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5 top tips for aspiring runners who are feeling self-conscious, from runners who have been there too

It’s easy to get into the habit of avoiding exercise because we’re feeling self-conscious. With body image being a key shame trigger for both women and men, I know I’m not alone in worrying what people will think of my sweaty red face, blotchy chest, wobbly bits, inability to control my panting, and even the way I run. So I decided to seek advice from existing runners to share with you. One question and 65 amazingly supportive comments later, and I present you with the Runners’ Top 5 Tips to get you started on your running adventure… 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start running but is feeling self-conscious and worrying about criticism?

#1 Realise that most people feel self-conscious

“I’m usually self-conscious and I worried at first what the neighbours would think/say when I ran from home. I actually found them all surprisingly supportive.” – Peter

“I do beetroot impressions within about 30 seconds of setting off on a run. It’s just the way I am” – Helen

“I bet most people are self-conscious some of the time or have been at some time but you realise it’s all about getting out there and enjoying yourself, meeting new people and seeing new places, once you have done it and seen no one is there to judge, you will love it” – Phil

You’re not alone in feeling self-conscious. Many of us feel anxious about the way that we look or our abilities when doing something new and this is quite normal. What kind words would you say to someone who’s worried about this too? Say those words to yourself. Let anxious feelings run their course and go out and do what’s good for you regardless. The more you run, the more you’ll relax and enjoy it.

#2 Look for relatable role models

“Even people that run marathons look red and blotchy and not their best… take a look at photos of runners when they are exercising” – Anne-Marie

“Some people go red and some don’t…. being one of the beetroot’s of this world, I try to embrace it…. even Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City footballer goes red. Great role model for us pinkies” – Kathryn

“Have a look at Mirna Valerio. A big girl who doesn’t look like your typical athlete but a badass ultramarathon runner all the same. She’s all about body positivity and not letting what others say about you stop you from doing what you love.” – Nicholas

None of us look amazing when we’re running… it’s not like on the telly. Our bodies do what they’re supposed to do when we’re exercising; our skin colour changes, we sweat and wobble (even the experienced runners). Thanks to the Lonely Goats who shared their running photos below to prove the point… if you want further proof that we’re all in this together, just take a look at your local Parkrun photos. You’ll see plenty of people who look just like you and me when we exercise. There’s nothing to do but embrace the sweaty, red faces and the wobbly parts of us, finding the humour where we can. 


#3 Notice people aren’t paying as much attention to you as you think

“One thing that gets me through those thoughts is realising that everyone I run by has their own lives and for the most part will never even notice me or how hard I’m struggling with my run” – James

“It’s easy to let our minds run away with us and allow them to project what others are thinking… The reality is most people don’t care about what the strangers around them do or what they look like” – Marcel

“People are not interested in others as much as we think they are. I think it’s a shame if someone feels bad about how they may look. Honestly, people are too immersed in their own thoughts!” – Anne-Marie

When we feel self-conscious it can be easy to think that everyone is looking at us, and particularly at the things we don’t like about ourselves. But in reality, people are usually too busy thinking about themselves and their own lives to start honing in on you.

#4 See the good in others

“I realised passing motorists don’t care like I thought they would. As a driver I think “good on you” when I see a runner. Whilst running most other runners will wave back, or nod or something.” – Peter

“If I see someone running and looking like they are struggling my first thought is good for them to go out and get going on exercise!” – Anne-Marie

“See their best selves. I am at my happiest when I am pure and drenched in sweat after a run. Smile and share the joy and just pack up all the other feelings in your kitbag. Human beings are mirrors; we reflect back what we get. You relax they relax. Frown and they will frown. Smile and they will smile.” – Ursula

Life is easier when we assume others have positive intentions. I recently ran past a couple of teenage boys on bikes – I stopped myself making up stories about how they’d react to me, then smiled as I got closer, only to hear one say “well done, keep going!” What if we approach everyone as if they’re someone kind? After all, if you’re anything like me, you’ll only have admiration and praise for anyone getting off the couch, no matter their physique or ability, so why would someone else be any different? We know we’ve all got to start somewhere.

#5 Put criticism into perspective

“When I get self-conscious I just remember that anyone who criticises from the side-lines is probably where I was 6 years ago: Jealous of the person who could get off their butt and do this running lark.” – Andy

“If you don’t know those few people that do feel like voicing an opinion, why care? Those who know and care about us will always be there to support us.” – Marcel

“Eff ’em! You are stronger than you believe, and certainly mentally, physically and soulfully stronger than any pass-remarkable person you might randomly encounter” – Niall

“As for people commenting, it’ll either be kids who could do the same no matter whether you were running or sitting in your car, and if it is an adult then what a sad life they have if they feel the need.” – Kimberley

Whenever we put ourselves ‘out there’ and step into the arena, we’re at risk of hearing criticism from others (people tend to judge others in areas where they feel most vulnerable after all). And, if this does happen to us, it’s likely to sting. But, we get to choose whether that person’s words are worthy of being taken to heart, or whether we allow those words to land at our feet as we run it off.

Your critics aren’t the ones that count; here’s a little wisdom from Brené Brown and Theodore Roosevelt on this point for you to digest until next time…

If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback. If you have constructive criticism you want to give me, I want it. But if you’re not putting yourself on the line, and just talking about how I can do it better, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

– Brené Brown


We believe the best approach is a gentle comfort zone stretch approach! There’s even a workbook that you can use to plan your next comfort zone stretch which you can download here

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