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How to start running again after a long break: 8 actionable tips

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Getting back into running after weeks, months or even years away can feel tough. Whether you took a long break because of an injury or life simply got in the way, it can feel daunting getting back into running.

If you want to start running again after a long break, the good news is there are simple tips that you can use to make your return to running that much easier.

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • How long it takes to lose your aerobic fitness
  • How long it takes to get back in running shape
  • How to start running again when you’re overweight
  • How to start running again at a certain age
  • How to start running again after a break: 8 actionable tips

Ready?

Let’s get started!

start running again after a long break

How long does it take to lose aerobic fitness?

Although it can be frustrating to see all the progress that you’ve made over the last few years disappear in a matter of months, it’s worth remembering that all your running experience is still valid.

However distant it may seem now, the running experience you gained before your break is still important when it comes to building your fitness back up again.

You definitely won’t be starting from scratch, and you will soon see how quickly your body is able to pick things up again.

For the majority of runners, it takes between 7 to 14 days for your running fitness to start declining.

If you’ve been running for a number of years, or even your whole life, you will retain much of your aerobic fitness for several months.

In other words, the better running shape you’re in, the more fitness you’ll hold onto when you’re not running during a break.

Related: How to increase running stamina and endurance: 6 actionable tips

How long does it take to get back in running shape?

There isn’t a one size fits all approach when you want to start running again after a long break and determine how long it will take to get back into shape.

How long it takes will depend on various factors, namely:

  • The length of time you’ve been running (before your break)
  • The length of time you took off from running (during your break)

So what does this actually mean? Let’s take these two example runners:

  • Meet Sandra. Before her break, she was running for well over 10 years and she took a 2-month break from running to recover from knee pain. She will find she’s be able to build up her fitness back again fairly quickly.
  • Meet Joe. Before his break, he was running for about a year and he took off a 6-month break from running to recover from surgery. He will find he’ll need to work a lot harder to build up his fitness again.

Related: How to start running again: 5 tips for returning to running after an injury

start running again after a long break

How to start running again when overweight

It can be daunting for anyone when you want to start running again after a long break, but if you are carrying a little more weight, it can be even scarier.

The good news is that running offers a multitude of physical and mental benefits.

The process of running also triggers the body to release ‘feel good’ hormones, and many runners love running because of how life-changing it becomes for them.

If you’re overweight and looking to get back into running, you may want to consider starting off with a walking programme before going straight into a running plan.

This will help your bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles adjust and strengthen them for exercise.

Related: Running for weight loss: The most effective running workouts to help you lose weight

How to start running again at a certain age

Running is so great because there are no major barriers or obstacles to going for a run – anyone can do it, no matter their age.

If you’re 40 or older, you may even wonder if it’s the right time to start running again after a long break.

After all, it’s a high-impact sport and taking on a strenuous fitness routine after 40 is not for the faint hearted.

However, don’t let those doubts stop you from making your running comeback! There’s no better time to start your running journey, regardless of your age.

Here are some tips for getting back into running at 40, or any other age:

  • Get in touch with your healthcare provider. If you haven’t exercised for a while, or you’ve previously experienced heart rate issues, then it’s a good idea to touch base with your healthcare provider.
  • Invest in quality running gear. The key is to find a well-fitting pair of running shoes. Gear like running tights, a good fitting sports bra (for the ladies) and clothes that are suited for the climate are also essentials.
  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
  • Connect with a community. Many cities nowadays offer running clubs that are targeted at a specific age group or gender. Check out sites like Meetup to find a group near you.

Related: How to believe in yourself: Running and self-confidence

start running again after a long break

How to start running again after a long break: 8 actionable tips

Manage your expectations

One of the most important things to remember when you start running again after a long break, is that you can’t expect to pick up where you left of.

It will take time to build back your fitness, endurance and stamina.

Running is classed as a high impact sport, so your first run may feel uncomfortable.

Don’t let this put you off though. It’s important to keep an open mind and be kind to yourself when you first get back into the swing of things.

Listen to your body and don’t feel pressurised to run at the same pace and distance that you were doing before your break.

Related: How to practice mindful running

Build a habit

When you first start running again after a long break, it’s important to build a running habit that you can maintain consistently.

Forget about your times, how fast you can run a mile or how many miles you’re running each week. 

As long as you’re running consistently each week, this is enough to slowly build momentum until you’re at a stage where you can think about improving your times.

Start small and slowly build from there. And when I say small, I mean baby steps! 

You may feel out of breath on your run. This is often a shock for a lot of people who are returning to fitness after a long break.

But don’t worry! You will build it back up again with consistent training. As you hit your goals, you will slowly regain your running confidence! 

Related: How to run for 30 minutes without stopping: 7 tips for beginners

Follow a training plan

Depending on the length of your break, you may need to start at the beginning again and build up from there.

There are many training plans out there that can get you from beginner runner to mile maiden in a matter of weeks. 

