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How to start running (The James Clear Way)

to start running again

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It may sound silly to say that people need a proper guide to start running. Running is such a simple sport that almost everyone can get started without any guide. Been a novice runner myself, I didn’t think anyone would actually need a guide to start such an easy activity. It is also important that you let your running habit stick.

Before I became a regular runner, I would occasionally get motivated and start running for a few days, and get burnout…… and stop for a few months. And feel inspired to start again before getting too much of it.

And everytime I try to learn to start running again, I would need to build my physical strength, and stamina all over again. And it seems like I couldn’t get anywhere near my goal of losing 20 pounds.

After going through several times of identical stories, I’ve decided to look for a proper plan, a good system to make my habit stick.

It was back in 2003, google wasn’t popular back then, I grabbed a running encyclopedia from a local bookstore and started following the training.

I haven’t stopped my training for more than a month since then. That is why I understand the importance of a proper system. How to start running UK or US is not different from how to start running in any part of the world.

Enough of my stories. So why do we need a training plan for running? Getting started with running is easy, yes, anyone can get started with a pair of shoes. But a few can choose the right gear, know the right running form, stick to the habit, and have that consistency for a long time. 

By the end of this article, you will get a proper free 12 weeks training plan (printable) that helps you to start running again. And more importantly, 4 practical steps to make your running habits stick (The James Clear Way)

For those who don’t know James Clear, he is the author of the book “Atomic Habit”. He is well known for listing out 4 simple steps to make any habit sticks.

You will find that lots of practical advice to make your exercising habit stick in this article, it will be extremely helpful if you are a beginner!

But before we get there, we need to make sure that you are and mentally prepared for what you are getting into. That’s why in this article, we will cover:

If you think that’s too much to absorb in one-go, welcome to skip the part you’re already familiar with. Or bookmark this page and come back as you need. 

Benefits of Running

No matter what motivates you to run, there are a lot more other health benefits that will come along with this sport, whether you notice it or not. You don’t need any overpriced equipment, so you don’t have to spend a fortune to exchange for a healthier body. 

Choosing running as a regular activity saves me a considerable sum of money compared to other sports. In fact, it’s one of the most economical and effective ways to burn your body fat. Here are the few reasons that motivate people to start running again:

These are just a few benefits from running as a sport, you can read all the benefits about running here, if you have time.

Interesting reason why people start running:

Running Types

A simple sport like running can actually have many different ways to categorize it. Some people categorize it by pace. Many categorize it by location. Different types of categorization is not hard to understand. We will look into it one by one, skip it if you aren’t interested.

By Pace (Glossary used by experienced runners)

  1. Recovery Run – Short distance, easy-paced run. It serves to add a little exercise to runners’ schedules after a hard/long run session.
  1. Base Run – It’s a relatively short to medium length run, at a runner’s natural pace. Base run is meant to run frequently to yield long term results in runner’s stamina.
  1. Long Run – Base Run for a long distance. Long run meant to increase raw endurance on runners.
  1. Progression Run – Run that starts at runner’s natural pace and ends with faster speed. It’s a structured pace run designed based on runner’s specific training goals.
  1. Fartlek – Fartlek is a base run that mixes in intervals of faster/longer run. It’s a good way to allow runners to get used to a more intense run at early phases of the training cycle.
  1. Hill Repeats – Repeated short segment of uphill runs. Hill repeats are meant to increase runner’s leg strength, fitness and stamina.
  1. Tempo Run – Tempo Run is the sustained effort at threshold intensity for a specific period of time, usually 20mins to 1 hour.
  1. Intervals – Shorter segment runs separated by slow jog or standing recovery.
  1. Sprints – Shorter distance runs at a faster speed than normal pace, usually repeat multiple times during workout.

By Location

Road Running – The name of road running is quite self-explanatory. It includes running on the paved road, concrete, and sidewalks.

This is where the majority of runners start their running journey due to its convenience and availability. If you never go for a run before, I encourage you to start your journey with road running.

