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Planning to start running again in January? Here’s how to do it right

Mary Jennings: The biggest mistake I see runners make when getting back on the road is expecting take up where they left off

'You may feel like a tin man on your first few expeditions out the door. It has been a while after all. So be sure to warm-up'. Photograph: iStock
It is Health Season in The Irish Times. In print and online, we will be offering encouragement and inspiration to help us all improve our physical and mental health in 2024.

We are inundated with talk of new starts, lofty goals and resolutions this week. Turning over a new leaf is exciting but nothing is as demoralising as launching enthusiastically into an active January but fading back to old habits three weeks in.

So if “Get Back Running” is on your wish list this new year, take heed of these tips for making your running comeback a great success.

1) Lower your pace expectations

You don’t need to be breathless and pushing your body to its limit for your run to be a good one. Slow down, take walk breaks (yes, they are allowed) and actually let your body enjoy each comeback run rather than come home exhausted. The biggest mistake I see runners make when getting back on the road is expecting take up where they left off. They get annoyed, frustrated and sometimes even injured by putting too much pressure on themselves to run like they used to. A much safer and sensible option is to run at a pace that actually feels comfortable and relaxed, even if that means your ego has to take a little hit. Your fitness will return gradually. Don’t rush it, just give your body time to readjust.

2) Aim just to get out the door

Try and take the measure of success in a run away from speed. If you find yourself racing and sweating to hit certain time targets, could you be brave enough to leave your watch at home rather than feel the pressure to keep up with the old you? Focus instead on consistency and making getting out the door the goal of the exercise. Take all pressure off what you actually do on the run, instead aiming to go for a run 3 or 4 times per week. If you can instil the habit of starting a run, especially on these winter days, the fitness, motivation and speed will follow. Make it easy on yourself to feel like you are achieving and your body will want to go outside again and again. Make each run too tough and you will find yourself making excuses.


3) Don’t worry about judgment

Not only do we judge ourselves by the clock or by our running performance, but many comeback runners often fear what others might think of their current fitness level, body shape or running pace. You might even be afraid to rejoin your running club or parkrun for a while as you are feeling self-conscious. It is only natural to feel like the attention is on us when we are not confident, but all runners have all gone through ups and downs and you will be pleasantly surprised that people are generally far more understanding, encouraging than judgmental. To be honest, most people won’t actually notice or care too much about your running at all. They are far more concerned about themselves.

4) Find the right support

Consider what might derail your running comeback this January. It might be the weather, motivation, pacing, injury or even a busy life outside of running. Plan in advance and find a means of support to help you over this hump should it arise. Remember that the support you need now might not be the same as before. Coaches, apps and running clubs are all there for you if you know they will give you the structure, encouragement and accountability you need. But maybe the best support right now is the backing of someone at home to help get you out the door, a neighbour who will join you on an evening run or indeed a simple doable training plan that doesn’t push you too much and makes you feel you are succeeding rather than playing catch-up.

5) Listen to your body

You may feel like a tin man on your first few expeditions out the door. It has been a while after all. So be sure to warm-up well to help your body limber up and embrace winter weather. Notice what feels good but equally pay attention to any niggles or signs from your body that you are doing too much too soon. If you can expect the comeback journey not to be all plain sailing then you can deal with little hiccups on the way as part of the process rather than something to derail your plans. There will be days when you struggle to settle into a run but there will also be amazing runs where you feel strong and confident. There will be crisp winter mornings but equally dark wet evenings. They are all part of the process. Focus on all the positives that you are gaining from your running comeback without try to look too far into your running future. For now, take one run at a time to finish January feeling ready for whatever the spring might bring.

Set for Success

If you are serious about your running comeback this new year, set yourself up for success by keeping it very simple. Take all pressure off speed, performance, parkruns and race days if they are adding to the pressure. While these are all great for motivation, you are more likely to fall in love with running again by gradually rebuilding your confidence, fitness and energy gradually without the pressure to compete with others. So go on, treat yourself this January to the gift of literally finding your feet again. Decide to reclaim a little time for yourself, make it a priority and reap all those benefits of running that you have been missing out on since you last laced up those running shoes.

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at Mary’s new year running classes and virtual coaching programmes start January 9th.