Spring race targets are fast approaching. Whatever distance you’re training for it’s likely your plans are starting to crank up a gear with runs getting longer and intervals more intense. Frustratingly, germs are rife at this time of year and with fatigue and endurance runs lowering your immunity, despite your best intentions, you’ll most likely succumb to some sort of bug at some point. Suddenly you find yourself staring at your training plan, wondering how to fit in missed runs and suppressing visions of your PB slipping away from you.
Fear not. Don’t panic. All is not lost. With a few simple steps you can make sure your return to running is smooth and successful. Here are my five steps to making a comeback:
1. Work out if you’re really better. The urge to get back to running and make up for lost time can be overwhelming. You do however need to be very honest with yourself to succeed. How ill have you been? Are we talking three weeks of proper flu where you’ve been bedbound or just a sniffly cold and a couple of missed runs? Clearly the recovery from these is going to be very different. You certainly shouldn’t be running if you still have a high temperature, wait at least 24-48 hours. If your bug has upset your guts then you should be back to normal food and drink and feeling strong; you can’t run on empty. A good starting point is how you feel doing your normal daily activities. If you’re totally wiped out after a shower and trip to the supermarket, then going for a run is obviously not a good idea. You need to be able to get through your normal day and feel ok before you add extra stress to your body with a run. Can you easily manage a walk? If that leaves you drained and needing a sit down, then you need to wait a bit longer. It’s better to be patient and give your body that extra 24 hours’ rest than stubbornly head out of the door with your trainers on. It’s hard when you’re really focused on a goal but it will pay off in the longer term.
2. Make a sensible return to running. Don’t just pick up where you left off. You need to ease back in but don’t worry, you can do this fairly rapidly (unless you’ve been ill for several weeks when it will take a little longer) First of all do a test run. Go out purely with the intention of seeing how you feel. Aim to run slowly, really slowly and for a short distance, one that you’d usually find easy. Don’t be tempted to go further or faster, even if you feel ok. You’ve been ill, this is a test run. Listen to your body, if you feel unwell during the run then stop and head for home; give yourself a day or two and then try another test run. If the test run goes well and you manage without any problems, then eat and drink when you get home and take it easy for the rest of the day. My advice would then be to make the next day a rest day. You will really know on that day how much the test run took out of you. If your illness isn’t really gone then you might get a flare up of your symptoms and you’ll know that you aren’t ready to add the stress of serious training yet. If you feel fine, then you can be certain that you’re fit and well enough to get back into your programme. Again, a bit of patience, just a day or two, can really pay off.
3. Adjust your plan. Next is the slightly tricky bit. Trying to fit in all your missed runs is a big mistake. This would be a large increase in training load which is the last thing your body needs right now. See how many weeks away you are from your race. Keep to your usual number of runs per week and try to tweak and adjust your plan so that you have a gradual increase. If you’re aiming to run for distance, so you’re building to your first 10k or doing a half or full marathon then prioritise the long runs over the shorter speed runs. Stick to your usual one long run a week though, trying to add in a second will exhaust you. You’ll probably need to make a couple of the steps in the long runs larger than the original plan but be sensible. You might need to miss out one or two of the faster speed runs. Conversely, if your primary aim is speed over a shorter distance then prioritise your tempo runs over the long slow ones. In both situations, don’t skimp on your taper, running hard right up to race day is unlikely to give you your best performance, tapering is important. If you’re really unsure, then ask a personal trainer or running coach to have a look at your plan with you.
4. Stay well. It’s usually relatively easy to tweak your plan and catch up when you’ve had an illness but it gets increasingly hard the more runs you miss. Staying well should be your main priority. I blogged specifically about keeping well whilst training, you can read it here: http://www.ukrunchat.co.uk/immunity-for-runners/ . If you find that your plan is just too much for you and you can’t keep up with it then you’ll need to readjust your goals; over-training will just lead to further illness. Eating well and crucially, getting enough sleep are both important factors in maintaining a healthy immune system.
5. Learn from mistakes. Getting ill is often just part of a busy life. You can guarantee that the majority of runners lining up next to you on the start line will be in the same position as you. An illness will have prevented them from doing every single run on their training plan to the best of their ability. It’s life. You can only be the best you can be under the circumstances you’re in. Whilst we can take steps to keep as healthy as possible we really aren’t to blame when illness strikes, often it’s just bad luck. If you’re someone who always finds this is an issue for you then it’s worth factoring in an extra couple of weeks in your future training plans. Start two weeks early and have those weeks as insurance. If mid plan you haven’t used one, then just give yourself an easy week where you run a bit or cross-train. You’ll still have a second week up your sleeve which you can play with around taper time if you’ve kept well. It can just make things a bit less stressful and stress itself can lower your immunity.
So, in summary, make sure you’re better, ease yourself back in, adjust your training plan and try to stay well. Above all, don’t panic!