At some point you felt reasonably fit…maybe even dare we say it, very fit. Then life happened you took an extended break and now you’re scratching your head wondering how to get back into running after time off?
Is it going to be painful, take forever, can your body even handle it?
Good news: your muscles (and brain) have a memory of those past activities and in many ways it’s often EASIER to get back in to shape than it was the first time around.
Think about it. You don’t have to convince yourself it’s possible because you already know that you have run before. That takes away part of the battle. And, of course, now with more life experience you’re better equipped to push through discomfort.
It’s one of the reasons so many top distance runners are older than athletes in other sports!
In this article, learn everything you need to know on how to get back into running, with 7 critical tips and tricks to ensure a great running comeback.
Factors That Affect Getting Back into Running
First, it’s important to talk about your long break, like just how long have you been out of running?
I’ve done an article on how quickly do I lose fitness, which addresses the short term of a couple days to a couple of months.
Today we’re focusing on returning after months or years away from the sport. We’ll address a few of those common reasons you stopped running below.
If you stopped due to a major injury, start by going to Physical Therapy to address any underlying muscle weaknesses.
If you stopped running due to giving birth, remember your body and muscles have changed. Again be kind to yourself, consider going to PT or seeing a Pelvic Floor Specialist.
If you stopped because you thought you were too old. BRING IT ON! Follow these tips, do all the warm ups and don’t skip your strength. Don’t be afraid to get a personal trainer to teach you good form if you’re new to weights.
If you stopped due to hating it or feeling burned out, well that happens. Let’s focus on keeping it FUN. Which might mean less weekly mileage and more cross training. That’s good for total health and fitness.
So let’s cover some of the big things that will be common for every runner and then break it down by reason to figure out the best way to get running again.
- Celebrate each step forward
- Start slow and build a habit
- Build a more resilient body
- Update your running gear
- Follow a good training plan
- Do what you can
Really, a lot of it depends on why you stopped in the first place.
To start breaking down a plan of action, is it returning to running after baby, or returning to running after a knee injury?
Or, is it returning to running after simply being too busy for anything but work, family, sleep, repeat?
Were you doing other sports or athletic activity?
Each of these comes with their own unique set of challenges and requirements to help your body feel strong and ready. But for each there are some key principles that cannot be ignored.
7 Tips on How to Get Back into Running
Getting back into running is a process that you can take up at any stage but requires emphasis and attention on a few things. Let’s discuss what these are in more detail to give you the 7 top tips on how to start running again:
1. Celebrate Each Step Forward
Instead of trying to get back to where you were on day 1, start from where you are now. Prior to my knee injury, which ultimately lead to surgery, it was normal for me to run 40 miles per week.
I could have been frustrated about not being able to walk around the block afterwards, but I choose to start a new journey.
I celebrated each day that I walked a little farther and then celebrated when I shuffled through a 10 minute run and then my first mile and so on, all the way up to a 50 mile week during Ultramarathon training.
- Positive emotions are going to reinforce the action
- Don’t reward yourself with food, but do keep praising yourself for showing up
- Ask your family to support your goals
- Set up a jar to put money in for new gear and add to it every time you finish a workout
- Remember that showing up AT ALL is a win, even if you don’t do the whole workout
All or nothing is not a mindset that will get you through this. Everything counts.Have you had an extended break from running? These tips will help get you started again. Click To Tweet
Is it Hard to Get Back in to Running?
It would be a lie to tell you that it’s easy. BUT as I mentioned above the fact that you have done it before actually makes it easier than the first time you started!
Remember that your tendons and ligaments need time to adapt to the impact again. So you’re better off to start slow, than to jump in and try to be right where you were.
After that these mental tips and ways of thinking about training will truly help.
If in the past you ONLY ran and skipped the warm up, the strength training, cross training and thinking about fuel…well your body is different now and you can’t get away with those things.
Running after menopause is a different animal.
Running after having kids and your entire lifestyle changing requires you to respect your time and body differently.
We aren’t 20 any more and that’s JUST FINE! We have more mental toughness now, which is why many great distance runners are actually in their 30’s and 40’s.
2. Start Slow and Build a Habit
When you’re getting back into running, it’s important to take things slow and focus on building a habit first.
