It happens to the best of us: work, burnout, family commitments, injuries or other health issues can all lead you to take a break from running. Here are my top tips for making a healthy return to running after a break–whether your hiatus from the sport lasted weeks, months, or years!
I love running more than I can express, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t given myself plenty of time away from it over the years! Burnout, injury, pregnancy and new parenthood, and illness are just a few of the reasons that some of us may put running on the back burner for a time. The great thing about running is that it’s always there, patiently waiting for you to come back to it whenever you feel ready. Here are my top tips to get back into running after a break in a healthy, sustainable way. I’ve compiled these tips based on my own experiences with returning to running after several hiatuses, all of which lasted several months. I hope you find this list helpful!
- Start slow and start short. Even if you have kept in shape doing other things, such as lifting weights, walking, and playing sports during your hiatus, running is a whole different ball game. Your body needs time to adapt to a different motion. Allow yourself to run as slowly as you need to when you are just starting out after a break. Do the run/walk thing if you need to! And don’t increase distance too rapidly. A good rule of thumb is to increase your total mileage by no more than 10 percent a week.
- Don’t compare yourself to the runner you were before. Take it from me! Six years ago, I ran a half-marathon in 84 minutes. My priorities have since shifted, and I no longer want to dedicate all of my time and energy to running. I can accept the fact that my pace isn’t going to be quite as quick as it was then, but I can still find joy in running without having to compare myself to my former self. And if you want to get back into your former running shape, know that with enough consistency and determination, you will get there. You got there before, and you can get there again if you commit to it.
- Cross train, cross train, cross train. I cannot stress this enough. Counterintuitive though it may seem, running less can make you faster. The caveat? You must spend the time you would have been running, cross training. I am a big proponent of strength training, so I recommend strength training at least twice a week for anywhere between 30-60 minutes. Strengthening your legs, arms, and core translates into improved running form, decreased susceptibility to repetitive use injuries, and increased confidence. You can also replace some of your short, easy runs with a bike ride, elliptical session, or swim. Anything that gets your heart rate up but alleviates the high impact will work wonders on your long-term running goals.
- Make sure that you take in enough calories. Running burns a lot of energy. Many people fall into the trap of believing that eating less will help them lose excess weight, which theoretically translates into faster running. Take it from someone who knows firsthand that this is not a smart idea for long term success in the sport. While you might get slightly faster in the short-term by depriving yourself of the nourishment that you need to fuel for success, your running will suffer in the long term. It’s best to eat a healthy, balanced diet which includes three full meals, one or two snacks, and lots of wiggle room for dessert and drinks. If you are doing any sort of high intensity activity, there is really no need to restrict what you eat unless you have a medical reason to do so and are under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
- Find a buddy. Covid has temporarily nixed large running groups, but running with someone in your household or at a distance from a friend helps pass the miles and makes running long distances much less tedious.
- Vary your distances and workouts. While tempting to run all your miles on the same route at the same pace, it’s incredibly beneficial for your performance and mental state to vary the distances and workouts you run, especially as time goes on and you get back into your running groove. I usually alternate shorter, faster runs with longer, slower runs on different routes. You can also hit the track if you have access to one. Try one of these track workouts for fun!
- Run the mile you’re in. In other words, stay in the moment. It’s all too easy to get ahead of yourself during a long run, especially if you’re not enjoying it much. But just focus on the mile you’re in, and the miles will somehow start going by a lot faster.
- Practice gratitude: You get to do this! Think about that for a second. You get to run. Your body is healthy and strong enough to allow you to do this. And that is a gift.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you’re on the struggle bus. Not feeling great on a run? Don’t get down on yourself. This can happen for a number of reasons., independent of your fitness level. Lack of sleep, inadequate fuelling and hydration, hormones, and stress are just a few of the reasons you might be feeling less than stellar on a given run. Just try to relax, slow down if you need to, and tune in to your body. If you’re really not feeling it, don’t feel bad about cutting it short. There’s always tomorrow!
- Hit the trails. I have found that running the same routes that I ran before a hiatus can lead me into the comparison trap. I remember how fast I was on a given route previously, and then beat myself up if I’m slower than I was at peak running fitness. That’s why it can be so beneficial to find some new routes to run. If you normally run on pavement, why not find a buddy and do some trail running? You’ll use muscles you wouldn’t normally use on the road, and you’ll get some much needed vitamin ‘N’ in the process.
- Trust the process. As my idol Tony Horton always says, “Rome was not built in a day, and neither was your body.” Remember when you first started running, and how long it took to reach peak fitness? Well, it won’t take quite as long after a break, since there’s such a thing as muscle memory, but it will take a little while longer than you might have hoped to get into peak running shape once again. Enjoy the journey. Trust that every run you complete is taking you closer to where you want to be.
- Do things your way. For me, that’s running without a Garmin or earbuds. Running is more of a spiritual experience for me than it used to be, and I like to be fully present in my breath and footfalls. This means leaving the technology at home. (Though I bring my phone in case I run into trouble, I don’t use it.) I used track speed and distance, but it didn’t work for me–I found myself become obsessed with numbers. What works for you will likely be vastly different from the next person, so try to tune out the noise and tune in to your own preferences.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below! I would be more than happy to answer. I wish you the best in your running journey. 🙂