If you’re thinking about ways to improve your health and fitness this year, running is one of the easiest ways to start. You don’t need much—just your feet and a place to run!
But knowing where to start, how much to run, how often to run, and how fast to progress can be intimidating… And may even be enough to stop you from actually getting started.
This is why we created this 30-day run challenge! This challenge is the perfect way to begin! It’ll build up your running base and help you create a running habit while building some muscle and improving your cardiovascular fitness.
If you’re looking for the ideal way to start putting your health and fitness first next year, our 30-Day Running Challenge for Beginners could be just what you need.
Who Is the 30-Day Run Challenge For?
This running challenge is best for people who are new to running. That could mean that you’ve never run before, or that you’ve run in the past but have taken some time off and are returning to it.
Basically, it’s the perfect running plan for anyone who doesn’t yet have a solid running base.
Whatever your situation, if you want to build a running foundation that you can use to work your way up, this program is the ideal starting point for you.
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How Does the 30-Day Running Challenge Work?
This challenge is designed to start from zero and work you up to being able to run 2 ½ miles comfortably. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s a little short of a full 5K race!
It uses a run/walk approach, which is the best way to not overdo it and get injured along the way.
It also makes the program easily adaptable to any level—complete beginners can walk more than they run, while those with a better fitness level can walk less and run more.
You’ll also find days set aside for rest or cross-training. Rest is essential as it allows you to recover properly from your exercise and build up your strength for the next day of running.
Cross-training is also an important part of the program and we advise you not to neglect it! This combination of run/walk, easy “recovery” walks, cross-training, and rest days is the best way to lay down a sustainable foundation to build on later.
Preparing For the 30-Day Run Challenge
Before we get into the actual program, it’s a great idea to prepare yourself so you can get off to the best possible start. Here’s what you should be considering.
Choose the Right Gear
Running shoes are the main thing we need to cover here. While you technically can run in sneakers or walking shoes, we highly recommend investing in a pair of proper running shoes.
You don’t need to get the most expensive, fancy pair. But you do need a shoe that’s going to offer enough cushioning to absorb shock and protect your joints, as well as a shoe that’s supportive enough to reduce strain on the feet.
It’s a good idea to have your feet professionally measured to ensure that you’re always choosing the right shoe size.
We also suggest checking your arch type. You can easily do this at home. Understanding your foot mechanics will help you find a properly supportive shoe.
For example, if you overpronate, you need to wear a stability shoe rather than a traditional “neutral” shoe. This can make a big difference to your running and comfort levels.
If you already have a pair of running shoes that you’ve been wearing for ages and you don’t want to buy a new one, we advise replacing the insoles with new ones that offer more padding.
Investing in some high-quality socks and moisture-wicking clothing—no cotton—is also a good idea so you can run comfortably. For some that may be a beanie and jacket to protect against the cold, for others, a cap and sunscreen might work best!
It’s a good idea to plan out your training route ahead of time. This means there’s one less thing for you to think about when you get out on the road, and it can also help to keep things interesting and exciting.
Some runners might enjoy mixing up their routes to stop themselves from getting bored. Others might prefer to stick to the same route every time, so they get to know every bump in the road.
It’s up to you, but whatever your feelings, we suggest deciding on your route beforehand so you can set off knowing exactly where you’re going.
If you’re going to be running on a treadmill, this won’t be an issue for you, but you may need to come up with some entertainment ideas to prevent boredom!
Creating a Schedule
Sticking to a running plan is easier when you have a schedule. Depending on your routine, it might be easier for you to run in the morning before work, or maybe it suits you better after work.
Try to choose one time and stick to it. This will help you to build a habit of consistency.
If you just run “whenever you get a chance”, you’re more likely to run out of time during your day or skip a run in favor of other things that you feel are more important at the time.
Tracking Your Progress
Tracking your progress is a little-known secret weapon! Watching how you improve is extremely motivating, and it can be the one thing that keeps you going through rough patches and motivates you to carry on once the challenge is up.
You can use a smartwatch to track and compare data, but we believe one of the best ways to track your progress is using an old-school running journal.
There’s more space, you can write anything you notice during your run, and keeping a training log perfectly complements the data your smartwatch will save.
While your watch will track things like time, distance, cadence, and so on, your running journal is the place for you to keep track of how you felt and what the environment was like.
- Did you enjoy the run?
- Were there any niggles, pain, or discomfort?
- What was the weather like?
- What was your perceived effort?
These are the kinds of things you can track alongside your numbers. As time passes, you’ll start to notice patterns, like maybe you don’t run so well in the heat, or every time you run further than 5K, your ankle starts to hurt.