And, if you’re like most runners, you set high goals for yourself in terms of both pace and distance. When you first start running again, it’s critical to prioritize consistency.
Instead of worrying about your pace or mileage, just set small goals to go for a run regularly.
- Start with power walking (or alternate run days with walk days)
- Utilize the run/walk method to rebuild your cardiovascular system
- Checkout Low Heart Rate Training to remind you how to rebuild a solid base your body can handle
Keep in mind that you’re renewing your running habit and conditioning the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue in your legs again.
Depending on how long you’ve been off from your running schedule, this can take some time.
Get used to a schedule and ease into your new routine. If you start with small goals, you have a better chance of maintaining your running habit.
The good news is that if you get back into the habit of running, you’ll start regaining your fitness levels relatively quickly.
But if you were a beginner when you took a break, it might take a little longer. Experienced runners tend to adapt quicker.
3. Build A More Resilient Body
Runners have one very common issue, we simply want to run.
Therefore we neglect all the other aspects of training which help to prevent injuries, make us faster and generally help with running for weight loss goals (a big reason many come back).
I know you’re busy.
I know you’d rather get those endorphins going.
I know it’s easy to skip over this section.
Time to re-frame that entire way of thinking. How can you simply build these components in to your workout?
✅Make hip and core movements part of your dynamic warm up.
✅Commit to doing a minimum of 2 full body strength training sessions of 20 minutes
✅Know that you can still do a short run or take a walk on those strength days (again, it’s not all or nothing)
New Mother Runners
There is a lot that goes in to feeling ready to return and then ensuring that your body is truly ready. Make sure you have sign off from your Dr first.
There are new imbalances in your body, core work that must be done and patience! Your sleep schedule is different. Your body is burning tons of calories breastfeeding. And while you may mentally need the run, your body may not be ready.
Running After Knee Injury
Step one is to go to Physical Therapy!! And then once things start feeling better, never stop doing the things you have learned. Knee injuries, like runner’s knee, are not a requirement for running, but the are easy to get when we make a couple common mistakes.
- spending plenty of time looking at good running form
- doing hip strength exercises that prevent issues like IT Band Syndrome
- these are non-negotiable.
And if you still have knee pain, then hold off on running and checkout these ideas to keep your fitness up with knee pain.
Super Busy Runners
I hate to break it to you, but lots of runners are super busy.
So it’s time to decide if you’re making excuses, wasting time in other areas or need to simply be ok with only having 30 minutes for your workouts. No one says you need to be running for hours on end!
DO WHAT YOU CAN.
Newly Retired Runners
Can I let you in on a secret? This has been one of my favorite running trends of the last 5 years!
The number of runners we coach who are over 50, over 60 and even 70 has doubled! Life has finally given you some extra time and you want to spend it running.
All the tips so far 100% apply. But we do have some additional considerations.
- More recovery time is needed between workouts
- Post workout protein is extra important to help with a natural decline in muscles
- Strength training isn’t optional, it’s an absolute must. Bodyweight is a great place to start.
- You may need a little more mobility work than in the past
Read my entire guide in Running Over 50 >>
4. Update Your Running Gear
While making your running comeback, it’s important to focus on your running gear. The old running shoes you used back in the day might not be the best fit for you right now.
Depending on the reason why you stopped running in the first place, your body (and feet) might have gone through certain changes making the shoes not right for your feet.
This is an important thing to consider especially if you’re running postpartum. Your feet may very well be a different size!
People often wear old shoes and not realizing how worn out they are or how little cushioning they offer, which increases the impact forces on your muscles, tendons, and joints. It leads to less stability in the shoe and less protection.
That extra impact can make you more likely to have an injury or even a re-injury.
Checkout how to find running shoes that fit properly >>
5. Follow a Good Training Plan
What is a good training plan? One that works for you, takes your life in to account and is tailored around any injuries you may have. When comes to running again after a break, we need to start by rebuilding your base.
You might feel like a beginner runner all over again and that’s ok. See point 1! I started with mindset first for a reason.
Option 1: Get a Coach
My first recommendation is generally to find a running coach because they are truly going to look at whatever issues you’ve had, your schedule and your fitness level.
