September 15, 2015

The Long Road Back - Returning to Running After an Injury or Extended Break - Part 1: Check Your Ego at the Door

I have always loved running and have always seen myself as a runner. And like many runners, I have had to take an extended time off from running, but my goal was always to return to running, if not racing. In my case, peroneal tendonitis kept me on the sidelines for almost 14 months. What follows is the first installment of a four-part series on returning to running after having taken a long break (either by choice or by injury). For purposes of this series, I am referring to a layoff of a year or more.

If you ran in high school, you probably remember taking time off between cross country season in the fall and track season in the spring, and picking up right where you left off. However, if you are now a “seasoned” runner and you may find it to be a totally different experience! So, the first important point to remember when getting back to running is:

Part 1: Check your ego at the door
If you are much past college age, you are probably going to be unpleasantly surprised about a few things when you lace up your running shoes for the first time after a long layoff. So, here are 4 things to remember as you make your way back to being a runner.

  1. You’re not as fast as you used to be… deal with it. The first thing we lose is our speed, especially as we get older. Also, the older we get, the more dramatic the drop off in performance will be from a layoff. The important thing to do is to start right where you are. The goal is to start running again and KEEP running. Don’t worry about how fast you were or how far you could run. Just begin.
  1. Forget all of your old PRs (personal records)…it is best not to dwell on the past. Let every workout or race you do at each distance be your new PR…or set goals and achieve PRs within each new age category as you inevitably slow down with age. If you dwell on how fast you used to be or how far you could run, you will get discouraged and lose heart.
  1. It’s gonna hurt… and the really annoying thing is that it will hurt just as much or more to run slower than you used to. Running is an impact sport, and even if you have been cycling or doing non-impact activities, running again is going to hurt, be it knee pain, foot pain, ankle pain, back pain, etc. Also, if it was an injury that led to your layoff, it may never fully go away. You may just have to adapt how fast or how far you run, alter your running style, etc. in order to resume running. At the very least, running is probably going to feel “different” than it use to.
  1. It’s gonna cost you…If you have not run for some time, you may have gained a few pounds. Plus, tiny split shorts may not be as flattering on you as they used to be! As such, you may need to invest in new running clothes. There is some really nice stuff out there. Also, you probably need to buy some new running shoes. Now would be a good time to pay a visit to your local running shoe store for a professional fitting. Likewise, inserts, arch supports, or orthotics may be indicated in order to avoid reinjury.

So now that we hopefully have you properly outfitted and have your mind and attitude correctly oriented, check back for “Part 2: Baby steps,” where I discuss the best approach to properly resuming running and training. Also, look for an article on “The importance of a proper shoe fitting,” and how best to get one in the near future.

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