How to Return to Running after Illness

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I have been unable to run for several months due to illness and injury. What are your recommendations for getting back into running? ~Linda

A: Hi, Linda. I’m happy to hear you’re feeling better. Although it can be tempting to jump back in to your running program where you left off before the illness, doing so can be quite stressful to the body. It takes a little patience at first, but when you invest in a gradual start back, your body will reward you by adapting and improving along the way. Here are 7 tips to get you back on track.

  1. Ease back into the demands and impact of running by using a run-walk interval program. It reduces the impact on the body and allows you to get a higher quality workout in with less risk of injury or soreness.
  2. Everyone’s starting point varies based on the reasons for the time off and the injuries, but it is always wise to start conservatively to avoid doing too much too soon. The goal is to get back into running by doing just enough so you finish feeling strong and thinking, “That felt good and I could do that again.” When you ease back into it slowly, it builds fitness more readily because you can maintain consistency along the way.
  3. Stick with 30 minutes in total for the workouts including a 5-minute walking warm up and cool down, which leaves 20 minutes of run-walking. Continue on this 20-minute run-walk pattern until you’re running continuously. Then begin to progress the total time of the running workout by 5 minutes every two weeks (i.e., 25 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.).
  4. For the running part of the workout (20 minutes), repeat intervals of running until you hear your breath and walking until you catch it. This may be 30 seconds for the first running workout, but so be it. When you tune into your body, it will tell you exactly where it is effort-wise, which is the key to running wisely and returning to your routine more quickly. Repeat the intervals for 20 minutes and cool down by walking for 5 minutes.
  5. As you progress through the workouts, you may notice that some days are easier than others. This is the natural rhythm of getting stronger. Continue to run by your breath and body and practice patience.
  6. Again, stick with 30-minute workouts (20 minutes run-walking) until you’re running the entire time and progress the running time from there. This is the key to success as we tend to increase time too quickly, which leads to fatigue and aches and pains.
  7. Alternate your running workouts every other day to allow time to recover before the next run. This reduces the chance of fatigue and aches, and restores your energy for the next run. Fill in the gaps with an optional cross-training workout (yoga, strength, cycling, Zumba, etc.) to keep things fresh and the momentum flowing.

It may seem overwhelming to start back up with running. However, if you keep it real and patiently build by what your body tells you, you’ll be up and running in no time! Good luck, Linda. You can do it.