Back on Track: How to Start Running Again After a Break

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Beginner Runner
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David Dack

Are you ready to reignite your running passion and hit the pavement once again? Well, you’re in luck because today we’re diving headfirst into the exciting world of getting back into running after taking some well-deserved time off.

We all know that life sometimes throws us curveballs, and our running routine takes a backseat. Whether it’s been two months, six months, or even longer since your last glorious run, the journey back to the road can seem like a daunting task.

Starting running again after a long break isn’t a black-and-white process. It’s more like a beautiful palette of colors, each representing a step towards reclaiming your running prowess. And guess what? I’m here to equip you with all the tools you need to paint your running masterpiece, even if it’s been months, or dare I say, years, since you last laced up those running shoes.

So, my running friend, are you ready? Take a deep breath, lace up those running shoes, and let’s embark on this epic comeback adventure.

How To Start Running Again After A long Break

So, you’re ready to dust off those running shoes and hit the pavement again after a long hiatus? That’s fantastic! But let’s be real, my friend, getting back into the running game after an extended break is no easy stroll through the park. However, fear not, because I’m here to guide you through the process and get you back on track.

Start Small After a Long Break

First things first, it’s crucial to approach your comeback with a beginner’s mindset. Embrace the fact that you may encounter some obstacles along the way. Whether it was an injury, illness, or the twists and turns of life that kept you away from running, it’s important to acknowledge that you might not be starting from the same place you left off.

Stamina may have taken a hit, and that’s completely normal.

Now, here’s the key: start small. Think of it as laying a strong foundation for your running journey. .

So, let’s take it step by step.

If you used to effortlessly breeze through a 10-mile run, let’s dial it back a bit. Start with a humble 3 to 5 miles at a slow and controlled pace.

Remember, this is just the beginning, and there’s no need to rush. The goal is to gradually rebuild your stamina and fitness levels, allowing your body to adjust and adapt along the way. Patience and consistency will be your guiding forces on this journey.

Commit to a 15 to 20-minute short runs, three times for one week.

Sure, you may want to do more, but just stick to 20-minute run sessions.

After three or four weeks of regular training, aim to increase your workload and running mileage.

Start with Where You’re At

Whether life got busy, motivation took a detour, or a pesky injury sidelined you, getting back into running can be quite the challenge. But fear not, my friend, because I’ve got your back, and together we’ll make this transition a breeze.

Now, listen up and take note: the key to a successful comeback is starting right where you are. This means resisting the temptation to dash out the door and conquer a 5K right off the bat. Trust me, that’s a recipe for disaster and disappointment.

Even if you’ve been diligent with cross-training activities like cycling, swimming, or hitting the weights to maintain your cardiovascular endurance, remember that running is a whole different ball game. It’s a high-impact sport that puts unique demands on your body.

So, give yourself some grace and acknowledge that it may take weeks, even months, for your muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments to regain the strength needed to handle the rigors of running.

Now, let’s dive into the action steps on how to get back into the running groove.

First things first, begin with two to three short and easy “sessions” per week. Think of it as training every other day to allow your body ample time to recover and adapt. We’re not aiming for heroic feats just yet. These initial sessions are all about reacquainting yourself with the joy of running and gradually building up your endurance.

Once you’ve completed your first session, take a moment to reflect and ask yourself a few key questions:

  • Was it challenging but manageable?
  • Did you find yourself breathing easily and effortlessly, or did it feel like you were gasping for air?
  • Did any lingering pain make its presence known?
  • Did it genuinely hurt, or did it feel like a rejuvenating challenge?
  • Did you need to take walking breaks during the session?

These questions will help you gauge your starting point and adjust your approach accordingly. Remember, it’s perfectly okay if the first session felt challenging.

Additional resource – How to start running with your dog

Choose One Goal To Start Running Again

Juggling too many things in life is no easy feat. I can totally relate! When we find ourselves falling off the exercise wagon, it’s often because we’re spread thin, trying to do it all without any intense focus.

But fear not, my friend, for I have a secret to share: the key to success lies in choosing one goal to reignite your running journey. I know, it sounds simple, but trust me, it’s a game-changer.

