You have your handy little training plan all worked out in a spreadsheet. You have copies on your fridge and your computer. But….what happens if you get sick or injured, or the boss just handed you a huge project at work? We all know that nothing ever goes 100% according to plan and you WILL miss the occasional workout. Even under the best of circumstances.
You took a break from running, now what?
How you come back from a running (or really any exercise) break depends largely on why you took the break to begin with and how long of a break you were forced to take. Let’s look at a few difference scenarios.
Only a week off? No worries!
- First off, don’t try and squeeze in any of your missed workouts. This is a sure-fire way to wind up injured from overtraining. Chance are, you can probably start back in to your training schedule relatively unscathed. Often, a short break will improve your training if you’ve been feeling rundown. Just pretend that the missing days didn’t happen.
- If you were sick, make sure you are healthy enough to resume training so you don’t suffer a relapse. Sick above the neck (sniffles, sore throat, headache, etc) – you can probably keep training. Sick below the neck (chest congestion, vomiting, diarrhea, or if you have a fever) – wait until your symptoms are gone and your energy level is back to normal.
- You might feel a little “off” on that first run or workout back, but you should be back to normal in a day or two.
One to Two Weeks Off? Minor adjustments
- If you’ve been off for more than a week, make sure you have the clearance to resume training – this is especially true if you took a break because of an injury.
- Most of my research suggests starting back at about half of your pre-break distance and take 2 to 4 weeks to build back up to your previous level. Yes, this might mean you need to adjust your race goals if that’s why you are training. If you are early in your training plan and have a good base, you might still be on track.
- Hopefully, if you were sidelined by a running injury, you’ve still kept up some cross training/cardio (like biking or swimming) and your endurance will bounce back pretty quickly.
Significant Injury? Pregnancy? You’ve missed more than a couple weeks?
- In this case, you MUST be given clearance to resume your training. I didn’t run when pregnant or for many years after my kids were born, so I have no experience in this respect. Returning after an injury? Sadly, I’m a pro at this one.
- Start back with a walk/run program such as Couch to 5k. Don’t forget about the 10% rule either – increase your long run mileage by no more than 10% each week, less if you still aren’t feeling it.
- Don’t expect to run as easily or as quickly as you had been before you took the break. I was TERRIBLE about this after my injury, but I ended up much faster than I was before I was injured. Train smartly.
- If you are under the care of a physician or PT, make sure you keep up with your exercises. The goal is to not re-injure yourself. This may also mean not running on back-to-back days until you have returned to your pre-break level.
- If you are coming back from pregnancy, check out this article from Runner’s World. Lot’s of great information about what you can do in the weeks and months after you’ve completed that special type of marathon :)
I think the main thing to remember when coming back is to not get discouraged. Muscle memory is an amazing thing – it really is. You’ll find (if you are training smart and not doing the things that got you injured or sick in the first place) that you will be able to build your miles back up much faster than when you first started running, especially if you have been a runner for awhile and you were able to keep up your fitness level. If you have to take an extended break, ask what you can do to keep up your level so you don’t also have to deal with 10-15 extra pounds. Been there and it isn’t fun. Stay active, eat right, and when given the ok…train smart so you can run for a lifetime.
Have you ever had to take an extended break from training? How did you cope?