Starting over?

As a South African living in New Zealand and running my own company, I have my fair share of instability and lack of routine. The result often being, lack of commitment towards my love for running, with a number of other excuses.

Jogging next to the Manawatu River

Beginners advice

Do you see yourself as a runner, but then every so often get sidelined by something and end up not running for extended periods? And how agonizing is the battle to getting back on the road after such a long lay-off?

As a “runner” for the past nine years, I’ve been through the agony of laying off for long spells and then trying to get back on the road, more times than I care to remember. I hate it when that happens, but next time when the wind is howling and the rain pouring, I’m very quick to drown my sorrows with a glass of nice wine, as I watch the weeks fly by and almost give up on being a runner, altogether.

Then, I would buy the new edition of Runner’s World magazine, spot a ridiculously challenging race I’d really like to do, and commit there and then – usually over another glass of wine – to start training the very next day.  And take note – its always only the next day, or the coming Monday, but never the same day. You don’t want to look overeager now, do you, and besides, you need some time to convince your mind that this is the new you.

And low and behold, your commitment turns out to be real and with pride you put on your sneakers, drive to your favourite spot and go out for a casual jog. And this is exactly the point where I, for nine years (I’m a slow learner) always make the same mistake: too far, too fast.  Busted.

Take the plunge

You take your first few steps and all of a sudden it all comes back to you. “Hey, this is not too bad” you say. “I can do this”. And of course you can. You have done this many times before. Any person who has run before, knows that you have a running memory that whispers in your ear that five or six kays is really not far. In fact, it screams in your ear “it’s the least you can do!”.  And being always up for a challenge you go for it. You might huff and puff a bit and realize that you haven’t done anything physical for three months, but your legs feel okey and so you just slow down a bit and get on with it.

Eventually you make it back to the car in one piece and how great is the feeling of accomplishment when you finish your five or six kay training run.  While driving back with a silly grin you can’t wipe, you know you are back on the road. Back home you immediately pour another glass of celebratory wine. But wait, then comes the second day and all of a sudden you battle to get out of bed. Your muscles are so sore that you can hardly walk, let alone attempt another run. And your little celebratory binge wasn’t exactly the best recovery drink either. But you’re committed and you really want to do that race and will go out for your training session come hell or high water.

Then, as you wobble along, you know instinctively that you’ve overdone it and allow yourself to walk most of the five or six kay distance. Because really, when you previously trained for a marathon or similar and you were fit, you would easily run eight to ten kays every day, so how bad can five or six be? The next day might be more of a run/walk routine and usually you try to keep this up for a couple more days. Eventually your muscles are not so overwhelmingly sore anymore, but you are dishearted. You start to believe that you can’t even run 5km anymore and you are as slow as a tortoise. You blame yourself for laying-off for so long and having to start from scratch again. Out comes the glass of wine and with that the excuses pile up much faster than Ma’a Nonu can sidestep Jean de Villiers for that unavoidable try!  And before you know it, three weeks (or is it months?!) have past and you are not one step closer to your goal.

After going through this regime many many many times, I have eventually found the solution to getting back on the road. It goes like this:

First off – find a goal, preferably one that scares the living daylights out of you. And secondly, to put it bluntly: get over yourself! You cannot become completely unfit and then think you can just start where you left off. You cannot even start off halfway where you have left off. You start over. Unless you are blessed with some or other gazelle-genes and can run any distance you please without training, you start over. That is the harsh reality. So stop thinking that only pissies run a feeble three kays at a time.

The Plan

Don’t be discouraged – it is not all bad. I have learnt this the hard way over a very long period of failed attempts.  Don’t let you ego, or lack of patience, get in the way of achieving your goals. To get back into the routine of running, you have to start slowly. This is how it goes: for three weeks, you run three kays in a direction (yes, only three kay’s – because that is manageable from memory), preferably from your home so that you don’t have to drive anywhere. Then walk the three kays back home. Remember to take it easy, run slowly, walk if necessary and only when you feel particularly strong, make it a time trial once or twice during the course of the three weeks. Don’t try to sneak in more running kays and don’t skip the walk just because you are in a hurry. It is important that you do both. If you feel really good, treat yourself with a four to six kay run during one of these sessions per week – your long run. If you don’t feel up to it, keep to the three kay routine. Most important – do not give yourself a hard time because you are only running three kays. The most important thing is that you get back into a routine of regular running.

If you can keep this up for three weeks, six times a week, with one rest day per week, you should be ready to slowly increase your mileage until you are back in shape for your next 100-miler! (or whatever challenge you have your eye on).

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