Like loyal customers, former runners returning to their first love are often ignored with expert attention concentrated on new runners.
But in reality, there are plenty of people out there who for one reason or another used to be runners – maybe in school, maybe at a club – and drifted away for a few years. But now, inspired by the ‘new year, new you’ mentality, they’re ready to get going again.
“If you’ve been a reasonably good runner in the past, that usually says you have the physiological capacity to run,” says John Brewer, sports professor at St Mary’s in London (and a not bad runner himself). “If you stop, that genetic capacity doesn’t just go away. It may get hidden by layers of body fat and a decline in cardiovascular capacity, but it’s still there.”
You just need to take your time. Your body and its higher fat content, combined with a reduced ability to process oxygen, tighter muscles and degenerating tendons will tell you straight away that rushing your comeback is a foolish move.
“You need to understand your body won’t respond how it used to,” says sports scientist Dr Sarah Rowell, who ran a UK record for the marathon of 2hr 28min 6sec back in 1985. Put simply, you will take longer to recover because of hormonal depletion and the damage running does to muscle fibres or connective tissues in your body.
Lifestyle is hugely important, and beer is probably more important to you than it used to be! Do you have a mortgage, kids, an important job? They all play a role in your life, more so than when you gave up running (to get married etc). But don’t feel bad; drink a beer and reassess your goals.
TAKE IT SLOW
Sessions that you used to do on a whim will cause damage – muscles have shortened, tendons have become less pliable. They can still work, but with time and care. And as for your heart – put simply, it will not beat as fast as it did when younger due to a steady fall in the number of receptors in your heart to tell it to do so. So don’t push yourself too hard too soon.
Hydration, refuelling and even an understanding of how muscles react to speedwork has evolved hugely in the past decade or so. And we’re not even going to touch on the incredible world of modern running shoes, breathable fabrics and waterproofing. Synthetic fabrics are your new friend, as is compression clothing – so get clued up on it all!
Understand the importance of recovery and you’ll reap the benefits. It’s possible to do the same kind of training you used to, but when you return to running you must realise you have to take longer between races, long runs, short runs (heck, everything) to allow your body to repair. Forget the ‘no pain, no gain’ mantra and put your feet up.
Chances are, if you’re returning you’re a little older and, well, younger runners will beat you – physiological fact. Runners who don’t look like runners will skip away into the distance. Worry not, though, you’ll still beat most.