by Bana Jobe

A group of runners with racing bibs jogs along a 5k trail.

The hardest part of running is deciding to start. If you're not sure how to take that first step, follow these tips and tricks and you'll be going the distance in no time.

Jogging is a fantastic way to get your heart pumping, but if you haven't gone running in a while — or ever — it might seem daunting to find your stride at first.

But it doesn't have to be. There are different variations of the so-called "couch to 5k plan" to get you on your feet, and resources and motivation for beginning runners are practically everywhere you look. From turkey trots to charity 5ks, there are tons of fun opportunities to get out there, too.

Best of all, physical activity like running offers lasting benefits for your body and mind — from helping to reduce your risk for some cancers and heart disease, to building strong muscles, maintaining a healthy weight and even keeping depression and anxiety at bay.

The hardest part for many people is deciding to start — and then committing to a training routine. If you're not sure how to take that first step, follow these tips and tricks. You'll be going the distance in no time.

1. Ask your doctor what's best

Before starting any new exercise regimen, consider checking with your primary care provider or a specialist. They can help you take any necessary precautions based on your medical history and help you select the right fitness level for you. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this is especially important for people who have existing health issues, such as high blood pressure, as well as anyone who smokes.

2. Buddy up

While some people prefer training in solitude, many beginning runners get more motivation from training with a friend. Training partners can not only help you stay accountable, but they can also help you stay safe. Plus, having the company of others can make those long distances a tad less grueling as well as less lonely.

3. Find a couch to 5k plan

It's always good to have goals, and couch to 5k plans help you set them at the start. Typically, these plans offer week-by-week training guides that gradually work up from brisk walking to running nonstop for a half-hour or more. England's National Health Service offers one such program with a companion app and weekly podcast, but you can find many others online. Just remember to incorporate rest days into your schedule — your body needs the recovery!

4. Get the right footwear

If you're going to be on your feet more, you'll need a supportive base. Grab a pair of running shoes that have a good cushion as well as shock absorption. If all your shoes are old, consider buying new ones, since more than half of a shoe's shock absorption can get depleted after the first 500 miles of use. And finally, make sure your shoes fit well but are not too tight: Aim for about a half-inch of space between your toes and the shoe.

5. Stay hydrated

As your body starts to get more active, you'll need plenty of water to stay hydrated and cool. Aim for about 16 ounces of water 15 minutes prior to your run, and drink 16 more ounces after you're done. Throughout the workout, try to sneak in some sips about every 20 minutes, too.

6. Listen to your body

As you progress through your couch to 5k plan, take cues from your body to avoid pushing yourself too hard. If you think you might be overdoing it a little, there's no harm in repeating a week before moving up to the next step of the program. If you suspect you might be injured, check with your doctor.

7. Celebrate the little wins

Setting your sights on the big finale — running the full 5k — is great, but you should also celebrate the smaller milestones along the way. Congratulate yourself and your running buddies as you achieve little wins, such as the first time you run for five or 10 minutes without stopping. Rewards can include any act of self-care, from splurging on a nice dinner to watching a new movie you've been wanting to see.

Ready, set, go!

Training for a 5k can be a great way to get active. The key, as with any fitness routine, is to take that first step. So what are you waiting for? Check with your doctor, follow these tips and get going — a few weeks from now when you cross that coveted finish line, you'll be glad you did.

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