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How To Start Running At Any Size

Four women running on a blue track

Running is an excellent way to improve your physical and mental health. If you’re unsure of where to begin, know this: Runners come in all shapes and sizes, and you don’t have to be a specific shape to be a runner. You just have to be patient, and make small, consistent steps. Of course, it’s common to have fears and reservations when starting something new, but you can do this.

Jay Ell Alexander, CEO and Owner of Black Girls RUN! sees tons of newbies progress into consistent runners. In an email to Fleet Feet, she says, “Do not compare your journey to others. There is so much to learn from in the process of growing and reaching your finish line.”

Having self-compassion doesn’t just sound nice. Studies show that it’s positively associated with intrinsic motivation and makes you more likely to keep working toward your goals.

Here’s how to start running, at any size.

Three runners on a sunny day

First, find your reason

In an interview with Carol Eaton, who lost 140 pounds after committing to a healthy lifestyle that includes running, she says, “You have to have a reason, whatever it may be,” Eaton found herself out of breath when climbing stairs and decided she had to make a change for her health and wellbeing.

Motivation matters, and you need a meaningful goal to keep you focused. Whether you want to keep up with your kids, run a mile without walking, finish a 5K or explore your local trails, understanding why you want to run will help you create smart fitness goals and build healthy habits to keep you on track.

Just make sure your goal is specific and realistic. You can always set a new goal once you reach the first. You’re more likely to be successful if you can measure your progress and have some fun in the process.

A woman bends over to tie her shoe

Be strategic about your gear

There are a few basic items you’ll need to get started. The most important thing is to have a good pair of running shoes and, for the ladies, a good running bra. If you haven’t run in a properly-fitted pair of shoes before, it makes a world of difference for your comfort and your stride.

Schedule an appointment for a shoe fitting at a Fleet Feet near you.

If chafing gets in your way, you might need a product like Squirrel’s Nut Butter or Body Glide.

Learn more here about the gear you need to start running.

Start small and progress slowly

Ease into your new routine gradually. Starting slowly is not lazy, it’s strategic. Many newbies make the mistake of trying to run too much too soon, and wind up quitting because they’re discouraged or injured.

A 2012 study from the British Journal of General Practice shows that on average, it takes about 66 days to establish a healthy habit, but that number varies widely, depending on the person and the habit. The study clearly showed that small, simple changes become habitual more quickly.

This research offers strong incentive to start where you are, not where you think you “should” be, or where you think you would have been 10 years ago.

Also, be sure to check in with your doctor if you have a pre-existing health condition that may require you to alter your approach.

A man and woman walk down a greenway

Walk before you run

If you have been sedentary for a few months or more, start by walking 10 to 30 minutes on a regular basis, and increase that time gradually. Once you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes, you’re ready to incorporate some running.

Run/walking intervals are a fantastic way to get into shape. Alternating between tough and easier efforts allows your heart rate to come down so you can recover faster, and exercise for longer instead of burning out too soon.

In an interview with Fleet Feet, ultrarunner Joe Randene says he used the run/walk method to get started on his life-changing running journey from being overweight to running ultramarathons.

Start with cycles of walking for three minutes and running for 30 seconds. When this gets more comfortable, you’re ready to increase the running time.

A smiling man with a water bottle runs on a trail

Find a training plan

As you get going, it can be helpful to stick to a training plan. It’s easy to get excited about your progress and overdo it. A proper training plan should include rest days and easy days so that your body can recover and make progress without breaking down. But, don’t be afraid to deviate a little. You can (and should) make adjustments if you’re truly feeling exhausted, or if life gets in the way.

Read more here about how to build your training plan.

Eventually, you might build up your schedule to a program like this:

  • Monday: Run/walk intervals. Run three minutes, walk two minutes. Repeat five times.
  • Tuesday: Cross training. Ride a stationary bike for 30 minutes.
  • Wednesday: Run/walk intervals. Run four minutes, walk two minutes. Repeat five times.
  • Thursday: Cross training. Bike, swim or lift weights for 30 minutes.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Run 2 to 2.5 miles.
  • Sunday: Rest

Check in with your local Fleet Feet for in-person and virtual training program options.

Give yourself every advantage in the beginning

There are plenty of small ways to make running feel easier and more approachable. Take advantage of every hack you can!

If you can help it, run at the coolest part of the day. Running in excessive heat and sun impairs performance and makes running feel more difficult.

Start your run hydrated, and be sure to drink plenty of water after exercise. Even a slight decline in hydration makes running more difficult for your body.

Be careful to fuel properly for your run. Find the happy medium where you’re not super hungry and ready to crash, but also don’t have a full belly (an upset stomach is no fun!).

Read more here about what to eat before running.

Closeup of a Garmin watch

Track your progress

Watching your exercise time, steps and mileage increase can be a huge source of motivation. There are many ways to keep track of your progress. A Garmin GPS watch is useful because it tells you how far and how fast you’re going, among many other handy features.

You can also get started with your phone or a simple stop watch and write down your progress with an old-school paper training log.

Tracking your workouts helps you monitor your progress and look for patterns in your own training, like if you always feel better after a rest day, or how long you’ve been feeling that soreness in your knees.

Read more here about how a training log can optimize your running.

Make your workouts fun

What can you do to bring a little joy into your fitness routine? Find ways to mix things up and keep it interesting. Sprinkle in movement that makes you happy every day. Try yoga, cycling or even dancing around the house. The point is to move more, and move in a way that feels good to you.

Remember to be kind to yourself along the way. As Jay Ell Alexander says, “Do not be afraid to fail. Even seasoned runners have bad runs or bad days, but you can always try again.”


By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.

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