Running Advice for Beginners: Finding Your Running Style

Man running in city park

The great thing about running is that it is a sport for everyone. Running doesn’t require you to invest in a lot of gear (golf and skiing come to mind) and it can be done almost anywhere. The fun thing about running is finding your niche and developing your fitness to truly do well at a specific type of running whether it is distance or terrain.

You may be a sprinter, a middle distance, a long distance or even a marathoner or ultra-distance trail runner. By taking running from just a workout to a hobby or even a competitive sport finding your inherent abilities is essential to not only success but having fun with the sport.

What type of running is right for me?

Running has tons of benefits, and finding your running style is important.

After personally running every sort of race over the course of 7 years from the 100m dash to the 5k all the way to a 140.6 mile Ironman distance triathlon I can safely say finding the distance that works for you is vital to enjoying the sport over a great length of time. Finding your distance and terrain can all be worked out by training first off for easily the most popular race in America; the 5k. This race not only sets a good base fitness for those just starting their running career but it gives a good sampling of both speed and distance as well as variable types of terrain. Most 5k races held throughout communities are done on trails or roads. However, while training for your 5k it’d be good to do some workouts at your local track to get a feel for what the distance feels like. Also in preparation for your 5k you’ll want to have a good digital watch in order to track your pace at various distances. As the 5k is both an Olympic track event and a launching point for almost every beginning runner the 5k is definitely the best sampling of both worlds and is the right step in finding out your strengths as a runner.

Once you’ve gone through the fitness and training plans needed to do a 5k (there is a wealth of highly detailed information about 5k training out on the web) and you’ve run your first race you should now be at least a bit more knowledgeable and confident about the vast world of running. Now comes the fun part.

Analyzing your strengths and weaknesses

Depending on whether you’re a male or female there may be a few slight differences (mainly concerning time). A decent time for a first timer who is male would roughly be in the 22:00min — 27:00min range and 25:00min — 31:00min for females respectively. Granted these times are for the true beginner but also for one who followed a standard 5k prep program. If your times are better than those listed than that is a great start! If they are a bit slower than the maximum times listed then it is nothing to worry about, those times are just meant to be generalized times that most people would fall in.

Now if you are the far outlier for these time ranges then either this guide isn’t for you or you just need to wait and build up your fitness a bit more and try another 5k a different time, don’t worry though you’ll eventually get your running form! It is a bit too hard to tell what kind of running style you’ll excel at if you haven’t yet reached at least a moderate level of fitness.

You can break down your 5k results in three ways. The beginning, the middle and the end/finishing kick. For example let’s say you ran a 25:00min first time 5k. Now granted you used a digital watch and tracked your pace and you understood the mile marker or kilometer markers throughout the course you can breakdown your race. A 5k translates to a 3.1 miles. For simplicity we will round this down to 3 miles. You’ll want to look at each of your miles separately in order to see how you performed. Taking our 25:00min example time, let’s say mile 1 was 7:25min, mile 2 was 8:35min and the final mile was 9:00min. Now your results probably won’t be this evenly distributed but taking a look at the times you can notice a decline in the pace. Now this analysis is again meant to be broad but can offer a bit of insight into your individual performance. In noticing a pace decline we can suggest that either 1) Due to a lack of prior training your endurance level may not be at a high enough level to maintain a 7:25min pace for three miles 2) You ran out of the gates too early, this commonly happens due to excitement or excess energy/adrenaline and it just takes some self-control and adjusting of pace in order to fix this early “overly-quick” pace issue to slow down your first or second mile to create an even pace throughout the race 3) The 5k distance may be a too long for your running style and you’re better suited at attempting distances like the 1500m — 3k.

