It’s not uncommon for runners to take an extended break from training and then decide to start running again.
Perhaps a significant running injury, long acute or chronic illness, or other life change such as switching jobs, having a baby, or moving to a new house disrupts your running routine, and you end up falling away from consistent training for weeks, months, or even years.
In fact, in my work as a certified running coach, a significant percentage of the runners that I work with come to me to help them develop a training plan that will help them return to training, or even just to establish a consistent running routine for weight loss or mental health after a long break.
In this guide to how to start running again, we will discuss tips for doing your first run and resuming a running plan after a long break to help you enjoy injury-free training, improve your endurance, and reset a routine that helps you accomplish your fitness, weight loss, or running performance goals.
We will look at:
Let’s get going!
How to Start Running Again After Years Off
As a certified running coach, I love working with beginners as well as runners who are interested in running again because improvements are fast and gratifying.
In many ways, the training plans for a returning runner and a first-time runner are similar, depending on how long it has been since the previous runner was following a running plan and what their current fitness level is.
Particularly if it has been months or years and the fitness level and cardio endurance have dropped significantly, the return to a running plan will be similar to a beginner training plan with a lot of run-walk intervals and easy runs to build cardio endurance.
It can be immensely gratifying to develop a training plan that will help a previous runner who either had physical or mental burnout or injuries return to their prior fitness levels while enjoying injury-free, healthy running.
Key components to a training plan for a runner who either suffered from overtraining and burnout or running injuries include cross-training, strength training, and adequate rest days to reduce the risk of injury.
It is also helpful to do a proper running form analysis if there is a history of running injuries.
While it isn’t possible to guarantee injury-free running, the risk of injury is significantly reduced if a running coach and/or a physical therapist can work with you to determine muscle imbalances and help strengthen your muscles, ligaments, tendons, connective tissues, and structures within your joint capsule.
Additionally, if you suffered from mental health burnout or physical overtraining that caused you to step away from your training program in the past, incorporating plenty of cross-training workouts, rest days, and easy runs can help keep running fun and prevent burnout as you start training again.
Remember, if you have taken a long break from running, you need to be patient and take plenty of rest days, almost treating yourself like a first-time runner.
How Do You Start Running When You’re Out Of Shape?
Here are some tips for how to start running again after a long break:
#1: Get a Running Coach
If you are coming back from an injury, hated training alone in the dark winter, or have had a couple of bad race performances that caused you to stop running, you may need to inject some newness into your running routine and find ways for how to make running fun again.
After all, running is physically and mentally quite demanding, particularly if you are doing longer distances or hard workouts, so having strategies for how to make running fun again or find your love for running will make it that much easier to stick with your training program.
My goal as a running coach is to help my athletes not only achieve their running goals and improve their fitness level through their training plan but also to love running or at least find enjoyment, motivation, and joy in their workouts.
For some runners, working with a running coach, a physical therapist, and a personal trainer is the best way to find a running plan that will support injury-free running and keep running fun.
#2: Follow a Training Plan
For some runners returning to a running routine, following a training plan can help you feel more purposeful with your running.
This can help increase motivation because you feel like you are working towards something and/or following a training plan designed by a running coach who knows what they are doing.
Having a training plan that is geared towards someone of your fitness level will also help you feel successful in your workouts and reduce the risk of injury because you will be taking on appropriate mileage and speeds in your training.
This can prevent you from feeling disheartened if you are trying to keep up with a running group who are too fast, trying to jump back into your old marathon training plan after a long break, or choosing running routes that are too long for your current endurance.
Gradually progressing will help you build self-efficacy and confidence in your ability as a runner, which can help you love running and prevent running injury issues.
Success breeds success and joy!
While I highly recommend that beginners follow a training plan, and I almost always encourage runners who are training for a race to use a training plan, some runners returning from a long break due to running burnout need a break from formal training.
If you have recently run a big race or you are always training for some type of marathon, half marathon, or other longer-distance race, you might need to give yourself a break from structured training.
