When Does Running Get Easier for Beginners?

By Sabrina Grotewold | Active.com

Running remains one of the best and fastest ways to burn calories—you can get a lot of fat-burning rewards as well as cardiovascular, muscular, tendon and bone-building benefits from running consistently. It's one of the main reasons the sport has so many beginners. But, new runners can often become disenchanted with the activity not only because the sport is much harder than most anticipate, but also because the cumulative effects of running can take its toll if beginners don't nip them in the bud with the right habits.

"Running is an easy sport to get into—all you need are a pair of shorts, a shirt and some shoes and you're ready to go," says Matt Forsman, a San Francisco Bay area-based USATF-certified running coach. "But, it's an incredibly demanding, taxing activity. New runners have a tendency to globalize that they should have the runner's high all the time, or that they're going to feel miserable all the time. And neither is really true."

When will running start to feel easier for beginners? At what point should new runners expect to experience that legendary "runner's high?"

How Long It Takes for Running to Feel Good

Because every runner is unique, the answer to the question, "When will running start to feel easier for me?" depends on the individual. Consider the following factors when attempting to answer this question:

  • How fit were you—honestly—before you tried running?
  • Are you overweight, and how many pounds over a healthy weight (according to your doctor) are you?
  • How old are you?

If you've been relatively active your entire life—let's say you played basketball in high school and maintained a pretty consistent schedule of going to the gym 3 or 4 times a week in your adult life—then you should be able to adapt more quickly to the vigor of running than a new runner who was completely sedentary for months or years before starting the sport. In addition, if you're young—let's say in your 20s or 30s, and if you only have 10 or fewer pounds you'd like to lose (or none), then you'll likely start adapting to running in 2 to 3 weeks of consistent training.

"By adapting, I mean that the runner should become a little bit better at running—he or she should feel less winded, and the activity shouldn't feel as difficult when running at an easy, conversational pace," says Forsman. "It doesn't mean that running will become a cake walk, but you should feel less fatigue, soreness and less out of breath."

However, if you're older—in your late 30s, 40s or 50s and beyond—it will naturally take the body longer to adapt to the stress of running; it might take 4 to 6 weeks of consistent training for running to feel easier. The same timeframe can apply to heavier runners—they simply have more to lift, and their feet, joints, bones and tendons are absorbing more impact with each footstrike. This shouldn't be a deterrent for overweight beginners, but more of a reality check. The activity will start to feel easier, it just might take a little longer.

"The act of running generates 3 to 5 times your body weight in impact force per footstrike," says Forsman. "Your bones have to get harder, your muscles need to adapt and get stronger, and you can't rush that process."

5 Tips to Become a Consistent Runner

There are, however, things that new runners can do to ease the transition from the hard first day of running to the day when running starts to feel less laborious weeks into the program. Establish the following habits now to ensure that running consistently becomes a part of your lifestyle, and you hopefully won't get sidelined with injury or burnout as much as others who don't follow this advice.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Running is a high-impact, taxing activity, and your body needs time to adapt to the new stress. You will adjust, and it will get easier, but it will take your body as long as it needs to go through the adaptation process.

The same is true for progression—just because you and your friend started training with your charity fundraising group at the same time doesn't mean that you both will progress at exactly the same rate. She may adapt more quickly than you, and be ready for more before you, and vice versa. Be patient, stick with it, follow the rest of the steps below, and you'll improve when your body is ready.


There can also be a litany of reasons why running doesn't feel particularly good for a day or a stretch of time. "When someone has a really bad run, I usually ask them a litany of questions," says Forsman. "'Did you sleep well last night? Are you really stressed out at work right now? Are things going OK at home or in your relationship? Are there other stressors?' You can't discount these things—they make running harder."

Don't Run Too Much, Too Soon

Coach Forsman has his beginning and intermediate runners follow training plans where the runner doesn't usually run on consecutive days, but rather he or she takes a day of rest or cross-training between run days.

Cardiovascular cross-training, such as cycling, walking, pool running, elliptical or other machines at a gym, builds aerobic fitness without the impact of running. Strength-based cross-training, such as weight lifting, Pilates, resistance training and strength interval classes (make sure to make necessary modifications based on your abilities in these types of classes), builds strength and can also improve your aerobic fitness. Cross-training will make you stronger and more fit, which will in turn make running easier. It will also give your body a physical break from the pounding while still giving you calorie-burning benefits, and it'll give your brain a break from the monotony of running.

Mixing cross-training and rest between running days is a sound approach for beginners because this schedule gives the body time to adapt to the stress of running, and prevents newbies from running too many miles before their bodies are ready for more.

If beginners struggle a lot during their runs, Forsman puts them on a regimented run/walk plan. "Running is just like walking, only faster," says Forsman. Strap on a watch, run for one minute, then walk for one minute. When that becomes manageable, bump up the run interval to two minutes, with a one-minute walk break, then up to three minutes, and so on.

Warm Up Properly

Many runners complain that running doesn't start to feel good until 30 minutes or 3 miles or so into the run. But, if you're a beginner whose goal is 3 miles or 30 minutes, does that mean you're doomed to feel miserable until you graduate to more miles or time on your feet?

Not at all. Simply add a warm-up to your regimen to prime your body to run. "Maybe that's 5 to 10 minutes of walking followed by dynamic range of motion drills," advises Forsman. "A warm-up that's 15 to 20 minutes may seem like a lot, but getting the heart rate elevated and warming up the muscles you'll use for running can help make the actual run less uncomfortable."

Cool Down and Recover Properly

Cooldowns shouldn't be reserved for intermediate or advanced runners after completing workouts or long runs. Beginners should get into the habit of bringing down the heart rate through walking, stretching and foam rolling after each run. "Ingest something with a 4:1 carbs to protein ratio like chocolate milk," says Forsman. "Make sure you're well hydrated before, during and after your runs. And do some foam rolling. It will help flush out the lactic acid, toxins and other crap that can accumulate in your legs.

"New runners' bodies are struggling to adapt to the new activity, and these little things are extremely important. It's also about recovering from the run you just did so you feel better on your next run."

Run With Others Who Hold You Accountable

"It's very hard for someone who is brand new to the sport to get into it on his own. It hurts—it just does. It's a tough, tough sport," says Forsman. "But, running with a group will give you a casual accountability, the feeling that you belong to a team, and that you're not going through this alone."

Go for group runs hosted by your local running shoe store, join a charity fundraising group, hire a coach who manages a local running team or recruit friends and family members to start running with you. Not only will you have like-minded individuals who understand what you're going through to commiserate with, but you'll also have people to answer to when your motivation lags.