For some people, running something they do consistently, day after day and year after year. And for some of us… well, we start and stop. We take a break because life intervenes and we get too busy, take a trip, make a move, have a baby – there are lots of reasons you might look back and realize it’s been months since you laced up your trainers.
Injuries also force runners to take a break. Running is hard on the body, and most runners have been sidelined at one time or another by minor problems like shin splints or a pulled hamstring or more serious issues like a knee injury or twisted ankle.
Even as a committed runner and captain of the Kaiser Permanente training team, I’ve had to take breaks. For example, I once twisted my ankle during a warm up run before a cross country race. It was uneven ground, and I wasn’t paying attention. I shook it off and ran the race, but that evening my foot swelled up and I was in pain and had to stay off my foot for several days. Even after that, although it felt OK, I decided not to run for two weeks because I didn’t want to re-injure my ankle.
It was frustrating to take two weeks off, but it was even more frustrating trying to get back into running after taking time away and getting out of shape. As captain of Kaiser Permanente San Francisco’s running team, I have lots of experience with runners recovering from injury.
Here are a few suggestions for how to get back into training safely.
Start Slow and Go Gradual
I was on a cross country team when I injured my ankle. I wanted to complete the season so I started back slow and took very easy runs until I felt stronger. Even though it’s frustrating not to jump right back in, you have to remember that if you re-injure yourself, you’ll just lose even more time and progress. And be careful: After an injury, that area may be a “weak spot” for you, and more susceptible to impact. Or, if you baby one area, you can put extra pressure on other areas, causing an injury someplace else.
Build Strength and Stamina in Other Ways
I’m a big fan of cross-training. I concentrate on my form rather than my speed. It’s also a good idea to vary your routine, so you’re building strength in other ways. Cross training is a good choice, as it uses different muscles. Swimming, biking, Pilates, and weight training are all great alternatives to running while recovering. Participating in other actitivities keeps you from feeling that you’re falling out of shape. It’s important to feel good as you get back to your old mileage.
Don’t Try to Keep Up with a Group
Even if you usually run with a buddy or a group, take a break and train alone for a couple of weeks. Recently, I had issues with sciatica. I never stopped running, but I ran alone, stopping regularly to stretch. I knew I’d get really frustrated if I ran with others and tried to keep up. Also, when you train with others there’s a tendency to push yourself too hard.
Set Yourself a Training Schedule
At the Start:
Don’t worry about speed: run as slow as you need to, and walking part of your route is fine too.
Remember that rest days are as important as running days!
Week 1: run three times a week, 1.5 miles on alternate days
Week 2: run three times a week, alternate days, 2 miles the first day, 1.5 miles the next, 2 miles the third
Week 3: run three times a week, 2.5 miles on alternate days
Week 4: run three times a week, 3 miles on alternate days
For a 5K, you’re almost there! Gradually increase week by week to the final distance.
For a 10K or half marathon, work up to your final distance over a 12-week period.
Closer to an Event
As a race like the Half Marathon, 10K or 5K draws near, I follow this buildup schedule:
• 4 weeks before Half: 8-10 miles
• 3 weeks before Half: 10-12 miles
• 2 weeks before Half: 12-13 miles
• 1 week before Half: Decrease back down to 8-10 miles
• The week leading up to Half: 3- 5 miles (easy running) for three to four days
• The day before Half: light run 2-3 miles or rest