Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Motivation to Start Running After Time Off

Coming back to running after time off is hard. Your endurance is sapped, your speed is lacking and your runs can just be plain frustrating.

A coworker asked me to share my tips for getting back into running after some time off. She used to run, but now affectionately refers to herself as a "frustrated, ancient runner."

The longest I've been away from running was the three months I was in physical therapy for my knee and IT band problems. Coming back after that was hard.

It was discouraging to think I had to start from scratch, and that just a few months ago, I could run five miles easily. After my time off, I could barely run two without stopping.

After battling frustrating run after frustrating run, eventually I was able to build my endurance back to where it had been and my speed quickly followed.

Whether you've taken a few months off because of an injury or whether you've taken a few years off because life got in the way, you can jump back into running fairly easily. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Don't worry about speed, just lace up your shoes and go. You might feel like you're slower than ever before, but just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You have to start somewhere. Letting the fear of being slow prevent you from even trying isn't getting you anywhere closer to your goal.

2. Set mini-distance goals. Start with the goal of running a mile. Go slow, take walk breaks if you need. Once you can handle a mile, start building on top of that. Work up to 1.5, and then two and then three. Don't rush to get to those mileage goals or else you could end up with an injury, just take them one at a time using them to motivate you to keep working hard.

3. Don't compare your new running self to your former running self. Sure, three years ago maybe you could whip out 7-minute miles without a problem, and now you struggle to maintain 10-minute miles. If you keep saying things like "Back then I could..." you will only end up frustrated and more likely to give up running again. Give yourself a fresh slate and try not to look back. Celebrate your new achievements instead.

4. Register for a race a few months down the road. This was a huge motivating factor for me when I came out of physical therapy. Some coworkers convinced me to sign up for a five-miler with them. At the time that distance seemed impossible, but I kept chipping away at it and had a great race. Pick a race three or four months down the road. That will give you enough time to get comfortable with running again, but will be a tight enough deadline that you will be motivated to start running and not push it off. There are tons of 5Ks and 10Ks in the spring that you could set your sights on.

Your runs might be challenging in the beginning, but at the end, you will feel great and will have so much extra energy that you'll want to keep coming back to running.

What are your best tips for runners trying to get back into the game?

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