Race Running – Some people enjoy competition more than others, it’s one of the best ways to keep many runners motivated.

Race running can be perform at different places such as road, track, or even trails. It is usually organized by companies or event organizers.

It attract running enthusiasts to compete against each other, some joined to hit their PR(Personal Record). You can look for events near your location by visiting runningintheusa website.

Trail Running – Trail Running usually takes place on hiking trails where the surface is unpave. It can range from deserts to mountainous terrain, where there can be much larger ascents and descents. 

This is for runners who enjoy surrounding themselves in nature. If you have never done a running training programme before, running alone in trails can be dangerous and energy-consuming.

It’s advised to at least follow a training plan for a few weeks before trying out trails running alone.

Treadmill Running – Running on a treadmill is a good choice when the outside weather is bad. It’s the choice of many runners who are concerned about safeness during the night.  

Some people find that treadmill running is quite boring. This is why companies like Zwift came up with an app that allows you to run virtually with your community. 

Track Running – Running on track is for shorter distance and fast-paced runners. It’s a good option for runners wanting to achieve certain speed output.

If you train to reach a certain speed, track is a better place for you due to its safeness compared to trail running or road running.

Hydration and Nutrition Needs for Runners

Any athlete will tell you that having a proper hydration plan is a must in training and races. What you consume before and after running not only affects your performance, but also your general health. Here are some general rules for drinking and eating for runners.

Hydration in Running

Many beginners make the mistake by not consciously aware or track how much water they consume before and after runs.

Many do not voluntarily drink enough water to prevent dehydration. Some drinks too much water to lead to a condition known as hyponatremia.

That is when the sodium of your body is too low by taking too much free water without any electrolytes.

General Advice for hydration in running:

  1. Start drinking water an hour before your run, it can range from 14 to 16 ounces (400ml to 500ml) depending on your thirst level.  Drink more if you are going for a morning run as your body dehydrates during sleep.
  1. If you are going for a long race, make sure to bring some sport drinks with you to replenish minerals/sodium lost through the sweat. (Tips: Best way to carry water while running)
  1. Drinking fluids before running is as important as drinking during and after. Be sure to check your urine colour after a race/ training.
  2. If your urine is small in volume and dark in colour, you’re dehydrated. Keep drinking water or isotonic drinks until your urine turns pale yellow.

Nutrition Needs for Runners

What you eat plays an important role in your training plan. Knowing how to fuel your body will make you feel energized during your run, thus speed up your improvement rate.

If you are a beginner runner, establishing a good foundation in nutrition planning will help you tremendously down the road. Especially when you’re training for a long distance race like half or full-marathon. Here are a few nutrition guidelines for runners:

  1. Carbohydrates are key before your run. Running is an activity that needs endurances, very few people can perform well on a low-carb diet. If you are the kind of person who can’t exercise even 60 minutes after meal, eat 90 minutes or even 2 hours before exercising. 

Don’t Skip Meals! One of the things that make many beginners “hit the wall” during runs is depleted glycogen. Examples of good carbohydrates: Banana, Potatoes, wheat bread, macaroni, peas, raisins, apples, corn, root vegetables.

  1. If your session is longer than 90 minutes, carry some snacks with you. Noted that snacks or energy gel are not to replace your proper meal before runs. You’ll need to replenish the energy consumed during workout. has reviewed some great snacks suitable for runners during exercise.

  1. Eat 30 minutes after each run, you need appropriate nutrients such as carbohydrate to replenish the glycogen loss. A certain level of protein can help you to recover your muscle fast. 

A good ratio of carbs to protein is 4:1, as stated by Kacie Vavrk, certified nutritionist from Ohio State University.

She also suggests chocolate milk as a good post-run drink, as it contains high-quality carbohydrates and protein. You can also have a well-rounded meal with enough fluids within an hour to make up the carbohydrate.

