Last Updated on April 6, 2020 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Welcome, new friends. I am hoping this Learn to Love to Run program for beginners is the answer to running that you’ve been searching for. My name is Heather Hart, I am an ACSM certified exercise physiologist and full time running coach. I’ve worked with countless beginners and experienced runners alike, helping them achieve goals from running one mile to 100 miles or more (yes, all at once!). But my number one professional and personal goal is to help people create a life long, positive relationship with running.
Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros and cons of the Couch to 5K program. One of the main “cons” that I have noticed is that the amount of running, in both mileage and minutes, increases far too quickly for most runners to safely complete. Not to mention, those jumps can be mentally discouraging, when runners find they just can’t physically make those big jumps.
Since publishing that post, I wrote a follow up on what to do if the Couch to 5K is too difficult. However, even with those suggestions I’ve received many comments from people who are still finding frustrating stumbling blocks along the way. It made me realize that there was definitely a need for a training plan that can help people safely get comfortable with regular activity BEFORE starting a 5K training program.
A “pre-couch-to-5k” program, if you will. Or, what I’m going to call a “Learn to Love to Run” program.
Why I Wrote the Learn to Love to Run Program for Beginners:
Most 5K training plans, in theory, start you from the “couch” and bring you to running 3 full miles in 3-4 months. However, I think the term “couch” is deceiving here. Truly under active or sedentary people need to become more comfortable with regular movement before following a race focused training plan. Trying to start with too much, too soon, or makes drastic jumps in volume, can leave a runner frustrated, or worse, injured.
Think of it this way: what would happen if you tried to build a house without first laying down a solid foundation? You’d likely build something that resembled a house, no doubt. But it would be unstable, and far more likely to crumble under pressure.
Think of this learn to run plan as laying down your solid foundation to a lifelong relationship with running. This plan will not only help prevent potential overuse injury from doing too much, too soon, but it will help you become comfortable with running at a much more gradual – and mentally attainable – pace. My hope is to not only keep you safe, but keep you from getting frustrated, or experiencing a “crash and burn”. And when the plan is complete, you’ll have a solid foundation of movement and run / walk intervals to help you hop right into a beginner 5K training plan.
But most importantly – when this training plan is complete, my hope is that you’ll have fallen in love with running.
A Word on Walking…
I want to put this section, and “disclaimer” if you will, towards the beginning of this post. Listen, I’ve been around the running world for almost 15 years now. I know that there is (unnecessary) shame associated with having to take walk breaks. In the past, I’ve even experienced that shame myself.
But there shouldn’t be. Walking is nothing to be ashamed of.
It’s taken me well over a decade and some incredible (for me) running feats to realize that it doesn’t matter how you get from point A to point B, all that matters is that you get there. I’ve run a 28 hour 100 miler, a 1:40 half marathon, a sub 20 minute 5K, and guess what: I walked at some point in each one of them. No, those aren’t record breaking speeds but they also aren’t too shabby either. More importantly, I’m proud of each one of those accomplishments. I share those times not to brag, rather, to demonstrate that walking during those races didn’t diminish my accomplishments.
And I say all of this to tell you: even if you only “run” one single step in your workout – it’s still a “run” and you should still be proud of yourself. Do not diminish your accomplishments. I am proud of you.
Is this plan right for you?
If you’ve found yourself frustrated with typical Couch to 5k programs in the past, this plan might be right for you.
This plan is for anyone who truly wants to take the safe, patient approach to learning how to run, with the hopes that this becomes a lifelong habit and the start to an incredible journey.
Lastly, this plan has been designed for anyone who can comfortably and safely stay on their feet, walking, for 30 minutes.
What does the plan entail?
The Learn to Love to run program is twelve weeks long, and includes four workouts per week. Three of them are running focused, one is walking only.
Monday, Thursday, Saturday: Running Workouts
The running workouts start out with 30 second run intervals – but just four of them (more on this and how to modify if it is too hard/too easy in the weekly sections below). The workouts vary between 20 minutes long to eventually, a few longer 40 minute workouts.
Over the course of twelve weeks, the plan will leave you comfortable with running more frequent, longer intervals. You may feel, at times, that the plan is building very slowly. Remember: that is our goal. A slow, safe build will allow your body to safely adapt to the stress caused by the act of running. Be patient, and trust in the process!
Tuesday: Walking Only
Because this is a learn to run program, you may feel tempted to skip the walking workout. But please don’t.
The walking workout serves two purposes. First: it acts as an active recovery workout after your first run of the week. It will help encourage blood flow to your muscles, carrying oxygen to muscle cells to stimulate recovery, and will also carry away waste byproduct from injured muscle tissue (a normal occurrence during exercise).
Second: the walking workout is designed to not only get your body used to more “time on feet”, but it will help you build your cardiovascular endurance with the fast/slow intervals – while still remaining low impact (no running) and gentler on your body.
Optional Strength Workouts:
Strength training, whether done with weights, band resistance, or body weight is an integral part of keeping your body happy, healthy, and injury free. However, I believe when trying to incorporate a new habit into your life, “too much, too soon” can be overwhelming. Therefore I have not programmed strength training into this plan.
That said, if you are looking for somewhere to start, I’d highly recommend incorporating one of the following workouts into your training, once a week to start:
What gear will you need?
Running, in theory, is an inexpensive sport. That said, there are a few things you truly should invest in for a successful experience:
Proper fitting running shoes can make or break your running experience. Not all shoes are created equal, and not every person needs the same type of running shoes. Your best bet is to visit a local running store to have them properly fit you for the shoe that will best suit your needs.