Taking a few weeks or even a few months to just run by feel without training for anything specific can help make running feel more joyful, free, and fun again.
Instead of feeling like “work,” you will be your own running coach, and the mission will be running whatever you feel like.
This can definitely help make running feel fun again if you have tended to feel pressured in the past by an intense full or half-marathon training plan.
#3: Join a Running Club
Social support is one of the most popular ways to make running more fun and sustainable.
Most communities have local running groups or running clubs that meet up for long runs, speed workouts, or local races.
You can also find a running buddy in your neighborhood, job, or even family.
Having the companionship for your running workouts helps pass the time because you have someone to talk to, someone to go through the hard workouts with, and people to support you when your motivation is low.
The great thing about finding a running club is that there should be runners of different fitness levels and with different running goals.
This will allow you to find somebody who is at a comparable training pace or fitness level as you build your cardio fitness and leg strength back up for longer runs.
Runners who have taken such a long break that they are essentially like beginners can also team up with more experienced runners for occasional workouts so that you can learn from runners who have been running for years.
The running community is very welcoming for runners of all levels and stages of training.
One thing that is great about tapping into local running groups is that you will find new running routes that will help break up the monotony of your usual routine.
You will also get to learn perspectives about how other runners love running, get through tougher patches in their training plans while expanding your social circles with other runners in your area.
I have met some of my closest friends in life in running groups or a running club.
There’s something about putting in miles together on your favorite running route that really bonds two people together for life.
Even if there isn’t much of a running community in your area, you can find an online running community on social media.
We have an awesome online social media Facebook group for Marathon Handbook!
#4: Explore Trail Running
If you always used to run on the roads or the treadmill, trying trail running is a great way to rediscover the joy of running or start to love running in a whole new way.
Trail running tends to be more relaxed and you can become totally immersed in the beauty of nature.
There is much less focus on pacing and distance, but rather just time on your feet improving your cardio fitness and health.
The softer surface can also reduce the impact stress on ligaments, joints, and muscles, potentially decreasing joint soreness after running.
You can run by heart rate as you build the distance for easy runs.
Just make sure that you bring a hydration pack and wear good trail running shoes so that you are prepared.
#5: Mix It Up With Cross-Training
Doing cross-training and strength training exercises for the glutes, hamstrings, core, and quads, will help improve your fitness level and still get your heart rate up while giving you a relative break from running every day.
This can prevent overuse running injuries and can be a great strategy to supplement run-walk training as you get back into a running plan.1de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044
Running just 2 to 3 days a week and cross-training 2 to 3 days per week at first can help reduce the risk of injury while getting your heart rate up.2NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x
#6: Start Slowly
During the first week of your return to running plan, just run every other day. Take plenty of walk breaks, using run-walk running intervals.
The second week, start running 2 days in a row followed by a day off, increasing the duration of the running intervals and decreasing the frequency and length of the walk intervals.
Remember to heed the 10% rule (don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% from week to week), particularly if you are prone to running injuries. Otherwise, you can potentially scale up 15% or so.
Make sure you are listening to your body and using your physical cues, such as muscle soreness, to gauge how much you can run and when you need walk breaks.
This can help you focus on how your body responds to run-walk workouts and when you need a walk interval.
I also suggest wearing a heart rate monitor rather than using a GPS watch so that you can gauge the physiological intensity of your workout regardless of how fast you are actually running.
Err on the side of caution with building distance and intensity. Be patient and focus on easy runs before adding speed workouts, and enjoy the journey back.
For our Couch to 5k plan to get started, see this next guide:
- 1de Jonge, J., Balk, Y., & Taris, T. (2020). Mental Recovery and Running-Related Injuries in Recreational Runners: The Moderating Role of Passion for Running. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(3), 1044. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17031044
- 2NILSSON, J., & THORSTENSSON, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica, 136(2), 217–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1716.1989.tb08655.x