How Long Before Running Feels Good?!

After the High School track season ended in early May, I took some time off from running. It wasn’t so intentional – but rather – I had no races planned, I had no practice to go to, and I guess I just wanted the break. So three or so weeks later…and realized that I hadn’t stepped outside for more than one or two brief (yet painful!) runs.

Well, just last weekend, one of our runners on the Spanish River team (Ellyn) messaged to me to see if I’d start running with her – she is leaving for a summer internship in Chicago in a couple of weeks, followed by a competitive running camp in Texas for one week. The running camp asked that she was prepared for mileage ranging from 5-10 miles/day at a good pace before arriving at camp. Anyway – we met up on Monday for a 5-miler and I found myself out of breath and overall in pain desperately wanting to stop just a few miles in! Ellyn, in great shape, had no problem running at a nice pace in the Florida summer heat. Despite the pain, I forced myself to keep running – while of course telling Ellyn it was okay to run ahead at her own pace. I kept at it that first day and then again when we met on Tuesday morning, Wednesday morning and Thursday morning. I added an extra 4-miler with the South Florida Runs group on Wednesday night (in honor of National Running Day) and then we ran again on Thursday. Every single one of those runs last week was PAINFUL and hard. I was actually pretty bumbed by Wednesday night’s run…upset with how out of shape I felt. After a rough run on Thursday with Ellyn (where I ran my own shorter, slower route not wanting to effect Ellyn’s great progress), I jumped in the pool for a quick swim (I was pretty sore). I decided to take off Friday. Then Saturday morning, I ran with some of the guys from the Spanish River team for a quick 3-miler. I felt okay – not great but not as terrible as I was feeling the days prior.

And then today, Sunday morning, I woke up and headed over to my favorite South Florida Runs run on Palm Beach island. While I only intended to run five or six miles this morning, I was with Caleb and Bryan from the team and at the six mile turnaround point – we all decided to run the full Palm Beach route (8 miles). The pace was good throughout – nothing too fast but definitely not too slow. And I felt great. At the end – I was a little tired – but that’s pretty normal after an 8-miler, for me at least. But the point is – today was my breakthrough. After a week of tough, painful and at times frustrating runs…I had a great one that reminded me why I was out there, what I loved about running, and how good it can feel when you are in shape and prepared.

Coach Rothman has told me before: It takes about a week to get into shape where running starts to feel okay, even possibly good for some. And I have told new runners that countless times. Especially when they come out on their first day of practice and can hardly get through a 10-15 minute jog. I often tell them of my own experience as a freshman in high school. My first day of practice – Coach Rothman had me run around the back field for 15 minutes…and I nearly died. I, like most cocky high schoolers, started off fast thinking I was in better shape than I was…and at about 4 minutes in – couldn’t imagine running for another second. The rule is that the kids are not allowed to walk – no matter what. Coach Rothman says it really says more about their work ethic and drive than their running ability. I mean who can’t run for 10 minutes straight? It’s all mental for that short of a distance. But the bigger point is that if the kids can get through that first day or two of running – odds are that they will be fine. I still consider that first day of practice to be one of the hardest ever. Harder than 5 x mile workouts, 16 x 400 repeats, and so-on. Yes, when you are not in shape – a 10 minute jog can be that hard!

But back to my original story…with this week of “getting back to running” pain/work behind me – I have a new belief in the “week to get in shape” philosophy. It worked for me…and I say that after a few runs that were pretty darn frustrating and demotivating. Coach Rothman – pulling from his biology background – adds: “When someone is running, the body makes new capillary systems in the muscles to send red blood cells and oxygen, deeper into the muscles to allow more oxygen to produce energy. As more oxygen is needed through the stress of continually harder workouts, more capillary systems open. After 24 hours, these capillaries begin to close up, because the muscles sense they are not needed. After a week, many more of the capillaries are now closed, therefore, these need to open back up to get to the same level the athlete was at before.  That’s why it feels like it takes more work and time to get back in shape (than fall out of shape). It’s also the reason coaches say if you take a day off from running you are two days behind.  You lose some of the capillaries that you already opened, plus the lose of new ones that would’ve opened up if you ran.” Hence the reason that it could take a good week to open up those capillaries to where they are providing a sufficient amount of oxygen to the muscles…

So – if you are feeling like it is going to take forever to get back into running shape after taking off some time – do not despair. Get started right away and put in the work for one week straight – everyday. And it will happen…I promise. It will!

Question: How long does it usually take you to feel normal again after taking a break from running?!

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