Get Back in Shape and onto the (Re)start Line
After taking a break from running this winter for a variety of reasons, this spring I find myself back at the start line (or rather, the restart line.) It’s a humbling place to be. My body feels sluggish, my lungs seem to be operating at half capacity, and I’m convinced my neighborhood streets have secretly doubled in length since fall.
If you’re anything like me—chipping winter’s ice from your muscles and overturning the house to find your running watch—you’re equally excited and overwhelmed at the idea of getting back into running shape. With a few reminders, though, the journey of returning to running can be positive.
Swallow Your Pride
Take a moment to remember your “in shape” paces for long runs, tempo runs, and speedwork. Now throw them all out the window. Swallow your pride, and ditch your watch if you need to. Don’t beat yourself up for your current pace or distance, and don’t be ashamed to walk on a run. Embrace the lesson of humility that getting back into shape teaches you.
My first run this spring was only 2.5 miles long and about a minute slower than my old long run pace, but I still struggled and felt dejected. I decided to stop looking at my watch during my runs, and instead I’m focusing on running relaxed and smooth. After only a week, I’m already feeling stronger and happier.
Try a New Approach
If you’re wallowing in self-pity over the muscle and speed you’ve lost, consider a new approach to training instead of adopting an old plan. If you normally plan your runs around mileage, instead measure your run in minutes. Try a new route or join a running group to make your return a fresh start instead of comparing yourself to last season.
Take it Slow
When you decide to get back in shape, there’s often a tendency to start back up full throttle with a “no pain, no gain” mindset reminiscent of unending sprints in almost any high school sport. Yet accelerating from a zero-mile week to a 40-mile week is more likely to land you a new set of crutches than a PR.
Concentrate instead on building a base of easy runs, where “easy” is defined by your body rather than your watch. The longer you’ve been off your feet, the longer your base building should last. Increase your mileage slowly and pencil in rest days. When you feel comfortable with your base and your easy runs feel easier, then you can sprinkle in the fun stuff: intervals, tempo runs, fartleks, hill sprints and speedwork.
Introduce Good Habits
With the “extra” time you’ll have due to shorter runs, now is the perfect time to focus on healthy habits before, during, and after your runs.
Before your runs, focus on your nutrition. Learn what food make you feel properly fueled on runs and what sloshes in your stomach.
During your runs, concentrate on good form and cadence. Notice how you land on your feet, how your arms pump, and how your gait changes when you’re running up and down hills.
If you’re itching to do more, then round out your running schedule with cross training by incorporating biking, rowing, or even a long walk on a nice spring weekend into your plan. Tackle one good habit at a time and slowly incorporate them into your running lifestyle.
Set a Goal
Set a goal that will motivate you when slogging through a challenging run. Consider a mileage-based goal: “I want to run a 30-mile week by week 10” or focus your goal on a specific race: “I want to race a 5K by week 16 and a 10K by week 26.” Use your current level of fitness to gauge what an appropriate goal is for you or talk to a running coach to help you design a custom plan.
I found a local 5K that was 12 weeks out from the start of my return to running. My first four weeks will be base-building, and then I’ll transition into an 8-week 5K training plan, continuing to build my mileage and incorporating some shorter speed work. My goal is just to run without worrying about time, and then I’ll set further summer goals based upon that race.
Stay the Course
There’s a silver lining to finding yourself at the “restart” line: your muscles still remember past training and with the right approach, reaching peak fitness won’t take quite as long this time around.
Depending on how long you’ve been out of the game, it may take a few weeks, a few months, or a few years to feel like you’re back in shape. Stay the course, stay consistent, and stay balanced!
If all else fails, remember this advice from running legend and former Minnesotan Kara Goucher, “Don’t try to rush progress. Remember — a step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.”
Are you getting back in shape?
What helps you when you’re at the “restart” line? What are your goals for getting back in shape?