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Beginning Running

It doesn’t matter how fast you run or how far you go—what’s important is that you run. CARA offers free beginning running plans with four different levels. Whether you are new to fitness, transitioning from walking to running, or looking to run your first 5K, our plans will help you take your first steps towards personal improvement, wellness, and or running success.

Tips For New Runners

  • It is recommended that you check with your physician before beginning any new physical activity.

  • Walk, before you run. Before beginning a running program, build up to walking at a brisk pace continually for at least 20 minutes.

  • Focus on building endurance and developing your heart and lungs, before you focus on speed.

  • Pacing is important. Your pace (i.e. how fast you run) should allow you to continue running/jogging for a sustained period of time. 

  • The best way to begin running is with a “run/walk progression plan”. That is starting with alternating a short running bought (like 1-2 mins) with walk breaks (typically 1-3 mins).

  • Run at what is called “conversation pace”. That is an effort that allows you to carry on a conversation, at least in phrases, without being out of breath.

  • Walk breaks are part of the process of building into a running plan. Embracing how they help you become a better runner. Using run/walk intervals actually allows you to see improvement sooner by allowing you to cover longer distances and reduce injury risk.

  • During walking breaks, let your heart rate come down. You don’t need a heart rate watch. You will be able to sense your heart rate lowering on your own. For reference though, getting your heart rate down to 120-130 beats per minute (on average) is recommended before you start your next run interval. 

  • REST is important to re-charge and give muscles a chance to recover. As a beginner, running every other day is ideal. Avoid significant exercise on the rest days on your training plan.

  • If you are following a beginning running plan, allow for some flexibility to accommodate for work-life-fitness balance. That may mean adapting the schedule to fit your own personal life conflicts. If you do make adjustments,  avoid back-to-back days of run or run/walk workouts. If you do miss a workout, do not stress or feel like you have to start over. Simply move on to the next day’s scheduled activity. Avoid trying to “make-up” missed workouts. In general, when starting out, completing 80-90% of your scheduled runs is a realistic goal.

  • Cross-training on one or two of your non-running days is good. This can be brisk walking, hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, weight-training (anything that gets the muscles moving differently). For the purposes of our beginning running pans, cross training days are not intended to be overly intense exercise sessions. 

  • Stretching and strengthening are important. (PDF Guide)

    • Do a “Dynamic” warm-up (designed to get muscles moving and warm) before every workout.

    • Do static stretches afterward (those are the kinds of stretches you hold for 15-30 seconds). 

    • Also, consider doing some core strengthening (planks are great) and strength training but do after runs (or on rest or cross-training days) and be careful not to overdo it, especially if you haven’t previously done any weightlifting

  • One of the biggest reasons new runners don’t stick with it is because of “injuries”. The most common cause of injuries in beginning runners is progressing too fast. Sticking with a beginning running plan is the way to progress safely. Some discomfort, such as soreness, is normal and not a cause for concern. Lingering pain, especially sharp pains, may signal the need to consult a doctor or sports medicine professional. Feel free to contact if you have an injury question.




  • Running Shoes: Consider running shoes an investment in both your enjoyment of running and also helping you run injury-free. Get properly fitted for shoes at a run specialty store. Running stores are experts in shoe fit, and their product is of higher quality than most department stores. A running store fitter will look at the way your feet move and can make recommendations on the types of shoes that will work best for your foot. Ultimately, that’s going to be a pair that feels super comfortable and gives your toes some room. Your running shoes may need to be a half to a full size larger than other shoes. 

  • Socks:  Socks should fit properly and be moisture wicking. Cotton may cause blisters. Your local run specialty store will have a wide variety of sock options.

  • Clothing:  Your running clothes need to be comfortable and moisture-wicking (avoid 100% cotton). Clothes with seams that rub against the skin may cause chaffing. Your clothing should keep you cool enough in summer and warm enough in winter. 

  • Watch / Timing Device: A stop-watch will help you in your training. GPS watches that measure distance and pace are great, but not necessary. Before spending a lot of money on a fancy watch, it’s good to know that there are mobile apps - like STRAVA - that are free that will track time and distance. Watches with heart-rate monitors will be helpful as you become more experienced but are not necessary for budget-conscious beginners.

  • Water Bottle or Pack:  Staying hydrated is critical, even on short, slow runs, especially in warmer weather. Carrying water is recommended, either a handheld or a pack. A reusable water bottle that has a strap that fits around your hand is easier to carry and better for the environment. There are also options that are backpacks or waist packs.

  • Identification:  Often overlooked on these lists, but vitally important is identification. Carrying your driver’s license in your pocket and an emergency contact is best.

  • Sunscreen On sunny days, it’s important to include sunscreen as you get dressed to run. Choose a “sport” variety that won’t wash away when you start to sweat.


  • As a beginner runner, consider participating in one of our 'Go Run events, which are free, timed 5K & 1-Mile races. 'Go Runs travel throughout Chicago parks on Saturdays, and are the perfect gateway into racing. You can learn more and sign up here.

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