended as necessary.
Notes about the plan: This should all be walking. The idea here is to get time on your feet to begin building up your body’s endurance. Don’t rush this. Remember, the ultimate goal is to stay healthy and injury-free.
Beginner Running Plan (Run/Walk)
Who’s this plan for?: Anyone who completed the walking program or has some running experience but has taken extended time off.
How long should you do this plan?: This plan is also set up for six weeks but can be extended as necessary.
Notes about this plan: Listen to your body and don’t push it too hard. If you’re too sore on a running day, remove the running aspect and do a walk instead. It’s essential to be aware of your body’s signals.
Also, if any running times are too long, adapt to fit yourself. For example, if two minutes of running is too much, change it to four minutes of walking with a minute of running.
Beginner Running Plan (Run)
Who’s this plan for?: Anyone who has progressed from the walk/run plan or has running experience but has taken a short time off.
How long should you do this plan?: The schedule is set for six weeks but, like the others, can be extended as necessary. If you continue, increase the time by around 10% each week.
Notes about this plan: Take most runs easy. This will add in some speed work, so it’s essential to keep your easy runs precisely that — easy.
Tips for Beginning a Running Program
Beginning a running program is difficult. Your motivation and mood change by the day, and you have a run scheduled that you want to skip.
You skip one, then another, and the next thing you know, your entire plan has gone in the trash can.
Trust me, I’ve been there. And I know how you feel.
So, here are some tips to help you stick to help you when beginning a running program.
Try the 10-Minute Rule
10 minutes of your day is nothing, right? Well, unless it’s at work, then it’s an eternity.
But the rest of your day flies by, and 10 minutes seems more like 10 seconds.
So, let’s apply that to running.
When you’re tired and not into your run, give it 10 minutes. Give it time to prove itself.
If, after 10 minutes, you’re still not feeling into your run, turn around and head home.
After all, 10 minutes is better than 0 minutes. And it adds a little bit to the consistency piggy bank.
But, quite often, you won’t stop at that 10 minutes. Your mind fights you at first but eventually relaxes into the run and, dare I say it, begins to enjoy it.
Sometimes it’s about getting ourselves out the door. We need that little push, and everything else is downhill.
Make it Easier to Go on Your Run
The more you remove the barriers to building a habit, the easier it is for you to choose that habit.
When you have barriers up, even small ones, it gives your mind time to work its black magic and convince you out of going on your run.
I know this because I’ve fallen victim to it myself. And I have to battle to overcome it also.
So, lay your clothes out and put your shoes next to the door. Like a dog that wants to go on a walk, they’ll be there staring at you, guilting you into a good decision.
Take it Easy
Many runners, even experienced ones, are eager to start a new training plan. They’re full of energy, motivation, and commitment. And this translates to them pushing themselves hard in the beginning.
But, this often leads to burnout — mentally or physically, or both.
So, when you’re starting, take it easy. Running is a long game, and the small investments add up to tremendous progress.
The challenging workouts will come, and they’re best approached with a fresh body and mind.
So, take it easy at the start and let your body ease into things. Your body will reward you if you give it time to adapt.
Getting into running should be about finding joy in it. Habits are more manageable when it’s something you look forward to doing.
If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you won’t enjoy it, especially if you injure yourself.
So, go at a pace where you’re enjoying it and having fun. If you can, find some friends to join you. Running is always better when you find a group that makes you look forward to your run.
Ultimately, though, whatever makes it fun for you, find it and stick to it! And, eventually, add in some hills to really make your legs strong!
Beginning a running program is a big decision. You’re reading this, and considering doing it, which is a big step in the right direction.
Most of all, don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed. Everyone is a beginner at something at some point, and there’s never a wrong time to start.
You’re taking your first steps and should be applauded for it.
So, enjoy the process and get started on a healthier you.