How to Get Back Into Running After a Long Break

Health & Wellness

Woman getting ready to go for a run, wearing a hat and jacket, holding a water bottle.
Photos by Colleen Eversman at 2ndtruth Photography

My mornings used to look like this: wake up, put running shoes on, and run six miles. It was so ritualistic, sometimes I felt like I would wake up around mile two. Even in the winter, I would schlep myself into the car and log in my miles before the sun came up on the treadmill. In hindsight, I now know this was my way of self-medicating, the endorphins I needed to keep depression at bay, and the release I needed to control my impulsivity from ADHD. I felt better when my legs ached. 

It can be difficult to separate my running habits from when my eating disorder was at its height. I started running as a way to control what I put in my body. I never missed a run; in fact, I used to run around the track in college after tailgating, while intoxicated, to work off the calories I drank. It wasn’t healthy.

But then, running became a way to build confidence that my body knew what it needed, that I didn’t need to control everything I put into it. Over time, I learned I could trust my body to tell me what it needed. I could listen to my stomach growl, then eat. I could feel anxious, and lace up my running shoes. In a way, running was the healthy habit that stayed with me as I healed my relationship with my body. 

And then, I fell in love. Real love.

Something about meeting Joe allowed me to feel comfortable enough with myself to actually let go and be vulnerable. Running gave me the confidence to trust my body. That confidence gave me the ability to let go of controlling the narrative in other areas in my life, specifically in relationships. 

And it wasn’t one-sided. Joe ran and biked the same way I did—ritualistically. And with intensity.

Our hobbies were replaced with long nights across the tables of our favorite restaurants, talking and learning about each other. We nursed our hangovers in bed watching our favorite movies and introducing each other to the ones we couldn’t BELIEVE they never saw as a kid. 

Somewhere along the way, Joe and I let running become something of the past. I can’t speak for him, but my running habit wasn’t something that I held lightly enough to bring with me into the new relationship. It felt like something I couldn’t do with him; it felt like too much baggage. I found it hard to take time away for myself. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of being fully seen by someone I loved. 

And then we had kids, which became the noblest excuse to NOT lace up my shoes. I felt the familiar nudging of my eating disorder whisper in my ear saying, “See? It happened. You let yourself go.”

And that’s where I’ve been. Circling the drain of shame, letting that voice have space in my head. And once you allow that voice to have an audience, it gets stronger. 

It’s a lot easier said than done, but here are some of my tips for getting out of your head and hitting the pavement, for your health and without all the emotional baggage. 

The good thing about getting older is that you have the benefit of hindsight. I remember what it felt like to have my running schedule and food diary run my life, and there was NO WAY I was going back to that way of living. 

But there was a glimmer of truth in the return of this voice. I know in my heart of hearts that I feel better when I’m in motion. I have dreams I’m dancing, or running, and I feel happy and free. The call to make room for what fills me up is here. And denying myself what my body is calling for is just as repressive as not eating when you’re starving. 

So I’ve been thinking about how to get back into running in a healthy way.

In a way that isn’t obsessive but rather a habit that is about filling up my tank and making sure I can be clearheaded and strong for my family and business. Running to be more of who I am, not less of who I feared I was. 

Running is as much about mental training as it is physical. So I started thinking about ways I could make it easier for my brain to just…get out there and get started. If I wasn’t running to lose weight, or hit a goal, what was the big deal? It’s a lot easier said than done, but here are some of my tips for getting out of your head and hitting the pavement, for your health and without all the emotional baggage. (And it’s worth noting that these tips can apply to any hobby or endeavor you may be looking to pick up again, running or otherwise.)

1. Accept your current state.

For a while after you start running again, you’re not going to want to do it, and that’s okay. Do your best to accept that the process might not feel very comfortable at first, and commit to doing it anyway.

2. Remove the shame.

Stop thinking thoughts like, Why haven’t I done this for ___ years? What does that mean about who I am as a person? That mindset won’t serve you as you begin to bring running back into your schedule. Remove the shame and just start.

