Should I Start Running Again? How I Managed To Start Running After A Long Break
Lots of reasons why runners pause running. There could be injuries, illness or general life demands playing part with their own unexpected schedules that can cause longer stoppages.
I had my own streak of bad luck. First my physio told me that my right foot pain and swelling were caused by posterior tibial tendonitis, a painful, frustrating issue that took time to heal. No running with that.
When the foot healed I got a case of Covid (thankfully very mild), and that stopped me for another spell. My energy levels were totally drained as a result. And then, as I was about to return, I accidentally hurt another foot and that was me out for another month.
What a hat trick, eh?
So, how to start running after a long break? How best to approach it and how fast can we reach our previous level of fitness? Let’s look into it.
How to start running again?
The best way is always going to be your own way. Some runners are perfectly fine with an uptempo 5K as their first run, and I personally tested the ground with a slow 3K but there will be those who will run/walk just a short distance in order to ‘feel’ the run and see how their bodies respond. Start jogging and see how it goes. Don’t break into a sprint and go for 10K, you’re not ready for that yet.
Pro runners will have teams around them to worry about how to start running again, but we, care-free amateurs, will have to use our own drawing board and implement our past experience, instincts, and (don’t forget) body signals.
When you’re ready and geared up to start running after a long break, you might also consider starting from scratch. I did that once. Easy programs such as C25K could be your best way to start running again.
Build it up slowly and gradually and you will minimise a dreaded injury risk. And be patient.
I feel demotivated by a long absence from running! Should I start running again at all?
That is a normal reaction. You’ve not done something in a while, you might be questioning your ability and are finding it hard to find strong motivation to start running again. Plan something that will lift up your spirits.
I once got sidelined for nearly four months and decided that when I start running again I would not only repeat the C25K beginners program but also take it further and take up marathon training.
Suffice to say, my year got very busy and my motivation levels were up again very soon.
If that’s a bit extreme, try joining a running group. You will find like minded spirits, structure, schedule and lots of support. Once your motivation to start running again grows, it will feel less daunting, less uncertain and more enjoyable.
Or if you are not so keen to join a group of regular runners where you fear that you would struggle to run for three minutes, make your own little plan. Dedicate three days of the week to your solo runs, build a habit, be consistent and see how much better you’ll feel about yourself in no time.
OK, so I managed to gather motivation to start running again… how quickly can I reach my previous level?
First be aware of your limitations in terms of fitness. If your marathon is next month, you will not run it. Don’t think of distances just yet. In order to start running after a long break you need to get your body in fine working order first.
I used to run a half marathon every weekend for fun. Really enjoyed it but that also contributed to posterior tibial tendonitis. When I finally returned after months of not running at all I expected a significant loss of fitness and knew that I would simply not be able to do what I did before the break.
I made a plan and decided to start with a slow 3K run and have a two day gap before the next run. I didn’t want to create any issues in my dormant joints, didn’t want to put too much strain on my lungs and didn’t want to elevate the heart rate above training zone 3 (for more on cardio zones see my blog on building running endurance).
Why 3K? Because it was way below the level I was used to and I wanted to ease myself back into running without much hard effort. That short distance was just about right and on my return there was no muscle fatigue or any other issues.
In other words, pick a distance that is very comfortable and run slow and in a relaxed way.
If all goes well, then slowly increase your distance according to your experience or follow a training plan. The best way to start running again is generally by not rushing the proceedings. You’ve been away and have not been physically active for a few months, if not longer.
Rushing the proceedings is a sure way to another injury spell.
Should I do other exercises as well? Would that also help?
Any exercise helps, especially after a long hiatus but don’t suddenly go all excited and break into fast squats, push ups and rounds of enthusiastic weight lifting only to end with a pulled muscle in the back or a damaged lower spine area. Your relaxed muscles should slowly go back to fitness through a patient build up. Overall body strength benefits running but go easy on yourself.
Many runners carry on exercising during break periods in order not to lose fitness. Some turn to swimming, some cycle, many exercise at home by using weights, and there will be those who prefer walking.
Remember, if you exercise, the return to running will feel much easier and less stressful to your body. Psychologically you will feel more confident with your muscles and cardio fitness already at a good level.
Will I ever re-discover my previous running enjoyment?
Very, very likely. Unlike some parts of long marathon or ultra training where you can end up drained, tired, frustrated (or injured), you are now rediscovering the best aspects of easy and relaxing running. There will be moments that you have nearly forgotten – the fun of running your favourite routes, the smell, the sounds, your fave running tunes, all will start flooding back.
Those can be very special and precious moments that motivate you even further.
What if I don’t feel like I should start running after a long break at all?
You need to ask yourself why you started running in the first place, before the break. How did it feel? Did you enjoy it? Did you benefit from running? Did you get what you wanted from it?
If it’s a list of negative answers then it’s only you who can decide. Nobody else can influence you. All I would say, even if running may not be your thing and you feel it doesn’t deserve the second shot, for as long as you do any exercise, especially those related to cardio (cycling, fast walking or swimming), you will benefit.
Think of benefits first, they often create enjoyment even if at times you need to put in a hard shift.
‘How to start running again’ or what’s the ‘best way to start running again’ are two questions that will always be on the mind of a runner who is about to start running after a long break. There may be self-doubts and lots of questioning. You may even be low on the motivation to start running again and start questioning if it is a good idea at this point – even though the idea of running again seems attractive, in the moments of doubt you might be asking ‘Should i start running again at all’… instead of HOW.
You are not alone. All that is normal, and very common.
Some who stop running also stop exercising altogether. That makes returning to running more difficult. We are less certain of how our body will respond to those shocks when pounding the ground again. If you can’t run because you are injured, do something else, keep active. Simple brisk walking through the park will also help. In any case, even if your break from running is caused by losing that initial spark that made you take up running in the first place, still keep active.
Your body will be grateful. That is the whole point.
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