Most runners, at some point or another, come face to face with the seemingly monstrous task of rebuilding their base after a break.

Whether that break was planned, unintended, or forced by a nagging injury, the uphill struggle to regain fitness can feel both daunting and discouraging.

I’ve kept it no secret that for the past several months I’ve personally been struggling with my running routine. And while the past few weeks have been better, I’m still only averaging about 15-20 miles per week — significantly lower than what I’m used to.

That ends this week. And here’s how I’m going to do it.

Rebuilding Running Fitness Starts With a Plan

As with most things in running, rebuilding your fitness after a break should start with building a plan. Without some sort of roadmap for how to move forward, staying on track becomes it’s own unnecessary obstacle.

Throughout this post I’ll share my strategy for creating a six week plan to get back on track, and each week moving froward I’ll keep you updated with how things are going and the next week’s objective.

First, we start with a goal.

Step 1. Set a Goal

At the “comeback” phase for any runner, it’s best to start with two goals: a goal for my base-building period (1), and a long-term running goal to keep me motivated and on schedule (2). Here are mine:

  1. Short-term 6-week goal: Rebuild base fitness, consistency, and speed.
  2. Long-term goal: Prepare for and complete the 67 mile Pitchell run in October and Hellbender Hundo 100 miler in April.

I’ll use the short-term goal to position myself for successful long-term training.

Step 2. Set a Base-Building Timeline

A timeline gives a start and end date to your base-building period, which helps to focus and structure your plan. It’s also important mentally, because (I’ll just come out and say it…) coming back after a break is hard. It’s discouraging not to hit splits or distances with the same ease as before, and can often feel too big a task to keep going. A timeline helps keep you motivated, knowing that you’ll be back to your old self soon.

I’ve chosen six weeks for my base-building period because that is generally the amount of time I believe runners need to both regain fitness and resolidify a routine. It also happens to work pretty well with my long-term goals, allowing about five weeks for more focused, dedicated training before the Pitchell attempt.

Depending on how long you’ve been out, you may need more time — eight, ten, twelve weeks — or if you haven’t lost that much time, maybe four weeks will do the trick. What’s important is to be honest with yourself about where you are and how far you need to go.

Step 3. Write a Plan

Once I settled on six weeks, I started putting together a plan. For a base-building training block, keep in mind that you:

  • May not need a strict training plan detailing each run. That could be useful if you’re someone who needs structure, or it could get in the way. I fall somewhere in the middle and have a rough plan for certain key workouts, but am leaving some days open to what feels right.
  • Don’t have to go all-in on day one. Build gradually over the course of the training block.
  • Don’t want to start too hard or you’ll get discouraged and struggle to keep up.
  • Should allow for some flexibility. Distance, speed, endurance, they may all take longer to regain than you envisioned. Allow for some leeway when making your plan.

With those rules in mind, I assigned a focus to each week:

Week 1: Consistency — Distance/time take a back seat to getting out and running 5-6 times this week.

Week 2: Elevation — Each run will focus on vertical gain over distance.

Week 3: Distance — It’s not until this week that I really focus on rebuilding mileage.

Week 4: Distance — Continuing to build off last week’s progress.

Week 5: Speed — Reintroducing speed-focused workouts.

Week 6: Well Rounded — Put it all together with a well-rounded training week to transition into focused training.

My 6-Week Base-Building Plan

This may or may not look impressive, but I’ve got nothing to hide. Below I share my actual training plan for the next six weeks.

Note: Info in black are actuals, while numbers in blue are my planned runs. I’ve only schedule runs through the first three weeks so I can check in and adjust as needed. At the end of each week I plan to write another week’s plan, so I’m always two weeks ahead. 

Week 1: Consistency

This week my only objective is consistency, or getting back into the habit of running 5-6 times per week. I set no expectations of distance, time, routes, or elevation gain. If I go for a run, it counts.

As you can see, some of these runs are nothing to brag about, but they’re logged nonetheless.

And with that, I give you my plan:

It’s Time to Rebuild… Let’s do This

Over the next six weeks I’ll update this tracking chart in real time — both so you can see how I’m structuring my comeback and to help hold myself accountable. Each week I’ll check back in to discuss that week’s focus, and share what I’ve learned.

In the same boat as me, ready to finally start training again?

Join me. I’d love the company.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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3 thoughts on “An Honest Look at a Struggling Runner’s Attempt to Build Back His Base

  1. Amen Brother. Leading up to the Superior 100 in 2015, I was focused, and dedicated. 2016 nagging issues cropped up. but I still sorta winged two 50milers and a 100k. Then the roof collapsed and my nagging PF turned out to be a tear. (how long I’ve been running with it torn, hard to say). That was Nov/Dec 2016. some aggressive PT and and regenerative tissue injection (think PRP injection). I attempted the BigHorn 50, but DNF at mile 34. Amazing considering I have basically zero training. But here I am. Unmotivated. Trying to re-catch that “love of running” fever. I’m not an elite, not even a top age-grouper. I just like Nature, Trails, and Running. Its my happy place (except for that past 15ish months). This post of yours rings loudly with me. None of non-injured buddies can relate to how difficult its been to try and get back. I was never one for to structured of a plan, in fact they often backfire and I tend to feel the workouts are a chore. But maybe I can get a simple schedule with run 3-5 times, fit in a couple fitness classes. Good article. thanks for writing. Always enjoy them, especially when drinking out of my RCR stainless tumbler.

  2. Thank you Doug for sharing your struggles and comeback plan. Reading your posts help keep me accountable and focused.

  3. Yes! Awesome post, came right when I needed it. I am currently struggling with getting back after a work/moving/life´s overload break. I´ll restart now with a mixture of the first few months of the NLR course to get back the consistency, proper form and safe training. Looking forward to it!
    Thanks for sharing your struggle and strategy. Hope you have a god running week!
    Cheers from Germany, Verena

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