Apparently overconfident from a couple of weeks of working out, I've decided I'm ready to run again. For some context, I've done one half-marathon in the last 5 years, and the training for that was not great (I found out I was pregnant with my second child about 6 weeks before the race and my already haphazard training fell completely apart at that point). I haven't sustained any long seasons of regular running since 2013 and, if you'd believe it, I'm also five years older than I was in 2013. All that said, it will not be the easiest of tasks to get back at it.
And yet, last week I signed up for the Memphis St. Jude Half Marathon. With no training plan of any kind, I just took off running. I made it to around mile two of the second run when my calf muscle did some combination of cramping, tearing, and straining (exact injury TBD). It seems that I am too out of shape, too old, and, one would think, too experienced to think that just going out and running as hard as you can is the answer. Isn't, but how does one get back into running after a long hiatus? What strategies should I embrace and what training plans are we using these days? Hopefully not too late, I'm starting fresh with a smart(er), strategic approach to getting back to running.
Step 1: Restarting a Routine
As luck would have it, there are a ton of resources out there that give tips about what to do when getting back to running after a long break due to injury, babies, life, etc. The quantity of articles written on this topic in and of itself is reassuring - i.e., I'm clearly not alone. It seems most runners (I'm going to lean into optimism today and go ahead and call myself a runner) take an extended break at some point. This is good news! After perusing a number of resources, I walked away with three clear "getting started action steps" for myself. (I also linked a few of my favorite articles, see below.)
1. Start simple, small, and easy.
My first mistake was an amateur one - going out full bore without any sort of running foundation. Not only did that lead to almost immediate injury, it also wasn't going to set me up for success (it's a great way to feel discouraged and overwhelmed right from the start). My new plan: for the first two weeks the goal is simply running 15 minutes three times a week. With high hopes of getting back into endurance shape, it'll be tempting to blow past this goal. However, starting small seems to be an important piece in rebuilding long-term and healthy habits. Plus, this small goal will allow time for a warm up, cool down, and stretching, all three of which are essential pieces of every run (but something that I seem to have forgotten). So, fighting all inclinations to the contrary, the first two weeks are nothing but 15 minute runs. Baby steps.
2. Have one, tangible, attainable, and measurable goal
While my overall goal is to integrate running back into my routine and improve my overall health and fitness, that's a hard goal to connect with and work towards on a daily basis. This is a fine long-term goal to have in mind, but a more measurable and manageable goal is key for me in the short-term. So, my current goal is a half marathon on December 1. That's ten weeks away, so cutting it a little close, but there's enough time to be successful with thoughtful planning.
3. Have a plan.
With a clear goal in mind, I've got something that I need to work towards. But, with such a time-sensitive and specific goal, just haphazardly running isn't going to do the trick. Obviously, I've got a plan for my first two weeks, but I need a strategic plan for the next eight weeks after that.
There are a multitude of training plans available for all distances, skill levels, lengths of time, etc. There are also resources available to help you build your own personalized plan. For me, having a plan that I can stick to and be successful with is more important than having the perfect plan. I landed on Snacking in Sneakers 8 Week Half Marathon Plan because it fits my time frame well, it's easily applied (but her site also provides lots of additional descriptions and support as needed), it enables me to just run 3-days a week* (which is important for making sure I stick with the plan while not overrunning a body that is not used to being pounded on the pavement), and it's simple. Now, I officially have a plan: two weeks of three, 15-minute runs followed by the below plan. There's no room for procrastinating or skipping runs, the plan is in writing. No turning back.
*I plan to cross-train on the optional running day.