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How To Start Running (Even If You’re Out Of Shape)

Use these beginner tips to start running at any age or activity level. Get into running shape and run your first race!

I started running at the ripe old age of 30. Trying a new sport as a full-grown adult is not easy. Every training step takes thought, energy and effort, and I still struggle to find my groove some days.

But I can honestly say that picking up running was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I truly believe that every person can become a runner with enough hard work.

New to running? Download the list of the 100 Best foods for runners now!

how to start running, even if you're out of shape

If you’ve always wanted to start running, but you feel like you’re too out of shape to make the goal a reality, it’s time to shift your mindset. Or maybe you used to run and stopped for a long period of time. Either way, it’s absolutely possible to get back into running shape, and these tips will help you do it!

1. Just start

You’re probably expecting a better tip than “just do it”, but seriously, the first step is lacing up your sneakers and getting out the door. Almost anyone can run a few steps, and that’s exactly how everyone starts.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, I highly recommend watching the movie “Brittany Runs A Marathon”. She start by challenging herself to run to the end of her block. In the end (spoiler alert), she runs a full marathon!

No matter how much you run on your first day, it’s still more than you ran the day before.

2. Start slow and easy

No one cares how fast you run, except for you. Give yourself grace and don’t be hard on yourself for how slow you run.

The same goes for how far you run. When I first started running, I would aim to complete just 1 mile. Then I would add add 0.5 or 1 mile to my total distance each week.  Very slowly and steadily, I worked up to 13.1 miles. 

Run at whatever pace you can handle for however long you can handle. You will hit your goal distance before you know it! Obviously, a little push is needed to gain endurance and speed, but don’t push yourself too much or you may end up injured.

3. Take walk breaks

Walking is not a bad thing! As a matter of fact, I love to take walk breaks especially during a long run. Taking a break to walk helps your legs recover, which allows you to run longer and eventually increase your endurance.

Running experts actually recommend taking walk breaks to increase speed!

4. Set a realistic goal 

For new runners, I always recommend registering for a race. You may be thinking, “No way can I run a race,” but I guarantee you can! Look for a local 5k in your neighborhood that is 2-3 months away. Paying money to sign up for a race will make you accountable.

Next, download a couch to 5k training program. You can easily find one online for free. Use this training program as your guide to increase your mileage.

5. Seek support from fellow runners

Running is better with friends! During my marathon training, my husband encouraged me to run almost daily. He would ask, “How many miles today?” After a while, I nicknamed him “coach”. I must admit that some days I wanted to ignore him and blow off my run, but I rarely did and I always felt great afterwards.

Maybe you don’t have a “coach” at home, but you can easily find a support system from a local runner’s group or a friend in your area who also wants to try running. For those in NYC, NY Road Runners has weekly running classes, which I tried when training for my ½ marathon.

The classes are really great! The groups are divided into experience levels, and each group is lead by a trained coach, who determines a workout, sets a pace, and answers questions.

6. Think about nutrition

Sports nutrition is different than regular nutrition. To learn more, read 10 Nutrition Tips For New Runners.

For a more in depth look, check out my ebook: The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.

If you’re just looking for the basics, this table will help you begin to understand when and what to eat.

 Timing:Meal composition:Food examples:
Pre-run3-4 hours before runningRich in carbs with small amounts of protein and fatPeanut butter & honey on toast OR mashed chickpeas on toast
Pre-run30-60 minutes before runningHigh carbs, low protein and fatPiece of fruit or toast with jam OR banana
During runningRunning lasting up to 1 hourWater 
 Running over 1 hourSports Drink (about ½ cup every 20 minutes)Gatorade
Post-runAs soon as you can after running (ideally 30-60 minutes prior)Carbs + proteinOptions: Veggie omelet, Graham crackers with peanut butter, low-fat chocolate milk, Rice bowl with beans

7. Buy good running shoes

Shoes can make or break your running routine. The wrong shoe can cause injuries, like shin splints and worse. The right shoes can really help you excel. I recommend visiting a running store and talking to a knowledgeable sales rep about shoes. Some stores even put you on a treadmill to determine the right shoe for you. Trust me, it’s worth it. The first time I found the right shoes, I felt like I was running on pillows.

running sneakers

I run in a New Balance stability shoe– either the 860s or 880s. But you’ll have to find the shoe that is right for you!

8. Pay attention to form

Having good form is just as important as the right shoe. While you’re running slowly, pay attention to your form. Since you’re just starting out, the good news is that you don’t have any bad habits to break.

When it comes to form, pay attention to a few things:

  • Land flat on your foot. Avoid landing on your toes or heels.
  • Make sure your arms stay are bent at 90 degrees and elbows stay by your side. Don’t cross your arms in front of you.
  • Look directly in front of you, rather than down at the ground.
  • Don’t hunch your shoulders. Pull them back and down.
  • Lean slightly forward at the hips.
  • Don’t clench your fists. Relax your hands.

3 Comments

  1. bethjreed

    About to head out for a run, first one in a while, thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  2. Chani

    This was helpful! And I agree – the proper shoes are SO important! My knees are thanking me!

    Reply
    • Nutrition a la Natalie

      Thanks for reading. And I’m glad you found it helpful and have found the right shoes!

      Reply

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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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