Running again? Time for patience
VERMONT — A runner who aims for success must exercise hard work and dedication.
If anyone can attest to this, it’s Lynn Jennings, a competitive runner with more U.S. women’s cross-country titles than anyone in history.
Over her 18-year career, Jennings, now 55, won nine national track and field crowns from 1985 to 1996, won three consecutive women’s world cross-country titles, ran in three Olympic Games, won the bronze medal in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, set a world indoor 5,000-meter record of 15:22.64 in 1990, and set an American record at 10,000 meters that stood for a decade.
But for all the hard work expected of a top-level athlete, it can be even more difficult to return to a sport after a break, and for running, Jennings says, that is especially difficult.
“Running is the hardest sport to come back to when you’ve taken time off,” says Jennings, a part-time Vermonter who coaches at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center running camps. “Whether it’s elective or due to an injury, there’s something lubricating about running every day that you lose when you have to stop. It can be gruesomely hard to start again.”
With the Middlebury Maple Run half-marathon and a summer of road races on the horizon, many in Addison County are getting back into shape before they toe the starting line.
Jennings says that picking up running again and taking one’s abilities to the next level don’t have to be that hard with a little persistence and patience. As the director of running programs at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Jennings shares her experience and knowledge every year in a number of camps where she and a staff of coaches show athletes how to train progressively and intelligently to maximize their potential. Though retired from competitive racing, Jennings, 54, is still an avid daily runner and logs between 40 and 60 miles every week. When not running, she is a competitive sculler at Craftsbury and enjoys forest hikes with her dog Towhee.
Here, Jennings shows how to ease back into running and then break out of any ruts on the way to make this season a winning one.
Hitting your stride — again
When you stop training, “de-training” happens within days, Jennings says. Even if you’re coming back from a short break, your blood gets thicker and your lungs lose some of their elasticity. Things feel rusty and it can be difficult to regain what you’ve lost. But Jennings has a few pointers on how to hit your stride — again.
Start with new shoes
If you wore your running shoes all fall and then put them up for the winter, before you start again, it’s likely time for a new pair. Shoes’ construction breaks down over time and for your first day back, you won’t want a pair that you’ve logged five months’ worth of miles in, she says. Go with a style and fit of running shoes that you know. Jennings underscores the point with this expression:
“The best pair of shoes is still cheaper than one visit to the doctor.”
Easy does it
If you’re someone who’s used to being active and is in good physical shape but has had to take time off from running, Jennings suggests a slow start with an easy two or three miles. Take the next day off and then try it again. After you’ve followed this pattern for one or two weeks, you can begin to ease into running more often while keeping the distances low. Once you’ve re-established that basic regimen, feel free to increase the volume before adding one longer-distance run to your routine.
If you’re someone who runs four times a week, one of those runs should be a little longer, but no more than a mile or two longer than your normal distance. By staying conservative, you can always leave room to grow instead of over-extending yourself or pushing too hard too soon.
Know your mileage limit
In her top days as a professional runner, Jennings could log 80 to 90 miles in a week — a normal distance for a medium distance runner — and still recover and be ready for the next week’s workouts. But as soon as she pushed to 100 miles, something didn’t feel right.
“Everyone has a mileage limit and some people want to push and find out what that is but it’s always better to under-train slightly than to over train,” she says.
You can focus on increasing the distance of your runs or their frequency, but the intensity with which you attack your workouts can wait.
Ramp it back for a week
Jennings says a popular practice among coaches is to have athletes complete a block of work and then turn down the intensity for a “down week.” As you begin to structure your workouts, Jennings advises you do the same. During your down week, you won’t stop running entirely, but will incorporate other activities or even take an extra rest day. Whether you swim, bike or strength train, letting yourself recover won’t just make things easier; you’ll also be ready to come roaring back, ready to rumble.
Keep track of yourself, stay accountable
OK, you’ve started your training again — but are you monitoring it? You can use software programs or a simple notepad and pen, but a basic training log should include the date, weather conditions, how many minutes or miles you ran and how you felt. A running partner can help keep you from weaseling out of a workout, but if you don’t have a buddy willing to meet at 6 a.m. for a run, you can even check in with someone later to say what you did and how you felt. Every day, Jennings and a friend in Boston email each other with the details on their respective workouts. Jennings says the correspondence has helped keep both of them accountable and push a little further.
“Now she’s regularly running in the 40-to-60 minute range, way more than she ever would have done mostly because she knows she’s going to email me at the end of the day and tell me what she did,” Jennings says.
Ultimately, the best kind of training plan should be flexible and should be able to fit around the rest of your busy life, including work, appointments and foul spring weather. When you look back at the work you’ve done, it will also boost your confidence.
Lynn Jennings tells runners when to ease off on their training and when to put the hammer down. See more tips from Jennings HERE.