How to Start a Running Routine in Middle Age

Becoming a runner during middle age is a goal that many have successfully achieved, including myself.  By respecting your body and being sensible in both your approach and expectations you can have the bragging rights and confidently say “I am a runner”.   

To start running in middle age you will need motivation, a reasonable plan each week, and a goal for staying committed while enjoying the process.  A new habit can be hard to solidify at any age and starting to run in middle age presents unique challenges.   The good news is that you are never too old to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes running. 

Running will benefit you mentally, physically, emotionally, and other ways you may not expect.  To reap all these benefits you will need to make running part of your lifestyle and remain healthy.  The following tips can help you become a happy, healthy runner and achieve goals you didn’t think were even possible.

Determine your reason for running

You will need motivation to start running and continue to run week after week.  Be clear with yourself as to why you want to run.  Why is running important to you? What goals do you hope to achieve with running?  Re-evaluate your reasons and goals from time to time as these will likely evolve and become deeper and more meaningful in your life. 

You will be faced with days or events that will make running quite challenging.  You may even be tempted to stop all together due to circumstances or major life changes.  Having your reason and goals for running clearly in mind will help you get through the rough patches no matter how daunting they may appear. 

By reflecting on what running means to you and visualizing the results of reaching your running goals, you will find a way to keep running. You may need to adjust the days or times you run so be flexible as you work through the obstacles you face.

Run smarter not harder

It’s true that to be a runner you do need to run, but how much and how often can make or break you.  As with many things in life, it’s best to work smarter not harder.  Having your goals clearly in mind will help you determine how much, how often, and how far you should or will need to run. 

You may be surprised how much you can accomplish with a consistent and sensible schedule.  You may not need to run as much as you think to reach your goals. Consistency is key here and you want to imitate the tortoise, not necessarily the hare. 

Going into your 40’s your aerobic capacity and lean muscle mass start to decline, especially in women.  On top of that, your hormones begin to change for both men and women.  As a result of all the physical changes in middle age, you will benefit more from adding in weight training or weight bearing exercises than more running.       

Start Slow and Be Realistic about your Fitness Level

Taking up running in midlife is nothing to wink at.  You have many years of habits both good and bad and likely not many of them include running.  Running is a full body workout so you will need to start slow – very slow.  The good news is that you can never go too slow, but you can easily go too fast. 

You should start with a walking schedule and work yourself up to running (see sample plan under next subheading).  It may be tempting to run faster or longer than you plan, especially when others are observing you, but leave your ego at the door. 

Be reasonable and realistic in your goals and expectations and adjust them accordingly. If you are completely new to running, you will likely see huge improvements in the first few weeks and months of running.  Improvements after that are much slower as many experienced runners can work for years on relatively small improvements in speed. 

There is no shame in walking and you can maintain your fitness with brisk walking if you are not able to run.  Walking is also considered cross-training and is a good exercise for active recovery.  Keep in mind that a rest day means no running whatever plan you chose to follow.

Make a plan & commit to the schedule

This may take some trial and error to determine the best plan and time for you to start your running routine. There are a lot of free plans online depending on your running goals. Most will likely start with the goal of being able to run for 30 minutes.

Getting started, I feel the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run method and his training plans are a great way to get started. I successfully used a Jeff Galloway training plan when I first started, but also downloaded a Hal Higdon plan.

A good way to start is to work up to walking continuously for 30 minutes.  Once you can walk for at least 30 minutes you can progress to a walk/run session as shown below.  This method worked well for me and I was never sore after my workout.

SessionWalkRunTotal Time
14 min1 min30 min
23 min2 min30 min
32 min3 min30 min
41 min4 min30 min
50 min30 min30 min

Depending on your current fitness level it could take weeks or months before you can run consistently for 30 minutes.  It took me about 2 weeks, but I was already very active and walked a lot.

If you are not able to run continuously for 30 minutes that’s okay too.  To be a runner you don’t have to run continuously the entire time you exercise.  In fact, I’ve made great progress recently by following the run/walk/run method. 

