How to Start Running After a Long Break

If you’ve decided that you want to regain your fitness and start running after a long break, I’ve got five tried and tested tips for you which will help you successfully return to running.

Starting to run again after a long break should be done gradually, with a focus on staying injury free and developing the new habit of running regularly. Aim to spend the first 3 months gradually building your weekly mileage.

So many people decide to make a change in their lives, like starting to run regularly, only to fail in making the habit stick for one reason or another. The following tips will help you to avoid the common issues that would-be runners face, so that running can become part of your life once more.

1. Focus on Effort not Pace

During this return to running phase of your new training regime, the main goal is to keep your running effort easy, as you work on building weekly mileage.

This is for two specific reasons:

  • Firstly, your body will not yet be conditioned to the stresses that it experiences when running. Intensity of training is a big factor that increases stress on your body. Thus running at a slower pace will help to reduce undue stress and strain during this important adaptation phase.
  • In addition, the second (and perhaps more pressing) issue is the big mismatch between how fit and fast your brain thinks you are, based on your previous memory of running, versus the reality of what your body can handle with your current level of running fitness.

Maybe consider leaving your running watch at home, or perhaps setting it up so that you can’t see your pace, only time and/or heart rate!

Doing so will allow you not to judge yourself while running.

Instead focus on your breathing and aim to maintain control of your breathing pattern, so that you could talk in uninterrupted sentences.

Trying to run too fast too soon will only place more stress and strain on your body, and make it more likely that you sustain a running injury in the first few weeks of your return to running.

2. Follow a Training Plan

Whether starting to run again after years off, or training for the Olympics, all runners are more likely to achieve their goals by following a plan, rather than winging it!

You’ll be more likely to successfully start running again if you follow a specific return to running plan.

Feel free to download a free copy of my 12 week return to running plan here:

How to start running after a long break

Return to Running Plan
Free Download [PDF]

This return to running plan is structured to gradually increase your training load as your body gets stronger and can manage more running week-by-week.

The main goal is to keep you injury-free as you start running again after a long time.

3. Join a Running Club (Real or Virtual)

We all have days where running motivation is low. That’s completely normal. The challenge lies in doing it anyway and continuing to build the habit!

Lots of runners have discovered the simple truth that despite running being an individual activity, it’s often better enjoyed with others.

Joining a running community, either an in-person running club or online community like Strava, can be a great way for you to benefit from the motivation and energy that others bring to the party!

Of course you don’t have to formally commit to a club or community if you don’t want to go down that route. You may find that simply arranging to share a run with a friend once a week does the trick.

Becoming a parkrun regular could also be a great option!

It’s a lot harder to bail on a run when you’ll be letting somebody down 😉

Bottom line: make it awkward for yourself to take the soft option and stay home instead of running. After all, you wanted to run when you made the plans!

4. Set Yourself Running Goals

Having a short term running goal to focus on can be another great motivator when it comes to returning to running after a long break.

Consider entering a local 5k or 10k run, rather than being tempted to jump straight to signing-up for a half marathon or marathon.

You can always use that first event as a springboard in your training to set a good foundation for half marathon or marathon training.

Be sure however to give yourself enough time to build slowly and train for this longer term goal.

In the immediate term, perhaps set yourself weekly goals which could be less time or distance focused, and more about consistency.

You could say that for the next month you want to run 3 times per week. This would be perfect in this return to running phase of your training.

Running after a break

5. Cross-Train to Prevent Running Injuries

As previously mentioned, the main focus of this return to running phase is to prevent running injuries while re-building your running fitness.

Injury, after all, is the main reason why both new and returning runners give up on their training.

It’s a well known fact that runners who cross-train and make time for strengthening exercises experience fewer running injuries.

You really can’t afford to ignore this aspect of your weekly training schedule.

Build Strength & Prevent Running Injuries
Free Workouts [PDF]

Particularly during this return to running phase, you may be carrying a little more weight than you would ideally like to run with. That’s totally normal.

If you do feel a little overweight, and know that you are injury prone, consider swapping one of your running sessions per week with a non-weight bearing cardio alternative (like swimming or cycling). This is particularly relevant for runners who have suffered with injuries such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis in the past, where bodyweight does unfortunately play a role.

Check out this core strength routine for runners to get some inspiration:

I’m sure that these tips will help you to successfully start running after a long break.

With the correct approach and return to running plan, you can rebuild your fitness very quickly and find yourself running better than ever.

Good luck!

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Last updated on March 2nd, 2021.