Starting Running After a Long Layoff
Starting running after a long layoff is a common occurrence between runners. Your layoff can be for multiple reasons, injury, stress, and time play into time away from running.
As we know consistent running is crucial if you want to see improvements in your running and fitness. But travel, injury and family commitments can derail your goals in running. In fact, everyone that has been running for multiple years has had to stop for one reason or another. In short, it happens to over 70% of runners and what you choose to do afterward is what matters.
Below we follow a 5k runner during a period of 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks and over 2 months of time off. The fitness lost is calculated on a runner finishing a 5k event in 20 minutes.
Running after 2 weeks off
One of the most common questions I get when people get back into running after 2 weeks off is “how much fitness have I lost”. As runners, we are used to having a rest day each week and after two weeks off we generally think it will ruin our fitness.
Generally having two weeks off will see a 6% reduction in VO2 max and very small reductions in muscle power. So typically for most athletes, two weeks rest isn’t going to cause much damage. Although it will take you a few days to get back into the swing of things and get that “running” feeling back again.
After you take all this into consideration the 5km runner has potentially lost around 1 minute 5 secs, bringing his time to 21:05.
When you start running again after 2 weeks off it is recommended the first-week training is recovery running and just slowly increasing the volume by some minutes each run. You should start to see your overall mileage return to normal in the next few weeks.
Running after 3 weeks off
Starting running after 3 weeks off is where you start to see a higher decline in performance. When you start back running it takes a slightly longer period to find your running rhythm again. It is estimated that during these three weeks we will see an 8-10% reduction in VO2 max and decrease in muscle power.
Looking at this 8-10% loss in fitness our 5km runner is now looking at a time loss of 2-2.5 minutes dropping their finishing time to 22:00 – 22:30 minutes.
Once you are back to running its important to start easy and slowly increase the mileage again. It is recommended that the first 10 days is easy running and keep away intensity for the first 2 weeks. If you have come back from an injury, it could be a wise idea to include some walking intervals to test the injury.
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Running after 4 weeks off
Once you begin to start running again after 4 weeks your body will be in quite a shock. Both your form and fitness feel foreign, and your average speed has declined.
Because you have been dormant for the past month and starting running after a long layoff, expect to see a 12% reduction in V02 and a decrease in muscle power. Our 5k runner would expect a performance of around 23:00. This means that after 4 weeks off we have seen an speed loss of 3 minutes.
From the first two weeks rest till now we have seen a large decrease in overall fitness from 20 minutes to 23 minutes, showing you that after 4 weeks of training it can have a serious impact on your fitness.
After 4 weeks of no running the time to get back to normal training increases dramatically. If you have come back from a serious injury, expect to include walking intervals while you increase the running for the first two weeks.
To reach back to your previous mileage you are at least looking at a 4 week period for most people. Remember 4 weeks is a long time, and coming back to running too quickly can cause more harm than good.
Running after 2 months off
Without running after 2 months off you would expect to see a huge decline in performance and this is the case. From 1 month of rest to two months you can expect a 19% reduction in V02 max and a much larger decrease in muscle power than 2-4 weeks of rest. By this time your 5k fitness has dropped rapidly to 24 minutes.
After the 2 months of not running anything greater will see your V02 max decrease to 25.7% or more. While your muscle power is continues to decline. Depending on how much time after two months you had off, you would expect to see a result of 25:30 or slower. This just shows that our 5k runner has dropped more than 5 minutes over a period of two months.
After two months of no running
Two months or more off training is a long period of time for any sport. If you have been injured during this period then it was a very serious injury. If the time away was caused by commitments, travel, or loss of motivation you can still expect to see a long road ahead of you to increase your fitness, V02, and muscle power.
It is extremely important after not running for two months that you follow some structure, This helps you to get you back running as safely as possible. Spend at least the first 2-3 weeks incorporating some walking in the runs and keep the distances short. After each week has passed try to increase the runs slightly or reduce the walking.
Starting running after a long layoff can take time back to get back to full fitness and full mileage. In some cases, this can take upwards of 3 months. This all depends on the time you had off and the reason. Unfortunately, there is no quick way back, and if you do push things that little too hard you might see this time off increase again.