9 Things To Do/Know Before You Get Started

Check with your doctors

This might not be applicable for a young and healthy person. But if you are one of the below, some advice from doctors will ensure that you’re starting off safely:

While doctors will likely encourage you to start a new running habit. He/She might also give you some special guidelines to follow during/after intense workout.

Invest in Proper Gear

You can get all sorts of fancy running gear if you like once you have enough training. But if you’re starting out, focus on the most important gear – Running Shoe.

If you’ve never properly choose running shoes before, this ultimate guide will help you to get started. You might want to check out some other technical gear such as compression shorts, tops, or socks that are designed for runners in your local specialty running store.

These gears can make your run a little bit more comfortable as it helps you to stay dry and promote blood circulations.

In case of cold weather

If you are following a training plan, where consistency is the key for performance improvement, you’re expected to get out there no matter what’s the weather condition, unless you have a treadmill at home.

Sometimes, the temperature will be less than ideal for a good run, but you’ve already signed yourself up for a new habit. In this case, having some running gear for colder weather is going to make your run some much better.

Dressing in multiple layers is the key to run securely during cold weather or winter season.

You can start by wearing multiple layers, as you start feeling warm, shed the unneeded layers and tie them around your waist. Here are the list of running gears for running in cold weather:

In case of hot weather

Wear light colour and breathable running clothes. Plan your route to make sure you have enough water along the way. Avoid running directly under the sun if the heat is >98.5°F(37°C) and humidity is above 70%.

Your body regulates temperature by evaporating sweat off the skin. High humidity prevents this process of evaporation, you can quickly become overheated if you continue to have intense exercise.

Stop running if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy. Do not overlook this as heat stroke can be a life-threatening emergency.  Visit Road Runners Club of America to check the hot weather running tips.

Use Technology to Track Progress

There are many mobile applications built to track your running activities such as Runkeeper, or Map My Run.

The apps track your distance, total exercise time, pace, calories burned and many other useful metrics. Some of them provide you with a running plan according to your level.

It can also remind you to replace your running shoes once your shoes reach their mileage. I love using the apps as a reminder(it sends you notification) to keep me accountable.

You can track your workout history and measure the rate of improvement to stay on top of your game. All these features come completely free of charge!

Find Your Favourite Place/Route

There are many ways to find your favorite running route. But after experimenting between a few methods, I have come up with the best 2 ways to find many good running routes.

Google Maps

  1. Set your starting point and destinations.
  2. Press “…” on right side of starting point option
  3. Go to “route options”, toggle “Avoid motorways” (To avoid highway where usually there is no biking/walking path)
  4. Choose bike/walking option for mode of commute

Google will automatically suggest routes that avoid steep hills. It will show you the path that only cyclists or pedestrians can use, which are usually safe for runners.

Map My Run

  1. Log in to your Map My Run app on your smartphone
  2. Choose Activity “Run”
  3. Press “Load Route” on top of the map
  4. Map My Run app will automatically generate a list of nearby route
  5. Each route will comes with total distance and elevation level along the way so you can avoid steep hill if you want

You can check out more running apps from suggested list in

Learn How to Start Safely

These are the basic runners knowledge that many beginners overlook, you just have to read once. Starting to run with a good habit will save you from many potential unwanted incidents.

  1. Reduce your chance of injury by warming up before every running session. Check out this warm-up session by Dr. Duane Scotti, owner of SPARK Physical Therapy:
  1. Try not to run alone at night, find a running partner. It’s always safer in numbers.
  1. If you are running at night, make sure that you are visible to the drivers in traffic. Try wearing a bright colour shirt or use reflective gear to make yourself noticeable.

(Tips: A reflective wrist band from Amazon is the only thing you need.)

  1. Always bring along your identification with you. Get running pants with a zipped pocket to secure your card, keys, and smartphone.
  1. If you are running on the roadside, try to not use headphones or at least reduce the volume so you can be aware of your surroundings.

What Should You Expect After You Get Started?

