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How to start running – and five alternatives if it’s not for you

By Swingers

For many of us the idea of even going for a run can feel like an impossible hurdle, let alone entering a marathon. But while it might feel intimidating, it’s never too late to start building up a running routine. Here’s how to get started.

How to start running – and five alternatives if it’s not for you

With the London Marathon only a few weeks away, chances are your Instagram has been flooded with Strava updates (if it’s not on Strava, did it even happen?) and action shots of people jogging alongside scenic views. It might feel like everyone has started running — and that’s no bad thing. Running is a great cardiovascular exercise that boosts your overall health and fitness while giving you a hefty dose of endorphins (and getting you out into the fresh air). 

But for those of us who aren’t Parkrun regulars, the idea of even going for a run can feel like an impossible hurdle, let alone entering a race. While it might feel intimidating, it’s never too late to start building up a running routine. Start slowly and, before you know it, it might be you entering a marathon next year. 

Invest in proper footwear

trainers run

Did you know that when you run your momentum generates a force equal to up to five times your body weight? That’s why running in inappropriate footwear can quickly lead to everything from blisters to more serious injuries as your body tries to absorb the impact of your feet striking the ground. Unless you’re really confident in what you need, skip the online shopping and head to a specialty sports shop to get fitted for the right pair of trainers based on your gait and foot shape. Scrimp elsewhere: the right footwear is a worthwhile investment. 

Walk before you can run

sunrise run

If you’re new to running or haven’t gone for a jog in a while, it’s important to avoid pushing yourself too hard initially. Going straight into a sprint might lead to short-term satisfaction but you’ll probably wake up the next day with aches and pains all over — not conducive to building a long-term routine!

Instead, build up your endurance by alternating walking with a slow jog, gradually increasing the intensity over time (don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% from one week to the next). This allows your body to adapt and reduces the risk of injuries. 

Don’t skip the warm-up and cool-down


Even if you’re raring to go, always take the time to warm up before your run with light cardio and dynamic stretches (think hip circles, lunges and shoulder rolls). Equally, don’t finish a run and head straight to the shower. Take at least five minutes to cool down with static stretches to improve your flexibility and minimise the chances of getting the infamous DOMS.

Set realistic goals


Having something to aim for is a great way to stay on track and keep motivated. Make sure you balance any big long-term goals — like running a marathon — with achievable short-term ones, whether that’s running a certain distance without stopping, running for a set number of days a week or joining a local Parkrun. 

Use an app to help you out

running tech

While popular, Strava is by no means the only running app. Whether you want help with route planning, are looking for customised training plans or want to unwind post-run with yoga stretches and guided meditation, there’s an app to suit you. Here are just four examples:

  • NHS Couch to 5K offers a dedicated eight-week plan specifically designed for new runners. Alternating walk/run intervals, the app gradually increases in intensity to help you train towards completing a 5k. 
  • Runna caters to all running goals and distances, from a quick 2k to ultra marathons, with a dedicated team available to answer your questions.
  • The Nike Run Club app has features and tools for all levels of runner, allowing you to track factors such as distance, pace and heart rate, as well as offering training plans and audio-guided runs. 
  • Zombies, Run! is for you if you’re looking to make running more fun (or terrifying)! The app puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse with a series of immersive stories and missions. You can even integrate your own music into the experience. 

Find an accountability buddy

group running

On those days when you’re struggling to drag yourself out of bed or the thought of putting on your trainers is just too much effort, a running partner is one of the best ways to get you up and at ‘em. Find a friend with similar fitness goals or join a local running club with a schedule that works for you (you’ll get to meet more local people as an added benefit).

Keep at it 

running race

Consistency is key to progress. Aim for a regular running schedule to build endurance and improve your overall fitness, as well as to give you clear goals to hit.

At the same time, listen to your body: give yourself time to rest and recover between runs and pay attention to any pain or discomfort. The last thing you want is to end up with a serious injury because you’ve been “pushing through”. 


Running just not your bag? Here are five cardio exercises to try instead.


If running is a bit brutal for your joints, swap it out for a cycle. You’ll get all the cardiovascular benefits of going for a run, without the impact. If you live in a bike-friendly city, cycling to work and back is one of the easiest ways to get regular cardio in. If you’re more into indoor exercise (and are feeling boujee), you could even splash out on a Peloton. 


Swimming is a full-body workout that engages multiple major muscle groups. It’s easy on the joints, making it suitable for individuals with joint pain or arthritis, as well as being a great exercise option for pregnant people. Join a local pool or head to a lido for a cold-water dip.


Beloved by boxers for a reason, skipping is a simple but effective exercise that will get your heart rate up in no time. It helps improve coordination, balance, and agility while targeting various muscle groups. Plus, it’s cheap — all you need is a skipping rope and plenty of space — and provides a dose of playground nostalgia. 

HIIT Training

If you’re looking to get fit and burn fat quickly, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) might be for you. HIIT involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by recovery periods. There are plenty of HIIT workout routines available on YouTube, as well as classes on offer in gyms and fitness studios. If you prefer, you can put together your own HIIT programme with moves like push-ups, jump squats and burpees. 


Outdoorsy types might gravitate towards hiking as a way to combine cardio exercise with the exploration of new landscapes. Choose a terrain that matches the level of challenge you’re looking for, preferably integrating a hill or two. Just remember that a hike isn’t a leisurely stroll: you need to build up some intensity and pace and get your heart pounding! 


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