Finding time in between work and family responsibilities can be a challenge. Many find mornings to be best to reliably fit exercise into the day.  Others may find lunchtime to be the most conducive to running.

Regardless of the plan or time you choose, in the beginning it will take a lot of determination to stick with a schedule so make sure to plan each run. Don’t leave your runs to chance.

Injury Prevention should be a Priority

As running is a high impact sport you will need to be sensible about establishing a sustainable routine so that you can keep running.  Make sure you are not running too much, too far, or too fast. Avoiding injury should be a priority as it can sideline you temporarily at best from your new goal.  

It is estimated that 50% of runners experience an injury each year with overuse injuries being the most common.  Injury prevention should be a high priority for more mature runners as the body takes longer to recover and may not be as strong as it once was.  

Your plan should be consistent each week, but be careful about which plan you follow.  A lot of the training plans and blogs about running are geared toward younger, athletic individuals.  It is not reasonable to expect your body to perform at the same level as it did in your 20’s. 

 Setting a plan to run consistently with sufficient rest, strength training, and/or cross training will be key.  While many running plans recommend one day of rest during the week, these plans are likely not ideal for mature runners. 

For older and new runners many coaches recommend at least one rest day between runs. Running everyday takes a toll on your entire body including your muscles and ligaments.  The force being exerted on your legs when you run can be 3-5 times your body weight or even more depending on how fast you run.   

Make it easier to run and harder not to. 

Lay out your clothes or pack your running clothes the night before.  The simple act of getting your clothes together for the next day mentally prepares you for sticking to your schedule. 

If mornings are the best time for you to run, having your clothes ready the night before with your shoes by the door eliminates the obstacle of trying to find these things in the morning.   I once actually slept in my running clothes as I was so worried that I would not go on my run in the next morning. 

Make plans to run with a buddy.  If you have plans to go running with someone you will be less likely to skip out.  You will also enjoy it more, as you get your workout in and catchup with each other.  Having some sort of commitment to run on the planned days will make it harder for you cancel on yourself or someone else. 

Tell a co-worker or family member about your new goal and the days you plan to run.  They are likely to ask you how your running is going which gives you some accountability.  There will be days that will be difficult to keep to your plan so work using others to check in on you may be just the motivation you need.

Enjoy your running

If you enjoy something you are more likely to find the time to do it.  While you may not enjoy waking up earlier, there are ways you can still enjoy the time.  You will need to find something that works for you.  Enjoying that cup of coffee after your run will taste so much better in the morning. 

Focus on how good you will feel after the run or the benefits on working on your willpower if it’s raining outside.  Keep in mind that you don’t have to run, you GET to run!  This is your time so take advantage of it. 

Finding an eBook or podcast for your runs can really make the time go by quickly.  You will feel a sense of accomplishment as you got your workout in and can mark another item off your to-do list. 

The more you enjoy running, the more likely you will be to stick with your new routine.  Studies show that things that provide our brain with an intense feeling of pleasure will be much easier to become a habit so enjoying the run is important.  Simple behaviors are also easier to habituate than complex ones.

World famous marathon runner Elid Kipchoge believes you should end every run with a smile on your face.  That is great advice coming from someone who trains at a grueling level and has achieved unbelievable success.  You’re not just getting a run in, you’re doing all kinds of wonderful things for mind, body and soul so take some time to reflect on these benefits at the end of run.

Be Patient

 The body takes time to adapt to any new activity.  The good news is our bodies are very good at adapting if we give it the time it needs. 

We have all heard it takes 21 days to form a habit, but it really depends on the person.  Most people may find it takes longer to establish a good exercise routine they will stick with.  Experiment until you find a system that works for you. 

Take a long-range view of your goals and be flexible.  It’s more important to not give up.  Be patient with yourself and listen to your body.  You’re in it for the long haul, remember life is a marathon not a sprint!