There’s a fine art to returning to running after an injury or a prolonged illness — and they’re not quite the same. I’ve had a few times when I’ve had to take a few weeks off running due to illness. Here’s how I ease back in — when I’m being smart. Of course I am not a medical professional or coach and I don’t play one on the Internet!
When are you ready to return?
If it’s a simple cold, you might actually be able to run through it, although I don’t personally recommend it — because when you catch a cold it usually it means you’re already very run down. Rest will help you more than running through it.
If your illness involved a fever, *my* rule of thumb is to be at least two days fever free before even thinking about running. Unfortunately I get viruses where I’ll feel fine (after the initial few days of feeling bad) and then suddenly I’ll be running a low grade temperature again, over and over for a couple of weeks.
In that case, I did light exercise every day. Yoga. Walking Bandit. No hard cardio though — no running.
Eventually though I was fever free, and I was ready to return to running.
Start off easy
Easier than you think you need to. Light exercise while you’re sick will keep you in decent shape — but it won’t keep you in running shape. After a few weeks off, you can’t just pick up where you left off. If you have a running coach they can definitely guide you to the right amount of exercise.
If you don’t, I suggest starting off with 1 mile (yup, that’s what I did). Run/walk is a really good idea, too, although I didn’t actually start out with run/walk intervals. I know it seems like nothing, but by starting off easy, it’s also easier to gauge your fitness and potentially ramp up your running quickly.
Start off too hard or too soon, though, and you’re likely to either relapse — or even potentially injure yourself.
You can expect to feel some DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) as your muscles get used to the pounding of running again. Or maybe not — I didn’t!
You absolutely should be doing only easy runs — and at a slower pace than you were running before you got sick. Don’t worry; you won’t be stuck at this pace — muscle memory can kick in quickly — but overdo it at the beginning and you will pay the price.
I started out with 1 miles, and then only added a quarter of a mile until I was at 2 miles. Then I jumped up a half mile to 2.5 miles.
I found my V02 MAX had dropped a few points — in other words, I’d lost a little cardiovascular fitness. I know that with a slow and steady return, I will regain that fitness relatively quickly.
Don’t worry, be happy!
Just play it smart. Appreciate that you can run again — no matter how it feels (hard, probably), or at what pace (slower, hopefully). You won’t stay there forever. It won’t take you as long to get back to where you were before you got sick as it did to work your way up to that point in the first place.
As long as you play nice with yourself and take it easy!
Do you have a “furmula” for returning to running after a few weeks off?
Do you run through colds? I actually almost never get colds.
Have you ever jumped back in at the same level you left off — and regretted that?