Like Walking? Here’s How to Become a Runner

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
June 15, 2019
How to Go from Walking to Running

Walking is arguably one of the easiest, most effective forms of exercise. It’s relatively inexpensive -- all you really need is a good pair of walking shoes. And you can walk pretty much anywhere. But sometimes even the most dedicated walker needs more of a challenge than walking (or even power or race walking) or wants to burn fat and calories more efficiently. If this sounds like you, maybe your next step is running.

Running has many of the same benefits as walking. It helps strengthen your musculoskeletal, immune and cardiorespiratory systems. But you’ll burn more fat and calories running 30 minutes than you would walking. While both walking and running can be meditative, running can leave you feeling euphoric. It’s called a runner’s high, and it’s just one reason so many people get hooked on running.

If you ever wanted to take up running, whether your goal is competing in races, losing weight, managing stress or just socializing in a runner’s club, here are some tips to help transform you from a walker – or even a couch potato – into a runner.       

In this post, we'll cover:

  • How to start running
  • How to train for a 5K
  • Recommended complimentary conditioning for runners
  • Nutrition Information for new runners
  • Our best piece of advice to master running

How to Start Running

Your first step: talk to you doctor. It’s always important to discuss changes in your exercise routine with your doctor so they can assess your overall health, but especially when starting a running program.    

Next, buy a pair of running shoes. Many brands and styles are available, but it doesn’t have to be a guessing game. Visit a running store and work with a professional to find the most appropriate shoe for your foot type and gait. 

Learn your target heart rate zone. Some walkers skip this test because they prefer using a talk test to gauge intensity. However, if you are new to working out and/or to running, it’s an important to work within a designated heart rate zone to prevent over exertion. Here’s how you determine your heart rate zone » 

Begin with walking. If you’re new to walking for exercise or you walk at a slower pace, focus on just walking for a few weeks. Walk several times per week between 20 and 30 minutes (include an additional five minutes for a warm-up and five minutes for cool down). See if you can stay in your target heart rate zone while slowing picking up the pace.

When you’re able to comfortably walk for 20 to 30 minutes, try adding in some running. Many experts recommend using Olympian Jeff Galloway’s Run-Walk Method, which is a combination of running and walking for 20 minutes, several times per week. Here’s a sample training program created by Runner’s World

Running to Walking

Source: Runner’s World

When you start running, remember that your pace isn’t important as continuously moving and staying within your target heart rate zone, so start slow, and don’t stress about your time. Eventually you’ll be able to build up your speed. You may even add an additional day or two of running each week. But don’t overdo it; too much running can lead to overuse injuries, joint issues and inflammation. You probably only need to run about 30 minutes, five days per week to reap the health benefits of running without overtraining.

Keep in mind, the Runner’s World outline above is just the running portion of the workout. It doesn’t include a warm-up or cool-down. Warm-up by marching in place, walking briskly or jogging slowly for 5 to 10 minutes. Cool down in the same way you warmed up – marching in place, walking briskly or jogging slowly for 10 minutes. Rehydrate with a post-recovery drink and stretch. You may be tempted to skip stretching, but don’t; flexibility training a very important part of an overall running program that can help you prevent injuries including shin splints, runner’s knee and backaches. 

How to Train for a 5K

After you’ve gotten the hang of running, you may want to try an organized, short-distance run. Many runners start with a fun run. They’re non-competitive and usually between 3K and 5K in length. Often, they have a theme and sometimes runners and spectators wear theme-based apparel or costumes. Good examples include The Color Run™ and your local Turkey Trot or Jingle Bell Jaunt. However, if you like to compete, a 5K is a great type of race to cut your teeth on because it’s just over three miles. 

Start training for a 5K four to eight weeks before the event using the Run-Walk method. Schedule a run five days per week and two “off” days for cross training. Your goal is to gradually work your way up to comfortably running 30 minutes – the amount time it takes to complete a 5K. 

However, if you find it’s taking you 45 minutes to reach 5K or you must walk a portion of it – don’t worry. Go at your own pace. Your priority is training and competing safely, not your finish time. Many runners spend years running 5K to hone their running technique and speed, so don’t put so much pressure on yourself. 

Many mobile running mobile apps available to help you stay motivated and track your routes, times and heart rate. Check out these suggestions from Runner's World »   

Complementary Conditioning for Runners

Just like other sports, runners benefit from cross training. On your off days, consider engaging in complementary conditioning such as: 

  • Additional aerobic training to build your cardiorespiratory endurance quicker. Select activities based on your goals. For instance, swimming and water aerobics are great for cardiovascular endurance without straining joints, while cycling and the elliptical machine are also effective and can help build lower body strength.
  • Core training to help maintain good posture while running. Activities such as Pilates and core training classes help keep your torso in proper alignment, making running more efficient.
  • Additional flexibility training if you’re tight despite stretching after running. You can add more stretching into your weekly routine or take a yoga class. 
  • Strength training to help strengthen legs and core. You can weight train (free weights or selectorize machines), take a conditioning class.

Nutrition Tips for New Runners

Once you start running, you’ll probably need to eat more calories. Additional calories should come from healthy sources to maximize your running performance and post-workout recovery. 

As a runner, stock-up on vegetables, as well as other complex carbohydrates like potatoes and unrefined whole grains. Don’t let this concern you if you’re watching your carb intake. Some runners are moving away from heavy carbohydrate diets and carb-loading; in fact, many experienced runners use low-carb diets. However, as a runner, particularly new runner, you’ll probably need some carbs in your diet. If adding healthy carbohydrates contradicts your doctor’s advice, discuss with them before making any changes. 

Choose lean protein sources including eggs, fish, beans/lentils, nuts/nut butters, poultry and 90 percent (or leaner) ground beef. If you’re a meat-eater, local, grass-fed and organic are your healthiest choices. As for fat, select foods high in monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil and avocado. Limit skip fried, processed and sugary foods. 

If you’re having a tough time finding a diet that works for you, consult a dietician that specializes in endurance athletes like runners. Here are some nutrition tips for beginner runners »

Best Advice for New Runners: Work with a Professional

Becoming a runner is not an easy task. But you don’t have to go on this journey alone. Invest a few sessions with a running coach, personal trainer, Pilates teacher, yoga instructor or massage therapist. Although a gym membership isn’t necessary, it can be helpful, giving you access to a facility full of equipment, classes and services. Most importantly, work with your primary care physician to help you reach your goal in a safe and healthful manner.

If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. MDVIP doctors have the time to work with you and develop a wellness plan that includes exercise. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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