On The Run

How To Get Back On The Running Wagon

If ever there was a year to fall off the running wagon, it was 2020. So imagine how proud I was to get to the end of that very tumultuous year having achieved so much! First, there were all the runs and challenges I did during restrictive lockdowns in the country. Then getting two new Personal Bests, 28:24 for the 5K and 59:28 for the 10K. I ran more than I’d ever done in a year, almost 1,700km which was 345km more than the previous year. It was also the first time I reached a monthly mileage of 200km, achieving this in both September and December.

I entered 2021 with enthusiasm as I continued training for my first ultra-trail marathon. I was at the top of my game and ready to take on more challenges and reach greater heights. But quite early on, something didn’t feel right. More and more, I found I was running for the sake of running and not really enjoying myself. Initially, I blamed poor sleep, hydration and nutrition for my sluggish runs but looking back there was definitely more going on. My ultra-training was messy leaving me chafed, blistered, sun-burnt and exhausted on many days.

When the race was postponed, with the option to defer to 2022, I chose to defer. Within a week, I hopped on another challenge – to run a Sub-2:15 Half Marathon on the 1st May. But from the get-go my training was all over the place and two weeks out, I bailed. I wasn’t ready. I ran intermittently over the next six weeks, choosing to lie in most days and when I got to the end of May, I only had 30km to show for it. It was clear I had fallen off the wagon! It felt like a sudden fall… but as I write this (and I’m sure as you read this), it’s quite evident the signs had been there for some time. This is how I processed it and these are the actions I’m taking to get back!

Six Steps To Get You Running Again

1/ Be Kind To Yourself. When I told my sister I was struggling to get my runs done, she was quick to remind me of all the things on my table, which included a big project at work with new responsibilities, “As you grow into this new role, it is normal for other things in your life to take less priority”. She really helped put things in perspective. Sometimes it will become difficult to balance running when there’s been a significant change in your life, at work, or with kids and family. It’s important to give yourself that space to deal with that change, and for running to take a backseat. So if you’ve fallen off the wagon, be kind to yourself as you would a best friend.

2/ Assess What Went Wrong. After an incredible year of running in 2020, I entered 2021 with similar expectations but without realising just how much energy I had used to get through last year. I was mid ultra-training so couldn’t take a break but this may explain my poor runs and lack of motivation and consistency on that plan. When my ultra was postponed, I quickly jumped to another challenge, again without a break. I also started to miss all the things that made running fun for me – friends and races. So when my new role at work started, I was already on rocky ground with my running. But finally I had the perfect excuse to skip my runs without guilt. By mid-month though, I was using any excuse to opt out of a run. As I reflected, everything started to make sense. If you’re in a similar position, I encourage you to go through this process. Unfolding what went wrong and why, sometimes makes it easier to see a way forward.

3/ Find Your Why Again. I was burnt out and should have taken time to recharge my batteries. BUT when I don’t run, I feel unbalanced so it wasn’t as if I was enjoying my time off – my husband and kids will tell you, I was irritable and impatient. Throwing all caution to the wind, I treated myself regularly to marshmallows from the kids’ goodies cabinet. I don’t even like marshmallows. I stopped blogging, reading as well as all my house projects. So although the break was certainly needed, I don’t function well when I am NOT running. It was time to take my own advice and find my why again. Running gives me time to reflect and space to breathe. It helps me stay connected to myself and it keeps me resilient when times are tough. It gives me structure and sets the tone for my week, allowing me to work, be a mum, blog, etc. And when I take too long off, I feel lost and anxious. This clarity came to me on a run. This is why I run.

4/ Set A Fun And Exciting Goal. Setting goals helps to support my running. What I’ve been doing wrong is jumping too quickly to the next goal without taking a moment to recover. Going forward, I will have to be mindful of this. But I feel ready for a big hairy goal again. The first race in over a year has been announced in Botswana. The Kazungula Bridge Marathon is scheduled to take place on the 2nd October. This Bridge was opened in May and joins the north of Botswana to a town called Kazungula in Zambia, doing away with the cumbersome ferry system that has existed for decades and greatly enhancing trade between several countries. If it’s rescheduled because of the pandemic, I’ll still run the distance in Gaborone with one of my best friends who turns 42 on that day. I finally feel excited about a goal. Set a goal that is fun and gives you that focus and motivation to get out there on tough days.

5/ Make A Plan and Be Accountable To Someone. I’ve found a programme that suits me perfectly. It’s one of Hal Higdon’s 18-week beginner marathon plans with 4 – 5 running sessions a week. I love that there’s a gradual progression of mileage and with my Addo Training experience, it looks doable. To spice up my runs, I’ll continue a project I started a few weeks ago of running every street in my neighbourhood but I’ve also planned some “destination” runs for more variety. I’ll also resume running with friends to break the monotony of some of my longer runs. A goal without a plan doesn’t always work so make sure to have a plan in place. Also, send your plan to an accountability partner if you need that extra eye to keep you on track!

