Whether you suffered an injury, you elected to take a break from running or you want to make a substantial increase in your mileage, you need a plan. While each of these scenarios seems different, the path back shares many similarities.
YOU’RE RETURNING FROM AN INJURY
When returning to running after a prolonged injury, you need to come back with a plan — in an unhurried, methodical fashion. Cory Smith, a USA Track and Field Level 2 certified endurance running coach, offers recommendations on how best to do this.
1. KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS LOW
Patience is absolutely essential when returning after an injury. Expect it to take twice as much time as the time you took off to return to a fitness level similar to before the injury. That said, it’s usually easier to regain a level of fitness as opposed to attaining it for the first time.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Ease back in by running every other day or with a schedule of running, cross-training and resting. Oftentimes your days off are more important than your running days. It’s important to pay attention to how your body responds to the reintroduction of running.
3. FORGET ABOUT SPEED
Focus on easy running and avoid any fast running, intervals or tempo runs for the first few weeks. If you want to introduce harder running, try hill repeats. Don’t worry about distance or pace; just focus on time on your feet. For example: Run 30 minutes without a watch at a comfortable pace.
4. SUPPRESS YOUR COMPETITIVE SIDE
Don’t plan any short-term races. Mentally reframe the time off as a planned break — and if you have to plan, schedule your next race months from now.
YOU’RE MOTIVATED TO RUN AGAIN
For whatever reason, you stopped running, but now you’re ready to run again — and you think you can pick up where you dropped off. Not so fast. Running coach Steve Sisson, who has more than 25 years of coaching experience, provides these tips for a successful return.
1. SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
It’s extremely important to start where you are currently, not where you left off. Those who succeed are the runners who take a deep breath and relax into the process of allowing the body to slowly adapt. To begin, Sisson recommends 20 minutes of running 2–3 times a week.
2. FIND A TRAINING GROUP
The biggest mistake a returning runner can make is to try to do it alone. If you lost motivation before, it is likely you’ll lose it again. A training group ensures that others who run at the same time and place will miss you if you don’t show up. It’s much harder to let others down than ourselves.
3. DEVELOP A HABIT
Consistency is the foundation of any running plan. It takes about 3–4 weeks to develop a habit — but once established, habits are much harder to break.
4. SET GOALS
Whether it’s a PR or a new distance, goals help give us focus. By setting reasonable, attainable goals, a runner can overcome small challenges and look forward to bigger ones.
5. HAVE FUN
Embracing the challenge is essential, but you ultimately decide how much suffering is worth it. If it’s still fun, train there for as long as possible to make the odds of sticking with it high.
YOU’RE INCREASING MILEAGE
You finished a 5K, perhaps a few of them, and now you want to chase the marathon dream. Before beefing up your mileage full-stop, heed the advice of Meghan Kennihan, a USA Track and Field and Road Runners Club of America running coach:
1. ADD MILES IN INCREMENTS
Runners should at least have a base of 10–12 miles a week before moving up from the 5K distance. Start by looking at the total number of miles you’re running in a week and increase that by no more than 10% every two weeks. You’ll do this by adding mileage to one of your weekly runs, usually your long run. For example, if you are currently running 10 miles per week, then 10% of 10 miles is 1 mile.
2. PAY ATTENTION TO PAIN
Many runners are too motivated to get to the next distance. As a result, they often start to develop common overuse running injuries, such as shin splints or runner’s knee. If a pain gets worse as you run or hurts when walking, that’s a warning sign you should take a break. Listen to your body and take at least one complete day off from exercise every week. Remember this: Rest days are as important as run sessions.
3. TAKE YOUR TIME
Do too much too soon, and you may get burned out. lose interest or suffer an injury. The races aren’t going anywhere. The body achieves what the mind believes. Believe you can do the next distance.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN