Coach Matt Forsman helps you plot out your return to running in the new year.
Most runners take a holiday break from intense training and racing to enjoy the season, spend time with family and friends, and give their bodies and minds much-needed rest. But, when the holidays are over and it’s time to resume training, runners need to be smart about their return to running. Inspired by the new year (or by their holiday cookie consumption), this time of year also ushers in a crop of new runners who are determined to lose weight, get fit and maybe even run their first race.
Coach “Marathon Matt” Forsman, a USATF and RRCA certified coach whose marathon and half-marathon training programs and group runs are popular in the San Francisco Bay area, where Forsman lives, takes two aspects into consideration before dispensing base-building advice: running experience and reason for the break (injury, post-race recovery, long layoff, etc.).
Advice For Beginning Runners (little or no previous running experience):
“If this person has been sedentary for a long period, I’d probably put them on a run/walk routine. It’d be a very gradual, progressive and methodical plan. For someone who has never done any running before, I’d have them start out with 10 minutes—three minutes of running and two minutes of walking, and two iterations of this to get in 10 minutes—twice a week for the first couple of weeks. In the third week, I might add an additional run over the weekend so they’re doing a total of 30 minutes for the week. Then, I’d gradually increase the run interval from three minutes of running to four and two minutes of walking to one by the fourth week, depending on how the person is doing. I’d also advise the individual to get in a few days of cross training between those runs and keep that to 20-30 minutes of easy to moderate cardio like elliptical, swimming, stationary biking.”
Advice For Experienced Runners
“If this person took time off for injury or took enough time off to lose a lot of fitness, so much of my recommendation depends on the type of injury, how long the layoff was and what that person’s level (mileage) was prior to the injury or long layoff. Let’s say this person was running 30 miles per week consistently prior to the injury or time off and that the injury wasn’t terribly severe (a severe injury would be a stress fracture or require surgery). I’d eliminate speed work entirely for the first two to four weeks and just get him or her back to a regular running routine. Cut the weekly mileage in half—so just run 15 miles per week for the first two to four weeks. Assess how you feel at the end of each week. Ask yourself: Is my body happy? Listen to the message your body is telling you. Everyone’s looking for guidelines, but people get so hung up on what’s on their training schedule and fail to listen to the messages their bodies are sending.
If the runner was doing some sort of cardiovascular cross training to maintain some fitness during the layoff, it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to get back into running. Assuming all feels fine, increase volume by 10 percent and continue to do so for about four weeks. If all keeps going well, the runner can layer back in the speed work if they’ve done speed training before, but just do it in a very progressive way. Start with two to four minutes of tempo, compared to the 10 consecutive minutes of tempo you did before the layoff. If you want to get back to the track, start out with three or four 400-meter repeats for the first workout and add an interval every week or so. Then progress to 800m.”