4 Tips on How to Start Running When Out of Shape

A lion, laying lazily on a branch. It can be tough to figure out how to start running when out of shape.

So you’re wondering how to start running when out of shape, huh?

Maybe it’s January, and it’s time for a New Year’s Resolution. Maybe you just caught a glimpse of the Olympics, and you’ve caught the running bug. Or maybe you want to start running for weight loss.

It doesn’t much matter the reason. But I’ve got good news, and I’ve got bad news.

The bad news is – it’s going to suck at first. Those first few runs can be quite painful, and you might feel like it’s never going to get easier.

But that’s the good news. It will get easier. With consistency, you’ll get in shape and you’ll be able to run for a long time at an easy pace. The trick is consistency.

And so to help you get started running, here are a few tips.

A blank screen with erasers. Forget about your past when trying to start running when out of shape.
Wipe the slate clean and forget what you used to be capable of if you’re trying to start running when out of shape.

Forget the Past to Start Running When Out of Shape

If you’ve ever been successful at running – even mildly so – the most difficult part is coming to terms with the fact that you’re out of shape.

I should know. I’ve been there.

When I was thirty, I ran a half marathon. 13.1 miles. I could run for miles, effortlessly. I wasn’t all that fast, but I managed to finish in a respectable two hours.

Then, I hurt my knee and I didn’t run for several years. When I started up again this year, I could hardly run a mile. A mile!

But the trick is to forget the past and keep everything in perspective. Yes, that one mile paled in comparison with the ten I used to be able to run. But it was a new benchmark.

And the next time I went out running, I ran 1.5 miles. Then eventually 2. And so on and so forth. Once I reset my expectations and compared myself to my first run of the year – instead my last successful spate of running – I felt successful. I was building on my success and getting better over time.

And so my first tip for how to start running when out of shape is to forget about the past. Set a new foundation and measure your progress from there.

Know That It Gets Easier, Quickly, Once You Get Started

Once you’ve reset your expectations and created a new benchmark for yourself, know that it will get easier – quickly.

If you’ve never run before at all, you could be in for a long slog. Listen to first time runners, and they’ll tell you how they agonizingly worked up to running a 5k just to complete it in 35 minutes. Progress comes slow when you’ve never built an aerobic base before.

But the body remembers. If you woke up one day to find yourself out of shape – but you used to be in shape – it won’t take nearly as long to get back into shape.

It’s amazing how quickly the body can bounce back.

When I started running in April, I could hardly go a full mile without stopping. By the end of April, I was running 3 miles, 3 times a week.

A few months later, I was putting in 25 to 30 miles per week. I was back to running my old paces from when I was 30. At this point – seven months in – I’m running faster than when I was 30.

If you stick through the tough, early days, you will be rewarded.

Be Intentional About Creating a Running Habit

If you can get through the first month or two, you can expect things to get a lot easier. Which means that the main challenge is creating a running habit for those first thirty days.

Take a look at this list of tips for creating a running habit, and be intentional about it.

Craft a plan and write it down. Track your progress, and write that down, too.

Think about what kinds of distractions and obstacles will get in your way. Minimize them. And resist the urge to cancel a run because of bad weather or some other inconvenience. If you do, be ready to make it up!

But perhaps most importantly, make sure that habit starts with a sensible plan that doesn’t progress too quickly.

A stuffed bear with bandages all over. Don't progress to quickly, or you'll get injured when you start running.
Take it slow when you start running, because you don’t want to get injured.

But Don’t Progress Too Quickly Or You’ll Get Injured

I’ve tried to start running again in the past, and it hasn’t always gone so well.

One of the biggest issues for me was usually scheduling. I was a teacher, so I was up early and out to work. Except for a few times a year – like spring break or summer break.

More than once, I decided, after months of not running, to try and get things started quickly in a week. I’d do what I could the first day, and then the second day, and so on until I’d tried running five or six days in a row.

When I was in shape, that would have been fine. But coming off of an extended break, it wasn’t a good idea. And more than once, I found that I’d come down with a mild case of runner’s knee. This would inevitably pause my return to running… and it just wouldn’t start up again.

So know your limits, and know that you can’t jump off the couch and get right back into your old routine. For the first few weeks, three or four days a week is probably good. And whatever your old mileage used to be, stick with just a few easy miles.

It takes a few weeks for your body to adapt to new forms of stress, and constant running puts a huge stress on your bones, joints, and ligaments. A month after you get started, you’ll be stronger. But two or three weeks in, your body be breaking down and trying to rebuild.

Give it time to rebuild. If you take things slow, you’ll be better for it in the long run.

It’s tough to start running when out of shape, but it is sooo rewarding.

Have You Been Able to Start Running When Out of Shape?

Like I said, I’ve been there before, and I’ve failed. So there’s no shame in that.

But I’ve also been able to successfully start running when out of shape. I came up with a plan and I made it a habit. I forgot about my past success and focused on making progress from my current state. And after a few weeks, things quickly got easier.

If you remember these four tips, you can be successful, too. At least, I hope so.

And if you do try, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below – how’d things go when you tried to start running again while out of shape?

4 Tips on How to Start Running When Out of Shape

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