Running is one of the simplest acts of natural sport we can perform. All it takes is putting one foot in front of the other – something many of us could do before we could even talk. But when it comes to running as a means to get healthy, reaching your goal 5K or marathon times, or to simply enjoy nature on foot, you may be asking yourself – “how far should I run as a beginner?”
A beginner should ideally focus on 3-4 runs per week, with a rest day or two in between each running day. Begin by running 20-30 minutes at a time, and don’t focus on a fast pace – breaking up your runs with walk breaks (described later in this article) is an effective way to build up your endurance.
A better question than “how far” would be, “how long?” In distance running, patience and consistency is key.
Many beginners tend to get caught up in how fast or how far they are going, especially if they’re training toward a specific time goal. Focusing on running a certain amount of minutes rather than miles will take the pressure off of you to run, for example, 3 miles in 30 minutes (10 minutes/mile pace). As long as you’re running, it doesn’t matter how many miles you go in the time frame you’ve set that day.
Of course, everybody is different. Because running can feel monotonous, it’s tough for newcomers to stay consistent. It’s important to find ways to get over those tough mental barriers. If you find that you enjoy running for mileage rather than duration, do that! In the beginning, it’s all about finding your groove and sticking to it.
How Far Should I Run in 20-30 Minutes?
The beauty about running lies in its simplicity – everyone can do it, and there are no rules (unless you’re participating in a sanctioned race, in which case – follow the rules!). There is no true “should” or “should not.” If you’ve set out a 30 minute run for the day, you can run any distance you’d like and are able to run!
As a new runner, the goal is to play the long game – trying to cram high mileage right off the bat is a recipe for burnout. Don’t focus too much on pace in the beginning, even if you have a specific goal pace in mind for a race you’ve signed up for.
However, if you’re worried that you may go too fast and burn yourself out, or go too slow and not reap the benefits, follow this guide:
Let’s say you’ve signed up for a 5K race that is in six months and have even found a couch to 5k plan to follow. You’ve also set a goal time: you want to break 30 minutes. That’s slightly faster than 9:40 minutes/mile pace for 3.1 miles. Your easy runs should then be at around 12:00 minutes/mile. Of course, you may have days where your body feels great – go for 11:00 minutes/mile! And you may have days where your body is screaming at you to slow down. Listen to your body – it knows best!
This calculator is a great general guide on what your different paces should be given your goals.
If you’re already planning on how you will increase your mileage/time as you get more fit, a great rule of thumb is to increase it by 10%-15% each week. However, if you’re about to start your first week of running, just focus on two to three solid weeks of consistent running with no mileage/duration increases.
How often should beginners run?
Starting out, it’s a good idea to keep your runs at 3-4 times a week. This is to allow your body to acclimate to the pounding on the pavement, trail, treadmill, or wherever you’re able to run.
If you allow a day of rest day or cross-training session in between each running day, your body will recover quicker. If you go too hard too soon, you’re far more likely to get injured and be sidelined from running altogether.
If you really want to get stronger as a new runner, cross train on the days you don’t run! Throw in a weight training/body strengthening session one day, maybe an elliptical/stationary bike session the next. Hop into a local yoga class on an off-running day. Go on a hike with a friend and explore the trails in your area! Working and strengthening different muscles keeps your body strong, helps you get faster and fitter, and boosts your mental strength.
With cross training (and with starting a new running plan), it’s important to pay a visit to your doctor to get a physical. They can provide better insight into how ready your body is to start running, how often, etc, especially if you’re currently dealing with some complications.
Will running every day get me in shape?
In theory, yes. But getting into shape requires more lifestyle changes than adding in daily cardio. If you run three miles a day, but maintain an unhealthy diet and otherwise sedentary lifestyle, you’re not going to see the results you’d like to see.
Becoming fit and healthy is about multiple lifestyle changes that happen over time – you can’t go from being a couch-potato with an unhealthy diet to being a 50 mile-a-week runner vegan runner within one day!
Running everyday will help you get into shape, as long as you make other changes as well. Replace you sugary beverages with water, bring your own lunch to work instead of eating out, bike somewhere instead of drive, make homemade, healthy desserts rather than going for the old Halloween candy, etc.
In addition, if you run at the same pace for the same mileage/duration every day, you’ll quickly plateau. You need variety to keep your muscles working and your body burning fat. Check out the ways you can make your runs more interesting below.
Adding Variety to your Runs – The “Run/Walk” Method
A lot of newcomers are worried about being ‘bored’ on their runs, and it’s no secret that running can feel monotonous, especially as you add minutes/miles to your run (if you want to add some good listening to your runs, check out our blog on some great running podcasts to inspire you as you run!) However, there is a way to make your runs go by quicker and gain fitness along the way.
The “run/walk” method is a tried and true method to build endurance, boost your mental strength, and ease your body into the pounding on the pavement. You can do this on as many runs as you’d like, for however many minutes worth of running/walking as you’d like.
For example, you can start by running for two minutes and walking for two minutes until you hit 30 minutes. As you get stronger, you can increase the amount of time that you run for: four minutes of running, two minutes of walking. Try to keep your running intervals equal to or greater than your walking intervals.
Get stronger and faster with a speed workout!
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, throw in one of these workouts one to two times a week. You can easily customize them to your fitness level and goals – they can be as killer as you’d like them to be. These are workouts that everyone from a newbie to a seasoned professional runner can do to become a better runner.
Make sure to start with an easy 5- to 10-minute warmup jog and a few drills and/or strides to get your body loose and ready to run.
Fartlek: Fartlek is Swedish for speedplay, and this workout is exactly that. A fartlek is a structured interval workout, with little variation between intervals. The goal here is to focus on maintaining the same speed or faster on the “on” intervals; if you start too fast and your last interval is far slower than your first, you’ve done it wrong. Here’s an example of a fartlek that you can do even after you’ve been running for a while:
- 5 sets of 2 minutes “on,” 2 minutes “off” ( walking/jogging, no stopping!)= 20 minutes of running. This is much like the “run/walk” method, only your “on” intervals are at a faster pace – try your goal 10K race pace!
Ladder intervals: much like a fartlek, except the intervals increase and decrease like a ladder. Try to run the shorter “on” intervals faster than your longer “on” intervals.
- 1 min “on,” 1 min “off;” 2 mins “on,” 2 mins “off;” 3 mins “on,” 3 mins “off,” 2 mins “on”, 2 mins “off;” 1 min “on,” 1 min “off” = 18 minutes of running.
There are many more workouts to try, but these two are a great way to start, short and sweet, and get you excited about getting fit!
Be excited about this journey ahead – like I said, running is one of the simplest acts of sport we can perform, far simpler than some make it seem. Enjoy the process and have fun with it. Happy trails!
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Emma is a semi-professional runner for the Hoka One One Aggies, based out of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. She is an NCAA DIII All-American, has made multiple top-10 all-time performance lists for track and field and cross country for her alma mater, Linfield College, and graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors. When she’s not running, working, or in physical therapy, she enjoys going to the beach, fishing, or lazing around watching Netflix with some Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream.