5 tips and tactics every new runner should know

A beginner's guide to running
July 31, 2023

Stitches – they are the reason I never liked running. I remember being forced to participate in cross-country races at school. Red-faced and clutching my side I’d limp over the finish line, cursing the ground my teachers walked on. It took me another 20 years to realise that running doesn’t have to be all pain and suffering.

Finally, at age 30, in a bid to get fitter for climbing approaches I decided to take up running. It’s been 3 months since I started running (semi-regularly) and I’ve made some mistakes and learned some valuable lessons (including how to manage stitches). If you are a newbie runner or thinking about taking it up, then read on.

Tip 1: Upsize your running shoes by at least one full size

When you run, your feet need space to expand and shift forward, especially during downhill sections. If your shoes are too tight your toes will go numb.

I learned this lesson the hard way. As a climber I have always been taught: the tighter the better. I even downsize my approach shoes. And so, in my naivety, when I bought my first pair of running kicks – bright blue La Sportiva Lycans -  I sized them similarly, i.e. far too small.

I thought they felt incredibly comfortable, but within ten minutes of my first run, my toes were so numb I could have performed surgery on them without anaesthetic.  

Not wanting to make the same mistake again I sought out professional advice at a running store. Not yet committed to trail or road running they fitted me with a hybrid shoe - the Asics Fuji Lite 2. They were a full size bigger than my street shoe size. Initially they felt like boats on my feet, but as soon as I started running in them, they felt just right. My toes were relieved.

Tip 2: Snitches get Stitches  

Those pesky stitches returned with vengeance when I started running again. Within my first kilometre I was wincing with every stride. It was so off-putting that I was close to quitting before I’d even begun.

I did what all millennials do in the face of crisis – I turned to YouTube. Surely, as stitches are so common some clever doctor or semi-informed content creator must have figured out a simple solution? Not really.

It turns out that minimal research has been done into why stitches occur and there’s no single conclusive tactic to help reduce or manage them. The top theories behind their cause are:

1. A muscle spasm in your diaphragm

2. An irritation of the thin membrane that lines your abdominal and pelvic cavities

3. Increased stress on the spine resulting in localised pain

I can’t tell you which of these theories is correct and there are myriad interesting strategies online to help eliminate stitches (which range from reasonable to totally wacky). In the end I implemented the following three tactics which I am happy to report have entirely banished stitches from my life:


As with many new runners, I started out primarily breathing through my mouth – often panting as I over-exerted myself.

I hadn’t thought this a problem until my aunt told me she suffered stitches while surfing if  she held her breath or forgot to regulate her breathing. As a fan of Wim Hof, she suggested I try breathing in through my nose for 4 counts, holding it for 2 and then breathing out slowly.

The first time I changed to this breathing method, I was able to run a 5km road run without any pain. It was a turning point for me – the first time I realised running could be enjoyable.

I could feel that my breathing helped stabilise my core while I ran. This could explain why it’s so effective in eradicating those pesky stitches - Though, I’m no sport scientist.

Warm Up

In addition to changing up my breathing I also started warming up before my runs. I keep things simple, starting with a few dynamic stretches and then 500 metres of walking. I then start running very slowly for another 500 metres to 1 kilometre. It’s all about easing your body into the activity.

Find the glide in your stride  

I tend to bounce a lot when I run – this can really jolt the abdomen and may contribute to getting a stitch. Focus on reducing any bounce in your stride and imagine you are gliding forward. I also found that changing up my shoes softened my stride and helped improve my technique.

Tip 4: Walking isn’t cheating (I promise, it’s true)

Initially, I was convinced that if I walked at any point on my route it “wouldn’t count.” I took this to the extreme – not even slowing down to take my hoody off.

This mindset is absolute rubbish. Walking is not cheating. In fact, the best way to improve your speed and endurance is by running slowly over longer distances. This leads nicely onto our next tip!

Run slow to run fast (eventually)

During my first few runs I tried to push as hard and fast as I could. I thought running slowly wouldn’t be as beneficial, and I was all about improving my run time. This was a counterproductive strategy and a one-way ticket to injury.

As it turns out, one of the best ways to improve your endurance and fitness is by running slowly and maintaining a lower heart rate. This is called low-heart rate training and it was pioneered by running coach, Phil Maffetone.

The formula he came up with to calculate your optimal heart rate is 180 minus your age (minus another 10 if you have been ill in the last two years – this includes flu). For my runs I try maintain a heart rate of 145 beats per minute. This sometimes means walking (yes, walking) especially on uphill sections of my route.

While this training method is effective, running slowly can be incredibly frustrating. I often have urges to sprint off into the distance – but I try my best to resist. It’s important to play the long game. Your pace might be slow now, but eventually you will be able to run much faster while maintaining that same low heart rate.

Ultimately, the key to aerobic fitness is a strong heart and this technique helps get your heart pumping like a pro.

Tip 6: Find a motivation buddy!

Running regularly is the simple key to improving, but consistency can be a challenge. Sometimes we need that extra nudge – so find yourself a buddy.

My partner is obsessed with running and quite often he is the only reason I manage to make it out the door and onto the trail. We share our runs on Strava with each other, chat about our progress and running plans. This engagement definitely helps keep me psyched.

Apps like Strava also function like social media – you can share photos, give people kudos and comment on their activities. So, if you can’t find a physical buddy, virtual buddies help too!

During my first few runs I tried to push as hard and fast as fast as I could. I thought running slowly wouldn’t be as beneficial, and I was all about improving my run time. This was a counterproductive strategy and a one-way ticket to injury.