Be it the holidays, a vacation, or just life in general, most runners hit a slump at some point. One minute you’re pounding the pavement regularly, racking up the miles, and the next you’re struggling to even lace up your shoes and knock out a few laps around the block.
It happens to the best of us, but the important thing is knowing how to get yourself back up out that of slump safely, so you don’t get stuck there forever.
First, know that you’re not alone, and slumps are a normal part of running. “There is no running career that does not have a slump,” says Nick Joannidis of Nick’s Complete Running Coaching. “If everyone was ‘on’ all the time and our lives were full of endless PR’s, we would all be Olympians in the end. Just like life has its ups and downs, so does running.”
There can also be a silver lining to a slump, says Rachel Spurrier, a running coach with Go & Glow in Brooklyn, NY. “Taking a running break—either by choice or even forced because of injury—can actually be a good thing overall, especially in between macro training cycles (i.e., training for a marathon). The body needs time to recover and rest. That being said, once one gets out of a regular running or exercise routine, sometimes the hardest thing is to get back on track.”
So, how do you go on track?
Slow & Steady
Looking at your long-term vision and setting goals is essential to getting out of a slump, Spurrier says. It may be registering for a race, setting a time or distance goal or something else, but it should be specific. Once you have a plan, you’ve got to start by building a base.
“As one begins to ease back into running, start slow with pace, intensity and mileage to decrease the risk of injury,” she says. “The body needs time to adjust to something new. Sometimes being conservative with exercise early in a training cycle is best and will pay off later on when training can get more intense.”
She says adding in strength training can help too. While everyone’s body responds differently, she says it will take approximately 8-10 weeks of a consistent, well-balanced routine in this “build-up” cycle to get back to where you were.
Other experts also stress the importance of starting slow and easy when returning to running after a slump.
“You want to be very careful because too much too fast will cause injury,” says Jerry Snider, a running coach with All In Health and Wellness. “As much as you want to come back quickly, slow and steady is always the best advice. If you have a race coming up in the next month or two, consider dropping down in distance if the option is available or deferring to the next year. I know that’s not ideal for anyone who is running to be competitive, but it’s the safe thing to do.”
“The way to get back to where you were is to revert to the easiest and simplest beginning, and to remember to reward yourself,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics. “You need to ‘trick’ your brain into doing it, since it is difficult. Do it without pushing yourself, because for most people this is not the way to get back on the path.”
Spice Things Up
Joannidis says changing things up is one of the best ways to get out of running slump. He suggests the following techniques:
1. Change the routes that you run. If you see new scenery and new streets, it can get you out of a boring routine.
2. Get new running friends. Don’t lose your old ones, but make new ones. New conversations help everything become new.
3. Join a club or team if you haven’t already. Again, this changes the routine.
4. Ditch the watch. Run without a watch a few times to just have fun. Being a slave to the watch only makes the slump worse!
Meghan Kennihan, a personal trainer and run coach in LaGrange, IL, agrees that shaking things up can be the key to slipping out of a slump.
“Another reason runners find themselves stuck is that they are always doing the same training routes and training for the same race distance. If you are in this slump, adding some speed work, hills, tempo runs to your training can help. Try trail running if you always run the roads, join a friend on their route to get a new environment. It also helps to vary your target race distances and spend some time working on your ‘off’ distance.”
Embrace the Slump
Karen Shopoff Rooff with Balance Personal Fitness Training actually encourages runners to embrace the slump.
“There are ebbs and flows to every training cycle, and building in proper recovery time is critical. Taking time off from running not only prevents overtraining injuries, but it also allows you better life balance. For distance runners who have just spent four or five months preparing for a marathon, it’s great to know that you have some time post-race to refocus on family or touch base with your non-running friends.”
She also suggests runners start back into their routine easy.
“When you’re ready to ramp back up again, take it easy. Mix some planned walk breaks into your run as you are building your endurance up again. Following the rule of increasing your long run by no more than 10 percent (either time or distance) will allow you to minimize injury risk.”
The bottom line: Running slumps happen. The key is not getting stuck in one. Start back slow and steady, mix things up, and soon, you’ll be over the slump hump and back on track.