These will give you great insight into small actions to improve. But in the beginning, it’s just an excellent way to see how your running gets better and how each run gets easier!
Do a Health Check
It’s always a good idea to get your doctor’s go-ahead before starting a training program, even if it is for beginners. Whether you have existing health conditions or you feel healthy as can be, get checked to make sure there’s nothing underlying.
Get In the Right Mindset
Get excited about this challenge!
Check out some running websites, read some running books, ask some friends who run for their advice. Find out the answers to your questions and get yourself in the right mindset before you begin.
The 30-Day Run Challenge Workouts Explained
Here’s a quick rundown of the various types of workouts in the 30-Day Running Challenge. This will help you to understand why the challenge is structured the way it is and give some insight into how each workout will help you progress faster.
Run/walk intervals are one of the best ways to start building a running habit. They’re simple to do—60 seconds of running followed by 60 seconds of walking, throughout the entire distance.
As you get fitter and stronger, you can increase the length of the running interval, while keeping the walking interval the same.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but this is a great way to build stamina and cultivate endurance at a pace that’s not likely to overdo it.
Running is a high-impact activity, and your joints may not be used to the shock. The impact can be jarring even if you’re wearing good running shoes. This is one of the reasons a run/walk approach is such a great way to get into a beginner’s challenge.
It gives you enough exercise to boost your cardiovascular fitness and kickstart some muscle-building without placing unnecessary strain on the joints.
We stick to a run/walk approach throughout the entire challenge. This allows people of all fitness levels to progress at their own pace.
So if you can run the entire distance, you’re free to do so! But if you need to walk, that’s totally okay as well.
You’ll notice some “easy walks” scheduled as well. These are your active recovery walks. They’re designed to be on the slower side, so you’re still working the muscles and the cardiovascular system and burning calories at a much less intense pace.
It’s tempting to speed them up, but we advise taking them slowly and steadily. The easy walks are based on time, so you should walk half the time one way and then turn around so you can make it back home!
Cross-training can be anything other than running. This is a chance for your aerobic fitness to increase while your “running muscles” and more importantly, your joints, get a bit of a break.
You can opt for a cardio-based form of cross-training, like swimming, elliptical, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, and so on. These will boost your cardiovascular system and ease your joint strain.
However, we also highly recommend strength training, which is less cardio-focused but will help you build muscle, improving your running and metabolism.
It’s up to you what cross-training you do on your non-running day. Choosing something you enjoy will make it more fun!
Two rest days a week might seem a lot when you’re trying to make progress. But it’s important to understand that rest is almost as important as the actual exercise.
Rest days are when your muscles, joints, connective tissue, and cardiovascular system have the time and space to rest and recover from the exercise you put them through.
These are the days when your muscles repair and grow stronger, your body replenishes them with glycogen stores, and any hint of niggles due to overuse can be overcome. Then you can go into your next run with full energy.
Don’t be tempted to skip your rest day or do a bit of exercise on the day. If you feel frustrated, take the time to do some reading or browse through a few running websites!
The 30-Day Run Challenge
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for! The 30-Day Run Challenge for Beginners.
You can expect to take a few days to get used to the program, so don’t be disappointed if this week seems harder than you thought it would be.
- Day 1: Run/walk 1 mile or 20 min total – 30 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 2: 20 min cross-training
- Day 3: REST
- Day 4: Run/walk 1 mile or 20 min total – 30 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 5: 30 min easy walking
- Day 6: REST
- Day 7: Run/walk 1.25 to 1.75 miles or 25 to 35 min total – 30 sec run / 60 sec walk
Week two is a step up from week one. You’ll be running for longer—60 seconds at a time—but your walk will also be extended to give you time to recover.
- Day 8: REST
- Day 9: Run/walk 1 mile or 20 min total – 60 sec run / 90 sec walk
- Day 10: 25 min cross-training
- Day 11: Run/walk 1 to 1.5 miles or 20 to 30 min total – 60 sec run / 90 sec walk
- Day 12: REST
- Day 13: 30 min easy walking
- Day 14: Run/walk 1.75 to 2 miles or 25 to 35 min total – 60 sec run / 90 sec walk
You may need to dig deep to push through this week, as the motivation may start wearing off by now. Make sure your nutrition is on point and you’re getting enough sleep and put your head down—you can do it!
- Day 15: REST
- Day 16: Run/walk 1 to 1.5 miles or 15 to 20 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 17: 25 min cross-training
- Day 18: Run/walk 1.5 to 2.25 miles or 20 to 30 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 19: REST
- Day 20: 30 min easy walking
- Day 21: Run/walk 2 to 2.75 miles or 30 to 40 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
Your last full week of the challenge! If you’ve still going by now, you’re doing great—better than most. This week is slightly easier than the last, to allow your body to recover easier.