The most popular training plan by far is Couch to 5k. I love this plan because it’s ideal for beginner runners who are either completely new to running or returning after a long break.

Many runners start with Couch to 5k and go on to run a 10k, half marathon and even a marathon.

If you feel you’re not quite at the beginner stage and would like something a little more advanced, think about your goals and find a training plan that not only suits your goals but your fitness levels too.

The tendency for a lot of runners is to go full throttle into a training plan when you return from a long break. This may sound appealing, but you risk burnout and injury so take it in your stride.

Related: How to run properly: Running form and technique for beginners

Join a running group

When you start running again after a long break, finding the motivation and accountability to get out there each week is hard, especially when you’re re-discovering your running mojo.

Find some local running groups near you and see what they have to offer.

Many running groups are friendly and supportive, and even offer one-on-one coaching if you feel you’d benefit from this. You may also meet some new friends in the process!

Websites like RunTogether, MeetUp and Facebook list local running groups, so be sure to check those out.

Sign up to a race

When you start running again after a long break and you have a goal or milestone in mind, a good way to stay motivated and accountable is to sign up to a race.

Make sure you choose a race that aligns with your running goals. 

For example, if you’re returning to running following a four year break and you sign up to a marathon that’s taking place within a matter of months, this may not be the best idea.

Any race, whether it’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon, is a huge accomplishment. You’ve already come so far by even deciding to start running again.

Related:  21 of the best motivational running quotes for race day

Do Parkrun

Parkrun is one of my favourite things about running. It’s a free 5k run that takes place every Saturday morning at 9am across the UK and worldwide.

There’s absolutely no pressure to go fast or achieve a PB, so it’s great for anyone who is new to running or returning to running after a long break.

You could also consider volunteering at your local Parkrun. Seeing all the amazing runners each week could be enough to reinvigorate your passion and fire for running.

Related: Love to run: What to expect at your first Parkrun

Cross train

Cross training is a great way to build up your aerobic fitness and endurance.

Walking, cycling, strength training, yoga and swimming are all great cross training activities for runners. 

When you start running after a long break, you may want a bit of variation in your training plan, so consider adding cross training activities and you’ll reap the benefits on the running track.

Related: What is cross training? Essential cross training tips for runners

Stay positive

Stay positive and focus on the enjoyment of running. Don’t worry too much at this stage about achieving your next PB. 

When you start running again after a long break, it can be frustrating when you’re not quite at the level you were at before your break. This is only natural.

The key is not to beat yourself up or compare yourself to anyone else and their journey. Everyone is different and you need to allow yourself time to train and improve your fitness levels.

There’s plenty of time to run your fastest mile or achieve your next PB. In the meantime, just enjoy the ride!

More tips on returning to running:

Caroline Geoghegan
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Chaleun Fox

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

Useful information! Thanks for your post

bethan taylor-swaine

Wednesday 13th of May 2020

It's so tough getting back into running after some time out! I found I had to do a lot of work on my mindset and get over my own ego about running 'slower' and 'shorter' than I'd done in the past, thankfully I got there in the end and now I enjoy running more than ever!

Run With Caroline

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

That's great! So glad you enjoy it now! It's best to just let go of any pressures and just do it for you.

LK Nel

Thursday 16th of January 2020

Good tips... and encouraging. I used to run 6km in about 22nd a half minutes seconds in my early to mid thirties. I also ran a few ultra marathons in under 5 min a km. Due to work commitments and family commitments I had to scale down big time and running consisted of an odd run for enjoyment ever month or so. Recent after a break of 12 years I am slowly starting to run again. I started and could just manage a park run in 25 minutes but that was pushing it. I am doing about 20 -25 km a week for the last two and a half months but I seem to be getting slower and slower -sometimes over 6 min a km, for a short 5 km run. I try to vary the hard runs and easy runs but find My absolute limit is 9 or maybe 10 km a push. I struggle on the runs(especially up hills ehich used to be my strength)-I am not overweight maybe 2kg more than when I was fighting fit and am relatively, slightly built I turn 50 this year (am very healthy I think) and am determined to keep running this year. Do you think an immediate goal of 22 min for 5km in the next six months would be unrealistic? I have come to terms that I will never regain the fitness I once had but am wondering why am getting slower and not faster . I am going just to persevere because I am interested to see where I will end up ....?Any comments or tips would really be appreciated.

Run With Caroline

Sunday 26th of January 2020

Hi! Glad you found the tips useful! Parkrun in 25 minutes is a great time! You should be so proud of this. My biggest bit of advice would be to not put so much pressure on yourself to perform. I know it sounds cliche and probably not what you're wanting to hear, but it really does take the fun out of running if all you're worried about is your times. Stay consistent with your running and you will get faster. Be sure to include some speedwork in there too as the long slow runs won't cut it in the long term if you want to speed up. Your goal of 22min for a 5km is achievable. Practice the pace you need to run at during training. Running is a journey - just see where it takes you :)