RW's Guide To The Perfect Comeback (Preview)

Tired of false starts? Here's how to make a triumphant return to running, however long you've been sidelined (non-subscriber preview)


Posted: 29 December 2006
by Elizabeth Hufton

Every career has its highs and lows. Just ask Gary Barlow. Two years ago he was resigned to a lifetime of nostalgia TV programmes. But with a bit of advice and support, Barlow and his band Take That stormed the charts again in December. The lesson is clear: no matter how badly your running has gone wrong, how much fitness you've lost, you can make a successful comeback. And you won't need Robbie Williams, either.

Running often leads to layoffs. It places high demands on your body and, unlike lower-impact exercise, it's not something you can do after a serious accident, illness or straight after having a child. As a result many running lives are characterised by layoffs and comebacks, which is fine as long as you handle the comeback correctly. If you've had a break, read our nine rules for a successful return and don't start running again until you meet all the criteria.

RW magazine subscribers can see the article in full here (along with three running comebacks) while non subscribers can enjoy the first three for free. If you'd like to to subscribe and see them all (and many other benefits), you can save 30% and get instant access right here.

1. Patience is a virtue
Take That know a thing or two about patience – it was the name of their comeback single, and it should also form a cornerstone of your running return. If you've had false dawns in your running before, think about what didn't work out. The chances are it had something to do with doing too much, too soon. Take a tip from new runners, and wait until each run feels comfortable before stepping up to the next level – no matter how hard or far you could run before. Trying to take up where you left off, especially if that was a month or two ago, will lead to trouble.

2. Question your motives
The answer to this question will help you determine whether you're ready to draw up a schedule again. After a layoff, the only valid reason for pulling on your trainers is that you're physically and mentally ready to commit to a slow, steady return to running, but many of us re-start prematurely for other reasons. Perhaps your favourite race is coming up; an old partner is running faster than ever; or you can't get into your jeans any more.

Just knowing your friends are hitting the track without you is enough to push you back early. If you're thinking of reasons why you should run again – your big marathon is weeks away, you miss your friends, you're gaining weight – then draw up a list of all the reasons why you shouldn't: your leg still hurts, you're tired, and you're not up to joining in a hard session.

3. Know yourself
Finding a marker of how much fitness you've lost during your layoff can be a helpful starting point. "To a degree, it's true that an experienced runner can return to training quicker than if they were starting from scratch," says Dr Jonathan Folland, a lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Loughborough, "but it depends on the duration of the layoff and the extent of activity in the meantime. There's a big spectrum."

Conventional fitness tests (such as a "bleep" test or VO2 max test) won't be much use unless you have pre-layoff results to compare them with. Instead, try to run a regular "easy" route from your repertoire, ideally with a regular training partner. If it takes you much longer than usual, or you have to stop, then you should act as though you're starting from scratch. It's better to be over-cautious until you can manage that easy run again without any trouble.


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