Tips for Returning to Running (or Racing) After Time Off

We’ve all had to take a break from running; maybe due to injury or travel or a major life change. Once you’re ready to get back into your routine, you might have questions about where to start. The answer will likely depend on a few things – such as the length of your break, your injury history, and whether you cross-trained at all. 

As a very (very!) general rule of thumb, most runners find that if they take a week to 10 days off of running, they can usually pick up their routine where they left off. If the break is 2-3 weeks long, it’s best to start at 75% of the previous mileage. With a break of 1-2 months, a 50% reduction in mileage might make sense and a break of 2-4 months will likely require an even further reduction in training mileage. And what if it’s been half a year or more since you last ran? Probably best to start from scratch (i.e. maybe starting with walk-run intervals).

When resuming a training routine, keep every run super easy at first. Once you’ve been feeling good for a few weeks, you can start progressively adding more intensity. Start with strides then progress to fartlek or fast finish runs. Formal workouts like track sessions and tempo runs should be the very last piece of the training puzzle. 

If you cross-trained during your break, your cardiovascular system may be in great shape, but remember; it still takes a while to get your muscles, tendons, and bones back to where you were. To recondition your running muscles, increase the frequency of your runs first, and then work on longevity. For example, 4 x 30 minute runs are better than 2 x 60 minute runs in a week.

If your break was due to life stress (or alternatively overtraining), try setting a schedule to make sure you don’t do too much, too soon. Schedule your runs like work obligations and do your best to make them a priority. Another thing that can help keep you on track is to add an event to your calendar. Consider signing up for a race, especially if break was due to a crazy schedule and not injury. Even if you don’t consider yourself competitive, a race can be a great way to stay motivated.

As you build back your mileage, it’s key to pay attention to the little things. In addition to your runs, consider tracking your sleep and strength training workouts. Keep on top of your hydration and nutritional needs, especially your electrolyte intake. If anything starts to slip through the cracks, don’t hesitate to call in a professional (e.g. physical therapist, running coach) for guidance. 

Finally, if your break was a long one, it might be a good idea to reset your Garmin data and maybe even your PRs. It’s easy to feel discouraged when your current fitness is miles away from what you’re used to, but there’s something nice about a “post baby” PR or a “post stress fracture” PR. A blank slate can help you measure progress and focus on where you’re at now (and not where you were in the past).

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