In the whirlwind of life, maintaining focus on a single objective can feel like an uphill battle. As an overachiever myself, I understand the struggle all too well. Our ambitious nature pushes us to take on the world, tackle multiple goals simultaneously, and conquer the universe before breakfast. But here’s the thing: spreading ourselves thin often leads to diluted efforts and lackluster results.

That’s why I encourage you to embrace the power of singularity. Choose one goal, one focal point, and direct all your energy and attention towards it. It may seem counterintuitive to some, but trust me, it’s a secret weapon that yields long-term rewards.

Now, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of this approach. When selecting your one goal, consider what truly resonates with you. Is it completing a local 5K race? Shedding those extra pounds that have been clinging to you like stubborn barnacles? Or perhaps it’s simply reigniting the joy of running and reconnecting with that inner sense of freedom and empowerment.

Once you’ve identified your goal, commit to it wholeheartedly. Make it your North Star, guiding you through the twists and turns of your running journey. This doesn’t mean you ignore other aspects of your life—it’s about creating a laser-like focus on this particular objective while maintaining a healthy balance.

Sit down and come up with the ONE goal you want to achieve.

Do you want to run a 5K under 30 minutes, or shoot for a sub 3-hour marathon?

You choose.

Just make it accurate.

Write down your ONE goal, and keep it visible.

Your work desk is a good place, so is the living room.

Here’s the full guide setting fitness goals.

Rebuild Your Endurance—The Retraining Phase

Ah, the question that lingers in the minds of many returning runners: How much conditioning did we actually lose during that hiatus? If only there was a foolproof formula that could give us an exact number. Alas, the answer is not a one-size-fits-all equation, for each of us is a unique and wonderfully complex individual, responding differently to the ebb and flow of training stimuli.

The rate at which our conditioning dissipates depends on various factors: the length of the break, the reason behind the break (be it injury, work obligations, or a well-deserved vacation), and, of course, our conditioning level prior to the hiatus. It’s like a delicate ecosystem, influenced by multiple variables that shape our body’s response.

But worry no more. While I cannot provide you with an exact numerical value, I can offer some general guidelines based on scientific studies and research papers that explore the effects of breaks on maximal aerobic capacity, also known as VO2max.

So, here’s what the data suggests:

After a mere two weeks of rest, you may experience a decline of up to 5 to 7 percent in your VO2max. It’s a modest setback, but one that can be regained with some focused effort

Now, if your hiatus stretched to a two-month period, the impact on your VO2max becomes more substantial, with potential losses of up to 20 percent. It’s like a temporary dip in the energy reserves of your running engine—a setback that might require a bit more time and dedication to bounce back from

But wait, there’s more. For those who find themselves on a three-month sabbatical from running, brace yourself. Studies suggest that VO2max losses can reach a range of 30 to 50 percent. It’s like a gust of wind blowing through your running sails, requiring significant rebuilding and conditioning to regain your former glory.

Now, remember, these numbers are not set in stone. They provide a general framework to understand the potential impact of breaks on your aerobic capacity. Your individual response may vary, influenced by factors such as genetics, previous training history, and the activities you engaged in during your time off.

Still curious? Check the following research papers on deconditioning:

 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 this crucial period of rebuilding and reclaiming your running prowess, it’s essential to embrace the power of the conversational pace. This pace, also fondly known as the talk test, serves as your faithful guide, ensuring you don’t venture into the treacherous territories of breathlessness and overexertion.

Picture this: You’re out for a run, and a running buddy magically appears by your side. As you exchange greetings, you begin chatting effortlessly, sharing stories, dreams, and perhaps even debating the merits of sprinkles on ice cream. This delightful conversation flows seamlessly, with no desperate gasps for air or excessive panting interrupting your verbal ballet. That, my friend, is the epitome of the conversational pace.

To determine if you’ve discovered this harmonious pace, let the talk test be your compass. If you can speak in complete sentences without gasping for breath, you’re on the right track. However, if you find yourself struggling to recite anything more than a muffled “hello” or a few disjointed words, it’s a sign that you’ve veered into the realm of pushing too hard. Ease off the accelerator, slow your tempo, and find your conversational groove once again.

