Returning to running after a battle with injury or illness is tough. It may have been weeks, months, years… or perhaps you’ve never started! So, no matter what your level, here are 10 tips on how to begin!
1. Think Big
What are you goals, beyond just putting your running shoes on? What motivates you? How do you picture running influencing your overall health and life? Perhaps you want to run to get into shape – what does that look like to you? Maybe you were inspired by someone who ran the Boston Marathon. That could be you one day! Picture what that looks like – think BIG – inspire yourself. Then, write it down. When you run with a goal in mind, you will be running TO and FOR something. When obstacles inevitably occur, you can think of your BIG goal and be motivated!
2. Start Small
Paradoxically, it’s often best physiologically to start in small steps. Perhaps you used to run 10 miles a day. Or, others make running look so easy. However after a layoff or when just starting out, it’s good to be conservative. Just trust that you will get to where you want to go. You lessen your chance of injury and premature burnout if you start small and build gradually. Running is basically jumping from foot to foot and the body needs to get adjusted to the forces of impact that occur with each step.
In any case, starting small might mean jogging and walking down the block, or running one mile. A 10% increase in total mileage per week is often recommended, but everyone differs in what they can handle. Pay attention to how you feel, how fast you are recovering from the workouts you are doing, and build from there.
3. Get Social
Running with other people can be motivating and hold you accountable. Perhaps the weather isn’t ideal, but the thought of five people asking you, “Hey where were you last night,” can be enough to get most people out the door. When coming back to running or just beginning, most likely most of your runs will be at a pace that most coaches call, “Conversation Pace.” This is an easy pace at which you are able to hold a conversation while running. As part of a running group, these miles can go by faster if you actually have others with whom you can have a conversation. No running groups in your area? Think about starting one of your own, or just recruit some friends to get healthier informally. Some also rely on a personal trainer, wellness coach or social media for similar encouragement and support.
4. Stay Positive
I was running in the pouring rain and thought that there are two ways a runner could look at the situation. One is to think negatively about the rain, and as a result, skip running altogether or feel miserable the entire time. The other is to view it in a positive light: “Just think how much of a bad-a** I’ll feel like when I get done!” Sometimes, non-runners look at me like I’m crazy for running in challenging conditions. I just say, “The Marathon won’t pause for me because it’s raining/cold/hot,” and you can think of all the others who didn’t go the extra mile and get the mental edge that you will have. No matter the situation, think of what good can come from it, and it will keep you moving!
5. Keep going
When obstacles inevitably occur and things get hard, think about your Vision from tip #1. One of the biggest assets any runner can have is consistency. Maybe you feel tired, you’re frustrated that you’re not where you were before or feel you should be progressing faster. Keep going anyway. If you have a 5-mile run planned but it feels overwhelming, tell yourself you’re just going to go run a half mile. At worst, you still got a short run in. At best, you’ll feel so good that you go on to finish your whole workout.
6. Vary Workouts
A key concept in running is to vary the “FIT” of your workouts – Frequency, Intensity, and Time. Try to avoid increasing too many of these variables at once. For example if you start out with 2 or 3 days a week, perhaps next week increase either the number of days you run, or run a similar number of days for more minutes (distance). Intensity increases tend to cause the most stress on the body, especially for new runners.
7. Change Surfaces
One thing many runners do not think about in their workouts is to run on a variety of surfaces. Surely, if you are training for a road race, you’d want a majority of your running to be on roads. However running on concrete can be hard on the body, especially when returning or starting out. A trail can be a softer option. I do most of my recovery runs on trails even just in general training, and this option is also favored by such athletes like Olympic runner Meb Keflezighi.
Other less impactful options include treadmills or a rubberized track. One advantage to these two options is that you can exclude steep inclines with them if you are just getting adjusted to that, or trying to avoid irritating one of the many injuries that can be worsened by hills.
If you are recovering from injury, many physical therapy clinics have a supported treadmill such as the Alter-G, in which runners run on a treadmill supported by a “bubble” that counteracts gravity to variably counter some of the weighted impact to the joints. Elite athletes such as Dathan Ritzenhein have used the anti-gravity treadmill a training tool.
Another option is to run in the deep end of a pool wearing a floatation belt, which utilizes the same muscles as running. Yet, water has up to 12 times the resistance of running through air. I also include this option to more safely handle adding more weekly mileage. A final option is to cross train using a lower impact exercise such as an elliptical or bike.
8. Allow Recovery
Skipping or not planning recovery days is a common mistake amongst newer and experienced runners alike. The more hard-core, the better, right? But recovery days are how the body actually gets stronger from hard workouts. As well, a workout on paper might not look that difficult compared to what you used to do, or you may not even mentally want to admit that it is. But you must realistically go from the level of conditioning you have today. And as you come back or start running, the individual workouts may not feel that hard. However it is often the accumulated stress and fatigue that can build up if proper recovery is not taken. Take days off, or easy days, along with the harder and/or longer days. You’ll get stronger and build endurance faster, and your body will thank you!
9. Watch Nutrition
Nutritional needs change when a person starts running. Increased calories are needed as miles increase. Continuing to eat the same amount can lead to poor performance, lowered recovery and healing, as well as nutritional deficiencies. For some, exercise surpasses appetite. However for others, it can increase hunger. Others mentally over-justify excess calories because they feel they ran hard, so “earned” another slice of pizza or pie. There’s even a term, “Rungry”, which refers to the cravings and resulting excess calories a runner can take in especially after long runs. A general rule of thumb is that runners burn 100 calories per mile on “average”, however this can vary significantly from person to person.
And remember, if you see the scale going up, this doesn’t always equal fat gain. Runners store extra carbohydrate and water in their muscles to power through workouts. Regular body composition checks can tell you more accurately what changes are occurring.
10. Other Changes
One you begin establishing your running routine, what other changes can you make to keep going and optimize your performance? Looking at factors outside of your running, such as getting quality sleep, improving nutritional intake, lowering external stress and adding in strength work can all be beneficial. As a wellness coach, I can combine this with my services and knowledge as a running coach to make the big picture work for you. Feel free to contact me for more information – firstname.lastname@example.org
Run With Life…. -Amie