Sweat wicking, non cotton, technical clothing (socks, shirt, shorts or pants, sports bra if applicable) will help keep you cool, dry, and hopefully chafe free. This fortunately does NOT have to be an expensive task: most retailers (even Target, Walmart, etc.) have affordably priced workout gear in a variety of sizes.
Watch or interval timer
For this program, you will be running and walking intervals based on time, not distance. To keep track of the timed intervals, it is advised you use some sort of timer, so you can focus on your activity rather than staring at a watch. Some options include:
- The timer on your cell phone
- Gymboss Interval Timer ($19.95)*
- A chrono sport watch with interval timer, such as the Timex Ironman series ($23)*
- An entry level GPS running and activity watch, such as the Garmin Forerunner 35 ($117)*
(*amazon affiliate links)
Learn to Love to Run Program for Beginners
Alright, without further ado, here is your training plan! I’m going to break it down in three week blocks, so that each section can be fully explained.
Start by downloading and/ or printing out the entire PDF training plan by clicking the link below.
Disclaimer: The following training plan is designed for educational purposes, and is not a prescribed training plan for any particular individual. While I am a certified exercise physiologist and RRCA running coach, and have designed this training plan with safety in mind, you should understand that when participating in any run training program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this training plan you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, and assume all risk of injury to yourself. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Weeks 1-3: Consistency
The goal of weeks 1-3 is to simply build consistency. It may begin to feel monotonous by week 3, but this slow and steady, purposeful build will help prevent injuries and safely allow your body to adapt to regular, physical activity. It will also help get you into the habit of showing up for a workout four days a week.
During this first three week block, the most you will be running at one time is in a 30 second interval. Week one, all three run workouts are identical. During week two and three, we bump up the number of intervals you complete per workout. Workout lengths vary between 20 and 30 minutes.
Ideally, you want to run your entire 30 seconds at an even pace. This means you don’t want to start your run interval going full speed, and burnout before the 30 seconds is over. Now that said: when you first start running, you may feel like you only have “one pace”. That’s OK. Over the course of this program, you’ll feel more comfortable with running, and will start to notice your ability to differentiate between “comfortable” and “faster”.
NOTE: the walking workout prescribed times and full intervals will not line up. If it says hard/easy for 10 minutes, you can end the “push” and begin the cool down once you hit 10 minutes, regardless of the number of intervals completed.
Too hard? Don’t be discouraged! Sometimes the first week or two of physical activity, especially if you’ve been pretty inactive, can feel overwhelming. The most important thing right now is that we build consistency. So, if you can’t run for the full 30 seconds, run as long as you can. Say you can only hit 10 seconds – that’s great! Continue through the last 20 seconds of that 30 second interval with a fast walk, keeping your heart rate elevated. Then, slow down and recover for the 2 minutes prescribed.
Too easy? If the 30 second intervals feels a little too easy, then bump it up slowly by 15 second increments. Make sure, however, that you are able to maintain that running interval throughout the entire workout. For example, if you run 60 seconds for your first interval, but then can’t even run by the last interval – you’ve done too much. As mentioned earlier, TRUST the process.
Weeks 4-6: Build
During week 4-6, we begin incorporating more difficult workouts. You will have one workout where we push length of running time, one walking workout, one harder interval workout with less rest, and one “long run” workout. The workouts will get progressively longer with the number of intervals completed. Further, the length of run intervals begin to increase, while some of the walk intervals decrease.
Too hard? The jump to a 45 second run from a 30 second may seem overwhelming. It’s OK. If you can’t quite make 45 seconds, try to go a little further than 30 seconds each time. Maybe the first interval you make it 35 seconds, and the next time 37 seconds. Every step or second further is progress. You’re doing great!
Too easy? If the run intervals are feeling too easy, during this three week block, try decreasing the time of the rest intervals.
Weeks 7-9: Confidence
During weeks 7-9, we continue decreasing walk rest periods even more, and increasing run intervals. We cannot improve as athletes without progressively making workouts more difficult. I know that may seem intimidating, and some of these interval jumps may feel “big”. But, now is the time to have confidence in your body and truly BELIEVE that you can do this. You’ve been running now for 6 solid weeks! You’ve got this!
Weeks 10-12: Push & Believe!
Weeks 10, 11, and 12 of the program will increase your strength and endurance to the point where you are running more than walking during each workout (excluding the warm up / cool down). This last 3 week block will leave you with the confidence to hopefully run for 2 full minutes without stopping, leaving you ready for a race specific training plan.
I finished! Now What?
First – CONGRATULATIONS on sticking with the program for 12 weeks! You are now ready to hop into a more specific training plan, if you wish. Or, you can simply continue to work on building your run intervals, now that you have the confidence to know that you CAN do it.
(Stay tuned: beginner 5K & 10K training plans coming soon)
Need More Help?
Starting this journey can feel overwhelming at times. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Facebook support group:
For questions, support, or motivation, feel free to join the Learn to Love to Run Facebook group (click HERE)
Other helpful posts for beginners:
Visit my entire training library for more helpful articles & tips designed for beginners (click HERE)
I hope that this post and training plan helps you develop a love for running. For me, running has absolutely changed my life, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share that with others. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment below or reach out via email.
Happy running, my friends!
In case you missed it above: * CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT THE FULL PDF PLAN *