Regardless the reason you stopped, you are now ready to lace up and start running again. Join the fairly large club of runners who hit the running pause button, and wonder “how do I best start again?” That running pause may be due to an injury, a crazy work schedule, burn-out, or less daylight hours, to name a few reasons. And, maybe all the hard work you put in to make gains with your endurance, fitness, and speed seem a distant memory. That can be frustrating!
But, have heart. You are not alone! And, with a few pointers to mind as you start running again, you can perhaps make this next running phase even stronger, and better than before.
Here’s How (Tips 1-4)
1. Ease into it.
Know that if you stopped running due to injury, you should be able to run pain-free when you start again. And, walk before you run (literally) – meaning you should be able to walk for 45 minutes. Walking is a great way to prime your body (more easily) for the rigors of running. It does so by reconditioning your soft tissues: muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue.
2. Be patient.
This is a difficult one for us “Type A” runners, I know. Yet, the first couple months are critical for building a sound aerobic base while your body adjusts again to the rigors of running. The first six weeks are the prime time for an injury to occur, especially if you do the three too’s (too soon, too fast, too much).
While races are a big motivator, avoid signing up for a race early in the process. That may force you to attempt to reach a goal that is aggressive given your current fitness level. If you can’t help yourself from signing up for a race, attempt to choose one far enough in the future to allow yourself ample time to safely start running again.
<< Learn about the Mental Health Benefits of Exercise/Running! >>
3. Build a habit first.
Initially, the key is to build a habit. Think of it as a “streak,” but not a daily running streak that is often popular. Exercise physiologist Adam St. Pierre recommends three-four runs per week, where you run every other day. Alternate between running and walking intervals, or running for five-10 minutes at a time with some walk breaks. It is OK to walk during your runs.
Greg McMillan of McMillan Running suggests a two phase approach, with the phase one being two-three weeks of roughly 15-20 minutes of running (run/walk intervals or walk breaks) at an easy/relaxed pace. Phase two, weeks three-eight, are the period where you continue with the three-four runs per week, but slowly increase the amount of time running. A standard rule of thumb is no more than 10% additional time/mileage from the previous week.
It is okay, actually better, for you to have rest days between each run. Allow your body to acclimate to the stress of running before adding additional stressors! Please, don’t feel as if you must run daily, or run for 30 minutes without stopping to think you are progressing! And given that, speed work and long runs should come after this initial ~two month phase.
Greg McMillan states a gradual build up with runs at steady/slow pace allow your muscular-skeletal system to acclimate, and “catch up with the mind.” He says “the interesting thing is that our minds adapt to the stimulus of running much faster than our bodies,” he says. “You have to give your body the time it needs to build strength and endurance.”
If you have been off from running for three months or longer, assume you are starting from scratch. For periods less than three months, Runner’s World provides this timeframe. You have been OFF for:
- A week or less: resume where you left off
- Up to 10 days: 70% of your weekly mileage
- 15-30 days: 60% of your weekly mileage
- 30 days to three months: 50% of your weekly mileage
- More than three months: again, starting your running from scratch
4. Check your ego at the door.
Or, at least most of it! Seriously, do your best to not compare where you are today to your previous runner “stats.” Right now, the key is consistency, injury avoidance, building a base, and setting yourself up for future success.
Therefore, your pace while running should be “conversational.” Essentially, running at a pace that allows you to converse. The process may take a little longer than you think, and you may need to run a bit slower than you prefer. If you stick with it though, that is all temporary.
How to Start Running Again (Tips 5-8)
5. Check out the track, or treadmill.
No, the track is not for speed work (yet). Both the treadmill and track allow you to easily control both distance and time. Many tracks are a softer surface (as is a treadmill) which helps your body to ease into the rigor when you start running again. Plus, a treadmill also allows you to easily control your pace and incline as you see fit.
6. Don’t over-medicate.
As you build your base, some minor aches and pains are not unusual. But, over-medicating can mask pain or issues that normally would signal you to stop a run. If you cannot run through the pain, then stop; choose to walk, or rest instead. Otherwise, you may win the battle, but lose the war. (In short, use pain relievers in moderation.)
7. Find a friend, in most instances.
Running with a friend is a big motivator, and can help you stay consistent. Yet, temper that with being able to run at a pace/distance that is appropriate for you. If you can stick to your plan with a run buddy, great! But, if you’re likely to go off plan (pace and time), then opt to go solo. Or, agree to meet up, and each of you do “your own thing.”
8. Strengthen/Cross Train
Strength and cross training are both great options between your run days in most cases. Cross training will more quickly increase your cardiovascular fitness. But, if you had an injury, check with your doctor to be sure whatever exercise you choose does not make your injury worse. Some good cardiovascular options: swimming, rowing, and the elliptical.
Strengthening through weight training, core exercises, and yoga are also good options on your non-run days. But, if you’ve done NO exercise for the past two-three months, skip the cross training initially (roughly first couple months) to allow enough aerobic recovery between your runs.