How to Restart Your Training After Taking An Extended Break

TRCS-questions-300Almost every runner who’s been running for longer than a year has faced today’s question. And it’s a tough one.

Question: How do I get back into training after taking an extended amount of time off?

Let’s face it, even the most dedicated of runners need time off.

They either need a mental break after a long training cycle or they need a physical break after an injury. Or, maybe life just gets in the way and keeps us from running for a few months…or years.

No matter what the reason that keeps you from running, it’s a great day when you decide it’s time to come back. The question is, how do I come back after such a long break?

  • Do I have to start from scratch?
  • Can I go ahead and sign up for another race?
  • How do I make sure I don’t get injured when coming back?

These are all great questions that need to be asked. Coming back after a break can be more than a little nerve racking.

The good news is that coming back after an extended break, even if it’s been more than a year, doesn’t mean you’re starting completely over.

Part of endurance running is teaching your body how to run for several miles or hours. You have to train your legs on how to keep moving forward, and your stomach how to process the energy needed to keep you going. You’re also training your mind to handle the mental stress of such a long outing.

And while leg strength and some endurance decreases with time off, your body will continue to remember how to handle those miles. Running 13 miles for the first time after a break will not be like running 13 miles for the first time ever.

Does that mean you can jump right back in?

Absolutely not.

You need to be smart about how you increase mileage and build back strength, but the distance will come back much more quickly after having already taught yourself how to be an endurance runner.

5 Steps to Running Again

1) Get excited and set a goal: It’s not always easy to come back after a long break, so the best way to stay motivated is to pick a goal that gets you excited to start running again. Maybe it’s a marathon or ultra, or maybe it’s just running a 5k with your husband or wife.

Whatever it is, set the goal from the very beginning and keep it in mind after your first few runs when you start questioning your decision to get back into it.

2) Check in with where you are: Start by checking in with yourself and finding that starting point. Go out for an easy 2-4 mile run and see how it feels. Was it tough? Did it really hurt? Was your breathing light and easy?

Ask yourself these questions and notice how your body handled those first miles back in your running shoes. Knowing the answer to these types of questions will help you know how to start going forward.

3) Start increasing mileage: I’m not a follower of the 10% rule for any runner, especially experienced runners coming back after an extended break.

You’ll probably find that it takes a few weeks get comfortable running again, even at shorter distances like 3 miles. But once that base begins to feel comfortable, it’ll be a lot easier for you to jump back into higher mileage. For example, if you’re weekly mileage is somewhere around 15 miles, don’t be afraid to jump straight to 20 or 22 miles.

Yes, I realize that’s more than 3 or 4 times the 10% increase we’ve all been taught. Increasing mileage quickly is just one of the benefits of coming back that you didn’t have when starting for the first time.

4) Take it slow: That said, it’s important to take it slow and not push it. If you don’t think you’re ready to increase mileage or go out for a long run, don’t. There’s nothing wrong with maintaining your current mileage for another week.

So don’t feel rushed to sign up for a 50 miler just a few months after starting to run again. Remember, the goal is to start running again, not to go big and get injured in the process.

5) Get a plan: Once you’ve gotten back on your feet and the running legs are starting to come back, check back in with that original goal, and make a plan that will get you there.

Maybe that involves a coach, or maybe it’s just something you train for with a friend.

However you come up with your plan, stick to it, and your goal will be just around the corner.

Coming back to running after a long break can be like coming home after a big trip. It just feels right.

If you’re looking to come back, best of luck! I’d love to hear about how your process goes.

– Doug