Is it a good idea to start running later in life? Will you get injured if you do? Am I too overweight to run safely? These are valid questions and ones that I would like to cover in this post, and hopefully, explain how to start running at 50 and overweight in the safest way possible for you.
If you considered my story, back in 2016 I was very overweight, I hadn’t done any form of exercise for a few years, and I had only just stopped smoking a couple of years earlier. I was 48 years of age and was on a serious downward spiral to very poor health. Something triggered that made me want to start making changes in my life and so my journey began.
One achievement was that 18 months later, at the age of 50, I ran an 86 mile trail ultramarathon. Something I didn’t believe possible in my wildest dreams a few years earlier and certainly something that friends and family didn’t think I would be able to do.
So, in a relatively short period of time, I went from sedentary slob to ultrarunner, proving that it is more than possible to start running after 50 and do it whilst staying injury-free. Over the course of this post, I’m going to explain how I did it and how you could do it too, no matter what distance you want to run.
Where to Start
I’m not going to assume what level of fitness you are at, but the fact you are reading this post I will start as if you are a beginner just thinking about running. If you have a level of fitness already then please feel free to scroll further into the post as we start to advance our exercise regime.
For anyone thinking about a new fitness program, I would start at the lowest level, leaving any ego behind, as the ego is the biggest cause of injuries and people giving up. I had played football at a reasonable level when I was younger and was active in a lot of sports. When I decided to make a change at the age of 48, understanding that I wasn’t the person I used to be was the one thing that I really needed to get used to and understand in order to progress with my goals. I had to leave my ego at the front door for sure!
So, where to start? Honestly, I started all of this by simply walking. Not so much on footpaths, but out in the countryside whenever I could. The beauty of this is that the terrain is variable and it’s a great workout, as well as the fact you see some great scenery along the way which is great for the mind and spirit. Try getting yourself a decent pair of trail shoes if you are going to do this – you will be glad you did in the long run.
You will be amazed at the level of fitness you can get to by mixing up your walks. So get yourself out there and enjoy what the world has to offer.
The Next Step
Once I had been walking for a few weeks and the weight had started to fall off, I began to add a little bit of jogging into the walking routine. Nothing excessive, just enough to get the heart rate up and get the body used to a slightly different movement pattern to walking.
By following this method in the beginning you are in no way overexerting yourself. You are only going to incorporate a bit of running on your terms. But what I would say is don’t hold back too much. At the end of the day, you are trying to up your running so do exactly that.
Try something like this if you get the chance.
- Start with an easy 10 minute warm-up at an easy walking pace
- Build up to a moderate walking pace for another 10 minutes
- Over the next 10 minutes, start to add 30 seconds to a minute of jogging, then 1 minute at walking pace again.
- Then 10 minutes at an easy pace to cool down.
Over the coming weeks just add more time or distance to your walking workout until you feel a little more comfortable jogging for longer periods. You will start to notice the difference quite quickly.
Ramp Up Your Running
The first thing that I concentrated on after walking and jogging for a few weeks was to get to the point I could run 5k continuously. The 5k run is the first milestone run you will achieve and is the distance incorporated in the much-lauded Park Run.
I would urge anyone who wants to start running regularly to work towards running your first 5k. Below I have listed a 5-week plan to get you to this point. I want to point out that this is based on time rather than distance during the training period. People will ultimately run a very different pace so it’s easier to base it on time on feet for a basic plan like this.
You will also note that there are days when strength training is required. Don’t worry, it’s not difficult, but it will help with your running in terms of making it more enjoyable and staying injury-free. The last thing we want to see is someone getting injured because the body wasn’t up to the task. I will talk about strength training later in the post.
At the end of week 5, you will run your very first 5k. All I will say is that if you are a complete beginner, don’t get ahead of yourself, it’s easy to do it but we want to avoid injury. Remember what I said – leave the ego at the door!
Have an End Goal
The one thing that kept me really motivated as a runner, and still does, is to have a goal in mind. Nothing too crazy or too difficult to achieve. Something that can be done in small bite-sized chunks so to speak.
I remember when I started out, it was running the 5k that motivated me the most. I still remember my first one very clearly and it felt like quite an achievement once it was done. It gave me the platform to run more.
From this point, you might decide you want to run a 10k which is the next obvious choice for most new runners.
You might be really brave and decide you want to run a half marathon (13.1 miles).
Whichever you choose, there are often many events locally that you can sign-up for, or even just do it yourself. Some people love to be part of a group when they run, some like being on their own.
Personally, I much preferred running on my own on the trails as, in my opinion, there’s nothing quite like your own company and thoughts when your out for a few hours. It’s a wonder drug for mental health by the way.
One of the early goals I had was for a charity event where we ran every day in November. You could run or walk as much or as little as you wanted but you must do it every day for the month. The charity was for supplies to the local homeless families at Christmas time. If that couldn’t motivate me then nothing could. I’m pleased to say that I have taken part in this event for 3 years now and it’s very satisfying and humbling to be able to help others less fortunate than yourself.
I continued over the next 2 years to set more and more goals for myself – anything from 10k trail races to obstacle races, and finally an 86-mile non-stop trail race.
Funnily enough, when I have run in the 50k, 50-mile, and 86-mile races, there is a very high percentage of people over the age of 40 and around 30% of those are ladies. It must be something about this time of life where we set our sites on doing things for ourselves more – either that or we have just gone completely mad right?
Strength Training for Runners
One of the key things you must do to help stay injury-free is to ensure you are doing some sort of strength training. I don’t mean lifting big heavy-weights at the gym, although that’s not an issue if you want to.
Most strength training for runners, and what I would always recommend at the beginning, is achieved through bodyweight training. If you can’t do a push-up then there’s no point trying to do a bench press, right?
The other key thing to understand about strength training is that it isn’t just about your lower body. Of course, leg strength plays a huge part in running, but so does your upper body too.
Imagine being in a marathon that lasts 5 hours or more – your legs probably won’t be too bad as they are built with large muscles. However, have you ever seen the runners who are slouched forwards, looking very uncomfortable and finding it hard to breathe and carry on? That’s probably because their upper body strength is very poor.
In order to run comfortably over a greater distance you not only need strong legs, but you need a strong core and upper body to keep you upright, with a good running posture, and allowing you to breathe consistently. Fail to do this and you’re going to have a very bad day for sure.
I want to share a couple of videos with you that will help with your strength training. It’s much easier to watch and learn than I try and write it all out for you.
The first one is for lower body and there is a fair emphasis on your glutes. I learnt the hard way that weak glutes can cause so many other issues such as hip or knee pain as well as calf injuries and much more. I cannot tell you enough that you need to strengthen your glutes (butt muscles) for lots of reasons other than just running.
The second video is a beginner-friendly full-body workout that you can follow along.
All the exercises in these videos can and will help you both for running and overall health in general.
Try giving these workouts a go during the 5k training week – I promise you that you will see a difference in your strength after a few weeks.
I hope this post was of use to you if you want to learn how to start running at 50 and are overweight. Like I said, I started very late with running and strength training and now I’m fitter and healthier than I have been for years.
Of course, you need to ensure you lead a healthy lifestyle generally and that includes following a healthy diet of some kind. If you are looking to start running give some of the tips outlined above a try and let me know how you get on as I would love to hear your story in the comments below.
All the very best,
I have been running for around 4 years now, having completed a number of marathons and ultramarathons. I am by no means an expert and feel that I am learning everyday when it comes to...
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