Are you ready to start running again after a long break? Whether you’ve taken an extended break from running because of an injury, a busy schedule, or lack of motivation, here are some tips on how to ease back into running.
If you’ve only been sidelined from running for a short period of time, such as a week or two, and don’t feel like you should be completely starting over, check out these tips for coming back from a short running break.
Even though many consider running to be a lifelong sport, the reality is that sustaining the passion and consistency a long period of time can be a difficult challenge for most of us.
Life gets in the way. Injuries, family, work and busy daily schedules can disrupt your running and disrupt your fitness. And, for any number of reasons, you can also just get burned out.
Getting Back to Running After – Join a Running Group
If you’ve typically run alone in the past, try to increase your motivation (and get lots of other great benefits) by running with others. Check with local running clubs or running shops to see when they offer group runs. Some local races offer some group runs leading up to the race. Or, find a charity training group—you’ll find lots of people to run with and help a worthy cause.
Getting Back to Running After – Cross Train to Build Fitness
Cross training in between your running days is an excellent way to increase your endurance and strength without running too much and risking injury. Examples of good cross-training activities for runners include swimming, aqua jogging, cycling, walking, strength training, yoga, and Pilates. Choose activities that you enjoy so that you know you’ll keep at it.
Getting Back to Running After – Avoid Doing Too Much Too Soon
Many runners coming back from injuries find themselves re-injured because they increase their mileage too quickly. If you’ve been off from running due to an injury, make sure you have clearance from your doctor or physical therapist before you get back to running. Ask for their advice on how much and how often you should be running.
If you’re not following a training schedule, track your mileage so you don’t overdo it and get injured. During your first several weeks, don’t run two days in a row. You can take a rest day or cross-train in between runs. Don’t increase your overall weekly mileage by more than 10 percent per week. Keep all your runs at an easy, conversational pace for at least six to eight weeks, until you have a good running base established.
Getting Back to Running After – Create a Running Habit
After a long break from running, it can be tough to get back into the groove of running on a regular basis. But if you take steps to establish a running habit, such as scheduling your runs on your calendar and giving yourself small rewards, you can make a running habit stick. Get more tips on how to establish a running habit.
Getting Back to Running After – Pick a Short Race
Once you’ve got a few weeks of running under your belt, pick a race to train for. Start with something small, such as a 5K, before you register for a longer race. Having a race on the calendar will help you stay motivated to keep running. See if you can recruit a friend or family member to do it with you, to increase your motivation (and fun).
Getting Back to Running After – Don’t Get Discouraged
It can be frustrating to think about your past running accomplishments and how they’re out of reach at this point. Don’t beat yourself up and put pressure on yourself to get to your previous level. Set new, smaller goals for yourself so that you feel good about reaching milestones and build more confidence as you continue running. They’ll be plenty of time to train and work on beating your PRs. Just try to enjoy running as you work on building up your fitness level gradually and safely.
If you do find yourself getting frustrated about your progress, talk to sympathetic running friends, who most likely have had a similar experience at some point. And remind yourself to be grateful and happy to be able to run at all, even if it’s not the same pace that you’ve run in the past.
Getting Back to Running After – Run with others
Even when you’re pretty fit, it’s hard to run on your own several days a week. But when you’re coming back after a long layoff running with friends, colleagues and consistent training partners will help you stay motivated and accountable. Mix up your running locations and the time of day you’re running. Meet for a run and go for coffee. Run a scenic trail on the weekend. Get a co-worker to run with you at lunch once a week.
Go to a running store run once a week. (Those are always full of both very fast and very slow runners who are interested in meeting new people.) Run with your dog. Just don’t put the pressure all on yourself. Running with others a few times a week will keep it light and fun and help you stay consistent.
Getting Back to Running After – Improve your eating habits
Another aspect of training that returning runners should be mindful of is diet. That’s not to suggest you don’t eat well already, but you can use the inspiration and motivation you get from your new commitment to running to improve your eating habits in small or big ways.
The beginning of returning to running is the perfect time to cut weight if you added extra pounds during your break. McMillan points out that you don’t need to be carbo-loading during the 6- to 8-week phase and should instead be using your runs to burn the fat that you may have put on when you weren’t running. “It’s the perfect time to clean up your diet, reduce your caloric intake, and try to lose weight,” he says.
Returning runners should dedicate the time that they may have once spent on long runs or in intense track workouts to non-running core workouts and cross-training (cycling, yoga, swimming, etc.). Not only will they help with overall strength, stability and mobility as their running fitness progresses, the additional workouts can help runners avoid injury during this critical phase of their comeback.
Getting Back to Running After – Use a fresh approach to your training
Whatever you used to do needs to be thrown out the window in order to allow for a period of proper rebuilding. McMillan suggests runners approach the comeback in two key phases: 2 to 3 weeks and then 4 to 8 weeks. For the first phase, he prescribes runs of 15-20 minutes for 3 to 4 days a week. He then slowly increases run time in weeks 3 to 8. But one thing that is important for both phases is consistency.
“I want runners to think about establishing a running streak,” he says. “It’s not a daily running streak, but instead a streak of how many weeks in a row can you be consistent in your running week by week.” McMillan asks for this kind of streak for a minimum of six weeks. “If they can maintain this streak, they will start to feel good again and make running part of their lifestyle,” he says. If done properly, this streak will also get runners past that heightened injury-risk zone of the first six weeks when things can go wrong.
Pace for this build-up should be easy. McMillan suggests the “talk test” where you run at a slow-enough pace that you can maintain a conversation with a fellow runner. McMillan contends that going slow and steady with a gradual build-up allows the muscular-skeletal system to catch up with the mind. “The interesting thing is that our minds adapt to the stimulus of running much faster than our bodies,” he says. “You have to give your body the time it needs to build strength and endurance.”