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Return to running after a break

This is an excerpt from Breakthrough Women's Running by Neely S. Spence Gracey & Cindy Kuzma.

If you’ve been away for more than a week or two for any reason, especially injury or pregnancy, you will need to rebuild your mileage gradually. You can continue cross-training, ramping that down as you ramp up your running. For instance, after I had knee surgery in 2014, I started with an hour of low-resistance biking and moved on to the same amount of aqua jogging and then the elliptical. Once I started running on dry land—with two five-minute jogs—I would still get on the elliptical or bike for another 45 to 50 minutes. As my running time increased, my cross-training time decreased until I was running continuously. Cross-training also offers a small mental respite from running. Even when you’re healthy, incorporating other activities you enjoy takes you out of the grind for a bit so your mood stays lifted and you truly enjoy the training process.

As we discussed in chapter 2, every run in your training plan has a purpose and so, too, should every cross-training workout. In the past, I’ve seen athletes fall into the “more is better” trap, trying to squeeze a quick bike ride or core session into every spare half hour. That often leads down the path to burnout and injury because your body will never have time to truly rest and recover. What’s more, it can also be tied to disordered eating habits and a hyper-focus on weight that can interfere with your performance goals.

The Myths—and Truths—of Athletic Training

These common misconceptions pop up over and over again, but they’re just plain wrong and can hold you back from your breakthrough. Here are the facts.

Myth: To get better at running, all you need to do is run.
Truth: While it’s true you need to run to improve at running, athletic training has important benefits as well. It prepares your body to handle the miles you do log, prevents injury, and keeps you healthier and happier as a runner and human.

Myth: Strength training will make me too bulky to run well.
Truth: Any professional bodybuilder can tell you how much time, effort, and planning goes into sculpting extra-large, bulging muscles—not to mention all the careful meal planning. Two to three sessions of strength training per week might make your quads or biceps slightly more visible, but it’s hardly going to add enough heft to negatively affect your speed. Remember, research suggests just the opposite—resistance training actually improves your performance.

Myth: Replacing a run with a cross-training session means you have to go two or three times longer.
Truth: Remember that every cross-training workout should have a purpose—and that’s what should dictate how long you spend doing it. If you’re swapping cross-training for an easy run, you can match up minute for minute, for instance, an hour-long bike ride for an hour-long run. If you’re doing hard intervals in the pool or on the elliptical, that might take even less time than a running workout. With lower impact, your warm-up and rest periods can often be shorter.

Myth: If I cross-train during an injury, I can jump right back into mileage and workouts.
Truth: Cross-training while you’re hurt, if it’s not excessive, can preserve some of your fitness, not to mention your sanity. But because of the high impact of running, you’ll still need to start gradually when you’re coming back, or you’ll risk a swift reinjury. Chapter 15 has a run-walk training plan that’s perfect for this purpose.

More Excerpts From Breakthrough Women's Running