What to Expect After a Running Break

I’m just about to come back from my longest running break in about 5 years. Well at least I hope I am after a sore foot/ankle. This break has been almost 2 months and was totally intentional. It hasn’t been great taking a long break from running but it hasn’t been as terrible as I expected either. Since I’ve been on a break we’ve been working like crazy. I do get a few easy days here and there driving around but I’ve also had a few days where I’ve lugged things steady and one 14 hour day where I spent 8 hours shoveling gravel. Which is to say even though I haven’t been exercising on purpose my fitness should be pretty good. I think that it’s almost time to put this break behind me and get back out on the road soon. It may some days feel like torture but really taking a break isn’t that big of a deal. Even though we’re framing this as a discussion about a running break it really does apply to any sport. To sum it up usually it’s harder on the head to get back out there than the physical aspects. Whether you’re reading because you want to take a break, you’re mid break or looking to get back you’ll find this useful at any stage along the way. You’ll know that you’re not alone in this and you’ll gather some tricks and tips for dealing with a running break in the process and as you get back.

Anxiety increase

Taking a break is very likely to raise your anxiety for a variety of good runner reasons. Here’s the tough one first whether you specifically run to reduce anxiety or not it does help with that. Really any sort of exercise lowers your stress, depression and anxiety levels overall but running is especially effective at that. So when you’re not running your anxiety levels will be higher even if you’re not expecting it.

The next thing is the reason for the break, very often that’s because of injury, but it could also be stress at work or something else unpleasant. Which is to say this all might be happening in and anxiety producing environment. Your first few injuries are really hard this way because you wonder if you’ll ever get better or get your fitness back. You will more on that later. After a few though you know you’ll come back from this one too. I think this is my third bad running injury in 5 years and this time I knew I’d be back eventually.

But… no matter how unfazed you were by your eventual return to running the actual reality as it draws closer is another story. After a few weeks or a few months off you’ll wonder all sorts of stupid things like, will you be able to actually run on your return, will you start at square one, might you even forget how to run or will your body change drastically during your break? Stop worrying about all that (if you can) I promise it will all actually work out fine.

Overall: Anxiety is an actual thing you will deal with every-time on some level but you will in fact pull through!

Procrastination

This is something only humans deal with so there is a good chance you’ll procrastinate your return too. Here’s the thing though it’s also totally understandable so give yourself a break. It’s surprising how quickly we can forget just how much running defined us and the other things you replace it with like sleeping in, watching TV and hobbies don’t suck either. Add to that all the anxiety from the last section and the fact that running is actually hard and you can procrastinate for a while after you might actually be ready to return for a short run. Towards the end you’ll find yourself making excuses hard like:

  • My foot hurt yesterday for a minute so maybe I shouldn’t
  • I did a lot of walking that day last week so maybe I should wait longer?
  • It’s pretty cold
  • It could rain later
  • I ate to much supper or plan to eat too much supper
  • It’s dark
  • I have a sleep debt I’m really working on right now so…
  • There’s no point in run/walking 3k really if you think about it
  • I can’t find my favorite pants right now
  • The weather looks better for tomorrow

Well you get the point right? PS those are all excuses I’ve used in the last 10 days, there might be more. Give yourself a break though when you’re ready you’ll get out there and fall in love all over again. But then I went today, loved it and once again the hardest step is the one out the door. Buy some new stuff and bribe yourself if you have to!

Overall: Don’t worry about delaying an extra week or two, unless you actually see yourself never running again you’ll get back out there eventually.

Loss of fitness

If you’re doing the standard 6 weeks off with an extra couple for foot dragging your fitness really won’t go down appreciably for a slow start. I’ve written about this in very great detail here  and it doesn’t go down nearly as fast as we all fear. After a few weeks off only your VO2 max might be a bit lower which may actually make it feel a little harder. Before this last break I could race a half marathon and did but I can’t do that on day one back. The reason for that is a little loss of fitness but mostly it’s that new injury needs some time on my feet to become a solved part of my body now. I did 6.5k back on day one and it didn’t feel harder, it wasn’t much slower than my old easy training pace and I felt strong, but for some pain I could have done more. I was nervous that doing too much would set me back again more than anything else. Proof in point I headed out planning to only run 4k!

