How to Make a Comeback in Running and Racing

More in-person races are taking place around the world so in this episode we share how to get back into racing by evaluating your fitness level, choosing the right plan, and finding the time to train.

The idea for this episode came from a listener named Devon who asks,

“Would you consider a podcast on sort of “back to the basics of training?” How to choose an appropriate race goal (especially with no recent races to benchmark on), how to choose a training plan, how to fit training into life, etc? I think a lot of us have gone 15 months or so without any formal plan, and now with races starting again we’re ready to jump in! But I for one have forgotten how.”

Why you might be out of the game
There are many different reasons why runners step away from working off a training plan or doing races. Obviously the big one during the past year plus has been the pandemic where virtual races were almost the only choice. During that time many runners may not have felt very motivated to go through a whole training plan for a race that wasn’t in-person or that could get canceled.

But there are other reasons for why you could have been out of the training “game” and these could include a health setback, injury, a move or other big life change, the addition or subtraction of a family member, or just getting caught up in the busyness of life and letting training slip to the wayside. If this is you know that you’re not alone.

When you’re re-starting it’s important to first evaluate your current fitness level. This can help determine the time frame you choose for your running goal(s). It’s vital that you be honest with yourself and start where you are now, not where you used to be a year ago or where you wish you were.

Reaching our running and fitness goals is not simply a linear equation where we move onward and upward. The journey can be full of setbacks and challenges and this is simply part of the process.

Questions to ask yourself before choosing a goal:

  1. Do I have a solid running base? Have you been running regularly for the past 3-6 months?
  2. Am I injury free? If not, which area(s) are giving me trouble?
  3. Do I feel stuck? It’s normal to reach a plateau and not know exactly what to do next. If this is you, it’s wise to reach out for help. At MTA we’d love to help you figure out the puzzle and get you back on the road to reaching your goals.
  4. What challenges or obstacles are currently standing in my way? This can be health challenges, childcare issues, schedule variability, and much more. Being honest about what might hinder your progress is key to finding solutions to achieving your goal.
  5. What is my big goal? It may be setting a 5k PR, running your first half marathon or marathon, qualifying for Boston, running your first ultra, running a marathon in every state or continent, or winning a race. Having that dream will help give you the vision to what steps to take next.
  6. What is my short term goal? Depending on your fitness level this could be something that gets you part of the way to your dream goal. This is where you get more practical and start where you are now.
  7. Who do I trust to help get me there? It’s important to choose a training plan or running coach that’s a good fit for you.

How to Choose a Training Plan

  1. Evaluate your current fitness level. If you’ve taken a few months off from training or currently don’t have a running base it’s important to choose a beginner friendly plan (even if it’s not a new distance for you). The key is to start where you are now…not where you want to be. Often our actual fitness level is lower than the fitness level we have in our head.
  2. Run a 5k time trial. This can give you some information on your current fitness level. Find a flat course that’s uninterrupted by traffic. Warm up with brisk walking or easy running for 1.5 miles, then run 3.1 miles (5k) at a comfortably hard pace (the last 0.25 mile should feel hard) and record 5k time, finish with 5-10 minutes of easy running or walking. There are a few online training calculators where you input your results and can get a ballpark of what paces might be attainable for various distances. There’s the McMillan Calculator and Jack Daniels VDOT.
  3. Determine how committed you are to training and how you’ll navigate common logistical challenges (like a work schedule changing, traveling, not having childcare, ect). If you’re willing and able to devote more time to training and recovery, you may have more success pursing a more challenging goal.
  4. Don’t choose a plan that is too challenging. For example, if you’ve been running 3-4 days per week then it may not be wise to choose a training plan that has 5-6 running days per week. Make sure your baseline fitness (days per week, average mileage) is a good fit for the plan.
  5. Don’t set a time goal for your first marathon. One mistake I see beginners make is getting their mind set on a time goal and then dealing with a lot of disapointment. Even if you’re not a new runner the marathon is a different beast. So much can happen over the course of training and the race that a good first time goal is simply to run strong, stay healthy, and go the distance. There will always be time to set a PR later on.
  6. When you’re a newer runner you’ll most likely see larger improvements from race to race. In fact, it’s not unusual for runners training for their 2nd marathon to take anywhere from 15-60 minutes off their first time if they train smart. However, as you become more experienced the margin that you’ll be able to take off from race to race narrows. It may be more realistic to aim for a 5-15 min improvement in your marathon time per training cycle. With shorter races like the 5k and 10k you’ll be aiming for smaller improvements because the length of the race simply doesn’t give as much time margin. You may improve anywhere from a few seconds to 5 minutes.
  7. Make sure you don’t just run. While running is awesome and a necessary part of reaching your goal this can lead to imbalance. Be sure to schedule in at least two strength training workouts per week while you’re training for your goal.
  8. Reach out to us at MTA. We have a contact page on our website and can help you figure out an appropriate short term goal.

How to Fit Training Into Your Life

  1. Think about your “why.” What is it about running that makes you a better version of yourself? Having a clearly defined “why” will keep your going through the challenges and setbacks.
  2. Remember that habit beats motivation every time. Figure out how you can begin training habits that will carry you through the times you lack motivation (and it will happen).
  3. Figure out the best time for you to run (and strength train). Maybe you really want to be a morning runner but are a night owl and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Working with your inner circadian rhythm will allow you to better stick to your goals.
  4. Put it in your schedule. When you block out time to train it’s more likely to happen. Left to chance that run or workout probably won’t fit in.
  5. Remember that it will feel hard. You’re not the only one who struggles on the road to accomplishing your goals. Often the most worthwhile goals are the ones that require us to dig the deepest. You will have to let go of old mindsets that have held you back in the past. Becoming a stronger runner will require that you become stronger mentally and emotionally too.
  6. Enlist the help of a support team. This can be family, friends, running partners, online community members, a running coach, etc. Having people in your life who “get it” and can give you encouragement and advice when you are struggling are so important. If the people in your life don’t get it just explain that training is like self care for you and that it makes you feel like the best version of yourself (it’s hard for people to argue with that).

The great thing about having an online running community like the people in the Academy is that they do get it and can offer support, encouragements, and advice when you need it (and you can give it back when they’re in need).

Also Mentioned in This Episode

Path Projects -PATH Projects makes running shorts with 3 or 4 zip pockets so you can carry your phone, keys, gels, ID, etc without things bouncing around when you run. Enter to win one of five $75 PATH projects gift cards at www.PATHprojects.com/MTA

Beam -maker of Dream Powder -a tasty nighttime cocoa drink with CBD to help you get more restful sleep. Use code MTA for 15 percent off your next order.

The Südtirol Sky Marathon in Italy -Trevor is signed up for this trail marathon.

About Angie Spencer

Angie is a registered nurse and running coach who empowers new runners to conquer the marathon, run faster, and take their health and fitness to the next level. Join the Academy

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