Expect your leg muscle to get sore, but if you keep up with the routine, muscle soreness will subside quickly. If you find that the soreness won’t subside within 2 weeks in any area, stop running for a few days to allow tissue to heal and to prevent any injuries.

The most common injury for beginner runners is Shin splints, it usually occurs if you’re not wearing proper running shoes or overtrains.

If you feel the same soreness every time you run even after training for a few weeks. Read this article about Shin Splints to know the preventions and treatments.

Know the Right Running Form

You can re-adjust your running posture gradually after you start running for a few weeks. Don’t give yourself too much information to remember at the beginning.

A proper running form lowers your chance of getting injured. It’s a Must-Learn for marathon athletes and experienced long distance runners. You can watch this 7 minutes video if you are ready to adjust your running form.

Best Way to start for beginners

Run Walk Run Method

Run Walk Run Method is arguably the best method to build endurance for beginners. The method is pioneered by Jeff Galloway – a former olympian and currently a trainer. 

This strategy is great for beginners who don’t have enough cardio reserve to run for a long distance yet. It is designed to slowly transition you from complete beginner to a long distance runner without burning out or muscle fatigue.

You will get the full detail about this method in the free 12 weeks training plan available below.

How fast should you run?

Unless you are training for a short distance race, you shouldn’t be out of breath when you run. You will certainly feel challenging in the first few runs, but that should eventually subside.

One helpful tip is to use “talk test”, if you can still hold a conversation while running, you’re at your right pace.

Try checking your running app while you are in your running pace to know your speed. Gradually increase from that as you progress through the training.

Focus on time first

Many beginners focus on how many miles they can go instead of the number of minutes they can run. When you are a beginner, focus on how many minutes you are running instead.

Gradually you’ll be able to cover more miles in the same period of time. (Because your speed will increase). Once you are comfortable, you can start building your stamina by increasing the mileage.

Treadmill or outside, which is the best place to start?

Both have their own benefits and downsides. First of all, a treadmill is an expensive equipment to have. If you are just starting out, you probably do not have one at home.

But it can be a great alternative if the weather isn’t cooperative. Cushioned surface on the treadmill also reduce the chance of injuries. It can also be helpful by reflecting your running pace and distance in real time.

But if you don’t own a treadmill, you can use a running application on your smartphone while running outside. Just remember there are some safety precautions to take note of when you’re running on the roadside.

Should I run on the hill?

Running on a hill with slight inclination is actually a great way to start your training. It improves your leg muscle strength and burns calories more quickly.

Avoid running on very steep hills when you’re just starting out. You’ll exhaust your leg muscles quicker than you can start increasing your lung capacity with longer distance runs.

There are some changes in running form where you’re running uphill and downhill. You’ll want to shorten your stride when you’re going uphill , and when you’re running down the hill, utilize the gravity force by slightly leaning forward. You get the proper technique in hill running here.

Start small

Don’t overtrain yourself from the start. Overtraining not only increases the chance of potential injury, you’ll get burned out and give up too early.

Start with a small goal and make it manageable, it’ll boost your self confidence and make your training more pleasant too. You will get more reasons to start small in the habit sticking section too.

Run in group

Train with at least one friend if you can. Committing to a new running habit with a partner that will hold you accountable will help you in many ways.

Schedule a time in day where both of you are not occupied, call out each other when the other’s trying to skip without a valid reason(s).

My wife called me out several times for trying to skip because “it’s too cold out there”, or “I might need more sleep”. We’ve all been there! Working out with a more capable partner will subconsciously encourage you to train harder.


Write things down! Track you progress after each session. You will clearly see your progress and know what to improve on if you write things down. Go as detailed as you can, including things like:

  1. Hours of sleep on previous night
  2. Food before runs
  3. How you feel during runs
  4. Total distance travelled

I will include my way of recording after each training session in the printable 12 weeks plan.

