The perfect way to return to running

It’s spring; you’re ready to get back to running but unsure where to start? Beginners’ schedules are too easy but more advanced than that too hard! Well, fear not we have the answer for you.

Let’s start with the good news: if you’ve been a reasonably good runner in the past, that usually says you have the physiological capacity to run. If you stop, that genetic capacity doesn’t just go away. Of course though your body will have lost some fitness so just expecting yourself to jump back in at the level you ran in the past doesn’t make sense. A positive and patient approach is the way forward. Here’s what to do and think about.

Start slowly

At some point, all runners take time out, whether through injury, illness or just time spent doing other things. Inevitably this means losing fitness, so when planning a comeback, do so gradually and at a lower intensity and duration than you may have been used to. Often mixing slow easy running with periods of walking is a good way to start, gradually increasing the pace and duration of running, and reducing the walking. Once you are running continuously, slowly increase the duration of the run, giving your body time to adapt and get back to the level it was before. When you are ready and you feel you have a foundation you can start to focus a bit more on the pace of your running. Sessions that you used to do on a whim will cause damage – your muscles and tendons will need time to adapt back to easy running before you throw high intensity running at them. So don’t push yourself too hard too soon.

Go 21st century

Hydration, refuelling and even an understanding of how muscles react to speedwork has evolved hugely in the past decade or so. And we’re not even going to touch on the incredible world of modern running shoes, breathable fabrics, and waterproofing. Synthetic fabrics are your new friend, as is compression clothing – so get clued up on it all!

Age is no barrier

There’s no arguing you’re basically better prepared for running when you’re younger, but because of a host of other factors – largely motivation and financial stability – many older runners get more from their bodies. Without naming names, you’ll see at every RunTogether meeting our bodies are more than capable of performing at a high level later in life than we think! In fact, research will tell you (and a glance around the room), runners often return to the sport they loved in their 50s. You may feel unfit but keep in mind, you can still progress! Don’t just do steady miles or you’ll just get slower. Once you have built your base of easy running keep focusing on quality running, drills and strength training. Always remember, get small niggles looked at immediately. Anything that is a slight injury may end up getting worse. Runners in their 60s and beyond are breaking new ground, particularly medically, and should be applauded. Keep bones healthy with calcium-rich foods and vitamin D. Pay attention to heart and blood-pressure health and have regular check-ups.

Mobility is key

Flexibility and joint health are hugely important to runners, and something like yoga or pilates can help to condition and repair your body to pound the trails for many years to come. Your RunTogether leader will be able with some great ideas and exercises to keep you mobile.

Feed that habit

Steve Peters, an amazing runner producing incredible times in his 50s and 60s, is also a sports psychologist famed for recognising the ‘chimp’ in all of us, and its negative outlook on life (in his book The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness). It’s a simple tale about controlling that chimp and its negative thoughts (it’s raining: stay at home, watch TV, that kind of thing) and understanding that creating amazing habits can be hugely significant in later life. No time like the present. Go for it…

Remember, to take it easy!

Understand the importance of recovery and you’ll reap the benefits. It’s possible to do the same kind of training you used to, but when you return to running you must realise you have to take longer between races, long runs, short runs (everything in fact!) to allow your body to repair. Forget the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra and plan put your feet up as part of your running week.

Why bother?

Scientific studies have shown that a sensible amount of running can boost the immune system, although the flip side is that too much running, with limited recovery, can have the opposite effect. There has never been a more important time than the present to have an immune system which is ready for a battle, and when we run, the white blood cells which are the body’s defence mechanism to fight infection, are sent out into the blood stream to do battle with potential inflammation and infection.