- Day 22: 15 min easy walking
- Day 23: Run/walk 1 to 1.5 miles or 15 to 25 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 24: 25 min cross-training
- Day 25: Run/walk 1.5 to 2.25 miles or 20 to 30 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 26: REST
- Day 27: 30 min easy walking
- Day 28: Run/walk 2 to 2.75 miles or 30 to 40 min total – 60 sec run / 60 sec walk
- Day 29: REST
- Day 30: Run/walk 1.5 to 2 miles or 20 to 30 min total – 60 sec run / 30 sec walk
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Tips to Progress Quickly
Follow these tips if you want to progress extra quickly through your 30-Day Run Challenge. These will complement the running program and lay the foundations for an excellent experience.
You may have read about pacing and you might be wondering how to pace yourself through this challenge. The good news is that you don’t need to keep track of or even measure your pace—you should run/walk by effort, not by pace.
Don’t worry about how fast you’re going according to your watch. Keep moving and use your perceived effort as your guide. Does it feel like you’re going too easy? Can you still hold a conversation without getting out of breath? It might be time to step it up a touch.
Or is your chest burning and you can’t get enough breath in? Are your legs feeling like jelly and you’re worried you may collapse? That’s a sign to ease up! Listen to your body, not your watch.
Work On Your Breathing
An easy way to stick to a good pace is to pay attention to your breathing. Try to breathe rhythmically and ensure that you’re always getting enough breath in. If you start to feel short of breath, it’s a cue to slow down to a walking pace.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Also, try to breathe deeply, down to your diaphragm, not just into your chest.
Get Your Form Right
Getting your running form correct is extremely important even if you’re a brand-new runner. In fact, now is the perfect time to ensure that your form is right, because this is when you build habits.
Stay relaxed and avoid tensing up, especially in your shoulders, fists, and neck. Keep your chest up, your head raised, and your back and neck as straight as possible. You want your front foot to land underneath your pelvis as you run, NOT out in front of your body.
This might feel strange at first, but it’s the optimal way of running. Not only will it increase your cadence, but it will also reduce your chance of injury.
You won’t progress nearly as much as you’d like to if you’re eating junk! If you’re truly serious about this challenge, it’s time to work on your nutrition as well.
Fuel yourself with nutritious, whole foods. Processed foods are empty calories and won’t give your body nutrients, so try to avoid them as much as possible. Eat something small and carby—a piece of fruit or an energy bar—an hour or so before your run.
As for the rest of your meals, make sure you’re eating a good combination of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. We recommend 10 to 30 percent protein, 50 to 65 percent carbs, and the remaining percentage of fat.
Hydration is also important, throughout the day and not just while you’re running. Make sure you’re getting in your required 8 glasses at the very least.
Doing some dynamic stretching before you run is a great way to warm the muscles up and lower your chance of injury. Here are some of our favorite dynamic stretches.
You can do these standing next to a wall or chair—anything you can steady yourself on. Hold onto it with one hand and swing the leg furthest away from front to back. You might want to stand your other leg up on its toes to allow for more space.
Do this for about 10 seconds, then switch sides. Repeat on both sides, for two to three times in total before you run.
Lateral Leg Swings
This is very similar to the stretch above, except that you’ll face the wall—or steadying object—and swing each leg side-to-side instead of front-to-back. Swing for 10 seconds and then switch sides. Repeat two to three times.
Begin by standing with your feet together. Take a step forward with one foot and center yourself over your pelvis. Slowly, start to bend your knees and lower yourself down. Instead of lunging forward, try to imagine that you’re moving straight down in a line.
When your front thigh is almost parallel to the ground, hold it for a second. Then, come back up, still focusing on moving in a straight line. Alternate legs and continue lunging for 30 seconds.
Find a Friend/Community
Running with a friend is always a good idea. Not only is it great for safety, but it also helps if you have someone to stay accountable to. It also makes runs easier if you can chat a little while you’re busy, and motivate each other through when it gets tough.
See if you can find a friend or family member who wants to do the 30-Day Running Challenge for Beginners with you!
What’s Next? After the 30-Day Running Challenge
30 days will fly by once you’ve started the challenge! You might already be wondering what you’re going to do after you’ve finished it. The good news is we actually have the perfect follow-up for you: the Couch to 5K program.
As you’ve just completed a couch to 2 ½ mile program now, you may find it easy to switch into the Couch-to-5K. And it shouldn’t take you long to be able to hit that 5K mark, which means you can then start taking part in 5K races for some extra challenge.
Either way, building up a running base is an excellent achievement! Well done and enjoy progressing even further!