3. Adjust your expectations.

When you start running again, you may find yourself setting parameters, thinking, I’m going to run this many miles and it’s going to take this long. The expectations of running far and fast can often end up keeping people from running at all. Often, when we set unrealistic expectations of how we think something should go, we start to procrastinate because we’re afraid we won’t do it “perfectly,” and that ultimately leads to disappointment.

Running means a lot of different things to different people—it can mean running one minute or fifteen minutes; one block or one mile. Adjust your framework and the personal expectations you have for yourself.

Running means a lot of different things to different people—it can mean running one minute or fifteen minutes; one block or one mile. Adjust your framework and the personal expectations you have for yourself.

How to Get Back Into Running After a Long Break | Wit & Delight

4. Take away the victim mentality.

Get rid of the drama. We very easily give up our own agency based on things we can control. Stop thinking defeating thoughts about why you “can’t” go for a run. A few of mine include:

My feet hurt.
I’ll never be able to figure out how to do this again.
– It’s raining and I don’t want to.

We create a lot of drama out of minor inconveniences. Make it a simple event, do it, and move on.

5. Treat it like it’s an appointment on your calendar.

The time we set aside for ourselves is often the first we give away. Add running to your calendar like you would any other appointment, and stick to it.

6. Reduce friction.

Make it easy to show up for yourself. Make it easy to grab your clothes and shoes and get outside, no thinking required. Set your clothes next to your bed so you can put them on right after you wake up; put your running shoes right by the door.

Relatedly, ask yourself why this feels so difficult. Maybe you stayed up late last night or you’re stressed about work. If you can remove the deeper obstacles, it will be easier to get out the door in the morning.

7. Pick the right gear.

Running clothing doesn’t need to be expensive to work well, but make sure you have shoes and clothes that are comfortable and that you actually enjoy wearing. It can help make the entire process more pleasant.

8. Commit to a bigger goal or program.

If you’re someone who needs a bigger goal to keep yourself motivated, committing to a program like Couch to 5K or a particular upcoming race can make it so much easier to track your progress and stay committed, because someone will be guiding you through the process. Our overall goals for running can seem nebulous and kind of intangible—having something to check off that day will help keep you moving forward.

9. Remember your “why.”

For me, my ultimate “why” in starting to run again is that I want to feel better, and I keep that at the front of my mind every time I try to talk myself out of it. When it becomes more about serving yourself and your basic needs than anything else, it can become a habit that sticks.

For me, my ultimate “why” in starting to run again is that I want to feel better. . . . When it becomes more about serving yourself and your basic needs than anything else, it can become a habit that sticks.

When we focus on breaking our goals down into small, manageable action items, it’s easier to get started. But we can’t show up to do even the smallest bit of work without first making the commitment to show up for ourselves, every day or every week. Be brave enough to do it. Be brave enough to give yourself the gift of endorphins flowing through your body.

It takes time to get over your hurdles and get into a new habit. Continually remind yourself of your why and keep going. You’ve got this.

BY Kate Arends - September 8, 2020

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September 8, 2020 11:02 am

Thanks for sharing a bit about your process. Your experience resonates with mine, and I’ve come to know running as something that is really powerful and clarifying for my mental and emotional wellbeing. Yet it’s still hard to get out there on a routine, so I’ve mostly been on a sporadic pattern in response to when I need to blow off steam or feel restless. One thing that has changed how I approach running is incorporating mindfulness. I used to run almost *because* I would detach from my thoughts and body – I would be “in the zone” and hit… Read more »

September 9, 2020 12:35 am

I ran for the first time in years just a few days ago and it reminded me of why I used to love running, but also, like you, why I stopped. For me, a fun couch-to-5k challenge quickly turned into something much more toxic. I spent a year brutalizing my body to deal with what I now know was a deep depression. I ran even when I was clearly injured, something my knees still remind me of from time to time. But it’s now been eight years since that time, and a lot of things have changed. I ran/walked my… Read more »

September 10, 2020 8:19 am

Thanks for sharing, Kate! I’m a 30 year old 100% new to running (as in, had never run a mile in my life) during this quarantine, and the reason for it is interesting… I was going through the FBI hiring process and you had to be able to run 1.5 miles (in a very short time relatively speaking) to get into the FBI. I’ve now accepted another job but want to keep running, at least short distances, part of my exercise routine. I think your tips can help even the newbie like me.

