How to get back into training after a long break

How to get back into training after a long break

How to get back into training after a long break

After London Marathon and my long hiatus, I was trying to start back up from ground level. The biggest issue I had was – I wasn’t in shape for ANYTHING.

I could not even run “just” 3 miles (I put the just in quotes because most endurance athletes would understand what I mean and it is not an insult because running 3 miles is a pretty cool).
Because I could not run the distance, I was excessively hard on myself and frustrated and disappointed.
Because I was disappointed, I would not attempt to run again.
And because I was not running, I couldn’t run the 3 miles.
And because I couldn’t run 3 miles, I was frustrated ….

See how that vicious cycle was going?

With a LOT of patience and a LOT of self slap on my behind and the support of my crazy 5am friends who would come out at 5am to walk more than run because I was dying while attempting to run, I got out of that vicious no-run cycle. It also helped that I had The Red Top Rumble Trail Race looming ahead.

With my “comeback” fresh in my mind, I’m sharing some tips on how to get back into training after a long break that helped me get back into things. 

1. What I can When I can

This is a favorite mantra of mine. So often, we are caught up in our perception of what we “need” to do that we forget what we CAN do. Friends around me were running for hours, but all I had the ability and time was lunch time at work. So if I could run only for 20 minutes, then that was it. If I could run only at lunch or while dinner was simmer, then that was it. Whenever I could find that 20 minutes.

2. Consistency

I made those 20 minutes my priority and it soon became a fixture whether I wanted to or not. It started from 20 minutes of running 3 days/week and went to 20 minutes of anything in the weekday. That running never wavered. Soon 20 minutes became 30 minutes and I was well on my way to running the 3 miles that I could not. The secret sauce – consistency. 

3. Don’t start from where you left off

Once I stopped trying to start from where I’d left off, I was much kinder to myself. I cut some slack and approached it with the same advice I’d give someone starting off. Start from where you are at – even if it is at a pace that you can’t imagine you are running at, or a distance that you thought would. Did I walk during my initial runs? Yes, I did, even as I was running “only” for 20 minutes! 
A lot of people use Heart Rate Training as an effective way to make sure that they are starting from their proper base.

4. Don’t do too much too soon 

Your body needing to adapt to the increased running, and you need to build up strength and endurance. Doing too much too soon will only hinder the process and lead you to disappointment. Like the year I was training for my Mystery Marathon and I kept breaking down every single time I went beyond 11-12 miles. Every single time. I had ramped up too quickly and my body just couldn’t catch up. This time, I had learnt my lesson – I was running for 20-30 minutes for almost 2 months before I moved up. Similarly, I was running for 4-5 miles for another 2 months before I started ramping up my mileage. 

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5. Target a Goal

Having a goal like a race where I have to show up and finish the distance was great motivation for me to keep being consistent at my 20 minute runs and to be careful that I didn’t injure myself or get burnt out. It was also great mental motivation to be able to find the strength to keep going when you don’t feel like it.

Bottom line is, don’t give in to the pity party. Reach out to friends if you need to but JUST DO IT (sensibly). You have to start somewhere sometime.  Remember, your muscles have great memory and you can get back to where you were or as close to it. Be patient and you’ll be looking ahead to many more miles.

Now that I’ve written this, I’ll have to follow my own advice for cycling and swimming! 

What advice can you share on how to get back into training after a long break?

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Joining the The Running Coaches’ Corner with Rachel, Suz, Lora Marie, and Debbie
Tuesdays on the Run link up with Erika, Marcia and Patti 
Wild Workout Wednesday with Wild Workout Wednesday with Annmarie, Michelle, Jen, and Nicole

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  • Funny-I was just thinking about this very same thing this morning while laying in bed! Right now I am on a slight “detour” from my usual running/training! That stupid C-word has me going through chemo right now, but I’m planning my return to running and that’s what keeps me going! However….I know I can’t just jump back in where I left off! Thanks for posting this right when I needed it! PATIENCE!!!!!

  • I’ve had time off for injuries and surgery and pregnancy…bottom line, you have to be patient and take it slow. I always say, there’s no shame in walking, either!

  • Do what you can with what you have is one of my FAVORITE reminders for my clients. Don’t worry about yesterday, don’t worry about tomorrow…worry about right now, where you are and with what fitness level you have TODAY. Great post!

  • Rachel

    These are great tips, and I’m glad you’re kinder to yourself now. It’s really hard starting back at square one — mentally and physically. We have to remind ourselves we’ll be back to where we were in no time! Just gotta be patient.

  • I love this post, Smitha! I don’t love that you’re struggling, but it’s so easy to forget just how hard running is. I think it’s natural to compare ourselves to where we “were” and expect to get right back there quickly when that is so not the case. Slow and steady wins the race! Thanks for linking!

  • Jen Rawson @ Pretty Little Gru

    Great advice, it’s really tough to get back because it’s hard not to compare yourself to where you were before.

  • I’ve always been a fan of focusing on creating habits instead of relying on motivation and I think that’s really helpful when getting back!

    • Exactly!! And habits die hard.
      When I mentioned my 20min thing to a coach, he said that it was exactly what I needed to do to get back.

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