Spring for runners means it’s time to hit the roads again. Whether you’ve been indoors training on the treadmill or just taking a break for the winter, spring is a period of transition for your body – not just the environment. Translation: It can be a tough time mentally since you may feel out of shape. But the truth is, the break likely did your body good and you just need a little adjustment period before your running takes off to new heights. Here are four reasons that help justify why you feel a little bit terrible on your spring runs:
- Your body needs a break.
First and foremost, after a long stretch of running or training for a fall marathon, your body needs a good break. The physical and mental load of running year-round is too much for most runners. By the end of the fall racing season, it’s time to let the mind and body unwind. This is true for all levels of runners, yet many beginners and intermediate-level runners are afraid to take time off for fear of losing momentum. Take a cue from elite runners: Even they take four to six weeks off to catch their breaths, reset their brains and get ready for a brand new season.
[See: How to Know if You’re Exercising Too Much.]
- Your progress is cyclical.
Runners who fear “losing momentum” or “starting over” need to understand that their bodies improve most when their training cycles rotate between hard and easy. Rather than doing the same routine over and over – which can lead to a plateau, or a flattening out of progress – maximize your gains by forcing your body to adapt to new and different training loads. Most good training plans will include an easy phase to build a base, more rigorous training to focus on speed and strength, and goal-specific or endurance training to bring it all together for a race. After all that comes a letdown period, which gives the body a chance to relax. The winter off-season supplies that break naturally for those who take one.
- You gained weight.
If you embraced your winter break as fully as I did – perhaps by taking a little too much comfort in all that comfort food – you may have put on a few pounds. When you start running again, then, remember that this additional weight will change the way you feel. If you’ve put on, say, 8 pounds, just imagine yourself carrying a gallon of milk along for your run. Of course, the weight is likely stationed more comfortably around your midsection than an awkward milk jug, but the point is that these additional pounds will make it harder to maintain the pace you ran comfortably in the fall. But don’t let those newly sprouted love handles discourage you: A few pounds should naturally come back off when you increase your exercise load. You’ll likely also see some welcome changes in your body, such as new muscle or a more toned physique overall.
- Your body needs a chance to restart.
Early spring runs often feel bad – whether you’ve gained weight or not – simply because body systems need a chance to re-adapt to physical training. If you’ve been taking it very easy, then your metabolism may have slowed down some, for instance, and this may make you feel like you have less energy. It will likely take you longer to warm up and you’ll tire more easily – at first. Again, all of these reactions are normal as you get back into your routine.
Overall, some crummy spring runs are nothing to worry about. Most runners will spring back – pun intended – to their old running selves within about two or three weeks. If you’ve been running a long time, you may adapt even quicker. (Even though I’ve been running for 40 years, I still feel like a slug for at least a week when I’ve been off for an extended period of time.) But take your time to warm up and make sure you start each run slowly and gradually increase the pace. Keep workouts short at first – just do a little here and there to “blow the dust off.” And, make sure you’re taking your vitamins, eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of fluids.
So if you feel a little yucky right now, give yourself a break and a pat on the back. It will take a couple of weeks to get back into it, but the break likely did you far more good than any short-term setbacks in your progress. After this initial period, you’ll be ready for renewed growth and will surely hit your running goals later in the year.