How To Start Running Again After Long-Term Injury Or Illness

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There are times in a runner’s life when running takes a backseat. These can be brutal times for us. It isn’t just that we can’t exercise; it’s that our entire identity is compromised. Our endurance is gone. We aren’t as fit as we used to be.

Then there is the fear. Fear of re-injury, the fear we aren’t good enough to get back to where we were — fear of failure. If you are struggling to rejoin your sport and take back your runner self, I hope this article will help you work through the worst part – the beginning.

Understand it won’t be easy –

The first thing to get into your head when you come back to running after a long break: it will not be easy. It will suck. Your muscles will rebel, your lungs will burn.

Don’t even think about that runner’s high of the past; you will not experience that again right away.

That said, it will feel so good once your run/walk/stumble is complete. Never think of how hard it’s going to be. Think about how you will feel after your workout instead.

Start Slow –

I can’t emphasize this enough. It’s okay to be slow. It’s perfectly rational to start with one mile. Think about when you first started running – was your first experience running four miles? Probably not. Start slow.

I understand the desire to be as strong as you once were. I know it’s hard. We must remember that we can regain that endurance, but it’s a process, and it’s impossible to skip any steps. Step one is to start slow with low mileage.

The way to get where you were is through calm and respectable weekly increases to the time on your feet.

Have a Plan –

Following a plan can be helpful when you are getting back into running. Each time I return to running after an injury or setback, I turn to the trusty 5k training plan. Depending on your illness or injury you may need to start ever slower than this, but do make a plan.

Start by scheduling some walks or easy hikes on your calendar. If you feel good while you are walking, add some slow jogging.

Having time blocked in your day can help you stick with a routine. The only way to get back to where you were is to get out there and move consistently.

Exercise in time blocks, not miles –

One of the most depressing things you can do when returning to running is to fail at your plan. If you have a 3-mile run scheduled and you can’t make it through a mile, you will be discouraged and more apt to quit. I recommend exercising in small time blocks instead of miles, at first.

If you set a 20-minute walk on your schedule, you will be more eager to get outside, and you may surprise yourself by walking or walk/running more than the scheduled time. You will feel accomplished and encouraged instead of disappointed in yourself.

Walk Breaks –

I’ve mentioned this a few times, but it bears repeating. Take walk breaks. Take them often. If you aren’t allowing your body enough time to adapt to running again, you will not stick with it.

You used to love running, don’t frustrate yourself by forcing your body to do something it hasn’t done in a while. I promise you will feel that love again, but you should walk before you run.

Also, by taking frequent walk breaks, you will be able to cover a further distance than if you pushed yourself only to run. Your body will not tire out as quickly.

Embrace the Slowness –

Take time to notice your surroundings. Leave the headphones at home and enjoy the sounds of the world around you.

By going slow, you will notice the beauty around you, and you will be able to feel your body adapting to the change.

It doesn’t matter that you can’t run non-stop for six miles like you used to. What matters is that you are moving. You are using that beautiful body of yours. Your muscles, your bones, your tendons, your organs – they are all working together as they should.

Listen to your body –

If your injury starts hurting again, or if your body is overly fatigued, stop your activity and rest. Don’t push yourself too much too fast or you could re-injure yourself, relapse, or make yourself sick.

Listen to what your body is saying, but please don’t make weak excuses and head back to the couch. Walking will rarely harm you. It can invigorate and encourage healing. If you aren’t ready to run, then walk.

There is no shame in walking. Let me repeat that – THERE IS NO SHAME IN WALKING.

Seek Motivation –

Often, we need some motivation to get out there. You can get motivation in many ways. Some are: listen to a running podcast, pick up a book about running, read running-related blogs or articles (like this one!), join a walking club, or meet up with your running friends.

Do what you can to put yourself back in the running mindset. Even if you can’t hang with the mileage or speed of your running friends, I guarantee they will walk or walk/run with you at your pace.

Don’t neglect recovery –

Recovery is always essential, but especially so when you are trying to get back into your groove. Make sure you have a solid cool down and stretching routine at the end of your workout.

Your body is working hard to get back to its past endurance. Do it a solid by letting it rest. Take Epsom salt baths, take frequent rest days, and foam roll often.

Find positivity through yoga or meditation –

Last but not least, get yourself in a positive place. You will likely feel discouraged with your lack of endurance. Meditation can help you find peace with your current self and can encourage positive healing thoughts.

Through a yoga practice, you can work with your body to improve your sense of well-being while building a strong core, lean muscles, and robust bone structure.

I hope this article was able to help some runners who are struggling to start running again. I know it’s tough; I’ve been there a few times myself. The important thing is to keep trying, start slow, and be kind to yourself.

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About Author

Liz Ward

Liz Ward is a running fanatic, avid reader, and amateur farmer. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband, three kids, and a small herd of animals.

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