After a long break, getting back into running can be both physically and mentally challenging. There's muscle soreness, stiffness and tightness, mental exhaustion, and the battle to find and constantly renew your motivation levels.
This article will cover guidance, tips, and strategies to get back to running after a period away from the sport.
Acknowledge Body Changes
Be aware of the risk of injury associated with returning to running after a layoff. It’s not uncommon for an individual to injure themselves during the first weeks of returning to running.
You need to accept that your body is not the same as when you were training regularly. The key is to give your body time to adjust to the new stresses you're placing on it by running again.
We're not just talking about the weight gain that many people experience while they are not training. Your joints have probably stiffened up a bit and might be more injury-prone, your cardio-respiratory system may lack conditioning, and a whole host of other things are going on inside of you that will impact your performance if you try to run hard immediately. A combination of a lack of training practice and decreased strength and conditioning results in increased susceptibility to injury.
How Fit Are You Now? Get Your Baseline
The first step in returning from a break is to evaluate your level of fitness. The best way to do this is to jog at an easy pace for 20 to 30 minutes or however long is comfortable and see how your body feels afterward. If you find that you're unable to run without discomfort or pain from an injury, then it might be best to wait a little longer before returning to a new training program. If in doubt whether you should start training again, and how hard you should push it, speak to your doctor or physical therapist.
If you're confident you're ready to begin a workout schedule, get some baseline fitness levels by running some different distances over the first few weeks. Build up the intensity of your training gradually, and get some data on your mile pace, 3K pace, and how strong you are generally. It’s a good idea to track your heart rate too. If you have access to a treadmill, then that will probably have some fitness tests you can do.
The Importance of Rest and Recovery
Rest is an important part of the training process. This time allows your body to heal from the stresses of exercise and helps it adapt for the next hard workout. This is particularly important if you're starting back training, and your muscles, tendons, and ligaments are adjusting to the stresses and strains of a new workout schedule. So be sure to rest. Give yourself at least a full day between workouts, and at least 4 full days between really intense workouts.
Have Realistic Expectations
After taking time off from training, you can't expect to be back to 100 percent in a week or two. It's best to plan for a much longer process if you're returning from an injury or if you've been out of running for 6 months or more. A return from injury could take as long as 6 months, and running at previous levels may not be possible for several more months after that.
When returning to running after a break, you should keep in mind that the first runs might not feel comfortable or natural. Be patient with yourself and allow your body time to adjust.
Write Your Goals Down
After a recovery period from injury or illness has passed, and physical strength is built up again, it's important to set realistic goals for your return to running.
Write down your goals. Written goals get achieved more than those that are not written down. Even if you don't always hit them, setting goals can help motivate you and keep you on track. You don't have to jump right back into training for a full marathon; instead, set smaller goals, such as being able to run 3 miles without stopping, or being able to run up two flights of stairs without puffing. Setting goals too high too soon is one of the biggest factors in burnout. Setting small goals with incremental increases in mileage or intensity is better than overloading your body.
Set Up a Schedule
You need to set a schedule to follow. It could be three days a week or five, whatever you feel comfortable with at first, but make sure you stick to it as much as possible. Only add on new runs as your body allows you to. This is easier said than done, of course, but once again, be patient and work your way up to more miles per week.
Consistency is key when returning to running after a hiatus. You should be able to run at least three times per week; four to five times is even better. Choose days that are convenient for your schedule, and stick with them as much as possible.
Establishing a solid foundation of aerobic fitness, flexibility, and strength will minimize your risk of injury as you increase running intensity. Consider these guidelines on the kind of training schedule you might like to establish:
- Frequency: 3 to 5 times per week
- Duration: 30 to 45 minutes per session
- Intensity: 60 to 75 percent effort
- Methods: mix of cross-training, easy runs, hard runs, bike, rower, and strength and conditioning
Work on developing from your "new normal" — your current baseline. Do something active every day.
Reward yourself for reaching milestones (for example, jogging for 30 minutes without stopping), and be kind to yourself. If you miss a run, then just refocus and go again.
Once you've re-established your running schedule, you need to keep yourself motivated and inspired. That means getting a running playlist to listen to, making a firm commitment to your training schedule, and keeping your focus on the benefits of exercise.
Running isn't just about your physical health. Running is an effective way to relieve stress, and grow confidence. It helps you gain a sense of achievement and control that can be excellent for your mental health. Make it a positive experience; not a chore.
Eat Smart and Stay Hydrated
You're going to need all the energy you can get when you're getting back into running after a long rest period, so eat right. Eat plenty of carbs and protein before your workouts, and keep yourself hydrated throughout them. Take vitamins if necessary. Your body needs all the help it can get when it's put under the stress of a more active schedule.
Get the Right Running Shoes
Treat yourself to new running shoes if your old ones are worn or don’t have the latest shoe technology. Get shoes that fit the type of running you're doing and have the right heel-to-toe drop for your stride. If you want to run and be healthy, then you need to invest in a good pair of shoes and take care of them properly. The right shoes provide comfort and support, reduce impact, and improve performance.
Using cross-training machines, such as rowing machines or elliptical trainers can help keep your cardiovascular fitness levels up without putting stress on your joints or muscles. You'll also be able to focus on muscle groups that help your running form and technique, such as the core, which will help prevent injuries from running.
Commit to Getting Back to Running
For some, an extended break from running can make it difficult to get back into the swing of things. It's not uncommon to feel a lack of motivation and a lack of inspiration.
The hardest bit about starting running again is often the starting itself. It is that initial decision. We’ve all experienced the mental toil of trying to do something that isn't easy, or that takes ongoing effort. The good news is that you can save all that mental energy by simply making a firm decision and complete commitment. Use these tips to get back into running after a break, and you'll find yourself loving your new routine and getting your fitness level back again.