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How to run 1 mile when you’re out of shape

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It’s time to whip yourself into shape. No matter how out of shape you are, there is always a way to head down the road to a healthier lifestyle. I applaud you for this. Where do you begin? “How to run 1 mile when you’re out of shape?” is a common question asked by new runners. Depending on what advice you take, it could make or break your future running career.

How to run one mile when you’re out of shape?

First, you need to assess how out of shape you are and your current fitness level. After an assessment, you will have determined your level of physical unfitness and need to follow a training plan involving walk/run intervals. The total amount of time it takes could take anywhere from 2 weeks to 9 weeks to successfully be able to run 1 mile without stopping.

Assessment

When was the last time you ran? Since you’re reading this article I’m going to assume that the last time your ran might as well be 5 years ago. Depending on how out of shape you are, you could be running 1 mile in less than 1 week or it could take you weeks before your able to run 1 mile. This depends on your commitment, fitness level, and determination.

I’m going to assume that you’re not injured and that you have the ability to at least walk without falling apart. I know I shouldn’t have to say this but if your injured, right now is not the time to start running 1 mile.

Below I’ll layout three plans that range from horrible shape to average shape. If you’re in good shape you’re probably not reading this because you should be able to run one mile with little problem.

Horrible shape – You really haven’t ever exercised. You might be overweight and you possibly could have trouble walking.
Absolutely out of shape – You haven’t exercised in over a year maybe more. You can’t remember the last time you tried to run.
Little less than average shape – You try to hit the gym at least a couple of times a week. You go for small walks at least a couple of times a week.

Wear a decent pair of running shoes

You don’t have to go out and buy a $130 pair of running shoes (unless you plan on running for the long haul). However, don’t go out and buy $10 shoes from the general dollar store either. Plan on wearing some shoes that range in the $30-$40 price area. You can find many name brand shoes for this price at sports stores.

Even if you buy a pair of running shoes for $45 and you want to upgrade your shoes, you can always donate your shoes to a good cause (here is one donation site One World Running).

Warm Up – Always

I’ve been running for years and I walk for at least 5 minutes before I start running. Sometimes I’ll walk 10 to 15 minutes before I start running. In a recent study in 2014, determined that when people moved from a sitting to walking position for 5 minutes increased creative by 60%, Give Your Ideas Some Legs: The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel L. Schwartz).

Moving your body from a state of sitting to walk helps prepare your body that you’re about to start running. At this point mentally, your receptors are firing signals to your body telling it that you’re about to start running. Warming up serves this purpose of connecting the mind and body so that you can mentally take on the challenge of running.

Practice your breathing

Deep Breathing (Belly Breathing) – You need to start using belly breathing or deep breathing. Do you remember when you went to the doctor’s office and they grab their stethoscope and ask you to breathe deeply (inhale and exhale)? Essentially, deep breathing is the same thing.

Breathing and Cadence – Try to aim for a 2:2 ratio or a 3:3 ratio:
3 steps – breathe in
3 steps – breath out

Breathe through your mouth and nose – the word “aerobic” means with oxygen. The more carbon dioxide you can exhale, the more oxygen you can inhale. 80% of your running comes from aerobic exercise. You need oxygen in order to run aerobically. If you breathe solely through your nose you are limiting your oxygen supply, thus limiting your ability to run without tiring. Try to breathe through your mouth and nose. The more volume of carbon dioxide you can exhale the more oxygen your lungs can inhale.

Do I need to stretch before I run?

  • If you’re going to stretch do not perform static stretching. The debate about stretching has gone on and on for decades now. What researches have found is that static stretching does not reduce the likelihood of injury. Static stretching is a release and hold stretch where you stretch your muscle and hold that position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Dynamic stretching involves no hold and release of the muscles. Knee hikes (“high knees”), butt kicks, and side gallops are all dynamic stretching activities. If your unable to perform some form of dynamic stretching simply walking an extra few minutes will get your muscles warmed up.
  • What if one of my muscles is tight? Your best bet is to use some form of trigger point ball or foam roller to help roll out the tightness or knots. I wrote an article about trigger point massage balls that could be useful. I use my trigger point ball all the time, especially when I’m feeling sore or have tightness in my muscles.

How many days a week do I need to train?

You will need to dedicate at least 4 days of training per week (3 days is the bare minimum). If you can only exercise for 3 days just eliminate the last day of training for that week. Persistence is what will pay off when you’re conditioning your body to run for one mile without stopping.

For a more precise assessment check out this extensive post – How many days should a beginner runner run?

What do I do if I’m overweight?

This is going to depend on how overweight you are. First, you need to determine what your ideal weight is based on BMI. After finding your ideal weight, you calculate it by 20%. This will determine what weight you should be before you should start trying to run one mile. The BMI is flawed in many ways such as the inability to use waist circumference in determining a more realistic BMI.

For example: If you weigh 200 pounds and your ideal weight it 180 pounds, then you are 20 pounds away from your ideal weight. In this case, you could weigh a maximum of 216 pounds (36 pounds = 180 pounds x 20%), and still be safe enough to start running. Before you start running though, especially if your overweight, you must consult with a medically licensed professional to get the go-ahead to start training.

A second example: If you weigh 270 pounds and your ideal weight it 200 pounds, then you are 70 pounds away from your ideal weight. In this case, you have exceeded your maximum of 240 pounds (40 pounds = 200 pounds x 20%), so I would not advise you to start training until you lose some more weight. I would say that you need to concentrate more on losing weight by adopting a healthier eating lifestyle first. After you get closer to 250 pounds then you could start the training plan as long as your medically licensed doctor says it’s ok.

