Running After An Extended Break

I tend to separate my running life from my life-coaching-life but this is a case where I will make an exception. My running really took a hit starting about mid November. There was a cold that lasted two weeks and the flu just three weeks after that which has caused me to lose a lot of fitness. It is like starting all over again for me.

Getting back into running after an extended break due to injury, illness, or in some cases, just life, can be both challenging and discouraging. The average runner can become 100% detrained in about twelve weeks. So you can see it just does not take long until you find yourself at square one and starting over.

It seems to me that it takes about two weeks of running to make up for one week lost to get back to the previous level of fitness before the break began. For example, if I caught a cold and that kept me from running for two weeks solid, I could expect it to take four weeks after starting again to be back to where I left off.

For those who are coming back from an extended break from running, or just getting started, here are some rules and guidelines to consider when starting running again.

  1. If you had to stop running because of an injury make sure that you are healed and ready to run again. If you can not walk without pain or the without aggravating the injury keep taking time off. When you can walk without pain then try to run.
  2. Walking is good if you are injured and can walk pain free but can not run pain free. A few years ago I was injured in a marathon in mid March and could not run more than three miles at a time without my knee completely giving me fits. However, I could walk pain free, so that is what I did, every day. Instead of running the miles for my workouts, I walked and after seven weeks when I could run again I felt pretty good and estimated that through those seven weeks of just walking that I was able to keep at least 80% of my fitness.
  3. Be realistic. If you dropped a sub 40 10K last summer but have taken a few months off since, don’t expect to automatically be able to do duplicate that effort, speed, and pace from the get go. Set realistic goals for your self.
  4. Be patient. This goes along with being realistic. Don’t beat yourself up for being slower or if you are not able to run as far as you previously were. It takes time to build a base.
  5. Be kind to yourself. This follows up and includes both being realistic and being patient. Again, don’t beat yourself up but rather be glad that you can run and for wherever you may fall on the fitness scale.
  6. Do not try to do too much too soon. Don’t try to log a heaping ton of miles your first week back after an extended break. That is just inviting an overuse injury. The same goes for intensity. Start off slow and warm up slowly and allow yourself to time to cool off too. This will also prevent burnout and the need for taking more time off.
  7. Focus on staying within your aerobic zone when first starting over. Dr. Phil Mafetone wrote the book, literally, on heart rate based training and how to use it to stay healthy. When starting over it is best to stay in zone two to rebuild the aerobic engine and base fitness. “Nobody ever gets injured in their aerobic zone.”
  8. Observe the rest day and keep it holy. You only become stronger after stressing the body and allowing it to adapt to that stress and that only happens when you are resting. Make sure you get lots of sleep.
  9. Be aware of any over training symptoms and adjust accordingly. Look out for maybe a depressed mood, inability to sleep, elevated resting heart rate and loss of appetite. If you feel like you were making progress and all of the sudden feel as if you are going in the opposite direction, take an unplanned day or two off to unload the accumulated fatigue. If you keep running the only thing you will end up doing is running yourself into the ground.
  10. Even though we might like to think we could, 99.9% of runners are not paid to run. It’s not our job which puts food on the table. Keep this in perspective if you become frustrated. This is what you do for fun and enjoyment, don’t forget that. If the fun goes out of running it is a sign that something is amiss. Pay attention to that.
  11. Running can be a cruel sport in the sense that what we love, running, usually causes our injuries and the only way to get over those injuries is to refrain from doing what we love. But running should be about health and wellness and not just about medals and PR’s. Don’t forget; never go to the start line injured. Being tired is okay, and maybe being a little under trained is okay, but starting a race injured is just asking for problems which could result in more time off.
  12. Assuming there are no injuries or other outstanding issues, consistency is key. Stick to your training plan and stick to your rest days. Don’t try to get creative switching runs and days around if you don’t understand the impact it could have. Just try to have one good training day at a time, one good training week at a time and after you string a few good weeks together, that’s when you are doing something.

After more then twenty years of running these are the 12 things that I always consider after a break or even during a breakdown in training. When working with athletes I can usually narrow a problem down to one of the items above unless there are other issues such as nutrition, hydration, or just a lot of life stress. Follow these guidelines and you should have a fun and healthy experience in running and training be it for a 5K, a Marathon, or any other distances.

Andy Wooten M.A. Counseling – Life Coach – Aspen, Colorado

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