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How to (safely) return to running after taking time off

If you're starting to run again after taking time off, be sure to follow a few basic 'rules' to stay safe and injury-free

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Whether you’re running for the first time, coming back from injury or hoping to accelerate spring training, starting to run again after a period of time off requires careful consideration. It’s essential your return to running is done right.

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Running too much, too soon can lead to increased risk of injury. It’s important to build mileage gradually and incorporate extra periods of rest in order to allow the body to adapt to the increased stress of running. Most of that stress is placed on the muscles, joints and tendons which require more time to adapt than do the heart and lungs. As a result, many runners push themselves too hard and end up with a strained-this, torn-that or are just generally achy everywhere.

Minor aches and pains are a normal part of running but be sure to stop if you experience sudden or shooting pain that gets worse while running. As always, be sure to incorporate pre- and post-run recovery techniques such as dynamic stretching, drills, icing, foam rolling, massage and proper refuelling (and yes, you actually have to do them for it to work!).

Those who are returning from two or more weeks off running should not be surprised to find that their fitness isn’t what it was before. Despite prior fitness, it’s essential to reduce the overall volume and intensity of your running until your body has had sufficient time to adapt. This may take a matter of weeks if not months. Be patient.

The amount that you run when you start again should also depend on the length of time you took off and your previous volume of training. If you missed only a week or so, you can safely resume running about 75 per cent or more of your typical mileage. If you missed 2-3 weeks, reduce your volume to 50 to 75 per cent before building up again. Those returning after a month or more away from running should start again slowly and not attempt more than 25-50 per cent of one’s typical mileage. Going forward, build gradually and only add about 10 per cent of additional mileage each week. This might mean as little as an extra few minutes more each week. You may also want to utilize walking breaks until you are able and comfortable running the whole time/distance.

Be extra aware of atypical pain and soreness that could potentially lead to something more serious. Also avoid increasing the intensity of your training too soon. Start with short tempo runs (5-15 minutes) or tempo intervals (~5minutes) done at half or marathon pace. Gradually incorporate faster fartleks and intervals at 10K or 5K pace once you’ve done a few weeks of tempo running. Also be sure to include a longer run each week to develop endurance. This run should make up between 20 and 30 per cent of your weekly mileage and should be run at a relaxed and comfortable pace.

Remember that the goal is to return to a safe and healthy amount of exercise over a gradual period of time. The speed and fitness will follow but does require patience and consistency.

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