How to Return to Running After A Long Layoff
Coming back to the running track after a long layoff? Is there some kind of muscle memory that will help you get back in shape? Don’t worry. Science says it is easier to start again than you might think. Many runners have experienced an exercise hiatus for certain reasons and this is a common occurrence in various athletes.
For instance, Jeff Alexander, a 50-year-old public relations chief, ran out his first marathon in 3:03 in 1996. Next year, he ran out his second marathon with a time of 3:07, and his third in 3:06 the year after that (in 1998). At that final race, Alexander experienced big life changes coupled with a hypothermic shock, which caused his fallout from the marathon training routine. Beer also got in his way. He performed only the regular short runs for a while and got back to the long-distance runs ten years later. In 2008, he qualified for Boston once again and ran the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:17.
Why does it stick?
Many athletes need a rest from running at some point in their life. The reasons are different. You will likely get injured or sick occasionally, become a parent, or experience a midlife crisis. Perhaps you just want to take time off from regular running and have some rest. That’s okay, but rest easy and keep in mind that you are “banking” your muscle memory with every single run you are taking. It becomes some kind of running deposit that you will be able to encash when needed. As you go over your running memory, it will last longer.
Of course, a psychological factor also plays a big role. Running is something that almost anyone can do, however, it is much more difficult to stay motivated all the time. Revisiting a regular running sport, or any other type of sports activity you once enjoyed, is far less overwhelming and intimidating than experiencing it for the very first time. Without a proper guidance, it can be pretty challenging to succeed. There is a diverse range of programs and guidelines that will keep you progressing and help you get back to regular running routine.
Comeback plan after an injury – Start slowly
After you have been given the go-ahead by your doctor to back on track and run again, you will likely go out with a great enthusiasm. That’s okay but make sure to adjust your personal expectations and hold back in order to start again, otherwise you will risk being affected by the next injury. As you return, choose the flat surfaces and master slower, shorter runs. It will help you slowly rebuild endurance and strengthen your muscles. Incorporate the walk breaks and apply the “10 percent rule” (a maximum of 10% increase weekly) in order to up your running mileage.
Words of experts
Here’s what experts say regarding this matter. According to Kristian Gundersen (a physiology professor at the University of Oslo), when strengthening your muscle tissue, it generates a great amount of nuclei (or so-called little protein factories), which contain DNA required for increasing of muscle volume.
In 2010, professor Gundersen conducted a study which confirmed the fact that nuclei stick around the muscles when you quit exercising. That means you will be one step ahead once you decide to get back after a layoff. Matt Silvis, a professional sports medicine physician, says that when doing a physical activity, the brain sends specific signals in the form of electrical charges to the particular muscle tissues through various pathways in our central nervous system in order to perform a certain task. On the other side, the muscles send the return messages to the brain as a type of feedback that the right force is activated. These pathways in the nervous system become well-trodden over time as you do this task frequently. That’s why we never forget how to swim or ride a bike, for example. The same goes with running.
You are a natural
Once you get back, you will not only remember how to run but also how to do it well. Most of the professional runners can run more effectively even after a long layoff thanks to their well-preserved muscle memory. What’s more, they are going to waste less energy than novices who get started in this sport. You can make the presumptions you will quickly get back into shape because you are a natural.
The above-mentioned pathways in the central nervous system, which are responsible for returning into good shape after a break, do not only apply to the voluntary muscles but also to the involuntary muscles in our body, similar to the heart. When it comes to the former athletes, there are a number of residual benefits within the circulatory system. In well-trained athletes, including the professional runners, the heart is capable of relaxing more easily after some physical exertion, which notably reduces breathlessness issues (dyspnoea). In addition, the parasympathetic nervous system in these athletes becomes dominant over the sympathetic nervous system after a while. This means that the heart and respiratory system are less stressed by vigorous exercises.