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How you can get started running when you’re feeling self-conscious

Do you feel self-conscious when exercising? You’re not alone. It’s a challenge that has come up in conversation in our community groups, online and has even been the topic of some of our coaching sessions recently. Well, there’s a few of us in our Quiet Community who have now become determined to push through the discomfort and live a healthier life – maybe that’s where you are too?

The question is… how?

We asked runners from the Lonely Goat Running Club what advice they would give to someone who wants to start running but is feeling self-conscious and worrying about criticism, and it turns out a lot of them have felt this way too.

We’ve already shared some of the best mindset tips the runners shared with us, and you can read these here, but they have so much more wisdom to share. So here’s a few more practical tips to help you get started on your running journey when you’re feeling self-conscious of our appearance and anxious about what others might think and say.

1. Gradually stretching your comfort zone

“I felt the same – I started with night runs (fewer people around) and completed C25K on deserted roads. When I completed that, I felt more confident to run on busier roads and have never looked back.” – Ben

“I started with the vampire method – after dark or before the sun came up only. Then I made a leap to daytime but along canal paths and trails. I’d see other runners and dog walkers only. Built my confidence slowly” – Caroline

“Choose run times to avoid busy school drop offs etc., and run in areas where there’s less likely to be crowds of people. Start with short runs and build up.” – Anne-Marie

“Running trail really helps me – I feel myself physically relax the minute I’m away from road and people and have a whole field to myself.” – Shay

Start where you are. Choose to run in locations and at times of day that feel good for you – maybe for you that means running at less busy times or places. I started road running in the dark, sticking to lit streets and taking a personal attack alarm with me to feel safe. As you get more and more comfortable, you can set yourself some new goals, run when it’s a little lighter, or a little busier. Soon you’ll be running where the people are, unafraid to be seen.

2. Finding coping strategies that work for you

“Hat and sunglasses, and nondescript clothes help me no end” – Sarah

“I listen to music on my runs – mainly so that if people shout stuff I can’t hear them! Maybe make playlists (Spotify is free)” – Kayleigh

“Having things to focus on during a run, like spotting certain things can take your mind off the worries.” – Anne-Marie  

“When I’m feeling really self-conscious I run with my headphones in – no music, just wearing them. It means I can safely ignore everything. It’s my coping mechanism when I really don’t want social interaction.” Andy

Find coping strategies that help you to get started. It’s perfectly okay if this does involve a bit of hiding away to begin with. You can think of it as part of your ‘comfort zone stretch’ plan: maybe you’ll start running somewhere quiet, wearing a hat and sunglasses with your headphones in, and then gradually you’ll move to busier locations and practise running without these coping mechanisms. 

3. Getting the support you need

“My local run group did a ‘Couch to 5k’ 10 week programme which was great; there were people of all sizes and abilities there. Our ‘graduation’ was a Parkrun – there’s every kind of runner there and a great atmosphere. I think being part of a group definitely helps and spurs you on, and then after a few sessions you realise that your body is improving and I found myself not caring about what other people thought after that.” – Kimberley

“The One You Couch to 5K by Public Health England got me through the first few months of self-doubt. By the end of it I knew with time I could run any distance” – Ben

 “Running in a ‘safe space’, like a park or track where it’s just like-minded people… no judging and no fear of being judged” – Lisa

“Go as a group, if possible, and, maybe run in either a quiet location, or where other people exercise too.” – Helen

“Call on a buddy for support” – Stacie

Support looks different for all of us at different times –sometimes it’ll be enough to go running with Sarah Millican on the C25k app; some of us will want to join an organised C25k programme or Parkrun; some will be satisfied with the support of a virtual running group, or receiving ‘Kudos’ from their Strava group; and sometimes we’ll need to call upon a friend to run with us for a confidence boost. 

4. Appreciating what you are achieving

“We are so harsh on ourselves but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of how awesome we really are. I used to be embarrassed and ashamed of my cellulite but these bad boys can run miles. I’m so grateful for my fitness, never going to shift the wobble so hey ho!!!” – Lauren

“I’m 59 and never in a month or Sundays did I think I would be running in shorts and crop top, but why shouldn’t I? I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and still achieving, if nobody likes my cellulite or wobbly bits then don’t look. You have to look at what you are achieving and how lucky we are we can get out there and run as there’s plenty that can’t but would love too, keep on running, we are all fantastic and part of a fantastic group” – Heather

“It’s not about how you look, it’s that YOU are doing it. Who cares how fast you go- you are moving and doing it which over 60% of the population are not. You are great!” – Nicki

It’s helpful to reflect on how far you’ve come and what you’re grateful for. Perhaps it’s the fact that you were able to run a little longer and a little easier today… or simply appreciating all that your legs have done for you. Take the pressure off -making it off the couch and out the door is winning in our book. So appreciate the smaller steps you’re taking each week, rather than focusing on how far you have to go to get to your big running goal.  

5. Focusing on the positives

“I focus on me and why I’m there, everyone else is irrelevant. Everything wobbles on me but I don’t care what other people might think because I’m doing this for me.” – Melanie

“Think of the positives: that you are running to better your health. You’re doing it for yourself; it doesn’t matter what others think.” – Anne-Marie

You can train your brain to focus on the positives more with a little practise. Before you run, ask yourself, what’s important about doing this for you? What will you have when you’ve done this? What are you working towards? Hint: make it something you’ll gain rather than something you want to move away from (like ‘lose weight’) – your brain can more easily work towards something positive so frame it as something you do want, not something you don’t want.  

When you feel your body start to improve, your focus will naturally move towards how you feel rather than what you think others’ are thinking about you.

What are your best tips for someone who wants to get into running? Please feel free to share your wisdom below…

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