6/ Remember You’ve Been Successful Before. The fact I’ve been on this path before gives me a sense of power. This isn’t me in January 2017 when I had no clue what I was doing and whether I’d be successful. I know who I am and what I’m capable of. I’ve navigated the toughest of terrains before and I will do it again. I know what went wrong and what I need to change. I’m a runner who needed a break and then lost my way a bit. But I’ve reconnected with my why, I have an exciting goal, an achievable plan and I’m ready to run this, run that, run the world! Join me!

If you’ve fallen off the running wagon, know that you have what it takes to get back again. Don’t beat yourself up. Even if it’s been months or years. Be kind to yourself. Then assess what happened – what were some of the reasons you fell off? Understanding this will often help you move forward with a better awareness of what works for you and what doesn’t. Remember your WHY – that is your anchor that brings you back when things go awry. Then set an exciting goal – make it fun, achievable but also challenging. Make your plan realistic, taking into consideration all that went wrong before. And remember, you already have what it takes to get back !

This is my FIRST link up with My First 5K and MoreRunning With AttitudeRun Laugh Eat PieRuns with Pugs, and Zenaida for FIT FIVE FRIDAY! My sixth step is a bonus! 🙂

38 thoughts on “How To Get Back On The Running Wagon

  1. This is such a helpful post, Shathiso!
    I guess we all fall into a kind of running slump at times. Your tip no. 2 about the honest self-assessment is my favourite. You are right, without that step, it’s impossible to move on.
    I love your new goal for October! I’m looking forward to following your training progress. Oh, and yes, you will be accountable to us all, too! 🙂


    1. Oh yes!! Definitely accountable to all of you as well! This week has been amazing. I put my clothes next to the gas heater the night before. This is where the kids get ready for school in winter. So as they are putting on their uniform, I’m right there putting on my running clothes. I told them if I don’t they should ask me why I am not! Self-assessment is so important – and I find it useful for everything in life (not just running). I hope the Marathon takes place as planned but this time I am going in with a Back-Up Plan!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great post. I’m sure most runners can relate.

    I know you will be back. In fact I bet better than before.

    I love the goal of running all the streets.

    I find when I lose motivation I find a new route or a new friend. And race. I hope these will be back. It helps me stay running if I know there’s a reason besides I should or it makes me feel better. Both are true but for me racing keeps me more accountable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Darlene. I’ve had a super first week back and I feel so good already! New routes really help me so much as well. Also races – gosh, races were my favourite!

      If you’d like to run all the streets in your neighbourhood or town and have it tracked then sign up to http://www.citystrides.com It makes it easier to track what you’ve covered and what’s still left! Unfortunately, my city doesn’t appear on the website so I have to do it manually.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. SO happy for you, Shathiso!!!! Finding your WHY (or remembering what it is) is something that’s easy to brush off. While I haven’t lost any mojo, I was really struggling with my upcoming marathon (mine is just a couple weeks ahead of yours, so we’ll be training “together”). I did a lot of soul searching recently, and I’m just not feeling the typical “regimented” training schedule is going to feel right this time around…so I’m mixing things up (just a bit) and embracing all the biking with this training cycle. I’m already dreading the long-long runs much less 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy to hear we’ll be training together!! Whoop, whoop! And also so glad that you’re changing things up to suit your needs right now. That’s such an important point – recognising when something no longer “fits” the way it once did!


  4. I totally know where you’re coming from. In 2020 there really wasn’t anything to do except “just run” and I think that a lot of us got a bit burned out. In my case, I ran better than I ever have before in 2020, and now I’m a bit slower. I already know not to compare my running to anyone else’s, and in addition I’ve also had to learn not to compare my current running to my past running. The other thing is that running is only one piece of my life. I’m working a lot more right now (and looking for another job) so even though I still run, I don’t always have the same energy to put into it. And that’s fine – once my work situation quiets down I’ll be happier and able to put more into running.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment! Makes so much sense – I think we did get a bit burned out and it was always going to be difficult to keep that up. I also love what you say about not comparing current to past running. Sometimes it all depends on what’s going on in our current lives and that changes over time as well. What I love about running for me is that it really helps to keep me on top of my game in other parts of my life – but I think I will need to deliberately incorporate more breaks to prevent burnout. Good luck with work and finding another job!


  5. Being kind to yourself is the most important. Coming off of 2020, I think we all need time to find our footing again. For me, starting off slow and building from there helped me get into a good groove.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post so much! Remembering your Why and being kind to yourself are both so very important. I’ve spent most of the early part of this year feeling very ambivalent about my running – re-focusing on my why and now starting to set some new goals has helped me so much.

    I’m excited for you and look forward to following your training!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So happy you enjoyed this! And also comforting to know I’m not the only one who has been feeling this! That why is so important and we should keep going back to it especially when we start losing that focus. Good luck with your new goals! We’ve got this!


