Walking & Hiking

How to Get Back into Running after Winter

March 16, 2015
runners on a scenic path through a park

This winter was dreadful, especially for runners. From several feet of snow to arctic-like temperatures, even the most dedicated runners had trouble layering up to head outside for a few miles. Even if you, like many other runners, resorted to indoor options like cross training and the oh-so-terrible “dreadmill,” you might feel like you’re stuck in a rut as the sun starts shining and the weather becomes bearable again. Or maybe you loathe both snow and indoor running so much that you just took the winter off (definitely not me…).

How do you get back to it after a winter break? How do you convince your body that it’s up to the challenge in time for this year’s race season? A winter break doesn’t have to mean a long-term set back. Read on for more on how to get back into running after winter.

Look elsewhere to start

If you took a complete break from physical activity over the winter, running probably isn’t the best place to start. Instead, look into a few cross training activities to get your body used to exertion again without putting the strain on your joints right away.

Options to get moving again include:

  • Swimming or pool running. The water provides natural resistance while you move without the repetitive strain of hitting the pavement.
  • The elliptical. It’s not a substitute for running, and it’s not a viable long-term option, however, the elliptical gets you back into the right movement while you work up a sweat.
  • If you’re simply dying to get outside, biking might be the best place to start your fitness routine back up again. As always, put on a helmet and practice road safety, but incorporate hills and various speeds for best results.

Start slow


Image credit:  Igh75

You’re ready to go. Maybe last fall you were in peak condition, setting PRs all over the place. Maybe you were happy with a consistent race season that left you feeling fulfilled. Regardless of how ready your mind is to jump right back into where you left off, it’s important to slow it down.

Go out for easy runs for a few weeks. Focus on your form. Pay attention to your body to see if there are any new aches or pains. Consider a pair of new running shoes for the season and simply let your body get used to the motion that it’s been missing for a few months.

Remember that less is more

While you’re moving a little slower than you did when you left off, you can start to increase your miles gradually. Aim for 3-5 shorter runs per week. While a 10-miler might sound like a great way to kick off your season, it’s also a great way to get injured and to ruin it. Before any major long runs, make sure your body can handle 20-30 miles a week for a month or so. After that, feel free to increase to your regular mileage.

Add in some speed

Speed training is essential to a successful race season. If you’ve been running for awhile, you already know this. Once you’re up to your regular mileage and you’ve started to get back to your standard training pace, look to incorporate one speed or interval workout a week to prepare for your upcoming race season.  If you’re new to intervals, the Internet is filled with suggestions. Some ideas include:

  • 5 x 1 miles at your desired 5k pace with a slow 800 meters in between each set.
  • 8 x 800 meters at 10-30 seconds faster than your desired 5k pace with a slow 400 meters in between each set.
  • 4 x 400 meters at your target fast mile pace with 400 meters walking or jogging in between.

You should be worn out at the end of an interval workout. Remember to cool down and to stretch once you’ve finished. Get creative, mix up your speed work and remember, intervals help prepare your body for race day. While they may not take as long to complete as a long run, they’re essential for distance runners of all levels.

Prepare yourself mentally


Image credit:  Lake Mead NRA Public Affairs

As a runner, you’re used to pushing your body to its limits; it’s probably part of why you do what you do in the first place. That rush is something every runner chases every time they lace up their shoes and head out the door. That’s because in many cases, running is just as much a mental game as a physical one.

It’s also what makes getting back into your routine after a prolonged break so difficult. You’re used to performing at a certain level. Getting back to where you were is absolutely possible; however, it won’t happen right away. Stop watching the clock and measuring yourself against where you left off; remember to find joy in every run.

Getting back into a solid running routine after a winter break can be a challenge, but, it’s definitely one that can be achieved. Start small and follow the steps above for best results.

Main image credit:  Living Fitness

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