Returning to Running
by Luke Humphrey, Nov. 14, 2009
Returning to Running
This column is dedicated to those who joined the Hanson’s Coaching Facebook fan group, as this was the most requested subject. Many people have emailed me, written on the group’s “Wall” and made in person requests regarding tips for returning to running after a layoff. I will discuss the factors involved in returning to running and my personal guidelines to returning to training. With many of you trying to get back into the swing of things from fall marathons, this is probably good timing…
First, you have to consider the factors involved with your recent layoff. There are three usual suspects. These include injury, illness, or planned downtime. This is important to consider because what the cause is will dictate what you can or could have done during your down time to help you upon returning to running. If you were injured then you must consider whether you just rested or did you actually treat the cause of the injury. Injury will also often dictate what you can do during your non-running time (cross training). Illness often means a shorter down period, but an increased probability of being able to do nothing. On the other hand, it usually means a quicker return to full training and there is usually no underlying cause that needs to be treated. Planned down time is the best situation and we should all plan some into our yearly plans. It’s a controlled situation where you can recover from hard training and racing, but can also include anything from cross training to light jogging during the down training time.
Once you have considered everything surrounding your situation, you can begin the return. The best place to start is to get out and get a run in. How far you go depends on the factors above, especially the length of the layoff. If you took less than a week off, then you can get away with running close to your normal daily mileage. What you really need to be careful of is the pace of your runs. I won’t lie to you, it will probably feel like you’ve taken years off. However, after a couple runs, things will start feeling back to normal. Form will come back, muscles will begin to relax, and running will feel natural again. The key is to take those first runs very easy. Don’t worry about the pace. In fact, sometimes I’ll just run for 30, 45, or 60 minutes and then figure out how far I ran. If I’m training with the group, I’ll purposely run with the guys who run slower than me, just so I’ll force myself to take it easy. If you miss less than 7 days, a good rule is to counter with the same number of days, easy. The longer you miss, the slower your comeback will be, and I think most people will admit to that being common knowledge. After 7-10 days of inactivity, you start losing serious percentage points of fitness variables.
With any return, you really have to listen to your body, but in the case of returning from injury, don’t dwell on it. When I say that, I am particularly referring to stress fractures. In college, I missed a couple of months due to a broken femur. When I started running again, I was always really scared that it was just going to snap one day. It is very common to feel phantom pains with stress fractures. I’m not saying to ignore the signs, but you will know if it felt like when you had the original injury, or not. Also, you will not hear me tell you to add 2 miles a week until you are back to your original training level. Now, if you were running 100 miles a week and missed 2 weeks, then I would suggest running two weeks at 75 then 100 miles and call it good. I would however tell you to run as tolerated the first week. Run 60-70 the second week, 80-90 the next week, and then get back to it. It shouldn’t take 6 months to return to training, unless you were bed ridden for months. The body responds relatively quickly to proper training stimulus. Finally, a point I want to make regarding your return to racing. A couple of times, my athletes have had a setback for one reason, or another. We ended up scrapping the current training segment in favor of a later one. When returning, the athletes had given me set dates when they wanted to race. Some seemed feasible, but others seemed to be rushing the issue. What happened was we would say, “Well, if you can at this point by that time, then we’ll give it a go.” Well, as you may have guessed, we started forcing the training and the runner either ended up re-injured or overtrained, but in either case, not ready when the time came. The point is, to let your return dictate when you should plan a race. Don’t let a particular date dictate your return to training.
Hopefully, when you return from a setback, you can make a relatively quick return to previous training. As always, think your decisions through, look at the big training picture, and listen to your body! See you on the roads.