Hey, it happens. We spend an entire spring and summer training, running regularly and doing great. We’re in the best shape of our lives! Perhaps we run a 5k or 10k in the early fall. Then, the leaves change. Weather gets cold. Days get shorter.
Suddenly, autumn has passed in a blur of Halloween candy and holiday meals. We’ve put on some weight. Our clothes aren’t fitting well. Our running regimen? Well, that went out the door during our race “recovery break.”
So, you suck it up. You lace up your shoes when January 1st runs around and you hope on your treadmill and…holy crap. Running is suddenly much harder than you remember. You can barely complete a quarter mile before you’re gasping for breath. How do you start running again after a break?
Or maybe it was an injury that sidelined your training? Maybe you were waiting for the first days of spring so you could get outdoors? Perhaps it’s been years since you trained? Maybe you got some news at the doctor that wasn’t great–high blood pressure? High cholesterol? Or perhaps you’d just like to look better naked?
Whatever you reason, if you’re wondering how to start running again after some downtime, here’s some ways you can get back into shape!
1. Start Slow
One of the biggest mistakes newbies make is adopting the “weekend warrior” mentality. Out of the gate they take off and suddenly they’re looking at major knee strain, shin splints, tendonitis and other issues.
The biggest rule when you’re starting to run after a break, is start slow. It can take weeks, even months to get back to your past speed and fitness level. Don’t rush it! You’ll get all the benefits of regular exercise and see results, even if you take it slow. Take plenty of walk breaks. Running should feel challenging, but it shouldn’t feel like torture!
2. Schedule It
If you want to get back to a regular running routine, you need to make time on your calendar. If you’re starting to run in the winter, you may want to schedule your runs later in the day. Many runners love to get going first thing in the morning, but here’s the deal: you’re already setting a goal to exercise more frequently. Adding a goal of “getting up at the crack of dawn” will just create an excuse to skip your exercise. (“I slept through my alarm. Oops.”)
Don’t give yourself the chance to make excuses. Schedule your runs for a realistic time when you know you’ll fit it in. This might mean stopping at a gym near your office right after work or scheduling time in the evenings after kids go to bed. While morning running is awesome, you may need to work up to it. Particularly if days are shorter and sunrise is later.
3. Try an App
If you want to get motivated to start running again, try downloading an app! The 10K Runner App from Fitness22 and the 10K Trainer by C25K from Zen Labs are both great, basic running apps that offer a solid, steady plan to start running. If you’re looking for the best running apps, these two are great to start with.
There are many other fitness and running apps out there. You can use a Fitbit or Apple Watch and the compatible apps to keep you moving. The step counting features, heart rate monitoring and motivational reminders will help spur on your progress. Otherwise, try a social app like MyFitnessPal or Map My Run to help you track and share your fitness goals. There’s also the fun Zombies, Run! App from Six to Start, if you want a running plan with gaming appeal.
4. Find Your Motivation
If you’re looking for motivation to start running again, you’re going to need to figure out your “why.” Why do you want to run? Is it because you want to get healthy? Is it because you want to live longer, spend more time with your family or keep up with your kids? Is it to look good?
Pinpoint your strongest reason and find an image or phrase that captures your “why.” It could be an image of you in your best shape, wearing a swimsuit. It could be a picture of you in your worst shape, when you felt embarrassed. Different motivations work for different people. You may even want to find a loftier cause for keeping up your fitness goals. Charity Miles is an app that helps you set goals to raise money for your favorite charities. Some insurance companies like Humana, also allow users to earn points with each workout, which can be converted to charitable donations.
5. Rest to Prevent Burnout
Just like starting slow, you’re going to want to incorporate plenty of rest time into your routine when you start running again. It’s tempting to set a goal of streaking right out of the gate or to hit the gym 5 days a week.
When you’re building new muscle, you need recovery time. Muscles are built by creating tiny tears from stress. As these tears repair themselves you gain additional muscle. If you don’t rest, the repair doesn’t happen. This may lead to injuries, soreness and cause you to burnout before you even get started. Take breaks and rest days. Walk, do yoga or simple stretches, if you want to keep moving.
6. Lower Your Expectations
It sounds kind of depressing, right? Lowering your expectations? But here’s the deal–if you think you’re going to be able to train for a month or two after a long break, and then run a 10K, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. Will you ever get to the place you used to be? Yes! It’s definitely possible in most cases, to make a full comeback after a break. BUT it’s not going to happen overnight.
If you were a trackstar in college and are now in your 40s, chances are, you won’t hit the PR you had back then. You could still take home a medal in your age group. You could still train for a marathon, eventually. Don’t expect it to happen quickly or look the same. Your body changes with time. Yes, we get slower, we experience injuries and we might have different scheduling and lifestyle obligations. You can still be a great runner. Be a runner for your life, today, not to beat what you once were.
7. Set a Goal
Set a goal to work toward. This might be signing up for a race, aiming for a distance or time, or aiming for a particular running pattern (like 4 days per week for a month). Setting goals gives you a solid place to aim. It’s satisfying when you get there, and it will keep you motivated as you start running again.
If you want to sign up for a race, check out Running in the USA to find plenty of races in your city and state. You can check out opportunities by distance, area or type of run. Look at local charities you support as well. Many charities offer runs or run/walks as fundraisers. You can also sign up to run a race for a cause, collect sponsorships and donate the money when you finish your goal.
8. Get Accountable
If you want to start running again, you need accountability. While it’s important to hold yourself accountable, sometimes we all need a little outside help too. Ask a trusted friend–your spouse, bestie or partner–to give you a little push. This might mean asking them to check in once a week to see how you’re doing with your goals.
Apps and personal training programs like Zova, can give you a coach to help you set and reach your fitness goals. You may also want to consider enlisting the help of a real-life personal trainer or coach. Yes, it may be a little pricey (but how much is a wasted gym membership costing you?), but the accountability can push you to hit your goals in record time.
If you’re ready to get serious about running again, there’s no time like the present to start. It’s not a question of how to start running again, but in the words of Nike, it’s a matter of “just do it.” Put on your shoes and sweats, and give it a go. You’ll be back in no time!