Trying to run when you’re overweight could cause undue stress on your knees and ligaments. Since running is an impact sport the excessive weight that is pressed down onto each foot with every footfall could lead to injury. Walking doesn’t cause near as much stress on your feet because your feet are always touching the ground when you walk.

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Trial and Error

Take a trial run to see where your fitness level stands. Try to follow these simple rules when you perform a test run:

  • Don’t run more than 5 minutes for this trial run
  • Listen to your body – What the heck does this mean? Listening to your body is paying close attention to running out of breath, aches and pains, and your breathing pattern.
  • Run at an easy pace
  • If it’s hot outside run in the morning or the evening

Note how long you were able to run for before stopping at the 5-minute mark. We will call this number your run threshold for now.

The magic crystal ball

If you can run for 4 to 5 minutes then you’re halfway there. If you can run for 2 to 3 minutes then your probably in the middle. If you can run less than 2 minutes then you will be starting at the bottom.

Level 3 – you can run for 4-5 minutes

Level 2 – you can run for 2-3 minutes

Level 1 – you can run for 0-2 minutes

For Level 3 runners it will take you approximately 2 weeks to be able to run a mile.

For Level 2 runners it will take you approximately 5 weeks to be able to run a mile.

For Level 1 runners it will take you approximately 9 weeks to be able to run a mile.

Training Schedules

  • Each schedule has a total of 5 days with no specific reference to a day. You select what days you want to train.
  • On the remaining other two days try to walk for at least 10-20 minutes or walk about 2 miles.
  • If at any point you feel like you can run one mile, by all means, give it a go.
  • Try to break up your week. For example, Train Day 1 and Day 2 back to back and then take a Rest/Walk day.
  • If you are struggling with completing any one week, simply repeat the week.

Level 3 - Run 1 mile

( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2 = Run 5 minutes / Walk 1 minute - Repeat 2 times
CT = Cross-Train - Walk, Swim, Hike, Bike, Weights, Kettlebell, or Yoga
Takes approximately 2 weeks to run 1 mile
WeekDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Days 5,6,7
1( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1Rest / CT
2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 3 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3Run 1 Mile

Level 2 - Run 1 mile

( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4 = Run 2 minutes / Walk 1 minute - Repeat 4 times
CT = Cross-Train - Walk, Swim, Hike, Bike, Weights, Kettlebell, or Yoga
Takes approximately 5 weeks to run 1 mile
WeekDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Days 5,6,7
1( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4Rest / CT
2( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3Rest / CT
3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2Rest / CT
4( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1Rest / CT
5( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 3 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3Run 1 Mile

Level 1 - Run 1 mile

( W 3 / R 1 ) x 3 = Walk 3 minutes / Run 1 minute - Repeat 3 times
CT = Cross-Train - Walk, Swim, Hike, Bike, Weights, Kettlebell, or Yoga
Takes approximately 9 weeks to run 1 mile
WeekDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Days 5,6,7
1( W 4 / R 1 ) x 3( W 4 / R 1 ) x 3( W 4 / R 1 ) x 3( W 4 / R 1 ) x 3Rest / CT
2( W 3 / R 1 ) x 3( W 3 / R 1 ) x 3( W 3 / R 1 ) x 3( W 3 / R 1 ) x 3Rest / CT
3( W 2 / R 1 ) x 4( W 2 / R 1 ) x 4( W 2 / R 1 ) x 4( W 2 / R 1 ) x 4Rest / CT
4( W 1 / R 1 ) x 5( W 1 / R 1 ) x 5( W 1 / R 1 ) x 5( W 1 / R 1 ) x 5Rest / CT
5( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4( R 2 / W 1 ) x 4Rest / CT
6( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3( R 3 / W 3 ) x 3Rest / CT
7( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2( R 4 / W 2 ) x 2Rest / CT
8( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1( R 5 / W 1 ) x 1Rest / CT
9( R 5 / W 1 ) x 2( R 3 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3( R 4 / W 2 ) x 3Run 1 Mile

Don’t forget to cool down

All you need to do is walk for an extra 5 to 10 minutes to help your muscles move from a running/elastic state to a walking and eventually sedentary state.

Conditioning

For some of the runners attempting to run one mile without stopping they will have to take more time during the training. While other runners will be ready to run 1 mile well before their projected date. The key I want to hit home with you is that it doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to complete the training. What does matter is that you don’t quit training, that is unless you’re hurt or injured?

Most new runners fail because they try to run too much too soon without proper training. Don’t be another statistic. Take your time, do the training, and magical things will happen. Plus, I want you to stick with running because I have lots of other running goals for you to achieve.

Remember that it can take up to three weeks to see the slightest benefit from running. I want you to enjoy a life of running well beyond a couple of weeks of training. If you get hooked and get the running bug, it will change your life in so many ways.

Stay Strong

All runners from time to time will struggle with their training. Newer runners seem to struggle more often than seasoned runners. The main reason why seasoned runners don’t struggle near as much is due to the years of mental training that goes alongside running. Running is just as much mental as it is physical. If you want some motivation for your new running soul, read this post I wrote about 5 running myths debunked.

What if I’m really struggling with running?

New runners often find themselves struggling with running. The two biggest reasons why:

  1. New runners try to run too much too soon or run too fast too soon greatly increasing the risk of injury.
  2. They don’t see any added health benefit or weightloss from running so they quit.

I wrote a great post if you’re really struggling and maybe even suffering from running. This post looks at the mental side and physical side of running and why it could take up to 9 weeks before some runners see any benefit from running. Here is the link to the post – Why is running so hard? 35 tips to make your runs easier! 

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Coach Scott
 

  • Avatar Meg says:

    I loved what I read.

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