Looking to start running again after a long break?
Then you come to the right place.
Life Is a Cruel Mistress!
Consistent running is critical if you want to improve your fitness and health for the long haul.
But, work demands, family commitments, vacations, injury, you name it, can derail even the most motivated runners.
In fact, everyone who’s been on the running path for longer than a year has had to stop running for a while for one reason or the other.
In short, it happens to the best of us.
What matters the most is what you choose to do afterward.
How To Start Running Again After A Long Break
Regardless of what stopped you from running, getting back into it from a an extended hiatus is no walk in the park, I daresay.
But fret no more.
In today’s post, I’ve outlined a guide to help ease back into running without risking injury or losing motivation, regardless of how long you’ve been away.
1. Start with Where You’re At
So, to ensure a smooth transition, start where you are.
Do not just head out the door and run a 5K—that’s how people get injured and discouraged.
Even if you’ve been cross training—cycling, swimming, weightlifting, or doing other cross training exercises—to maintain your cardiovascular endurance, remember that running is a high impact sport.
In fact, it can take up to weeks, even months, for your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments to grow strong enough to handle running again.
Start with two to three short easy “sessions” per week so that you’re “training” every other day.
Once your first session is over, ask yourself the following:
- Was it hard?
- Were you breathing easily and effortlessly?
- Did you feel any lingering pain?
- Did it hurt?
- Did you walk during the session?
2. Rebuild Your Endurance—The Retraining Phase
As for how much conditioning you lost, there isn’t a fool-proof formula that will tell you the exact number because everyone is different and responds differently to a training stimulus.
This rate, in general, depends on the length of the break, the reason for the layoff (injury, work, vacation, etc.), and your conditioning level before the break.
Here are the general guidelines on how much maximal aerobic capacity is lost after a given break.
- You lose up to 5 to 7 percent of VO2max after two weeks.
- You lose up to 20 percent of VO2max after two months.
- You lose up to 30 to 50 percent of VO2max after three months.
The Golden Principle
As a rule of thumb, I advise returning to a running routine in a progressive manner.
If you pick things off from where you left, and do too much too soon, putting too large of a demand on your body, you could seriously hurt yourself.
The Conversational Pace
During the rebuilding period, stick to a conversational pace throughout your runs.
Also known as the talk test, this is a pace in which you can hold a conversation without panting for breath.
So, for instance, if you can barely recite the pledge of allegiance while running, you’re pushing it too far and too hard.
3. Rates Of Return
Here is how to score a safe running comeback.
Less than 10 Days
If you take up running again after less than ten non-training days, feel free to resume training where you left off, as long as you’re training pain-free.
If you feel tired mid-run, slow it down, or walk to catch up your breath.
Two to Three Weeks
If you return to running following a three-week break, you’d need to drop your typical pace and mileage.
As a general rule, run about one to two minutes per mile slower than your usual pace.
Moreover, run about half the distance you’re used to before the break to avoid soreness
One to Two Months Break
I don’t recommend taking things up where you left off following a longer than a month break.
In fact, this where you’ll need to start doing some hard work.
On your first session, alternate between 30 to 60 seconds running intervals and 30-second walks. Train for a total of 20 to 30 minutes.
Then, over the coming days, gradually increase your running time while taking less for recovery until you can easily run for 30 to 45 minutes.
By the end of the third of the fourth week, you should be fit enough to run for an hour at a non-stop, conversational, pace.
Three Months Break to a Year
Scoring a running comeback after a three-month break can be strenuous.
In fact, if it’s been three months to one year since your last run, you may need to start training from scratch.
Think baby steps, and leave your ego at the door.
After such a long layoff, you’ll find that it takes a few weeks—even months—to get comfortable running again, even for no more than three miles.
So, what’s the best approach here?
Before taking up running again, you should be able to walk briskly for 45 to 60 minutes without discomfort or pain—especially if returning from an injury.
That’s why I’d recommend walking first. This is especially the case if you’ve been a complete couch potato for the last few months.
Walking helps re-establish the exercise habit, reconditions soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.), improves lung power, etc.
Once you can briskly walk for an hour without trouble, opt for the walk-run method in which you alternate between low-intensity jogging intervals and recovery.
For the full guide to the walk/run method, check my post here.
Then it’s just a matter of time and practice before you’re back to your former running glory.
4. Identify and Solve Your Running Problems
We have to learn from our mistakes. Otherwise, we are bound to repeat them, especially if an injury was what derailed you from training in the first place.
Whether it’s runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, or ITBS, you got to take a proactive approach this time around so that you don’t get derailed again.
Here is the good news
The rebuilding phase is a good time to take a look at any issues you may have experienced in the past while running. It’s also not the time get lax on your physical therapy and rehab exercises.
In fact, a lot of runners recovering from injury find themselves re-injured because they either ignored proper rehab work or they increased mileage too soon.
So, pay attention to your body and adopt a beginners mind –both mentally and physically.
Keep on the lookout for any red signs, and readjust immediately to get back safely and effortlessly in top running shape.
Also, make sure to have the green light from your doctor to get back to running after a serious injury.
Otherwise, ignoring their advice will only hinder the process and lead to further discouragement.
Ask for guidelines on how much and how frequent you should be running. They might know better—especially if your doctor has a running background.