Making 2020 the year of the running comeback

Most lapsed runners are anxious about a return, but once you get started it gets easier

If you have just finished a great running year then I’m sure you are already planning your next challenge and feeling excited about what lies ahead in 2020.

When training is going well, our confidence soars and motivation is easy to find. Routine and consistency not only bring increased fitness but a powerful self-belief and optimism that is hard to beat. It’s a great place to be.

But I understand that not all of us are on this running high at the moment. Even with the best intentions, running can end up taking a backseat in our lives. If that sounds like your 2019, fear not, you are in luck. A new year starts and you can start over. The longer you have been out of the running routine, the more apprehensive you may be about getting back out the door. Most lapsed runners are a little anxious about a return to running but once they get started it gets easier. So why wait any longer? Let’s start the comeback now.

Olympic dreams

2020 is an Olympic year, and although we won’t be warming up at the start line, there is nothing quite like the atmosphere of the Olympics and Paralympics to inspire you to get out there. The television coverage is enough to make any lapsed runner lace up their running shoes. I’m reminded of the last Olympics in Rio which I watched when I was nine months pregnant and that ‘almost’ tempted me to get out and run. Trust me, it’s powerful stuff. But let’s not wait until the summer to get moving.


The first hurdle

In order to reclaim your running routine and all those amazing feelings that go with it, you have to get over the initial hurdle of self-doubt. It is important to accept that we may not be at the fitness level we once were. But we can improve. Don’t get annoyed about your current fitness level. Instead decide to start where you are now and leave the ego at home. We can often feel like we are the only one struggling and become envious of other runners. I can ensure you that no one stays consistently at the top of their running game. We all have setbacks and comparing with others, or your previous performances, will do nothing for your confidence. The first step is to decide you are going to make a comeback and accept it will bring some challenges as well as rewards.

Count the minutes

Set yourself up for success by making your first training session something that you know you can do. Make it very manageable and comfortable by taking the focus off pace. The aim of this initial run is to work out baselines. Map out a 5k route and give yourself permission to run at a slow pace and take walking breaks as you need them. Take the pressure off the clock and let the body focus more on endurance rather speed. Slow down and aim to finish the run comfortable rather than exhausted. Once you build to a comfortable 5k of running non-stop, only then should you focus on speed.

What to expect

The key to making your running comeback successful is to manage your expectations and not try to be the runner you used to be. Don’t expect any miracles. Start small, keep it simple and accept that you may find it a challenge from the start. The fitness and confidence will return in time but only if you give your body and mind a chance to remember how good it feels to be a runner by building slowly, sensibly and gradually over the coming weeks. Build a routine first and then focus on the performance. As the weeks progress the mileage and the speed will improve. You have a whole year to shine before we reach this yearend point of 2020.

Make it enjoyable

Ensure your first few training sessions are enjoyable, positive and well within your fitness limits. Structure is key. Find a training plan, a coach or a running buddy to keep you accountable and on a steady track for the first few weeks and months. Our Irish Times Get Running programmes are always available online to set you off on the right track. With three plans to choose from, both beginners and lapsed runners can get a helping hand in the early weeks with my videos, training plans and online support. My aim is to help those of you who need support, motivation and guidance in your comeback and ensure you keep running while enjoying it.

Hang in there

We all have waves of discomfort, doubt, frustration or boredom on our running comebacks. You are completely normal if you are the same. Don’t give up. The beauty of being a runner on a comeback is that you have already experienced all the positives that come with a regular running practice. All that will return after a few weeks of consistent running. Until then, hang in there. It will be worth it.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Mary's new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!