It’s about to be a new year, and that usually means it’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. If your resolution is to start running again, then I’m here to help with some tips for how to get back into running this year.
Don’t worry. I’ve been where you’ve been.
When I was 30, I was in the best shape of my life and I had just run my first half marathon. Five years later, I was 40 pounds overweight and I could barely run a mile. But in 2020, I got back into running.
Life happens. There’s no shame in finding yourself out of shape.
Maybe it was an injury that sidelined you. Maybe it was a loss of motivation. Or maybe life got crazy and got in the way.
Regardless, let me share what I learned this year about how to get back into running. Hopefully, like me, you’ll find yourself in a very different place at the end of the year.
Why It Seems So Hard to Get Back into Running
The great thing about running is that you get instant feedback about how it’s going. Your body tells you in so many ways – your heart beat, your breathing, etc.
Over time, you’ll feel these things change as you get in better shape and your body handles running better. It gets easier, and there’s no question that you’re getting better.
But the hard part about getting back into running is that you get that same instant feedback. And when you’re first starting out, that feedback is bad.
It just hurts so bad, and there’s only one way to make it better. Keep running.
Hit the Reset Button: Forget What You Used to Be Able to Do
It’s extra frustrating to try to get back into running because you know that you can do it. You’ve done it before. So why can’t your body just do it again?
Well, that leads us to the first tip for how to get back into running this year. Start by hitting the reset button.
It doesn’t matter if you used to run marathons and put in 50 to 60 miles per week. It doesn’t matter if you were a high school or college cross country star. Forget about your old PRs and you’re old training paces.
Go out for an easy run without a goal. See how far you get. See how fast you go.
This is now your new benchmark.
Let’s say you used to run 3 to 4 miles, 6 days a week, and that your easy pace was about 8:30/mi.
If you step out the door and expect to run 4 miles in 34-35 minutes, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not going to happen. You probably won’t make it four full miles. If you do, it’ll be much slower.
Instead, let’s say you go for an easy jog. You finish a mile and it takes you ten minutes. If you compare that to what you used to be able to do, you’ll be depressed and demotivated. You may feel like this whole endeavor is pointless. There’s no way you can get back to where you were!
But you can, and you will if you stick with it. So let that one, ten-minute mile be your new benchmark. Make sure that the next time – and the next week – builds off of this starting point. You’ve got nowhere to go but up.
Start Slowly, But Know That You’re Not Starting from Scratch
It’ll take a few weeks for things to start feeling better. Don’t rush them.
But take solace in the fact that you’re not starting from scratch. If you’ve ever run before – or if you generally have an athletic background – you’re in a much better place than someone who is trying to get into running for the first time.
Listen to people who are doing a Couch to 5k for the first time, and they’ll tell you how it took them two months just to finish a 5k. And that first 5k took them 35 or 40 minutes. Their progress is painfully slow.
But if you’ve been a runner in the past, your body will bounce back quickly. How quickly will depend on a few things – like how much you ran in the past and how long your break was. It won’t take forever, though.
When you run, your body adapts in a lot of different ways. When you stop running, you’ll start to lose the fitness that you gained from all of these adaptations. But they don’t go away completely. It’s more like they go dormant – and they’re just waiting for you to start things up again.
You’ll be rusty at first for sure, but if you keep with it through that first month or two you’ll start to feel like your old self. You don’t need to go back to the beginning and use a program like Couch to 5k to start over.
Forget About Pace and Rebuild Your Base
In those first few months, the most important thing you can do is to develop your base and increase your volume.
Over time, your body strengthens itself to protect against the constant stress of running. Quality running – like intervals or tempo runs – put additional stress on the body. And if you haven’t prepared yourself, you’re liable to get injured.
One way to make sure you don’t get back into running is to get injured. That will halt any progress you’ve made and force you to restart the process again some other time.
The problem is that your cardiovascular system could start to tune up quickly, in a matter of weeks. You’ll start to feel better on your runs and think you can start running like you used to. But your bones, ligaments, and tendons need a bit more time to become re-acquainted to the stress of running.
According to Yale Medicine, 50% of runners – or maybe more – get injured every year. And this is usually from pushing too hard.
Decide how much you plan to run per week – whether that’s 20 mpw or 50 mpw. Take your time to increase to that level, and incorporate a down week here and there if you start to feel fatigued.
Once you reach that goal, hold it steady for a few weeks. Then, once you’ve started to re-establish your base, you can really get back into running.
Write Down Your Plan and Stick To It
To help make sure that you don’t do too much, too fast, you should write out a plan and stick to it.
Make sure you plan something for every day – easy running, cross training, or rest. Once you’ve written down that Monday is a rest day, you won’t feel guilty about not running. Instead, remember that the day of rest and recovery is important for you getting back into shape.
Write down your goal mileage, and plan things out several weeks in advance. Ideally, you should plan out your entire base building plan. You should know how many weeks it will take you to get back to your goal, and how much you plan to increase each week. This will help stave off the temptation to increase things willy nilly – and potentially lead to an injury.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got the rest of your life to run, and you’re going to enjoy it more if you take things slow long enough to let your body adapt.
Focus on Re-establishing Your Running Habit
Finally, know that the most important thing you can do is stick to the plan.
Once you’ve written it down, commit to making it happen for the next 30 days.
At the end of that first month, you’ll have established a routine and running will begin to feel like an integral part of your life again. But during that first month, you need to be extra careful not to stray from the plan and get off track.
Here are a few tips to help you make running a habit.
How Do You Plan to Get Back Into Running This Year?
What’s your goal this year?
Do you want to run every day? Finish your first marathon? Set a new PR?
Leave a comment below and share it. Once you write it down, you’ll feel more committed to make it happen.
And then use some of these tips to get back into running. You’ll be there in no time.