The Beginner Running Plan

Simple 4 Steps to make you running habit stick: The James Clear way

“Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. ” -James Clear

1% Better Every day

1% worse every day for one year. 0.99365 = 0.03

1% better every day for one year. 1.01365 = 37.78

If you are getting better for merely 1% today, you may not notice it. But over the course of a year, you are 37.78 better. It is only when looking back from 2, or 3 years from now that the value of your exercising habits and the cost of your bad habit become strikingly obvious!

If you go to the gym one week in a row, you’re still out of shape. If you are running for weight loss today, the scale doesn’t move that much. We make a few changes, but the results never seem to come quickly and so we slide back into our previous routines.

The same with bad habits, if you eat an unhealthy meal today, you still weigh almost the same as yesterday. But when we repeat 1 percent errors, day after day, by replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalizing little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results.


The Science of How Habits Works

A psychologist named Edward Thorndike found human are more likely to repeat the behaviors that are followed by satisfying consequences. And those that produce unpleasant consequences are less likely to be repeated.

According to James Clear, the process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.  This is the backbone of every habit. Bear with me in this chapter, if you get the idea, it will help you tremendously.

  1. Cue – A signal that triggering your brain to start a behaviour by predicting reward
  2. Craving – A motivational force behind every habit that crave for the reward
  3. Response – Actual action you perform
  4. Reward – Outcome that satisfy your feeling

Reward does two things, it satisfies us and teaches us. Your brain will remember the test of reward, if you like it, you are most likely to repeat it next time.

Example of habit forming pattern:

Cue You are stuck on a project at work You wake up, brain predicting the feeling of alertness after coffee
Craving You feel stuck and can’t wait to relieve your frustration You want to feel alert
Response You reach out your phone and check on social media You make a cup of coffee
Reward You satisfy your craving to feel relieved. Checking social media becomes associated with feeling stalled at work You satisfy your craving to feel alert. Drinking coffee becomes associated with waking up

Habit forming pattern for most runners:

  Ideal Not ideal
Cue You are stuck on a project at work You wake up, brain predicting the feeling of alertness after coffee
Craving You feel stuck and can’t wait to relieve your frustration You want to feel alert
Response You reach out your phone and check on social media You make a cup of coffee
Reward You satisfy your craving to feel relieved. Checking social media becomes associated with feeling stalled at work You satisfy your craving to feel alert. Drinking coffee becomes associated with waking up

In this section, we will discuss how to let the ideal side win almost every time.

4 Practical Step to create a new running habit

How to make good habits

Step 1: Cue: Make it obvious

Step 2: Craving: Make it attractive

Step 3: Response: Make it easy

Step 4: Reward: Make it satisfying

Step 1: What you can do to make it obvious? (4 ways)

Use a habit scorecard.

If you’re a morning person, list down everything you would normally do in the morning. And add the “+” mark to them if it’s a good habit, “-” for bad habit, “=” for neutral habit, add in the habit you want to form, go through the list every morning. For example:

Going through the list every morning makes you aware of what are the things you are spending time on, and reminds you to stick to your habit. 

Use this list as an example, you would want to avoid watching TV to prevent yourself from getting hooked by TV programmes. If you prefer to run after work, make a list of things you would do at that time.

Be specific

Author James Clear called this “implementation intention”. It’s by writing down the exact time and location to perform certain actions. For example:

Being specific about what’s your action at what time helps to keep you on track. We all always say yes to little requests that aren’t so important because we’re not clear what we need to do instead.

Habit stacking

The fundamental concept is to tie your desired behaviour with your current habit.

The formula is: After [current habit], I will [new habit]

Use the list from the habit scorecard, for example:

Because drinking coffee is what you would normally do in the morning. If you associate your desired habit with it, it allows you to take advantage of natural momentum that comes from one behaviour to the next.

Design your environment

Studies have shown that creating an obvious visual signal can draw your attention towards the action you desired. If you want to finish a book, you don’t want to keep your book at the corner of the bookshelf in the storeroom. 