Back to running!

Here’s a great secret even of you’ve had a years long break and are now in way worse shape than you were before it will never be as hard as it was the very first time. I took a 5 year running break once, got into the worst shape of my life, gained weight and embraced an unhealthy lifestyle fully in grad school. Guess what, I was struck by how fast I got back into running and how great it felt. A year later I was racing my very first 10k and a got a totally average time for my age. It was no where near as hard as starting running was years ago. It harkens back to muscle memory, the science of which is coming up in a forthcoming post so bookmark or follow for that in the future!

Overall: Yup loss of fitness can be a thing but I would venture to say you’ll never be starting from square one no matter how long you wait to get back out there.

Loss of endurance

No one will be able to run the longest recent distance on day one back after a running break. Even if you could a possible fresh injury won’t allow it, neither will your conditioned stamina. About a month our from your last run for the most part you should be able to cover the distance but your head may also be holding you back. Here’s the thing though all those previous long runs don’t count for nothing though. Where your endurance was before directly influences where you come back both in distance and duration. 

Overall: Almost everyone will see a decrease in endurance. A lot depends on where you were before, the reason for your break and just how long it’s been. Not to worry though you’ll probably be able to get back there faster than you did last time.

Lots of fun

Here’s a fun one finally!  Usually people who run don’t only like it they love some part of it at least. During a break from running you might worry that you’ll never get back into the habit again. This is particularly bad if you’ve had a long break for no reason. Here’s the thing though getting back into running is like giving yourself a present you already know you’re going to love. Even after a short break of a few weeks no matter how nervous you are about it you’re first runs back make you fall in love all over again. Even though it happens every time that euphoria upon return always surprises me.

Overall: Fresh eyes on something you know you love is a great thing, enjoy it!

Renewed motivation

Another good one, after a break you’ll be full of all sorts of new motivation. Motivation because it’s just so much fun again. Motivation because you want to get back to where you were and motivation to push harder while you still can. My last full blown running injury before this one was graduating to a full blown case of runners knee in 2016. That motivated me to my first half marathon that year, my first attempt at an Olympic triathlon the next year. I had to step away that year while I learned to effectively manage my knee. But you know what I got it done the next year! While it did and does suck to get injured and manage that long term three years and counting of motivation to keep going from one injury and a short break seems like it’s not all that bad a trade after all! There’s nothing like your first break and returning from it to really make you define yourself as a runner more.

Overall: There’s nothing like the feeling of something you love slipping away to make you hold onto it harder for a long as you can. A love for running is absolutely no different.

First timer soreness

You saw this one coming right? Getting back after a break will make you sore in ways you haven’t been in a long time. Consistent runners don’t really feel sore we just feel invigorated after a run. Even if you’re upping your milage and intensity in a controlled way while following a training program you probably won’t be sore like this. Well, not exactly in the same way at least. You’ll feel tight in places that you normally wouldn’t and actually a little sore in a way that reminds you of your first run. It’s not as bad as that first run though and it kinda feels great because you ‘know’ you’ve been running again after the fact.

Many, many running breaks are the direct result of injury and just because you’ve done the exercises and been cleared by the doctor it doesn’t mean that body part will never be a heard from again. You’re knee or ankle may actually hurt for a while when you’re running and it very well might be causing you to obsess about it as you run. This obviously may freak you quite a bit. I’m here to tell you it does go away to almost nothing eventually. As long as you know the signs that you might be getting back into trouble (like lingering pain after) and you’re doctor is cool with your running then go slow and calm down.

Overall: Pain and soreness is never fun and is always to be listened to… but it is only temporary. Someday you will run again pain free.

If you’ve had a running break did you ever get back to it? Did you experience these things or something different? How did you stay sane? – asking for a friend!

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