Getting Back to Running After a Break
My doctor finally called yesterday to give the results of my CT scan following my recent brush with pneumonia. The good new is that, apart from some old scarring and my emphysema from years of smoking, my lungs are now OK. So I’m getting back to running after a long break.
The bad news about getting back to running after an illness or injury is that it’s really tempting to go too fast. We tend to ignore the fact that our bodies take a while to recover. Pushing too hard can put us right back into the situation that stopped us running in the first place.
My Program for Getting Back to Running
Yesterday was mostly cloudy with a temperature around 70-75. Just perfect for going outside: we are really blessed to have this weather in January. So I started getting back to running under ideal conditions.
After the doctor called, I pulled on an old pair of running shoes and went for a 30 minute walk. That’s the first test: if you can walk for thirty minutes without getting too tired you are ready to start getting back to running. I was panting a bit on the hills, but otherwise did fine.
Today was warm again, so I decided it was time to start my rehabilitation program, which is really the same program that I recommend for beginning runners. When you’re getting back after an illness or injury it’s even more important to be conservative with this program. Beginners sometimes take short cuts, which is not a good idea, but for after pneumonia, especially, it’s downright dangerous.
First Steps for Getting back to Running
Today I took the first step by walking for ten minutes to warm up, then jogging for one minute, walking five minutes, jogging one minute and repeating this pattern for a total of about 35 minutes. That included about eight minutes walking at the end. What I actually did was to turn around after the first five minutes walk (at about 16 minutes into the exercise). I had three jogging intervals and a little over five minutes cooldown walk.
I always do a light stretch before exercising to loosen up my leg muscles, stretching Achilles tendon, quads and hamstrings. After the workout I perform the five essential stretches. When getting back to running, I believe it’s even more important than usual to stretch fully and carefully.
This proved to be a moderate-intensity program for me today. The temptation, of course, is to start working harder, but I have learned from previous experience to resist that temptation. My next workout will be the same as today’s.
Once that workout becomes easy, I’ll move to the next step: simply increase the jogging breaks to two minutes while still warming up for ten and aiming for 30-35 minutes overall. When getting back to running, I believe it’s important that, before you move to the next step, you wait until you’re finding that at the third jogging interval you want to keep going. In fact, I’ll actually do a two-minute jog for my last interval to check that I’m really ready.
The First Stage of Getting Back to Running
Throughout the rehabilitation program I follow these rules:
- Stretch lightly first
- Warm up by walking ten minutes
- Jog, walk for 2-3 intervals
- Exercise for a total of 30-40 minutes, including a cool-down walk of at least five minutes
- Perform the five essential stretches at the end.
With that in mind, the steps in the first stage are:
- Walk 30
- Jog 1, Walk 5
- Jog 2, Walk 5
- Increase the jogging by 1 minute each step until
- Jog 5, Walk 5
Now you’re ready to start the second stage.
The Second Stage of Getting Back to Running
Once you’re comfortable with the Jog 5, Walk 5 step you’ll be ready to reduce the walking breaks. Using the same five rules as in the first stage, the steps are:
- Jog 5, Walk 4
- Jog 5, Walk 3
- Reduce the walk breaks by 1 minute each step until you’re jogging for a full 15 minutes.
The Second Phase of Getting Back to Running
Thought you were there? Think again. You’re not running yet – just jogging!
For the second phase I repeat the pattern of the first phase, but substitute running for jogging and jogging for walking. So, for example, the first step is:
- Jog for 10 minutes to warm up, run for 1 minute, jog for 5 minutes and repeat to a total of 30-40 minutes including a five minute cool-down jog at the end. Don’t forget the stretching!
You can figure out the rest.
What about Skipping Steps?
This program for getting back to running may look tedious, but the good news is that you will see measurable improvement fairly rapidly. Congratulate yourself as you move up from one step to the next. With one exception, never skip a step.
The exception is that if your illness or injury has been relatively mild you may wish to start at some point other than the beginning. Recognize that you need to very conservative when starting getting back to running: a re-injury or relapse will take longer to recover from than the original injury or illness. Nonetheless, your body will tell you if it’s just screaming to move ahead, so what do you do then?
The best idea is to start out by following the first step (walk 5, jog 1) but, instead of jogging for one minute, jog until you start to feel tired. One of three things will happen:
You jog for the full period with relatively little effort
In that case, you can move straight into the second phase of getting back to running (running instead of jogging, jogging instead of walking). I seriously recommend that you start at the beginning in the second phase. If it seems too easy, just increase your pace a little until it feels right.
You jog for 5 minutes or less consistently in each interval
If this is the case, you have found your starting point.
You jog longer in the first interval than you are able to sustain
In that case, take the shortest jogging interval you were able to sustain and start getting back to running from there
There is one other possibility, which is that you jog for more than five minutes but cannot make the full 15 minutes. In that case, I recommend that you start with the second stage (jogging with reducing walking breaks) and see what walking time meets your recovery needs.
Strength Training when Getting Back to Running
Do you enjoy weight training? Or any other strength training? I know most runners don’t, and personally I used to go out of my way to avoid it.
Runners suffer from one of the same problems that non runners do: they grow older. We have one advantage here, in that as we age we move up into another, slower, running group. However, like everyone else we also grow weaker.
Neglecting strength training may be the reason we are getting back to running after a break. We may have become ill or injured ourselves due to a weakness that could have been prevented if we had taken proper care to maintain our strength. With my pneumonia I even had to drop my strength training, but I started again as soon as I could and before I was able to get back to running.
Getting back to running after a layoff, whether due to injury or illness, can be viewed as tedious or exciting: it depends on you. I suggest that if you can view it as exciting you will enjoy your running more. Follow a conservative program, such as outlined here, and you will be back to your normal running sooner than you expect, running stronger than ever.
And, whatever else, don’t neglect the strength training. Three times a week is all it takes, for a total of about 20 minutes per week. You can see more of my program at 7 Minutes to Fitness.