You’ll want to put it beside your bed, working table, or somewhere that is visually obvious to you. This is what I do for this running habit

Step 2: How to make it attractive (3 ways)

Pair an action you need to do(new habit) with an action you want to do(current habit)

You are more likely to find your new habit attractive if you get to do your favorite thing at the same time. Author called it temptation bundling.

You can also use it with the habit stacking method. The formula goes like this:

  1. After [current habit], I will [habit I need]
  2. After [habit I need], I will [habit I want]

For example, if you want to watch TV but you need to go for a run. After drinking coffee, I will go for a run. After going for a run, I will watch my favourite shows. I will only get to watch TV after going for a run.

Join a group you like to hang out with where exercise regularly is a normal behaviour

This concept is simple, humans are social animals. We identify with group culture and have a strong desire to fit in. As a general rule, the closer I’m to someone, the more likely I’m to imitate them. Making friends with runners will likely keep you stick to your habit. You can join a like minded running group by:

Create motivational ritual

Hard habits become attractive when you associate it with positive experiences. This mindset shift required you to reframe your habits to highlight their benefits rather than drawbacks.

Lots of beginner associate exercise as being a demanding task that requires them to drain their energy and wear them down.

Instead of telling yourself “I need to go for a run this morning”, which don’t highlight the advantages of the sport.

Says “It’s time to build endurance and lose some weight”. This small mindset swift isn’t effective if you just do it for a few days. Make it your long term habit! It will reprogramme your mind to associate different feelings with the action.

Many athletes create a ritual before their training session. Create a short ritual before every run can get you into the “mode” of exercising. You can

Step 3: Make it easy (4 ways)

Reduce friction

If you can make your good habit more convenient, you’ll be more likely to follow them. The core idea is to make it as easy as possible to train yourself and exercise. You can

Prepare your environment to make future actions easier.

You can also prepare your environment to make exercising easy other than making the signal obvious.   Whenever you organize a space for its intended plan, you are priming it to make the next move easy.

Use the Two-Minute Rule 

The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to begin. The truth about habit is you must establish it before you can improve it. 

Instead of trying to establish a perfect habit every time, you can do the easy thing on a consistent basis. I won’t tell myself “I want to run 1 hour today”. 

Instead I will start with a very easy 5 mins walk. And start from here, I will continue with short running.

Eventually I begin to master the habit of “showing up”, even when I don’t feel like running in someday, I will tell myself “just going for a short walk”. It is one of the great ways to master a difficult habit.

Automate your habits. 

Habit automation uses one-time action to lock in good habits. I’ve always been a morning runner, running before work means waking up earlier than I normally do. I’ll set an alarm for 7am every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. 

Set repeated alarm instead of one-time alarm. This is one of the simplest ways to automate your exercising habit.

Other than this, you can subscribe to a paid/free running plan to encourage yourself to stick to the habit.

Step 4: Make it Satisfying (4 ways)

Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit. 

To increase the chance of you sticking to the habit, you have to try your best to make exercising feel satisfying every time. Human brain work this way:

  1. What is immediately reward is repeated
  2. What is immediately punished is avoided

A habit need to be enjoyable to last Make your excising session satisfying by:

Keep track of your habit streak and “don’t break the chain. 

Print out the training plan provided to keep track of your progress. Put the training plan on top of your table to remind yourself. Don’t break the chain of exercising sessions.

Filling up the result tracking table after every session. You’ll feel better if you know you are capable of following the training plan consistently, without skipping

. I always felt a small sense of achievement after each session when I can look at how far I’ve come. A sense of confidence that I can make any habit stick.

Get an accountability partner

Finally, get a good accountability partner, preferably someone who can share the journey with you. Make the session more enjoyable by training together.


There you have it, everything you need to get started. For me, there is no better way to start than having a systematic training and practical habit sticking plan. 

By this point you have already known the benefits of running and the best way to get started. Ultimately, it all depends on how consistent you are. The plan works for me and many others! If you have any other way, contact me to let me know! See you on the road.


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