8 Common Questions New Runners Ask, Answered by Running Coaches

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You may think getting started running is a straightforward business. Lace up a pair of sneakers, drink a glass of water, touch your toes, and you’re good to go, right?

Well, yes and no. Running doesn’t have to be complicated, but all too often, being unsure of whether they’re doing it “right” can keep newbies from doing it at all. So we asked running coaches for answers to the most common questions they get from beginners.

The old cliché is true—knowledge is power. And in this case, educating yourself can reduce your risk of injury and ensure you avoid overtraining by not pushing yourself too hard off the bat.

Experts In This Article

1. What running shoes should I wear?

Research shows that the best running shoes are the ones that are comfortable. “It’s best to go to a running shoe store and try different pairs,” says Kristen Hislop, a certified running coach and owner of Hislop Coaching. “Run in them to see how they feel in motion.”

Before you go, do a quick wet foot test to see if you have a low, normal, or high arch. Then you can tell one of the clerks at the store your results so they can suggest pairs with the appropriate amount of cushioning and arch support.

2. What should I eat before running?

Optimal nutrition for running is a much-debated topic. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, knowing how to fuel your body correctly is essential for getting the most out of your running.

“Running requires energy, and energy requires fuel,” says Mechelle Freeman, CPT, a Life Time Ultra Fit certified running coach. "Aim to eat a balanced meal three to four hours before you begin." Then top that off with a snack 45 minutes before your run. Look for something filled with simple carbs, and avoid too much fat or fiber (which could cause GI issues). One dietitian-recommended option to nosh on before heading out the door? A Pop-Tart.

“Also, eat a recovery snack within 30 to 45 minutes after training to start the recovery process,” adds Freeman. Aim for a good mix of protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates.

3. Do I need to stretch before running?

Although there are many myths about stretching, the truth is that it's essential for optimal physical performance. However, the type of stretching you do matters. Research shows that dynamic stretching—active movements where joints and muscles go through a full range of motion—is ideal before physical activity, while classic static stretching—holding a position for at least 15 to 20 seconds—works best post-workout.

“Examples of dynamic stretches include high knees, butt kicks, skips, leg swings, and heel walks,” says Hislop. After your run is when you should do the traditional calf, quad, and hamstring stretches. “If you’re consistently stretching four to five times a week, you’ll see a huge improvement in your range of motion,” she adds. That can help open up your stride so you’re traveling further with every step.

Try this pre-run stretch routine before you head out the door: 

4. How much water should I drink?

Drinking water right before or during your run won't quite cut it. Staying hydrated means drinking enough water in the days leading up to a run, especially for long distances. “Practice drinking water with each meal and aim toward drinking half your body weight in ounces,” says Freeman. If you find yourself craving something sugary, she suggests adding natural flavors with cucumber, mint, or fruits.

The National Athletic Trainers' Association recommends athletes drink 500 to 600 milliliters of water or sports drink 120 to 180 minutes prior to exercise and another 200 to 300 milliliters in the 10 to 20 minutes right before. And if you’re running for longer than an hour, make sure you’re consuming electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are found in many popular sports drinks.

5. How should I breathe while running?

Expect to be huffing and puffing at first. As you progress, your aerobic capacity will increase and you will be able to hold a conversation while on your everyday runs.

Nasal breathing delivers oxygen to active tissues more effectively than mouth breathing while running. That’s because nose breathing filters foreign bodies from entering your lungs and releases nitric oxide, which increases carbon dioxide in your blood and delivers more oxygen, thereby increasing your energy.

“As your heart rate increases, your breathing will get more shallow,” says Hislop. “So focus on a nice deep breath every once in a while and optimally through your nose.”

6. How fast should I run?

Speed shouldn’t be the primary focus for new runners. Going too fast from the get-go will likely lead to injury or burnout and have you sidelined on the couch. Instead, focus on building your aerobic base by taking it easy. An effective strategy for this is Zone 2 training—which essentially is jogging while keeping your heart rate between 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. (If your heart rate keeps edging up higher, try a run-walk approach.) As you build up your aerobic base, you’ll be able to run faster over time.

“You may not feel like you’re working hard,” Hislop says, “but you’re strengthening your heart muscle and teaching your lungs how to work to capacity. Exercising in Zone 2 will improve your mitochondrial number, function, flexibility, efficiency, and fitness.”

7. Should I run when I’m sick?

Follow this common, coach-approved rule of thumb: If your symptoms are above the neck, head out; if they’re below the neck, stay at home. “One day off might allow your immune system to fight harder,” says Hislop.

When you’re sick, focus on sleep, listen to your body, and gauge how you feel. If you’re recovering from COVID, follow this protocol for returning to running published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

8. Should runners do resistance training?

Running should only make up one part of your workout regimen. Combining running with resistance training can lower blood pressure, and improve strength and cardiorespiratory fitness, according to a 2019 study published in PLOS One. In addition, resistance training builds skeletal muscle and strengthens your bones, which will make your running more efficient.

Hislop suggests focusing on the back side of the body—hamstrings, calves, and back—and lateral (side-to-side) work. “Resistance bands are fantastic for this,” she says.

This pre-run resistance band workout will get all the right muscles firing:

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