Remember, this phase of rebuilding is not about breaking speed records or conquering grand distances. It’s about nurturing your body, gently coaxing it back to its former glory. By embracing the conversational pace, you provide your muscles, joints, and cardiovascular system the opportunity to reawaken gradually, building strength and endurance with each passing run.

Now, you may be wondering, what’s the science behind the conversational pace? Well, research studies have shown that running at a conversational pace allows your body to primarily rely on aerobic energy systems, tapping into the vast reserves of oxygen to fuel your efforts. It’s like sipping from a bottomless well of energy, allowing you to sustain your running without depleting your resources.

Rates Of Return To Running After A Break

Now, let’s dive into the realm of return rates and discover the secrets to a safe and successful running comeback. Are you ready? Let’s hit the ground running!

Running after Less than 10 Days Off

If your absence from the running scene lasted less than ten days, rejoice! You can pick up where you left off, like a runner with a secret time-turner. Just make sure you listen to your body and train pain-free.

Should fatigue strike mid-run, simply ease your pace or take a leisurely stroll to catch your breath. It’s all about finding that delicate balance between pushing yourself and respecting your body’s limits. And if you’re looking for inspiration on planning your running route, I’ve got just the additional resource for you. Explore the possibilities and unleash your inner cartographer!

Running After Two to Three Weeks Off

If you return to running following a three-week break, it’s wise to dial back your pace and mileage during this rebuilding phase. As a general rule, aim to run about one to two minutes per mile slower than your usual pace.

Consider it a gentle reminder to savor the moments and take in the sights along the way. And don’t forget to reduce your distance as well, running about half of what you were accustomed to before the break. This will help you avoid unnecessary soreness and ensure a smoother transition back to your running routine.

Running After One to Two Months Break off

Begin your journey by alternating between 30 to 60 seconds of running intervals and 30-second walks during your first session. Train for a total of 20 to 30 minutes, allowing your body to gradually adapt to the demands of running once more. In the days that follow, increase your running time while reducing your recovery periods.

Witness the transformation as you effortlessly run for 30 to 45 minutes, feeling the exhilaration of your comeback. And by the end of the third or fourth week, you’ll find yourself fit enough to conquer the holy grail of running—an hour of non-stop, conversational-paced running.

Running after Three Months Break to a Year Off 

Now, let’s chart a course for your grand return.

If it has been three months to a year since your last run, consider this a fresh start. Don’t be disheartened if you can’t pick up where you left off. Instead, embrace the concept of starting from scratch.

Think of it as a chance to rebuild the foundation of your running prowess, one brick at a time. Leave your ego at the door, my friend, and embrace the beauty of baby steps.

During these initial weeks, you’ll discover that it takes time to reacclimate to the rhythm of running. Even running a mere three miles may feel like a herculean task at first. But fear not, for I have a strategy to guide you through this reawakening.

Before diving headfirst into running, it’s essential to assess your readiness. Can you briskly walk for 45 to 60 minutes without discomfort or pain? If not, it’s wise to prioritize walking as your initial training ground. Walking serves as the gateway to reestablishing the exercise habit, revitalizing your soft tissues (those muscles, tendons, and ligaments), and expanding your lung power. Think of it as a gentle reintroduction, allowing your body to remember the joys of movement.

Once you’ve mastered the art of brisk walking, my friend, it’s time to take the leap into the walk-run method. Picture yourself as a graceful dancer, seamlessly transitioning between low-intensity jogging intervals and moments of recovery. This approach provides a gradual progression, allowing your body to adapt to the demands of running once again.

Start with short jogging intervals, interspersed with recovery periods. Feel the rhythm of your breath and the beat of your heart as you rediscover the exhilaration of movement. With each passing week, gradually increase the duration of your jogging intervals while maintaining a pace that feels comfortable and sustainable.

For the full guide to the walk/run method, check my post here.


So what are you waiting for?

Now it’s the time to start running again since you have the exact tools you need.

And please be careful out there.

Thank you for reading my blog post.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions below


David Dack.

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