  7. Your WHY is the most important thing in everything in life. Some people never even think about it, just doing the things they always do because that’s what they’ve always done!

    I love how you’ve broken this down, Shathiso.

    I know that I still enjoy running, but for me, it’s been nice to not have any big hairy goals right now. There may come a time when I want them again — or NOT! We’ll see. I’ve learned a few things over the past few months.

    Plus I think everyone, no matter how well they’ve dealt with the Pandemic, have gone through tough times this last year.

    Looking forward to reading more of your adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so easy to underestimate that WHY and yet it always comes back to that! This is my third week of marathon training and I’ve really enjoyed it. I think breaking everything down and figuring out what was going on, really helped me to focus again and understand what was important to me and what I needed.

      You might not have those bug hairy goals now but what I love is that you have monthly goals that keep you so focused month after month!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think we all go through highs and lows…I’m glad you’re back to running. I don’t think I’ve ever completely stopped, but when I’m feeling burned out, I cut my miles or change my routes. Running is my therapy–I know it’s a cliche, but it really is true. Last year really tested my resolve, so I get where you are coming from.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow! You crushed running in 2020. Good for you! Sorry you fell off the running wagon during the first part of this year. I think the length of the pandemic is something unexpected that threw some of us for a loop.

    I love your advice for runners who have the blahs. It happens to all of us. Be kind to yourself. I also think finding your “why” is definitely worthwhile. We all have a “why”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That why is is important. Every time I’ve forgotten it, or lost it, things have gone haywire! LOL. Goodness, the length of the pandemic was never expected. Most of us here are still far from being vaccinated so I think we have a way to go still.


  10. This is a great post. Interesting point that while you needed to take a break, you also didn’t feel good when you didn’t run. But there’s a time for everything. Sounds like you have a great plan going forward. Hopefully your experience can help others in a similar situation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope this helps others too! I think assessing what happened and realigning myself with my why and a new goal has really helped. This is my third week of marathon training and I haven’t stumbled once. I know the stumbles are coming, but I just feel so motivated again and I’m really enjoying my runs.


  11. This is such great advice! I’ve been on a run streak since February 20, 2020. I’ve averaged over 10K/day since then and have really enjoyed it. I found when I got back to a few 10 mile races, I was much slower than in 2019 at my last races. I decided that was OK for now, but I need to change something if I want to run well in the NYC marathon in November. I’m going to keep the streak and mileage through 500 days (beginning of July) and then will take some rest and do a traditional marathon training. The pandemic WHY was to stay sane and get fresh air. Now that things are opening up again, I need to get back to cross training and rest days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly it – our WHY for 2020 was to survive! But now we need to establish what our why is now. 500 day streak, average 10K a day, WOW!!!! That’s just incredible!! It may feel a bit strange when you start incorporating rest days again!


  12. Great job recognizing the reasons you were burned out Shathiso! I like to think of the phrase “trees don’t grow to the sky”. We can’t always do more and more and more. Like the breath, running has a rhythm to it. You run more, them back off, reset and regroup. When I was no longer passionate about racing, I embraced the trails and that’s where my passion is now. The important part is that we’re still moving!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love this. You did a great job identifying what was lacking and then getting back on track! It can be hard to rediscover your motivation, but it sounds like you’re back on track!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think the hardest thing — after getting started — is comparing where you are now to where you used to be. You really have to let go of your old paces/distances and start fresh without being harsh on yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A realistic assessment of what happened and a really good plan to address it – I know this is going to give you back your love of running. I’ve never fallen off the running wagon but I think I’m very fortunate in that having goals doesn’t motivate me – I’ve done this so long it’s just a habit. The only time I’ve really slumped was early in lockdown one when I got incredibly anxious about going out on the pavements with people around me who might hate runners. I had a week or so where I really dropped it – but I hate how I feel when I’m not running and I know that 20-30 miles a week gets my immune system at its best and boosts (or maintains) my mental health, so that’s a powerful motivator to keep going. Also I’ve always got most of my socialising and company from running, and that’s been even more important when there have been no cafes and the like to meet other friends at!

    Be as kind to yourself as you would to your friend is a great concept and I know you’re going to get your joy in running back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Liz for this lovely message! I love that for you running is a habit and what a great one to have!! Like you, I also don’t like how I feel when I’m not running so taking extended breaks is a big no-no. I’m pleased to say that since I wrote this post I’ve gotten that fire back. Haven’t missed a run so far and have actually felt excited to get out, even in the cold. I know there will be hiccups but so happy to be riding this wave again!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Happy to see you linking up with us! 2020 was a rough year for everyone. I agree that running should be fun because if it isn’t then why run. I am so excited for your marathon training!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why I though I would have fallen off in 2020. But I think the driving force of survival kept me running and then I entered this year completely burnt out! But so glad to be feeling good again. Had a solid first week and looking forward to my runs this week 😀


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