Now if you had a very fast 1st mile time and it gradually faded but perhaps you felt a little surge of energy at the end to give the final 100m a good kick then it might be wise to keep at the 5k distances or perhaps longer and just adjusting your pace accordingly and increasing your endurance threshold. If you felt fast in the beginning and by the end you were completely worn out then maybe your running style could really shine if you limited it to just focusing on say the 1500m or 1 mile race. Personally as an 800m runner I enjoyed 5k races but I always felt by around 2500m or half way through the race I would always fade back a bit and I just came to accept that I was meant to run lower distances because my speed was greater than my endurance. Now if you were an individual who maintained a steady pace throughout the race but you weren’t very fast perhaps half marathons and marathons could be your strong suite. A steady pace is often a good indicator of someone who can put down a lot of mileage even if it isn’t at a fast pace. As they say, slow and steady wins the race, but in the world of running slow and steady often gets you through those grueling 26.2 milers without too much damage.

Once you’ve looked at your times and seen whether you were either fast at certain parts, had an uneven pace or perhaps felt the distance wasn’t long enough to challenge you at least now you have a good understanding of what running you may enjoy.

Man running down rural road

I would recommend if you felt comfortable with the 5k and just want to improve it then go right ahead! If you felt the beginning and speed was more of your result perhaps going to the track and practicing some speed work will better cater to your style. If you were someone who finished the 5k and didn’t feel a bit of fatigue then setting your sights on upping your mileage will definitely appease your running style. Again, this guide was just to inform people that the 5k is in general regarded as a great launching pad for your running career and looking closely at the results may direct you into a world of running you didn’t know you would enjoy. Don’t take racing results for what they are, whether they were really fast or really slow, looking at your pace and remembering what you felt during certain parts of the race at certain distances may be a clue that you should be running a specific type of race and in figuring this out you’ll find the venue that you can truly excel at.

Beginning Running for Dummies

So you want to start running? Good for you! Running is a great way to exercise and stay healthy.

Beginning runners

If you haven’t been exercising regularly, you might want to think about a few things before you lace up your shoes. Of course, I am obliged to tell you to get a physical exam before you embark on a new exercise program.

Beyond that, here are a few tips:

1. Get some new shoes. You might have those 1989 high top tennis shoes in your closet that you think are perfectly adequate, but trust me—they’re not. And do not even think about buying yourself running shoes at Wal-mart. Shoes will be the most important investment you make in your new hobbie, so invest smartly. I recommend going to a running store that specializes in fitting your feet with appropriate shoes (depending on your arches, pronation style, etc.). I ran for about 5 years before I did this. And, when I finally was fit for shoes, I learned that I had been wearing shoes about a size too small. This is why I had bloody blisters on my toes! I had figured all runners had those!

2. Start slow. I mean, very slow. One of the more common mistakes I see new runners make is simply running too fast. I had a friend a few years back who started running and couldn’t figure out how I could easily run 7-8 miles. He said he couldn’t even make it half a mile. I went running with him, and it was easy to diagnose the problem. I could barely keep up with him for that half mile. He was starting out running 7 minute miles! I would say an appropriate pace for most new runners is about 11-12 minute miles. You will make more progress running three 12 minute miles than half a 7 minute mile, so slow down!

3. Walk. Many new runners refuse to walk because it seems like cheating. Walking is actually a great strategy for new runners. Try running for 5 minutes and then walking for 1 minute. Do this 5-6 times. This is a great way to build up your stamina. As you progress, run more and walk less. You’ll improve faster if you walk when you get tired and begin running again in a minute than if you just quit because you can’t continue. Just keep moving!

4. Don’t compare yourself. You will always know people who can run faster and farther than you can. So what? Get over it. You have to realize that you are running at your own pace and for your own reasons. You may or may not participate in races. If you do participate, you may or may not be competitive. But, it doesn’t matter; you’re still a runner. Don’t be afraid to see yourself this way. For years, I’ve said stuff like, “Oh, I’m not a REAL runner, I run 10 minute miles.” I finally gave that up. I am a REAL runner, as much as someone who runs 6 minute miles. We both get out there and run because it’s important to us.

Finally, just get out there and run. If you have problems with injuries or training dilemmas, get on the internet and do some research to see how to work through these issues. But you can worry about all that later. For now, the most important thing is just to run.