How to Get Back Into Running: 10 Tips for Peak Fitness

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By Stuart

Avid runner. 10x marathons. Daily 10kms. Award-winning journalist when not moving (about me)

We all need a breather now and again. Life, injuries or other hobbies can all get in the way. However, how to get back into running might require a little extra support after an extended break.

Thankfully, help is on hand…

In this article, I’ll share my tips for getting back into running after picking it back up at 40 and also after an ankle injury. We’ll touch on how to work your way up from a run walk or slow jogging, how to prevent injury with good form, staying motivated when running feels too hard, and finding a consistent running routine that works for you.

Yes, it’ll take some effort to get going, but once the endorphins start flowing again and your fitness builds back up, you’ll rediscover what you loved about running.

How to Get Back Into Running After a Long Break

#1: Enter a Race or Sponsored Run

Start line of the Marathon Du Malton food Le Classique with runners in fancy dress
Start line of the Marathon Du Malton food Le Classique with runners in fancy dress

It’s no accident that this is the first piece of advice. You need something to aim for.

I like to set both short-term and long-term goals to keep myself focused and invested.

Thinking long-term, join a race that scares you or lights up your running mojo, like a fun run in an amazing setting. Examples, include the Castle Race Series (triathlons in iconic castles), Tough Mudder (mud runs and obstacle course), Marathon du Malton (foodie fun run), and It’s Grim Up North (ground-up destination race).

Or if you’re a seasoned long-distance runner making a comeback, you could enter an old fashioned half-marathon or more for charity.

Related reading: Check out these amazing UK running charities

Running events are a great way to challenge yourself, focus, and push your limits. Training for them requires dedication, discipline, and a well-planned training program. You’ll get a real buzz as you increase your mileage and learn more about your body by incorporating speed work and strength training into your routine.

The most important thing here is that the race event is far enough in the future to regain your former fitness levels.

#2: Assess Your Current Fitness Level

With your entry confirmed, it’s time to turn your attention to Day 1 of training.

It’s perfectly normal to be a little rusty after a running break. Acknowledging this will help you determine a suitable starting point and reduce the risk of overdoing it too early.

Research suggests that prolonged decreases in aerobic fitness can occur after just 2-4 weeks without training. The longer the break, the more profound the decline in fitness.

To assess your fitness level, first consider your running base. Reflect on your recent experiences with running or any other cardiovascular exercises. If you have been inactive for a while, remember that it’s crucial to start slow and gradually increase your intensity and duration.

You’ll also need to prioritise recovery and listen to your body to avoid injuries. Be patient and allow yourself time to adapt to this new exercise routine, and soon you’ll rediscover the many joys of running.

A fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch, can give a surprisingly accurate assessment of your fitness levels after only a few workouts. They can monitor everything from your heart health to how well you’re recovering from a hard training session.

#3: Create a Training Plan For The First Six Weeks

York 10km near York Racecourse - Running in the Summer on tree-lined road

A well-designed training plan can speed up your progress without overdoing it.

I’d suggest starting jogging or running three days a week – two days of 20 to 30-minute runs, and a longer run on the weekend ranging from 40 minutes to an hour. The pace of which is up to you.

Don’t worry if you fall short some days or need to walk. Nothing bad will happen if you finish on 4.98km.

Overall, it’s about progress. Try to gradually increase your running frequency and distance after a month.

Running apps such as MapMyRun or Strava can be a great way to track progress and see how far you’ve come.

Incorporating Rest Days

Developing a consistent, regular running routine is essential for building up endurance and noticeable improvement in performance. But don’t forget to take it easy also.

Rest days provide your body with the necessary recovery time and help prevent injuries. Aim to include at least one or two non running days in your weekly training schedule.

Explore Active Recovery Options

Breaking up your runs with other types of physical fun can have huge benefits.

In addition to the mental lift, active recovery exercises can speed up recovery from intense exercise sessions or longer distances when tired muscles can experience delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS). This stiffness will otherwise often prove debilitating for a few days post-training. All it takes is gentle exercise at 30-60% of your maximum heart rate to loosen up and flush toxins from the body.

Examples of active recovery activities include walking, wild swimming, cycling, yoga or light cross training sessions.

Increasing Mileage Gradually

A safe and manageable approach is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. This helps you adapt to the increased duration and frequency of your runs, and it allows your body to adjust without causing undue stress or injury.

As you progress in your training, monitor your body’s response to the increase in mileage. Make adjustments to your schedule as needed and always prioritize rest and recovery to maintain a sustainable running routine.

#4: Cross Train 1-2 Times Per Week

Once you’ve caught the running bug it can be addictive. However, variation is your friend.

Incorporate cross-training activities like swimming, cycling, or rowing to help build your endurance and avoid placing too much stress on your body. Cross-training provides an excellent opportunity to work on different muscle groups and improve your overall fitness. It also keeps things interesting as the initial motivation to run can die down.

Strength training is another essential component for a well-rounded fitness plan. Look to target key muscle groups used in running, such as your core, hips, and legs. I speak from experience as somebody who has had to incorporate more stretch exercises into their life after one too many run-related knee injuries.

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#5: Hire a Running Coach or Personal Trainer

Personal running coach giving advice

For many people, hiring a running coach might seem out of reach. An expensive luxury for something that’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Thanks to online running coaching apps expert advice has never been more accessible and affordable.

Hiring a good running coach will also do more than improve your running. Your tailored training schedule will come with guidance and coaching on how to eat healthier, recover faster, prepare for race day, achieve personal records, and improve your overall conditioning.

How much is a running coach? Expect to pay $20-$100 per hour in the US; £40-£60 in the UK.

