How to Return to Running After a Break

How to Return to Running After a Break
Photo: TierneyMJ, Shutterstock

Why not dust off those running shoes and go for a jog amidst the flowers and the fresh air now that we can go outside with minimal worries? Oh, right. Because it’s been a while and you might not be quite sure where to start.

See yourself as a temporary beginner

Look, just because you could run a 5K every weekend last year doesn’t mean you can bust one out today. Or even if you can, it may not be smart to make a habit of it without a proper ramp-up.

The good news is that you’ll get through these beginning stages a lot faster than when you were an actual beginner. The shorter the break you took, the easier this will be. But even if your last run was years ago, your prospects are good.

That said, it’s important to remember that cardio fitness is not running fitness. If you can do a 45-minute dance video or bike workout, then your heart and lungs are probably up to a 45-minute jog. Great. But running provides a unique stress to your bones, tendons, and foot muscles, and you need to limit your running to prevent injury during the early stages of your comeback. If your runs feel too short, supplement them with other workouts for now.

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Chart a course

Make a comeback plan. I’ve been in this situation many times, and my favourite way to get through the initial month or so is to grab a beginner plan and follow it until I feel like I’m used to running again. At that point, I can hop to a different program if I feel like the beginner plan isn’t challenging me enough.

Here are a few suggestions, in order of (my) preference:

  • Practice intuitive running for three short runs each week (20 minutes each is good to start).
  • Grab one of the programs from halhigdon.com, like this novice base building plan.
  • Or go with the classic couch to 5K. If you’ve done this program before, repeating it may feel comforting.

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Check your gear

Do you still have your old running shoes? How old are they, anyway? If they don’t feel good on your feet during and after a run, it’s probably time to replace them.

Same goes for your sports bra and any of your favourite pants, socks, and so on. Take stock of what you have, what you need, and what should be repaired or replaced.

Think back to all your best runs from the last time you were a regular runner. What made them great? Take a minute to reproduce any factors that are within your control. Maybe you had a favourite playlist that you listened to; either dig it up now or make a new one. Or maybe you discovered that you love running in nature. Go look up the trail maps for your favourite park, especially if it’s been a while, as there may have been changes.

Take it slow

Especially if you haven’t always loved running, take some pressure off yourself. Instead of worrying about how fast you complete each training run, make sure you’re using each run for its intended purpose. Easy days should be easy, with no time pressure. Long runs should be slow. Days where you do speedwork or tempo runs, you may benefit from timing yourself and making sure you hit the specific numbers in your program.

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But don’t worry about your numbers too much just yet, especially if they aren’t what they used to be. There’s no benefit in running your easy runs at a too-fast pace; you’ll just disappoint yourself for no reason. It’s even ok to leave your phone or watch at home, and not even time yourself. Try a goal-directed journal (on paper!) to keep track instead.

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