Starting to Run After Being Stuck on the Sofa

Mike Wallis

Many people are reading this website thinking “I don’t get this. There’s a lot of words here that make no sense, and these people all seem super fit and fast and can run for days without stopping. I’m not like that.” Well, hello there. You are not alone. I was in the same boat as you not that long ago, and I’m here to tell you that it might seem a bit strange now but it will get better, and probably quite quickly, too.


Many people have different motivations for running; some do it because they’ve been told to do exercise by their doctor, some like to get out in the open air, some like the time and space to think. Whatever the reason, everybody started by pulling on a pair of trainers and putting one foot in front of the other. Most of us weren’t star athletes at school and have spent much of the time since compulsory PE sat on a sofa or an office chair, and that first step can feel quite big.


A lot of programmes exist for people starting out running again after a long time away from exercise. One of them that really worked for me was the NHS Couch to 5k scheme, which is a series of tracks you can listen to on a MP3 player as you’re out running. It starts really gently, telling you to run for a minute and walk for a while to recover, and gradually over the weeks it increases the time you spend running and decreases the recovery, until you’re able to continually run for 30 minutes. This really worked for me in the beginning, when I started exercising after 22 years away from school PE, giving me the motivation to get out there and a nice set of instructions and targets when I was out running. If you’re struggling to get the willpower then this might be for you.


The tech is fun but when you’re starting out all you really need is a pair of trainers and a bit of willpower. Comfy clothing helps, but don’t feel like you need to splash out on Lycra or expensive gear, in the beginning just something you feel comfortable moving about in is fine. Trainers, though, are important. Do spend a bit of time trying them on and deciding which are comfortable for you; some shops do a free “gait analysis” which can help. Also, the sizing is often different to what you’ve been used to – don’t be scared to ask to try on a half size up or down. On that note I am told by women friends who run that a good sports bra is “a lifesaver”, “as important as good running shoes” and that “a GOOD sports bra is absolutely necessary” but “seek recommendations from other women runners” as they can be very expensive.


As for distance? When starting out it helps if you have a distance in mind to aim for, whether it’s a mile, a 5k, a 10k, or even further. Keep your goals realistic and you’ll achieve them, and once you’ve ticked off a milestone you can set your sights on the next. I was aiming for a mile without stopping when I started, and when I could do that decided to give parkrun a try, and then the Abbey Dash. The important thing is to get out there.


Two years ago I started running just to see how I could do, which wasn’t very well, then I had to stop for medical reasons. After starting again last year I found with a few weeks of running I could go further without stopping, and get faster over set routes. Fitness will come, sometimes in tiny steps, sometimes in great leaps, but stick with it and you’ll notice improvements all the time.


If you’re just starting out: well done. You’re making an important change and I really hope you stick with it, and the sense of achievement you’ll feel when you get up the hill without stopping, or hit a target time on the Leeds 10k, or pick up a personal best at parkrun will be all the sweeter, because you did it yourself.


Check out the Couch to 5k programme here:


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