Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Running

I frequent a subreddit about running, r/running, and there’s a Daily Question and Answer thread.

I often read this thread while I was first getting back into running, and I learned a lot from the various questions and answers. However, months later, it strikes me that so many of the same questions are asked over and over again.

I’m going to collect here some of the more frequently asked questions about running, along with their answers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Running

Here’s a list of questions with links directly to the answers:

How Can I Run Farther Without Being Out of Breath?

This is possibly the most frequently asked question. Usually it goes something like this…

I tried to run, but after a few minutes I’m completely out of breath. I have to stop to breath, and I can’t go any farther! How do I learn how to run further?

And the answer is almost always: Slow down. Sometimes, it’s combined with: Take a walking break.

Your body can only exercise at a certain intensity for so long. If your body is forcing you to stop, you’re exercising at too high of an intensity.

Most people can walk thirty minutes without having to stop to catch their breath. This is low intensity. If you were to speed up or walk up a very steep hill, you might find yourself out of breath – similar to when you’re running.

The trick to long distance running is to find a pace that feels easy. At first, that may be painfully slow or it may not exist. You might have to run for a few minutes and then walk for a few minutes. But eventually, you’ll find an easy pace that you can maintain.

But keep in mind that everyone – even olympic athletes – have a pace that is so fast they can’t maintain it. An olympic marathoner might be able to run for miles at a 5:00-6:00/mi pace. But if they were to speed up to 4:00/mi, they would quickly have to stop.

Slow down and keep running, and you’ll be able to go further. Over time, you’ll also be able to run that distance faster.

Should I Run As Fast As I Can Every Time I Run?

Look, I’ve been guilty of this in a past life. I got the point where I could run 3-4 miles. I’d do this a few times a week, and I’d always go at about the same pace – fast. I’d get to the end, and I’d be dead tired.

Don’t do this. It’s counter productive.

Yes, in the short term, you might see some gains. But they’ll plateau, and if you run often enough you’ll end up hurting yourself.

There’s a basic recipe to improving as a runner. Spend most of the time running at an easy, conversational pace. Run once or twice a week at a harder pace.

You can get fancy with different kinds of workouts, and as you get more advanced those things are important. But you’ll never get to that point until you accept that the majority of your running should be done at an easy pace.

You should also periodically challenge yourself to do better, but these record attempts or races should be few and far between. It should definitely not be every time you lace up.

How Many Miles Should I Run?

This question has many different answers, depending on your purpose for running. Whether your goal is general fitness, weight loss, or getting better at running will impact how much you should run.

A good starting point, regardless of your goal, is to run about 8 to 10 miles per week – 30 minutes per day, 3 days per week. Once you’ve built up to this point, you’ll be ready to run more – if you want to and if you need to.

For purposes of general fitness, you’ll get the greatest benefit from running 10 to 15 miles per week. This meets the recommended guidelines for physical activity – 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise. You can run more, but you don’t have to.

For purposes of weight loss, you’ll want to run a bit more. Somewhere between 15 and 25 miles is a good sweet spot. This is enough to burn some calories but not so much that you wear your body down.

For purposes of mental health, a little bit goes a long way. As little as six or seven miles per week will help improve your mood and well-being. From there, run as much as you feel you need to.

Finally, to get better at running, run more. If you’re running 10 to 15 miles per week, increase to 25 to 30. Then go for 40-50. If you want to be truly competitive, you’ll need to run 70 miles – or more. Many elite runners easily clock 100 miles per week. As long as you stay healthy, more miles is better.

For more on this: How Much Should I Run? A Guide to Miles Per Week

Should I Run Faster or Farther For Weight Loss?

This is a common question for people who take up running to lose weight. And the answer is it depends, but you should probably focus on running farther.

First, let’s acknowledge a basic fact about weight loss. To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than you burn throughout the day. If your running is motivated by weight loss, your goal with running should be to burn as many calories as possible.

Next, let’s acknowledge a basic fact about caloric burn and exercise. You burn roughly the same amount of calories, regardless of how fast or slow you run. Yes, it might vary a little bit, but distance is the main driver of caloric burn.

So if time isn’t an issue, you should run slower and further. It’s much better to run 5 easy miles in 50 minutes than it is to bust out 3 quicker miles in 25 minutes.

The only reason you might be more concerned about speed is because you have a limited amount of time. If you can only run for 30 minutes on your lunch break, you’d be better off running at 9:00/mi than 10:00/mi. Why? Because you’ll be able to run farther.

But generally speaking, running faster will limit how far you can run. So you should keep it easy and keep it slow. That way, you can run farther, burn more calories, and ultimately keep your weight in check.

Do I Need to Eat Something Before I Run?

You may or may not want to eat something before you run, but you almost definitely don’t need to eat something before you run.

Your body has two main sources of energy stored – glycogen (sugar) and fat. You have a limited store of glycogen in your muscles, and if you go for a very long run (2 hours or more) you could end up using it (mostly) up. But your body can still fall back on fat as an energy source, and you most definitely have some fat stored up that you body can burn.

If you’re going to be running at a high intensity, like an interval workout, you may want to eat some carbs before you go out to ensure that you have enough readily available energy. The same goes for a long, moderately intense run, like a half marathon or a marathon.

On the other hand, if your goal is weight loss, you almost definitely should not eat before you run. Your body is full of fuel, and you don’t need any more of it.

But for most runs, it won’t make a difference. I almost always run in the morning before I’ve eaten anything.

What Other Questions Do You Have?

I’ll periodically add to this list of frequently asked questions about running. I still peruse the Daily Question and Answer thread on /r/running, and that’s most often where I get ideas from.

But if you have a question, feel free to drop a comment below. Assuming I have an answer – or that I can find one – I’ll include it in my next revision of this list.

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