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Beginner runners: how much should you run?

Starting out small is the key to beginning a consistent running routine

It’s January and many of us are setting new goals for the upcoming year. If you’ve decided that 2021 is the year you’re going to start a regular running routine, that’s fantastic. Of course, beginning a new running routine can be daunting and you likely have several questions, the most important of these being “how much should I run?”

This is a question that even experienced runners frequently ask, and the short answer is that it depends on your goal. How much mileage you should run will vary significantly, for example, if you’re just trying to stay fit versus if you have a race goal. That being said, if you are brand new to running your first goal should simply be to maintain a consistent schedule.

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Start small

One of the biggest mistakes new runners make is doing too much too quickly. For example, running seven or even five days per week may be too much when you’re first starting out. You may be able to maintain an aggressive schedule like that for the first week or two, but you’ll quickly become burnt out, sore or even injured.

At the beginning, the idea is to choose an amount that you know you can stick to long-term. This amount will vary depending on your current fitness level, your lifestyle and how much time you can reasonably commit to running. If that means running for 20 minutes two days per week, then that’s a great place to start. As you improve, you can gradually increase your mileage, whether that means adding an extra day, increasing your distance or both.

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Leave a rest day in between

When you’re first starting out, it’s a good idea to plan at least one non-running day between each of your run days. This is a great way to ensure you don’t over-do it, and it gives your body a chance to recover before you go out for your next run. You can use these in-between days as rest days, or you can add some cross-training (like swimming, biking, elliptical, etc.), strength training or stretching and yoga sessions into your plan to improve your fitness in other ways. 

Again, if the idea of exercising in any capacity four to five days per week sounds overwhelming to you, use those other days to rest. As your fitness improves, you can add other types of workouts into your schedule.

Increase slowly

As you get better at running, you’re probably going to want to start adding some distance. It is important that you do so slowly in order to avoid injuries. The general rule of thumb is to increase your distance by no more than 10 per cent per week. That means that if you’re currently running for 20 minutes at a time, you should increase that by two minutes. This may not seem like much, but taking it slow will ensure that you stay healthy and injury-free so you don’t get sidelined by an injury.

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The bottom line

Basically, if you’re beginning a running routine for the first time, the answer to the question “how much should I run?” is “whatever amount you can realistically maintain.” You’re better off starting conservatively and building from there rather than doing too much and giving up. For many people, 20 to 30 minutes two to three times per week is a realistic amount to get started. Once you’ve been able to maintain that amount for a few weeks (or months) and you feel comfortable, then you can slowly begin adding more running into your daily or weekly plan.

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