How To Get Back To Running After Time Off (Plus, What Happens When I Miss Runs)

How To Get Back To Running After Time Off (Plus, What Happens When I Miss Runs)

How To Get Back To Running After Time Off

If you have ever had to take time off from running, getting back into the running groove again can be hard. Sometimes really hard. In this episode, we share some of our own personal experiences coming back from running hiatuses. We share our best tips on how to get back to running after time off, PLUS we explore what happens to your body during those first 30 days you do stop running.

All this and more coming up on today’s show.

Show Notes

Before we discuss how to get back on track with your running,  let’s discuss what happens when your stop running.

When you stop exercising, many physiological changes take place. You begin to lose the cardiovascular (aerobic) gains you made—notably your heart’s ability to pump blood more efficiently and your body’s ability to use oxygen.

When we stop running, detraining occurs. However, the speed at which detraining occurs depends on factors such as:

1. Age
2. Genetics
3. Your fitness level at the time you stopped exercising. The more fit you are, the slower detraining occurs.
4. Your activity level during your time off. For example, did you stay active in other ways?

Detraining during the first 30 days after you stop running:

Days 1-2:

Endorphin and adrenaline levels drop. As a result your mood may be negatively affected.  Ever feel frustrated or sad you aren’t running? This is often why.

Days 3-5:

Muscles start to lose elasticity and your aerobic capacity starts to drop off as much as 5% by the 5th day.  The good news is that if your resume running, your running comes back quickly. You may feel rusty for a few days but you did not lose any significant fitness.

Days 7-9:

Your VO2 starts to drop by 10%

Day 10:

Your body’s metabolic rate (e.g. caloric needs) begins to drop. During this phase you must eat less or you will start to gain weight.

Days 11-13:

Your cardiac output (it’s ability to pump oxygenated blood) declines about 15%.

Days 14-16:

Your mitochondrial activity begins to decrease.  Mitochondria is used for energy production.  Additionally, loss of muscle mass begins.

Days 17-19:

Your body gets less efficient at thermo-regulation. This means that your body uses more energy to cool off.  If you run in warm climates, you may be at a higher risk of heat illness.

Days 20-21:

By now, your VO2 max and aerobic efficiency has dropped by as much as 20%.

Days 22-25:

By now, you have experienced as much as a 10-15% loss in muscle mass and your fat stores have begin to increase.

Days 27-29:

By now your muscle mass and aerobic efficiency has dropped as much as 30%.

How To Get Back To Running After Time Off

10-14 Days Off:

Life, sickness, lack of motivation, vacation and other short term problems can slow you down. The more time that passes, the harder it seems to make running a priority again.  Your body does not start to lose noticeable fitness levels until around 10-14 days off, so as long as you make that first run back a nice, pleasant paced recovery run, you should be good to pick up where you left off. If you start running again within 10-14 days, don’t increase miles your first week back. Keep it chill on speed work and just do what you did the week before you started your break. If your pace feels slower, that is OK. You will be right back to business within a week or so.

30 Days Off

Since  your body starts to lose noticeable fitness ability after 10-14 days you will need to work to build it back up again. Do not start a crazy week back up right from where you left off, your body needs time to adjust to the workload you want it to do. Start slow, start small. Take extra rest days. Maybe stick with a 3-4 day plan initially with rest days between each workout day so you don’t workout too much and re-injure yourself (if previously injured), or make yourself so sore that you fall off the wagon again and call it quits. Your muscle memory will kick in and it will come back quicker than you think.

6 Months or More

If you are off for 6 months or more, you are basically starting over as a beginner. A break of this length causes significant muscle loss, VO2 drop. For more information on VO2 and why it is important to running, refer back to episode #83). Simply put, VO2 is how well your body utilizes the oxygen your breath.  After 6 months, you will be slower, breathing will feel a lot harder, and you will need to rebuild your base again.

Start with short runs, 2-3 miles (max), at a nice conversational pace. Hold off on the speed work for a few months. When returning to running, do not push yourself too hard. Give yourself a few months of getting consistent, solid runs under your belt. Adding in low impact cross training like swimming and biking will help. Also, make an effort to focus on basic strength training. Body weight exercises are a great place to start. And, focus on balance exercises to tighten up ankles and knees.


Life happens, injuries happen, babies happen, but a good break can also be the reason for your greatest comeback. Start nice and easy, take walk breaks, and once you start to feel confident again, GO FOR IT!

If you don’t know where to start, let us help you! We aren’t just coaches, we are real life tested advocates to help you succeed because we have been there. We know how hard it can be to get started again, (or started at all),  and we have worked with hundreds of athletes just like you.

Thanks and Happy Running!

Running Resources

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Steve is the founder and head running coach of Steve is host of the RunBuzz podcast and founder of PaceBuilders, a complete online training program for runners. Steve is a RRCA / USA Track and Field Certified Running Coach and resides in Lewis Center, Ohio.