As a runner, you're probably close to being an expert in preparing. You know what clothing to wear for all types of weather and how to avoid and treat chafing. You've got your refuel routine down to near perfection and, learn how to power through the most challenging parts of running. But few things can prepare you for life itself.
Whether it's an addition to the family, a medical issue, an injury, or a struggle with chronic illness, sometimes we lose track of when we last run. Weeks, months, and maybe even years may pass between our last run. Sometimes we can even lose interest in running. When this happens, one of the biggest questions we might ask ourselves is: how to get back into the running habit?
It may seem impossible, but remember, you did it before and can do it again! Before we get into it, we want to let you know: if you had to stop due to an injury, make sure you are pain-free and given the go-ahead by your doctor to do so!
Train Strength First
Before you dash out the door, consider picking up a running-focused strength training program for at least two or three weeks before deciding to head out on your first run after a break. A great routine will fit your needs, just try and make sure that it has elements of stretching and resting along with the strength training. Stay consistent with the strength training, and remember that this is the time to recondition muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissues in your legs.
Ease Into It
Do you remember how you started running? Chances are, you didn't just slap a pair of shoes on, run outside, and go for five miles. It will be easier for you to begin with small goals. The old saying, ""slow and steady wins the race,"" might be cliched, but it is true.
When you decide to get back into it, your pace for the first time and perhaps the first few weeks should let you pass the 'Talk Test.' The talk test means the speed you set should allow you to have and carry on a conversation when running without pausing for breath.
Don't push yourself straight away to go the exact distances you used to. Try instead to do two or three short, easy runs per week. You can also pick up and follow one of several very easy couch to 5K training plans available for free all over the web. These training plans are designed for beginners and those who want to return to running after a long break.
Don't tell yourself the run is the reward. Trying to muscle through the first few months of getting back to running with that mindset might set you up to fail again. Research suggests that motivation to do something alone is not always enough to keep a habit.
Pair small, easy and immediate rewards to any of your running tasks. As humans, we like to repeat the behaviors and things we enjoy. So pairing something you like doing as an immediate reward can carry you through the days when motivation lags.
A brief but not exhaustive list of rewards to consider:
• Run a hot bath with your favorite Epsom salts or bath bomb. Go with the candles, relaxing music, and Netflix on a tablet.
• Visit a museum, exhibition, or gallery
• Start that new book you've set aside.
• Sleep in
• Order takeout instead of cooking
• Play your favorite game
• Visit your favorite park or outdoor space.
• Buy a fancy coffee/tea from your favorite shop
It's probably a habit to reach for your old pair of running shoes—but you might have forgotten how worn down and unsupportive they no longer are. The best option is to start with a brand-new pair. Your old, well-loved, well-worn shoes with less support can increase impact forces on your muscles, tendons, and joints. Wearing your old pair could double the risk of injury or re-injury. Get yourself a fresh pair of kicks to get back on track.
First Run After a Break: Don't overthink!
You might be the type that, if you give yourself too much time to overthink something, you'll probably find more reasons not to do it. Toss on your comfiest running clothes, socks and favorite shoes, lace them up, grab your phone for music if you need it, and go.
There's evidence that dressing well can positively affect how we perceive ourselves and boost our mood. For example, just getting out of bed and changing into something nice can make a difference. If we apply this to getting back into running, it may also help motivate you to get back into it. Take some time to shop for athletic clothing you think you'll love wearing, try styles you usually wouldn't try, and put them on.
If you feel motivated to hit your favorite trail, do so! Remember to go at the pace suitable for you. There's no shame in walking, speed walking, leisurely jogging, or a mix of all of these.
Your first run back shouldn't focus on pace, how far you go, or how fast or slow. The only thing you should focus on is that you started and ended and that you'll no doubt want to try again. That you did it is all that matters for the first step.
Remember that you're only human. No matter how long it's been since you've run, you deserve to give yourself a break. Everyone falls out of habits, life, injuries, and illness. It's not you—you're not weak or somehow lesser for having to stop for whatever reason. You manage so much in your life and are doing the best you can! You're not superhuman, and perfection is impossible. That doesn't mean you failed!
Whether it's been a few weeks or months, you're not a non-runner. You still have a higher baseline of fitness now than when you first began, which means you won't have as difficult a time as you did when you first started.
We hope we've encouraged you to get back into running. We know life can get crazy, and there are many hurdles—but we know you can do it!