As runners, we understand that we’re not guaranteed a PR at every race, and that there will always be times when we just don’t feel like running. These ups and downs are to be expected with any long-term relationship, including ours with running.
But what we don’t expect are those unplanned, forced breaks from running.
There are times when we feel like we’re crushing goals and workouts right and left, followed by other times when running our easy pace feels downright hard. While these moments can feel frustrating, they’re nothing compared to the emotions runners experience when dealing with a forced break.
While it may sound silly to others, running on a regular basis becomes part of our identity. Regardless of whether we run twice a week or every single day, heading out for a run quickly becomes a necessary part of our life.
Until we can no longer ignore that nagging pain, we’re forced to become couch-bound, or life changes in another way.
Taking a break from running often leaves runners feeling lost, lethargic, and downright depressed.
Which is why we are so eager to return to running after a long break. Our time away from the sport may have been miserable, but a long layoff often shows us just how much we love and need running in our lives.
After suffering through weeks or even months of time off, runners are usually anxious to start running again and regain lost fitness.
But making a running comeback can be tricky, especially after any lengthy period of separation. Try too much too soon and you may find yourself right back on the couch with recurring pain. But wait too long or try too little and you may find yourself struggling to find motivation and quickly losing interest.
Luckily, though, if you’re ready to return to running after a long break, you’ve already made it through the most difficult part. You’ve made it through injury, illness, or life changes that probably left you feeling a little less like yourself.
Now that you’re ready to start running again, it’s time to reign in your patience, create a plan, and listen to your body for a smart comeback.
Here are 5 tips to help you get back to running in the best way possible. Whether you’ve taken years or weeks off from running, regaining fitness and returning to the sport is always possible.
5 Tips to Return to Running After a Long Break
Start slow and incorporate walking.
There’s nothing more discouraging than returning from running with the mindset that you will be able to pick back up right where you left off. It won’t take long to discover that you’ve lost fitness during your break, and running feels significantly harder than what you remember.
While it may sound a bit depressing, acknowledging the fact that you have lost fitness during your layoff is a crucial step to a healthy return. When you’re ready to start running again, plan to take it slow and short as you begin.
Try spending the first few weeks running based on feel, without checking your pace. Listen to your body and slow down if it feels hard – and incorporate regular walk breaks. Start out small, with just a mile or two at a time, and gradually increase mileage as your fitness begins to return.
Take time to strength train.
Not only did you lose running fitness during your time off, but you also lost strength as well. Strength training and cross training are key as you plan to return to running. Supplement your lower mileage with cross training such as yoga, swimming, the elliptical, spin bike, or any other activity you can think of.
As your cardio increases, you’ll need to make strength training a priority as well. Incorporate strength training on a regular basis to rebuild those running muscles and prevent injuries as you begin to increase your mileage.
Try adding some squats, lunges, planks, hip lifts and more to your regular cool down or recovery routine. Including a few strength training exercises each day is a great way to stay strong as you start running again.
Create a plan.
It’s hard to monitor your progress when you’re heading out sporadically and running whatever you want. Creating a plan not only helps prevent you from increasing mileage or pace too quickly, but it helps you stay on track and motivated throughout your return.
When you’re ready to return to running after a break, take the time to create a simple plan. Start out small with just a run or two per week, and gradually increase your mileage and frequency over the next few weeks. Map out how and when you will cross train, strength train, and recover throughout the week.
Writing things down keeps us accountable and helps avoid giving in to the urge we feel to jump back in full force. With a plan in place, you’ll be able to see that although things feel slow and sluggish now, it won’t be long before you’re back to your old routine.
Try the 12 Week Base Building Plan for a safe return!
Set a [realistic] goal.
As you start running again, think through some goals you would like to accomplish now that you are getting back to your old routine. Look for races in the distant future, make a plan to return to your old running pace, or set your sights on that beautiful loop you used to run.
Determine what is motivating you during your return and keep that in mind when things feel tough. While you may feel a great deal of excitement as you lace up for your first run after a long break, this excitement is usually squashed with the realization that you are out of running shape.
Setting a few goals will help motivate you through those first few weeks and remind you why you fell in love with running in the first place. Try to set some small, realistic goals during the first few weeks of your recovery so even when progress feels small, you’ll be able to check some things off your list.
Stay positive and be patient.
When all is said and done, returning to running after a long break is hard work. You have inevitably lost quite a bit of fitness, and it feels nearly impossible to avoid comparing yourself to where you were before you took time off.
Remind yourself of your accomplishments each day, no matter how little or insignificant they may seem. Stay positive throughout this process and remember that if you were able to run/walk a mile, that’s a mile further than you could do during your time off.
Getting back to running again takes time, and above all, patience. Enjoy the little victories along the way and remember that this season of recovery is not permanent.
Running helps make us stronger in all seasons of life. The mental strength that is gained as your patience and attitude is tested after a long break is unlike anything else. Appreciate each and every step you take along the way.
More tips for returning to running:
- How to Make a Running Comeback (No Matter How Much Time You Took Off)
- 4 Ways to Safely Increase Your Running Mileage
- 5 Guidelines to Return to Running After a Race