Returning to running following a long break comes with excitement (I hope), promise, and the knowledge that your fitness has probably declined somewhat. This means there’s work to do, especially if you have races and certain distances to aim for.
While it’s tempting to try and slot back into where you left off and increase effort, speed, and distance from the get go, it’s best to take things gradually. Your mind may be telling you you’re fit enough and can do it, but your body’s likely to have other ideas. If you’re wanting to return to running successfully, here’s how to do it in a way that’ll reduce the likelihood of further injury, and have you back on form before you know it.
Return To Running Slowly (Even if you don’t want to)
As frustrating as it is (and I speak for myself here), there’s no point after weeks or months off, returning to running with an 8 mile technical trail run. It’ll be a recipe for disaster. The longer you’ve had off from running, the longer it’s going to take you to return to your previous form. Keep your runs small to begin with and don’t worry about your pace too much. If you can, try and run frequently too. If you have to break up the running with walking, do so. You’ve managed to recover and reach peak fitness before, you can do it again. It just takes time.
Be The Tortoise, Not The Hare.
In the early weeks or months of returning to running, focus on aerobic effort rather than the speed. Short and frequent is often good, unless you’ve been advised otherwise. Consolidate the miles gently, adding gradual increases when it feels right. I’m currently returning from running following an achilles injury and increasing my runs by a quarter of a mile at a time, when comfortable. It’s frustrating and almost painfully slow, but if I’m going to get there, it’s what I have to do.
Research advises that in order to return to running effectively, you should build up to 75% of your normal training volume before you add any speed workouts. As an interim, introduce small, alternative workouts to improve your running, such as small hill reps (injury permitting, of course). These will add strength and endurance over time. Just don’t do too much at once.
Keep Up The Physio Exercises
If you’ve had an injury, don’t assume you can ditch the physio exercises just because you can run again. For something like achilles tendonitis and sciatic related injuries, continuing with the stretching and strength building exercises is essential. If not, your injury is likely to catch up with you and you’ll have to take another step back.
Cross Training Is Your Friend
If you’re injured or just having some time off running, cross training is always a good idea. You’ll build strength and use different muscle groups. Cross training will also maintain fitness levels while you take a break from running, meaning when you return, it’ll be a little easier. It’s well documented that cross training helps keep injuries at bay so there’s not a lot to lose. You just have to decide how you want to cross train and what to do instead. My current favourite is HIIT because I can do the sessions at home and they’re only 20 minutes long. Hard work but short.
Stay Positive and Focus On Your Goals
It may be easy to believe at times that you’re never going to get there. Progress can seem slow (I speak for myself here). My advice would be to stay positive and think of how far you’ve come. The fact that you’re able to think about running’s a good thing! It’s ok to have goals but don’t try and fit your progress around that goal, it may be too much too soon. Try and take it one week at a time and review as you go along. Hopefully you’ll be back up to speed in no time.
Have you ever had to take time from running after an injury. Did you find that certain strategies or training plans work for you? Injuries can be frustrating whether you have races planned or not. How did you return to running successfully?