September 10, 2020 9:34 am

Love this so much. I hate a great podcast recommendation for you – Marathon Training Academy – whether you do or do not wish to run any particular distance. It’s an awesome community too. Can’t recommend highly enough! Good luck in attaining your goal! If you run, you are a runner!

September 10, 2020 9:34 am

Adjusting expectations was absolutely key for me. For some reason, if I didn’t run 3 miles, it didn’t count as a run for me. This left me with a few years that I didn’t get back into running because my expectations were too high, and I was in a phase of life that didn’t always allow for chunks of time and consistency in my schedule (I was also working out with my two kids – and man, even 1 hilly mile with a double jogging stroller is intense). During shelter in place, I started heading out of the house for… Read more »

September 10, 2020 11:00 am

Thanks Kate. Appreciate the share. 🙂

September 10, 2020 2:17 pm

Thanks for sharing! I needed to read this today. Heading out for a run now 🙂

September 13, 2020 5:35 pm

Thank you for this piece- the timing was perfect for me. Getting rid of the victim mentality was the biggest hurdle for me to overcome when I first started running, and (unsurprisingly?) was the first to come back. Nevertheless, new week = try again

September 20, 2020 8:10 am

Good to read this. I started running early this year knowing I will never be a great athlete due to health thing but with a schedule in hand I kept going. Now almost at the end and the struggles are there. The steps were a bit to big so I need to slow it down. And then… it is still very beginner level. Yet I am proud I keep going regardless the struggles. Stories like yours bring some motivation and show that it is all about what I want to achieve and that is where I should be proud of.

September 30, 2020 7:21 pm

Love this ❤️ Trying to get back into running after 2 babies.

Katie B
October 2, 2020 3:22 pm

This is so relatable! Exercise often feels like a slippery slope toward the eating disorders I’ve had, but to deny myself that joy – of being so fully in my body and mind – has negative effects too. Finding a way for something to be a habit and not an obsession is always a struggle for me. You’re inspiring me to lace up my shoes and go for a jog, mindfully.

October 12, 2020 6:06 am

If you ve taken a break because of an injury, get clearance from your healthcare provider or physical therapist before you return to running. They should be able to provide personalized advice on how much and how often to run.

November 9, 2020 8:08 am

Thank you for sharing your experience. I needed this today.

Santosh Kumar Rai
June 11, 2021 10:00 pm

Greetings to you! That was really great. Dear Ms Kates, I had been an addict to tobacco and some other intoxicants. Running brought me to the stage of teetotaler. I have left every intoxicant and you will be surprised to know that I don’t even consume caffeine in the form of tea or coffee. Work-out, either jogging or walking or running or yoga or stretching release the happy harmones that are far euphoric than the petty and fatal intoxicants. Even running isn’t too easy. I think one needs divine providence for the opportunity to run. My sister-in-law used to live… Read more »

September 26, 2021 6:41 pm

Thank you for sharing! I am getting into running this fall after about 3 years off, and definitely am finding it to be a mixed bag of joyful and difficult. For me, 8. & 9. from your list are key. If I don’t set a goal, I won’t stick with it & I won’t progress. My “why” is to feel better too. I hate feeling out of breath. I want to strengthen my heart & my lungs and feel proud about what my body can do. It’s been a few weeks so far, and I feel so good and inspired… Read more »

February 16, 2023 8:57 pm

The most important thing for me was to properly readjust my expectations. It didn’t count as a run for me unless I completed a distance of at least three miles, for some reason. Because of this, I didn’t get back into running for a few years because my expectations were too high, and I was going through a phase of my life that didn’t always allow for chunks of time and consistency in my schedule. This left me with a few years during which I didn’t run.

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