How to make a run­ning come­back this Septem­ber

We of­ten doubt our abil­ity and our strength to re­turn to for­mer fit­ness – but we shouldn’t

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Fitness - Mary Jen­nings

It’s never easy start­ing back. Whether it’s back-to-school or back-to-run­ning, most of us would pre­fer an­other month of care­free sum­mer days. How­ever, au­tumn is here, and the time is right to get mov­ing. If you are a lapsed run­ner and would like to re­turn to run­ning, ac­cept that start­ing out will be hard but once you have es­tab­lished the rou­tine you will won­der why you left it so long to get started.

The Lapsed Run­ner

Very few of us stay run­ning all the time. A sab­bat­i­cal from run­ning may be in­ten­tional due to an in­jury or ill­ness but most of­ten it can hap­pen by ac­ci­dent. Skip­ping one run makes the next run eas­ier to miss. A week off can quickly be­come a fort­night, and be­fore we know it weeks can be­come months. The longer the break, the harder the come­back for the lapsed run­ner.

The Frus­tra­tion

I have first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of frus­trated lapsed run­ners this week as my run­ning stu­dents re­turn from their sum­mer break. Those who left their run­ning shoes in the wardrobe over the hol­i­days strug­gle both men­tally and phys­i­cally com­pared with their peers. Not only has their fit­ness dropped, but their con­fi­dence and self-belief has taken a sig­nif­i­cant dip.

Ac­cept where you are

Don’t get an­noyed about the time you have had away from run­ning and the fit­ness you have lost. We can­not peak all the time, and some­times a break from run­ning was the right de­ci­sion. In­stead of feel­ing guilty and an­noyed with what you con­sider a set­back, fo­cus on get­ting started slowly again. I re­mind my run­ners that the body will adapt soon but needs a lit­tle time and grad­ual progress rather than speed as we re­turn to the road.

The Build-up

Its nor­mal to be ap­pre­hen­sive about the first run. We of­ten doubt our abil­ity and our strength to re­turn to for­mer fit­ness. We ex­pect it to be un­com­fort­able at best. Many post­pone the come­back as they can­not face the ef­fort that will be re­quired to re­turn to their for­mer run­ning self. Cer­tainly the first few weeks of adapt­ing will be less com­fort­able than when we left off, but post­pon­ing the re­turn to run­ning any longer won’t help. Come­backs are hard but the sooner you start the eas­ier it will be.

Get­ting Started

Set your­self up for suc­cess by mak­ing your first train­ing ses­sion some­thing that you know you can do. Make it very man­age­able and com­fort­able. Aim for 30 min­utes outdoors com­bin­ing walk­ing and run­ning all at a pace you can breathe com­fort­ably at. Build a rou­tine first and then fo­cus on the dis­tance. As the weeks progress the mileage and the speed will im­prove. The hard­est part of the train­ing ses­sion is the first few min­utes so make them some­thing to look for­ward to rather than fear.

The Al­ter­na­tive

If you don’t want to be a run­ner this au­tumn don’t put your­self un­der pres­sure to run. In­stead find some­thing that does in­ter­est and mo­ti­vate you. Fo­cus your en­ergy on that. Don’t make run­ning an ad­di­tional stress in your life. You don’t have to run all the time. There will be months and maybe years when run­ning is not right for you. If you are in that stage then ac­cept it and leave your come­back un­til you are ready.

The De­ci­sion

How­ever, if you are a lit­tle jeal­ous of run­ners you see on the road and would like to join them, make the de­ci­sion to move this Septem­ber. Start small, keep it sim­ple and don’t ex­pect your body to en­joy it com­pletely from the start. The fit­ness and con­fi­dence will re­turn in time but only if you give your body and mind a chance to re­mem­ber how good it feels to be a run­ner by build­ing slowly, sen­si­bly and grad­u­ally over the com­ing weeks.

Be Pa­tient

A come­back can be short-lived if you set too high ex­pec­ta­tions. Do not com­pare with other run­ners or your pre­vi­ous run­ning times and in­stead fo­cus on your own body as it is to­day. En­sure your first few train­ing ses­sions are en­joy­able, pos­i­tive and well within your fit­ness lim­its. Struc­ture is key. Find a train­ing plan, a coach or a run­ning buddy to keep you ac­count­able and on a steady track for the first few weeks and months. Don’t let the frus­tra­tion or dis­com­fort of the come­back send you back into an­other run­ning hia­tus.

The Fall back

If things don’t go ac­cord­ing to plan, next month we can start again when The Ir­ish Times launches its Get Run­ning pro­gramme. And don’t worry: there will be help, ad­vice, tips and sus­tain­ing words on hand.

■ Mary Jen­nings is founder and run­ning coach with For­ Mary trains be­gin­ners and marathon­ers and every­one in be­tween to en­joy run­ning and stay in­jury-free.

‘‘ I re­mind my run­ners that the body will adapt soon but needs a lit­tle time and grad­ual progress rather than speed as we re­turn to the road

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