Then they can create something that’s not only DOABLE, but gives you constant little wins. Those will keep you motivated and excited. I’ve also found it really helps with injury prevention to have someone looking at your training, instead of just trusting a paper plan.
Option 2: Join a Virtual Running Club
If hiring a running coach is not an option, then you can consider joining our virtual run club.
It’s easier on the pocketbook and provides an incredibly supportive community where you can share your little wins knowing everyone will understand exactly what it feels like. You’ll also find access to our courses on strength training, injury prevention and more.
You can also consider a local running club around you if you want to run with other people as it can boost your motivation and help you stick to your routine simultaneously.
Option 3: Start from Scratch
When you first started running, you may have followed a beginner training schedule to learn how to run and keep yourself motivated.
In the same way, many runners who are looking into getting back into running also help it helpful to follow a beginner schedule to reestablish their routine while staying injury-free.
The trick is to not become discouraged with the process, as an injury might result from attempting to build back too quickly. A Couch to 5K program may be a better place to start than a half-marathon or marathon training plan.
It means getting past your weird ideas that you shouldn’t be walking, which is a key tool for increasing time on feet and allowing the body to adjust to the pressures of running.
📣BONUS – We know that tracking is a great way to create habits and consistency.
Checkout my new printable running log, to track your running routine and have a log to easily look back on come race day to remind yourself of all the hard work that you have done!
In each scenario, you’ll be looking for the following:
- Easy runs make up the majority of your week as you start
- Runner strength training is part of the plan
- Optional low-impact training like cycling to build endurance with less time hitting the pavement
- Something that takes in to account soreness as expected, but not to surpass a certain level
6. Don’t Forget to Rest and Recover
Keep in mind that our goal is sustainable running practice. Your plan will probably include rest days, so make sure to take them. Use them.
While going over and above what is recommended in your training plan may seem like a fun idea, rest days are included for a purpose. That’s when your body has a chance to repair the muscle damage that occurs from training!
There is no reason to overtrain at the start of your comeback to running just to be injured again in a week or two. Give yourself permission to rest properly.
Checkout how to utilize active recovery days to keep you moving without over doing it.
7. Do What You Can vs Worrying About What You Should
Those who already have a high level of fitness from other sports, still need to remember running is a different stimulus and you need to ease in to the process.
But all the other points remain the same of finding a solid plan to help you build up, like this first half marathon program.
After that the keys are simple (not easy):
- Consistency – show up for yourself
- Don’t try to make up missed runs
- Intensity still needs to be spaced out and you should have a good foundation before adding speed workouts
- Slow and steady is the key to continuing. It means preventing burnout and running injury, which will just force you to start over again.
- Remember that your body is different now than it was before the layoff and different isn’t BAD
- Remember your mental strength can help you now to overcome some of the physical
Final Tips to Get Back Into Running
It’s all about starting where you are with what you have!
- Make a plan
- Determine what will help you stay accountable
- TRACK everything
- Start small – 2 power walks a week and 1 strength session
- Increase slowly to prevent injuries and maintain motivation by not being overly sore or fatigued
You’re going to feel a little sore when you start because the body is adapting to a new stimulus. That does not mean you should be so sore you have to skip the next workout or can’t function.
That’s a sign you are doing TOO MUCH TOO FAST.
Trust me it’s not worth it. An injury means time off, which means less chance of you sticking to the plan.
So don’t be afraid to start REALLY SMALL. Let go of your ego.
A process we give many of the runners who come to us for 1-1 coaching after time off is as follows:
- Start by building up to power walking 3 miles, each at a 15min/mile pace
- You want to be doing that at least 3 days per week
- AND I need you to be doing at least 2 days of strength training with that.
- Now we have a body that’s prepped to start doing run/walk intervals
- We will slowly progress those over time til you hit your first mile running with no breaks or for some folks instead we stick to run/walk to work on endurance
- Checkout this guide to run/walk training
More questions about getting started? Dive in to these resources:
- 7 Beginning Runner Tips
- Why do I run slower on the treadmill?
- Do you need a pre-workout?
- How far did I run?
- Jogging vs Running
- Ankle Support for Running
Other ways to connect with Amanda
Instagram Daily Fun: RunToTheFinish
Facebook Community Chatter: RunToTheFinish