Editor’s note: the title of my post is not meant to offend anyone or imply that anyone is a dummy. I often write in a satirical tone meant to be jovial but not offensive or mean-spirited. (Though I’m perfectly fine with calling myself a dummy, as is the case here.) Also, while I do hope to offer my readers some practical running and training tips based on my own experience, I am not a certified running coach.
Since I first began running, nearly 21 years ago, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is this: the best way to avoid having to start over is to not quit doing it in the first place. (That is of course, unless you are forced to take time off to rest or heal after an injury. Not doing so would make you a dummy. Just sayin’.)
I have no idea how many times I’ve taken a break from running, for whatever reason, only to basically have to start over from scratch when I decided that I couldn’t live without it. The time-frame of the breaks has varied anywhere from a few days to a few months. (I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed an entire year in there somewhere too.)
In runners speak, base building or base training, is a period of maintenance, typically off-season, before jumping into your next training program. For new runners or those of us who have fallen off the wagon, it is often referred to as a point from which we begin running at a lower mileage base and begin to build from there.
Whether you plan to begin training for a future race or not, I think creating the mindset that you are in a base building phase is much better than a start over phase. Rebuilding a running program is a great opportunity to take a really good look at what you’ve done in the past, where you are now, and what your goals are. From that evaluation, you can make the necessary adjustments that correlate with your training plan or race schedule (if you have one).
My self-prescribed base building plan is really just a compiled list of do’s and don’ts that have helped me rebuild my mileage over the years when I’ve had to start over. I’m sure it will be beneficial for others that need a subtle (or not-so-subtle) kick in the ass to get out there and get moving again.
The DON’T List
Don’t beat yourself up over taking time off. Life happens. Shit happens. Get over it and move on. (I’m talking to you, Hyla.)
Don’t compare yourself to where you were last week, month, or year. Case in point: this time last year I had already run more than 700 miles. So far this year just a little over 300. But who’s counting?
Don’t compare yourself to other runners and the mileage they are currently logging or races they are doing.
Don’t worry about pace. Just get out there and run! As they say, a mile is a mile regardless of whether you run it in 8 minutes or 13 minutes.
Don’t immediately plan speed work sessions, hill repeats, ambitious long runs, etc.
The DO List
Do give yourself a mini-break regularly but pick a day/date that you’ll start back up. (Unless of course you are under the care of a physician and you need their consent to be released for physical activity.) I’ve found that while coming back after a break can be challenging, I think extended rest periods are very important for avoiding injury and long-term burnout.
Do decide what you want (safely and within reason) your base mileage to be. (This can and will change, as often as every couple of weeks and dependent upon what you were running before your break.) Using myself as an example, this week I have worked on running three miles most days so that it would become comfortable. In the weeks leading up to the time I took off, my average runs were three to four miles.
Do start slow and easy. No need to push the pace yet. Use this time as an opportunity to reconnect with what made you fall in love with running in the first place and why you want to keep doing it.
Do understand that you are going to be uncomfortable at first. There is no way I can sugarcoat it for you. It is very likely that you are going to experience some really ugly feelings both physically and mentally. Refer back to the first suggestion on the DON’T list.
Do aim to increase your mileage each week but wait until the second week, minimum, to add a “long” run. This is somewhat individual but the rule of thumb for increasing long run distance is about 10% each week. I’ve always felt pretty comfortable adding a mile (sometimes two) to my longer runs. You have to gauge it for yourself. It will also be dependent on how far you were running on your longer runs before you took time off and how long the break was. I’d also recommend that you wait until after you have two solid weeks of easy, short runs in before adding speed, interval, or hill training into the mix.
Do cross train and add strength workouts to your plan. While I wasn’t running, I was staying active by hiking hilly canyons and doing body-weight-based workouts several times a week. I’ve continued this practice as I’ve started running again. I know it helped me maintain some of my endurance and strength when I wasn’t running and has made the transition back to running easier.
Do believe that with consistency and optimism, you will regain your fitness and actually feel like a runner again soon. It’s a safe bet to say probably sooner than you think is possible too. In just one week, with only about 16 miles under my belt, I already feel SO much better!
There is a ton of information to be found online and in various publications on the subject. However, I’ve stripped it down to these basic do’s and don’ts because I feel that many traditional base building training programs are geared toward athletes that have more rigid training cycles and are just coming off of one and/or has just finished a target/goal race. I fall into neither of these categories. Also, at least for me right now, I feel that laying the groundwork using these guidelines is a lot easier than a more formal training schedule.
Please remember that I do not have the credentials to give training advice and speak only from my own experiences so don’t be a dummy and take it for what it’s worth.
Happy base building!