Chris Freytag by Chris Freytag

woman running

Most of the country experiences winter—the snow, the ice and the cold—all of which put a damper on outdoor exercise, especially running routes. We say we’ll hit the treadmill, but many of us take a seasonal break from running. Or perhaps life sidelines you and you take some time off from your running routine. Whatever your situation, if you are ready to get back into running, use these five tips to avoid injury and get your running mojo back. 

1. Start Slow

Whether your running break was a few years long or just one season, the comeback needs to be the same: slow. If you were running a seven-minute mile in October and try to hit that pace come April, you could end up injured or left with a big bout of discouragement. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but your body (and your mind) is simply not ready to tackle your old pace. Slow down your stride and ease your way back up instead. You’ll stay healthy and motivated to keep running when you aren’t left sucking wind after just one mile, questioning why you even bothered lacing up. 

2. Decrease The Distance

Along with your pace, your distance needs to be altered after a winter break. A five-miler on your first day back is asking for injury and soreness. Instead, start with a distance that feels comfortable for your current fitness level and follow the 10 percent rule until your mileage is back to normal. This common running rule means that you only increase your distance by 10 percent a week. If you start at 10 miles a week, you would run 11 miles the following week and so on and so forth. 

3. Listen to Your Body

Side aches. Shortness of breath. Running can leave your body with a lot of feelings. To train—not strain—use your body as a guide to know when to take it down a notch. Your running muscles have been in hibernation all winter long; slowing down to a walk or taking a recovery day is not a sign of defeat, it is a sign of intelligence. Listening to your body also means adding more stretching, water and sleep to your routine when running leaves you feeling sluggish or sore. Your body is like a personal health coach, but much cheaper and one that knows you from the inside out. 

4. Keep Cross Training

If you dabbled in other forms of exercise to stay active during the winter, don’t lose your cross-training habits with the melting snow. Strength training—whether that’s TRX, group fitness classes, lifting or resistance bands—actually improves power, speed and endurance for runners. Low-impact cardio like swimming, biking and the elliptical provides a much-needed break from the stress running puts on knees and joints. And both strength training and low-impact cardio help reduce the risk for injury as well. To reap the benefits, work in two to three days of cross training with your running routine. 

5. Regain Motivation

If winter turned into an easy excuse to forgo all forms of sweating, finding the motivation to start running again can be tough. A good way to regain focus and drive is to join forces with a running partner or club. When you know other people are counting on you to show up, you’ll be less likely to skip out. If you’re worried about being “out of your league,” know that running clubs come in all shapes and sizes. Beginner, advanced and everything in between, let Google be your friend. Another way to get your motivation back is to train for a race. Knowing that you have a big challenge coming up on the calendar will keep you pounding that pavement. If your running break was more of a two-year hiatus than a winter break, start with a 5K. If you’ve run a race before, try a 10K or half-marathon. In either circumstance, find a training plan that provides ample time for preparation. For 5Ks, the Couch to 5K app is a great training plan for beginners. Also make sure to check out the ACE Running site for tips on how to safely and effectively train for a race.