MARCH 1, 2023
There’s a certain freedom associated with running, partially because it’s so simple—just lace up your shoes and head out the door. However, one of the most exciting aspects of the sport is that no matter your level of experience, there’s always something new to learn.
For someone brand new to running, Paul Guyas, a certified running coach and physical therapist, says the first step is setting personal goals. These might include increasing fitness, losing weight, running a certain time, or just having fun. “The group run setting can be a great way to get more serious, structured, and hold yourself more accountable,” he says.
The best goals are specific, measurable, and have a timeline of completion. For this reason, most runners follow a structured training program, whether it’s been created by an in-person coach or someone online.
“If a plan is based upon a well-set goal, carefully crafted to allow for inevitable fluctuations, and built to be amended, then following that plan should lead you to the promised land,” Guyas says. “A word of caution for athletes at any level: don’t let a plan get in the way of a good decision. Part of your process should also include recurring self-assessment.”
This includes monitoring body weight, looking at resting heart rate, keeping an eye on nutrition, and assessing sleep quality to see how the plan might need to be adjusted.
There’s always something new to try with running, whether you’re moving up from a 5K to a 10K, a half-marathon to a marathon, or trying an ultra-trail running adventure like Speedgoat Mountain Races by UTMB.
When tackling a new distance, Guyas cautions runners against manipulating too many variables at once. “For example, the frequency and duration of runs may need to hold steady if you’re trying to increase speed, or you might keep duration and speed constant while running more often,” he says. “You will also want to do supplemental exercises specific to your needs, like flexibility, strength, stability, and posture.”
A common guideline for increasing your running duration or mileage while minimizing the risk of injury is 10 percent per week. Guyas likes to use the concept of “Acute-to-Chronic Workload Ratio,” a formula that compares the amount of training completed in the previous week (acute) to the amount of training completed in the past 4 weeks (chronic).
An athlete competes at Speedgoat by UTMB.
Ready to take on something new in your running? We have some real-life stories from runners who did just that and are here to inspire you.
Holly Smith started running more during the pandemic after she lost her job. Joining a local club provided the motivation she needed to try her first half-marathon. “Having a schedule made it easier for me to stay consistent and accountable,” she says. “I was looking for a challenge and a way to push myself toward a goal.”
Running has also served as an invaluable way to reduce stress. “Running has been an incredible way to boost my physical and mental health,” she says. “I feel stronger, mentally and physically, when I run.”
Smith chose the half marathon distance as a new goal because she wanted to prove something to herself. “It was motivating to train with a group; but, at the end of the day, it's you, your body, and your brain that have to get to the finish line. Maybe one day I'll try a full marathon!”
Wilson Smith came to running from CrossFit and Tough Mudder-style obstacle competitions. “After my first race, I spent the next few years racing 5Ks,” he says. “In 2018, a few friends had signed up for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series Nashville Half Marathon, and I thought that would be a fun challenge!”
In December 2022, he tackled a new challenge when he did a 50K trail race with his girlfriend. “I’ve always been fond of trail running and combining that with a longer distance really sparked my interest. It was one of the hardest races I've ever run, but it was so incredibly rewarding.”
Wilson Smith also enjoys the therapeutic nature of running. “Running is the most fundamental human movement and requires minimal gear,” he says. “All you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, a few thousand times! It's great to go out with friends and run at an easy pace while having a conversation.”
Below, coach Guyas provides the most common mistakes he sees runners make when trying something new.
1. Striving for a time: “There are good predictive tools that can be used to help shape your training plan and race day approach, but it’s unreasonable to set expectations for a task you’ve never done.”
2. Ignoring race nutrition: “The advice I use is ‘take as much fuel into your system as you can, as early as you can.’ You want to be mindful to avoid GI distress, so practice to find the right type and timing.”
3. Moving up at all: “A longer race distance might not be the right goal. Consider your level of success at the current distance. How hard was the training? How did you feel after the race? How would you feel about trying a shorter race?”
Here are Coach Guyas’ top tips for runners when trying something new.
1. Be route-smart: Most training runs should be based on duration versus distance. “Out-and-back courses work well for duration-based runs, as does traveling a route with laps or shortcuts so you can adapt.”
2. Be shoe-smart: “The ideal shoe should provide just enough cushion. Your legs and neuromuscular system are remarkable and highly tunable shock absorbers. The shoe should also return as much energy as possible (think spring vs. sponge).”
3. Be form-smart: “Even the slightest mechanical imperfection, multiplied by the steps we take, has a huge impact on our health. Form is very individual, but my tips are: