Scared to start running? Here's how to get over those early nerves

Happy woman running in park
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Earlier this week I was having dinner with some friends, and one mentioned that she wanted to start running, but was afraid to begin. As someone who's been helping people get started on their running journeys for years, my first instinct was to tell her not to be, but then I realised that's easier said than done. If you've not run since school, stepping outside and giving it a try can definitely be daunting.

It doesn't have to be that way though, and there are lots of ways you can make the experience more comfortable for yourself. You don't have to do it alone, either; there are lots of people out there who will help you get off on the right foot and ease yourself into running at a pace that suits you.

1. Don't worry what others think

Trust me, folks aren't going to judge you for running slowly or spending part of your workout walking. It's fine – people run at all speeds, and even experienced runners do a lot of their training at a pretty slow pace. Most people are too wrapped up in their own business to give a passing runner any thought anyway, regardless of their speed.

Don't worry about other runners, either – we're not a judgemental bunch, and we just like to see other people out and about, putting one foot in front of the other. Hopefully you'll get an occasional encouraging smile or nod of the head along the way.

2. Don't sweat your outfit

You don't need a carefully co-ordinated outfit to run. In fact, looking like you got dressed in the dark is perfectly fine. If you decide to take part in a race, you'll see everything from scandalously short shorts to woolly beanies in a riot of clashing colors. Some of the best runners I've known have looked like they raided a thrift store before heading out.

Avoid cotton clothing (it tends to absorb sweat and rainwater, which will make it heavy, cold and uncomfortable), but if you take a look at Decathlon you'll find some perfectly functional running gear that's very inexpensive. Just make sure you have something bright and/or reflective if you're going to be running after dark. You can pick up reflective running vest for under $20 and throw it over whatever you're wearing.

If you have breasts (however small) wearing a running bra will make your runs much more comfortable. If you don't, putting some micropore tape on your nipples will save you a world of unhappiness.

Group of runners running together

Don't worry about looking well put together, it's much more important that you're comfortable (Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Don't start too cold

'Be bold start cold'  is great advice for runners who are going to be working up a sweat pretty quickly, but if you're just starting out then try not to head out underdressed. You don't want to associate running with being uncomfortably chilly, and if you're spending some of your time walking, your body temperature could drop rapidly.

I'd suggest wearing a long-sleeved running top and leggings in winter, and adding a hat and maybe a lightweight running jacket if the temperature drops below 5C. I like to wear running gloves during the colder months as well (they don't have to be fancy). If you get too warm, a small running backpack will give you a place to stash excess layers, along with your phone and keys. Look for one with a chest strap and a waist belt so it doesn't bounce around.

4. Get some advice on shoes

The exception to the 'anything goes' mantra is your footwear, but again you don't need to spend a lot to get something suitable. Here at Advnture we've put together a list of the best cheap running shoes we've tested recently, with options for both road and trail runners, but to begin with it's worth going for a fitting at a local sports shop to make sure you pick something suitable. Not all brands and models fit the same, with different materials, widths, levels of stiffness, and amounts of cushioning.

Before you get started, tell the sales assistant your budget so they can help you find something suitable. You can often get a good deal on the previous season's shoes if you're not picky (and why would you be?)

5. Try a beginner-friendly group

When I first started running, I thought I had to be up to a certain level to join a group – but that's not the case. There are lots of clubs available that are suitable for complete beginners, led by friendly and patient people who'll help build up your confidence and ease you into running in a way that's gentle and fun. We love running and we want you to enjoy it too!

If you're in the UK, RunTogether is a great place to start. Enter your postcode or town and you'll find an extensive list of runs happening near you. In the US, Meetup is a good option. There'll often be a small fee to take part (to cover things like run leader training and equipment, such as reflective bibs), but it won't be much. Many of these clubs split runners into different groups, so you'll be able to stick with other beginners.

If you're looking for a free option, sports stores often host running clubs one evening a week, and these are usually free to attend. When I first started running, I joined a club organized by my local Sweaty Betty store (you can find a full list of in-store classes on Instabook). Don't worry about being slow; the leaders won't leave you behind, and have ways to keep mixed-ability groups together, like having the faster runners loop back at a landmark. They get a longer run, and you can go at your own pace. Everyone wins!

A group running in the park

Parkrun is very beginner-friendly, and isn't a race (Image credit: Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images)

6. Give parkrun a go

You might have heard of parkrun before. If not, it's a series of free 5km running events that take place in locations around the world on Saturday mornings. You only need to sign up once, after which you can turn up and take part in runs anywhere.

Parkrun isn't a race (unless you choose to race against your own best time), and despite the name, you don't have to run the entire thing. There will always be some people walking the entire route, accompanied by a backmarker who ensures nobody gets left behind, and nobody is last. It's very beginner-friendly, and volunteer marshals all around the course will give you encouragement and make sure you don't get lost.

If you're finding it hard to find the motivation to get out on a Saturday, it could be exactly what you need.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.