Starting to Run Again After a Long Break

I’ve been running consistently for over 20 years. I usually train for two (or more) marathons each year.

That is, until 2020.

After I finished a leap day 50k, the lockdowns started. I took it as a sign the universe was telling me to slow down and rest, so I stopped running for a bit.

Over the summer, I started #slowrunning (a Garmin-less part run, part walk, exploration of the neighborhood), but those ‘runs’ were inconsistent, at best.

It’s only been in the last few months that I’ve gotten back into running with any regularity.

And man, has it been an uncomfortable wake-up call!

A Really Experienced Beginner

I may have run a 50k not that long ago, but now, I feel like I’ve never run before. 5ks in my neighborhood totally wipe me out.

I feel soooooo slow (even by my standards, and I’ve never been mistaken for a speed demon).

I’m avoiding more popular and more crowded routes and sticking close to home, which also means I’m running a ton of hills. Or more specifically, I’m walking a ton of hills. Whatever bit of hill-running oomph I had (which was never a lot) is gone.

It’s ugly.

But it’s also kind of liberating.

I’m a really experienced beginner.

Starting to Run Again

I know I’m not alone in this.

I’m a coach for a local running club and we are doing our annual marathon training program virtually this year. New this year, we added a new category of training plan. We have beginner plans, advanced plans, and rusty runners plans – for experienced runners who aren’t beginners but who haven’t been running as much, or as consistently, of late.

Rusty Runners has proven to be a very popular option.


Whether you are just getting back into running after stopping or slowing down in 2020, or coming back after injury, here are a few mindset reminders and tips to make starting over a little easier.

Consider What ‘Starting Over’ Looks Like For You

If you’ve continued to run, but maybe not with the same regularity, starting again may just be a matter of resetting routines.

If you (like me) have taken a more complete break from running, starting over means not only resetting routines, but also getting your body used to running again. Redeveloping fitness, not just mindset.

It’s important to be honest with yourself about where you are (re)starting from.

Set Goals Fresh

Ignore what you did last year.

Forget what your tempo or 5k paces may have been.

Erase the board of prior goals and expectations and start fresh.

What goals are realistic for you right now? What goals inspire you?

Refigure your training paces for where your body is today (using a tool like Jack Daniels’ VDOT calculator).

I get it – this is so much easier said than done, but setting a current goal based on your fitness level a year ago is a recipe for frustration.

Adjust Your Expectations

Related to setting goals fresh, readjust the expectations you have of you, your fitness, and your running.

If you haven’t been running regularly, you likely won’t be able to take out your usual 16 or 18 week marathon or half marathon training plan and knock it out.

Your paces will probably be slower.

You may have to walk waaaaay more than you ‘usually’ do.

Let go of unproductive expectations.

Build slowly back into a workout program starting from where you are today.

Trying to start where you left off a year ago will likely only result in frustration and doing too much too fast – a guaranteed one-way ticket to overuse injuries.

No Comparison

You should never compare yourself to others, to where you wish you were, or to what you were once capable of.

This is always true, but it’s especially true now.

(Re)Starting running is a no comparison zone.

Vent the Negative, But Then Move On

Based on my experience in the past month, I know starting over can bring up lots of negative emotions and frustrations.

I’m so slow. I have to walk too much. I’m mad I can’t (currently) race IRL or run with friends.

Let yourself feel your feelings, even when they are negative. Acknowledge your frustrations.

But then move on.

Don’t get stuck in the negative.

Don’t Lose Sight of What You Already Know

You may have been on the sidelines for a while, but that doesn’t mean you are starting entirely over.

Don’t forget what you already know.

Chances are you already know some practical details of running- what fuel or gear works for you, for example.

You also have experience with the mindset of running. You know you can do it. You’ve done it before.

Sure, it’s hard.

Sure, it’s a lot of work, but you can do it.

Acknowledge what you already know.

Check In With Your Gear

Since you are starting fresh, it’s a great time to look at your gear with fresh eyes.

Do you need new shoes?

Would a cute new running jacket make starting again a little more fun?

Running-appropriate face masks are now a thing you may need to stock up on.

I’m finding that running in a mask leaves me really thirsty, so I’m carrying a water bottle on all my runs, not just the longer ones. If you are in the same boat, do you need a new bottle or hydration pack?

View ‘Beginner Mind’ as a Tool, Not a Problem

Beginner’s mind is a Zen concept, defined as:

Dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. -Leo Babauta 

Let yourself see the gaps in your knowledge. Don’t be a slave to old routines. Starting over is a chance to reset and refresh your running.

Research new fueling options. Find new ‘go-to’ routes.

Don’t be tied to what you did in the past.

Find options that work better for you and for your running as it is today.

Be Kind to Yourself

Finally, and most importantly, be kind to yourself.

Start from a place of non-judgement.

Just because you aren’t as fast/fit/thin as you were months or years ago, doesn’t mean you aren’t good or worthy.

Love yourself and acknowledge your accomplishments.


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