It happens to every runner. Perhaps you were sidelined by an injury, your work schedule became too hectic for long distance runs, or you lost your motivation. You skipped one session. Then, it turned into a week. Next thing you know, 3 months have passed since you last ran. Now, you’ve decided to get back on the trail or the treadmill, but what should you expect? Will it be an uphill climb or an immediate return to glory?
Turns out your body can handle whatever distance you throw its way. Athletes develop muscle memory throughout their workouts. When you strengthen a muscle, it creates more nuclei. Even when you take time off, those nuclei stick around. Thus, resuming your program won’t be so tough on your legs.
The only discomfort you might experience is an itching sensation, better known as runner’s itch. When you work out, your capillaries stay open, allowing blood to flow through the body and support your increased physical activity. But when you take time off, those capillaries close. Suddenly resuming your program sends a rush of blood through the capillaries, overloading them. Your brain processes this as itching. However, this should go away after about a week of running consistently.
Additionally, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your return to running is drama-free.
Don’t pick up where you left off
Yes, you have muscle memory, and a 6-mile run doesn’t intimidate you. However, your fearlessness doesn’t mean you can handle this distance on your first day back. Don’t try to pick up exactly where you left off. Ease back into it. Work through shorter distances and assess how you feel. For example, Runner’s World suggests you should start at 50% of your previous mileage if you’ve taken off more than 30 days. You may even need to walk first, just to recondition your muscle tissue. Take your time so you can avoid pain or injury.
Train your muscles
A comprehensive strength training program should be part of your game plan. It’s important to train all your muscles, but your glutes and core are especially crucial to maintaining good form and powering your runs. Get these muscles in tip top shape to further support your new running program.
Don’t forget to cross-train
You don’t need to run every day. There are plenty of other activities that can help boost your cardiovascular capacity and, in turn, improve your mileage and times. Try to incorporate other forms of cardio (i.e. rowing, Stairmaster) into your week as well as other fitness activities like Pilates, yoga, and your strength training.
On your first day back, don’t plan to run 6 miles on the beach. You want to stay close to your car or to your starting point, in case things don’t go as planned. Start on the track or the treadmill until you readjust.
Returning to running can be an exciting time, but it’s important to approach your program with caution and give your body the time it needs to bounce back.