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How to Start Running at Any Size

Ready to start running? You’ve probably heard that running is a great way to improve your physical and mental health. Maybe you’re ready to lose weight or finish a 5K race.

Before you begin, it’s important to know that runners come in all shapes and sizes and you don’t have to look a certain way to be a runner. Of course, it’s common to have fears and reservations when starting something new. If you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it’s important to make small, consistent steps. Walk before you start running, and be patient with your progress.

Jay Ell Alexander, CEO and Owner of Black Girls RUN! sees tons of newbies progress into long term 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 a positive association between self-compassion and the motivation needed to achieve your goals. So, be kind to yourself along the way, and let’s get started!

This article is part of our How To Start Running Guide

First, Find Your Reason

Running can change your mind and body for the better in many ways, including:

  • Stress relief
  • Weight loss and maintenance
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved immune system function
  • Better aging
  • Better sleep
  • Improved joint health

Running can also change your social life for the better. Joining a beginner's training group while running can help you make new friends. Running friends can provide motivation and help you stay accountable to your goals.

So, why do you want to start running? “You have to have a reason, whatever it may be,” says Carol Eaton. Eaton changed her lifestyle, started running with Fleet Feet, and lost 140 pounds over the course of a few years. Her journey began after she found herself out of breath when climbing a flight of stairs. She decided she had to make a change for her overall health and wellbeing.

Start with a meaningful goal that is specific, realistic, and time-bound. For example, “I want to complete a 5K within 6 months.” You’re more likely to be successful if you can measure your progress and have some fun along the way.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you have a pre-existing health condition that may require you to alter your approach, it’s important to check in with your doctor. If you’re carrying extra weight, you’re more prone to cardiovascular disease, and your joints will take more impact on the run, too. A health professional can help you make sure you’re ready to start running and potentially take a look at your training plan, too.

A Fleet Feet outfitter looks at a customer scan and helps her find the perfect shoe

Get the right running shoes and clothes

There are a few basic items you’ll need a you 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. Discomfort on the run can get in the way of your goals, and ill-fitting shoes are more likely to cause injury and put you on the sidelines.

Not sure which shoes you need? Let a friendly, expert Outfitter from Fleet Feet help you out. At Fleet Feet, our free outfitting process includes a foot scan which helps us identify the type of shoe shape and support that will be best for your individual feet, and your new fitness goal. Most Fleet Feet stores also have training groups for beginners that provide a good support system for new runners.

When it comes to clothing, don’t just grab an old cotton t-shirt or sweatpants. You’ll want to invest in a few pairs of good sweat-wicking tops and bottoms designed for walking and running.

Chafing is a common problem for runners, but it doesn’t have to stand in your way! Try an anti-chafing product like Squirrel’s Nut Butter or Body Glide to prevent painful friction spots.

Walk before you run

If you’ve been sedentary for a few months or more, start with brisk walking for 10 to 20 minutes on a regular basis. Then, increase that time, gradually. Once you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes, you’re ready to incorporate some running.

Run/walking intervals are a simple and effective way to get into shape. When your run is broken up with walking breaks, your heart rate drops, allowing you to recover faster and continue your workout for longer.

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.

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.

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. While running ultras may not be your goal, the run/walk method is a useful tool that can help you reach your fitness goals.

A group of Fleet Feet runners smiles as they walk together down a hill on a beautiful summer day

Find a training plan

A running plan is a helpful tool to keep you on track with your overall goal. A proper training plan should include rest days and easy days so that your body can recover and make progress without breaking down.

That said, 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. Listen to your body, which is always your best guide.

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 strength training for 30 minutes.
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Run 2 to 2.5 miles.
  • Sunday: Rest

Check in with your local Fleet Feet to learn about training programs in your area.

Give yourself every advantage

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. Many new runners like to start first thing in the morning when the weather is cooler, and when fewer people are outside, especially if they feel self conscious about running in front of others.

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.

Fuel properly for your run. It takes some experimentation to find the right timing and nutritional strategy. You don’t want to feel hungry on the run, but you don’t want a full belly either (stomach upset is no fun!). Give yourself a few hours for digestion before your workout, or run first thing in the morning with a light, easy-to-digest snack in your system, like a banana.

Read more here about what to eat before running.

Track your progress

Tracking your workouts can be a huge source of motivation. Gradually, you'll see an increase in your overall exercise time, steps and mileage, which feels like a big accomplishment. It is!

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, and the Garmin app will keep all of your data in one place, making it fun and convenient to monitor.

You can also start with your phone or a simple stop watch and record your progress with an old-school paper training log.

Tracking your progress helps you see patterns in your own training. For example, you might notice that you always feel better after a rest day, or that your workouts are getting slightly faster each week. A training log gives you a big picture view of your fitness journey and progress toward your goals.

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

Remember to have fun

Running is tough at first, but if you pursue your goals gradually, it really goes get easier! In addition to your running goals, it's important to mix in other fun forms of movement to mix up your workout routine to keep things interesting.

Sprinkle in movement that you find fun and enjoyable., like yoga, cycling, dance—whatever floats your boat. 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, “Don’t be afraid to fail. Even seasoned runners have bad runs or bad days, but you can always try again.”

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