Sometimes starting over is the best option. This is true in life and in running. When I was a kid, my dad would often tell me, “tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.” While certain days (New Year’s Day, your birthday or the first day of school or a new job) provide a natural starting, or starting over, point, it’s worth considering that with each sunrise we have an opportunity for a redo.
I was speaking with someone recently who had once been able to run half marathons. Then after some health issues, she was having trouble getting back out there. She told me that at first, she went out and just ran a mile, then a few days later upped it to three miles. She has been trying to recover ever since. Overwhelmed with fatigue, she can’t imagine even running a mile right now.
“Don’t start from where you left off; start as if you were a beginner,” I told her. I shared my 5k beginner program that instructs athletes to just walk briskly for 20 minutes, three times a week for two weeks before beginning the run/walk progression. The first run/walk week is simply a minute of running followed by minute and a half of walking repeated eight times. The second week keeps the running segments at a minute, but reduces the walking breaks by 30 seconds. It’s hard for seasoned runners who are coming back after a long layoff to start off that slowly, but it’s a great way to come back.
Now there have been lots of times when I’ve had to take breaks because of a brief illness or injury. For those instances the comeback was more aggressive because only a minimal amount of fitness is lost over the course of a few weeks. The layoffs we’re discussing now are the long layoffs – months rather than weeks.
In 2011 I was plagued with a lot of back pain (gardening injury, not from running!). I stopped running because I was so uncomfortable. After a few doctors’ opinions, the issue was uncovered and treatment plan outlined with a focus on physical therapy. After my PT got me going on a consistent regimen of core strengthening exercises to help prevent a relapse, I was ready to get running again. But I hadn’t been running for nine months!
Getting back to running required a lot of patience. And this is where too many of us fail. We expect to be the runners we were before our layoffs. That’s just impossible. That’s not to say we can’t be strong again – maybe even better than we were before – but we need to give it time and not set our expectations too high initially.
I simply started getting back to running like I was a beginner all over again starting with the walk/run method (emphasis on walk). Then I signed up for a 5k with only a goal to finish. As I became stronger and had confidence in my ability to continue to run pain-free, I added speed work and longer distances. I not only got back to running, the lessons I learned during my recovery about building core strength to prevent injury paid off. I actually started running stronger and faster than I was before my layoff.
It’s hard to postpone goals, but that’s what we need to do sometimes: sacrifice now for long term gains. True in running and life.