#6: Find Accountability With a Weekly Parkrun

Fountains Abbey parkrun - runners waiting at the start line overlooking the abbey ruins
Fountains Abbey parkrun start line

The parkrun concept is simple: meet at one of 2,000 parkrun events in 22 countries across 6 continents, at 9am on Saturday, and walk, jog or run your way to 5km with like-minded souls.

There’s something really special about parkun.

Maybe it’s the community spirit. The warm welcome. The variation in courses (historic landmarks, woodlands, parks, beaches, you name it). The familiar routine. The conversational pace. Not to mention, being free to enter!

The camaraderie at parkruns is something I can personally vouch for. I’ve found it to be a huge motivational boost whenever I’m in a running funk and trying to get back on track. Many people swear by running groups for the same reason.

#7: Be Mindful to Pace Yourself

Awe Walk - Love is the Running Towards artwork in London

Walk Before You Run

Before diving headfirst into a running routine, start training by incorporating walking into your daily life.

Walking is a low-impact exercise that helps you build a strong foundation for running. Initially, aim to walk for 30 minutes each day at a comfortable pace, gradually increasing the duration and intensity as your fitness improves. This will allow your body to adapt to the activity and minimize the risk of injury.

Jog at a Conversational Pace

Once you’ve built up your walking routine, you unlock the many benefits of jogging. A key aspect of pacing yourself is jogging at a conversational pace. This means you should be able to maintain a conversation while jogging without becoming overly winded. To determine your conversational pace, consider the following guidelines:

  • Breathing rate: A good rule of thumb is to breathe in for three steps and breathe out for two steps.
  • Perceived exertion: On a scale of 1-10, your exertion level should be around a 5 or 6, indicating moderate effort.

#8: Fuel Your Runs with a Balanced Nutrition Plan

At first glance, your eating habits might not seem to have a lot to do with how to get back into running.

However, by adopting a balanced nutrition plan, you’ll be able to fuel your running routine, aid weight loss, and build a leaner, stronger body.

As a runner, you need very specific nutrients to maintain the optimum balance for your body.

To begin, make sure you consume enough carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy, responsible for replenishing glycogen stores. Aim for complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These types of carbs release energy slowly, providing sustained fuel during your runs.

Next up is protein. The building blocks of protein, amino acids, are crucial for repairing and growing leaner muscle mass. Good sources include lean meats, fish, dairy, beans, and nuts. Aim to consume an appropriate amount for your body weight and activity level.

Don’t forget about healthy fats, as they play a crucial role in cell repair, hormone production, and overall health. Focus on incorporating unsaturated fats from sources like olive oil, avocado, and nuts into your diet.

Hydration is key when getting back into running. Stay well-hydrated throughout the day, and not just during your workouts. Aim to drink at least 8-10 cups of water per day and more when exercising. Proper hydration is essential in regulating body temperature, supporting joint health, and preventing muscle cramps.

Here are some tips for planning a balanced nutrition plan:

  • Start your day with a protein-rich breakfast that includes complex carbohydrates. This can be as simple as whole-grain toast with eggs and a side of fruit.
  • Plan balanced meals, consisting of lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
  • Snack on healthy options like fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, or low-fat yogurt.
  • Monitor portion sizes, as overeating can hinder your weight loss goals.
  • Listen to your body, adjusting your intake based on your energy levels and hunger signals.

#9: Injury Prevention and Recovery

Group of runners warming up before run club

If you’re fighting fit and injury free your eagerness to return to running risks tripping you up.

Simply adding five minutes onto your runs for preventative or restorative exercises can work wonders. These include:

  • Warm-up and cool-down: Spend time warming up your muscles and joints before a run. Afterward, allow your body to cool down with slower-paced exercises and stretches.
  • Take it slow: Gradually increase your running duration and intensity to give your body time to adapt and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Strengthen key areas: Incorporate lower body exercises into your routine to strengthen your hips, knees, and ankles.

Remember to listen to your body. If you experience pain or discomfort during or after a run, consult a medical professional to address the issue and adjust your running program accordingly.

#10: Manage Frustrations and Expectations

The common trait of Stoic athletes is their belief that body and mind are one. A healthy mind equals a healthy body—it’s strong, resilient, uncluttered, agile, and functional. A masterclass in managing emotion.

That’s all very well but returning to running after a break is likely to bring up mix emotions. They’ll be good days and bad days. Progress and set backs.

It’s essential to manage these emotions and keep realistic expectations. Here are some strategies to help:

  • Acknowledge your frustrations: It’s natural to feel frustrated at times. Recognizing these feelings is the first step toward overcoming them.
  • Set realistic goals: While it’s essential to challenge yourself, be mindful of the limits of your body. Avoid setting goals that are too ambitious, which can demotivate you.
  • Build in rewards: Rewards are crucial to the habit formation process as a shortcut for which habits are worth keeping. The positive experience you engineer reinforces the behaviour just performed.
  • Stay positive: Keep a positive mindset, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

In Summary: Tips for Getting Back Into Running

Taking up running after a hiatus can feel daunting, regardless of how long you’ve been away or your current fitness level. Remember, the key to success is patience, consistency and a proactive approach to self-motivation as you gradually rebuild your stamina and rediscover your love of running.

Before you dive headfirst into your return to running, it’s essential to develop a solid plan. This will help you stay on track, avoid overtraining, and minimize the risk of injury. From assessing your current fitness level to pacing yourself and adopting a balanced nutrition plan, you’ll be empowered with the tools to make your running journey fulfilling, enjoyable, and sustainable over the long term.

Above all, have fun!

Related reading: Ultimate Guide to Setting New Running Goals

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Get more from your runs. More joy. Better adventures. Faster times.