How to Make a Comeback in Running and Racing

More personal races are taking place all over the world, so in this episode we share how to get back into racing by assessing your fitness level, choosing the right plan, and finding time to train.

The idea for this episode came from a listener named Devon asking,

Thinking of the ‘Back to Training Basics’ kind of podcast? “How do you choose an appropriate sprint goal (especially with no recent performance measurement sprints), how do you choose a training plan, how do you fit training into life, etc.? I think many of us have gone 15 months or so without any formal plan, and now with Starting the races again, we’re ready to jump! But I personally forgot how.”

Why you might be out of the game
There are many different reasons why runners might stray from a training plan or do races. Obviously the big event over the past year plus has been the pandemic as virtual races were almost the only option. During that time, many runners probably didn’t feel much motivated to undergo a full training plan for a race that wasn’t personal or could be cancelled.

But there are other reasons why you might not participate in the training ‘game’, and this could include a health setback, injury, movement or other major life change, adding or subtracting a family member, or just getting stuck in the busyness of life and leaving Training slips by the wayside. If you know you are not alone.

When re-starting, it is important to first assess your current fitness level. This can help determine the time frame you choose for your running goal(s). It is essential to be true to yourself and start where you are now, not where you were a year ago or where you wish you were.

Reaching our running and fitness goals is not just a linear equation in which we move forward and upward. The journey can be full of setbacks and challenges and this is simply part of the process.

Questions to ask yourself before choosing a goal:

  1. Do I have a solid operating base? Have you run regularly for the past three to six months?
  2. Am I free from injury? If not, which area(s) is causing me a problem?
  3. Do I feel stuck? It’s normal for you to settle down and not know exactly what to do next. If this is you, it is wise to ask for help. At MTA, we want to help you unravel the mystery and get you back on the road to reaching your goals.
  4. What challenges or obstacles are currently standing in my way? These can be health challenges, childcare issues, schedule changes, and much more. Being honest about what might be hindering your progress is key to finding solutions to achieve your goal.
  5. What is my big goal? It could be for a 5k PR, running the first half of a marathon or marathon, qualifying for Boston, running your first super game, running a marathon in every state or continent, or winning a race. Having this dream will help give you a vision of the steps to take next.
  6. What is my short term goal? Depending on your level of fitness, this could be something that will make you part of the path to your dream goal. This is where you get more practical and start where you are now.
  7. Who do I trust to help me get there? It is important to choose a training plan or running coach that works for you.

How to choose a training plan

  1. Evaluate your current fitness level. If you’ve been off training for a few months or don’t currently have a running base, it’s important to choose a beginner-friendly plan (even if it’s not a new distance for you). The key is to start where you are now…not where you want to be. Our actual fitness level is often lower than the level of fitness we have in our heads.
  2. Run a 5K trial. This can give you some information about your current fitness level. Look for a flat path that is not interrupted by traffic. Warm up with a brisk walk or easy 1.5 mile run, then run 3.1 miles (5 km) at a comfortably challenging pace (the last 0.25 miles should be hard) and record a time of 5 km, ending with 5-10 minutes of running or walking easy. There are a few online training calculators where you can enter your results and you can get information about the steps that can be achieved at different distances. There is a McMillan and Jack Daniels VDOT calculator.
  3. Determine your commitment For training and how you will face common logistical challenges (eg changing work schedule, travelling, lack of childcare, etc.). If you are willing and able to dedicate more time to training and recovery, you may have more success in pursuit of a more challenging goal.
  4. Do not choose a plan that is too difficult. For example, if you work 3-4 days a week, it may not be wise to choose a training plan that includes 5-6 running days a week. Make sure your base fitness (number of days per week, average mileage) fits the plan.
  5. Don’t set a time goal for your first marathon. One of the mistakes I see beginners make is setting their minds to a time goal and then dealing with a lot of disappointment. Even if you’re not a new runner, the marathon is a different beast. So much can happen over the course of training and racing that a good first-time goal is simply to run hard, stay healthy, and move on. There will always be time for a PR appointment later.
  6. When you’re a new runner, you’re more likely to see bigger improvements from one race to the next. In fact, it is not unusual for runners who train for a second marathon to take 15-60 minutes from the first if they train smart. However, as you get more experienced, the margin you’ll be able to take off from one race to the next narrows. It may be realistic to aim to improve your marathon time by 5-15 minutes per training session. With shorter races like 5k and 10k you will aim for smaller improvements because the length of the race simply doesn’t give a lot of time margin. You can improve anywhere from a few seconds to 5 minutes.
  7. Make sure you don’t just run. While running is a great and a necessary part of reaching your goal, it can lead to imbalance. Make sure to schedule at least two strength training exercises per week while training to achieve your goal.
  8. Contact us at MTA. We have a contact page on our website and can help you identify a suitable short term goal.

How does training fit into your life?

  1. Think “why”. What makes running a better version of yourself? Having a clearly defined “why” will keep you from facing challenges and setbacks.
  2. Remember that habit trumps motivation every time. Find out how you can start the training habits that will get you through the times when you lack motivation (and they will).
  3. Discover Your Best Time to Run (and Strength Training). Maybe you really want to be a morning runner but you are a night owl and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Working with your internal circadian rhythm will allow you to stick to your goals better.
  4. Put it on your schedule. When you make time to train, it is more likely to happen. Left to chance, running or exercising probably won’t suit you.
  5. Remember that it will feel difficult. You are not the only one struggling on the road to achieving your goals. Often the most worthwhile goals are the ones that require us to dig in depth. You will have to let go of the old mindsets that held you back in the past. Becoming a stronger runner will require you to become mentally and emotionally stronger as well.
  6. Ask the support team for help. This can be family, friends, running partners, online community members, running coach, etc. Having people in your life who “understand” and can give you encouragement and advice when you’re struggling is very important. If the people in your life don’t understand it, just explain that coaching is like self-care for you and that it makes you feel like the best version of yourself (it’s hard for people to argue with that).

The great thing about having an online running community like the folks at the academy are that they get it and can provide support, encouragement, and advice when you need it (and you can give it back when they need it).

As mentioned in this episode

Path projects – PATH Projects makes running shorts that have 3 or 4 zip pockets so you can carry your phone, keys, sessions, ID, etc without bouncing things when you run. Enter to win one of five PATH Projects Gift Cards worth $75 at

packet Dream Powder Maker – A delicious nighttime cocoa drink with CBD to help you get a more restful sleep. Use the code MTA for 15 percent of your next order.

The Südtirol Sky Marathon in Italy -Trevor has registered for this marathon.

About Angie Spencer

Angie is a registered nurse and running coach who empowers new runners to beat a marathon, run faster, and take their health and fitness to the next level. Join the academy

Leave a Comment