Whether you’re a committed runner who’s had to take some time off to nurse an injury or simply an exercise idealist who thinks they can breeze into a 5K after spending the past six months eating Cheetos on the couch, you're probably going to struggle when you go out for your first run back. No matter how optimistic or prepared you feel, that running route can feel like your own personal battlefield once you’re actually on it.
One minute you’re tying up your neglected running shoes with glee, and the next you’re caught in a breathless, despondent void. And that’s usually less than five minutes into your 30-minute lap.
There’s a tumult of emotions to be expected, and a lot of steps that lead into—and out of—them. These are the most important ones:
1. The first step is the most important: mentally psyching yourself up with boundless, blind optimism."This is going to be great," you cheerfully squeal while pacing nervously around your bedroom and realizing all your running clothes are a little snugger than you remember.
2. You face off against the outside world like it’s an old nemesis you need to prove yourself to.
Come at me, nature.
3. You start your warm-ups, which primarily consist of picking the right playlist so you can "get in the zone."
Music is more important than stretches, right?
4. Inspired by your playlist, you launch into a strident walk to ease yourself in.
You’re already feeling great. You’re stomping your fabulous feet in time to the beat, and you’re going to smash this run. You quicken your speed until that’s it. It’s happening.
5. You’re running! You’re actually doing it!
And it feels amazing, right? You start to wonder why it took you so long to get back out there. You think about all of the potential races you might be able to enter in the future as the wind rushes past you and your legs carry you to certain victory.
6. One minute in, and you start confidently throwing a nod of camaraderie at every runner you pass.Why hello there, fellow runner. You and I are slamming it today! Yes, yes. Great job.
7. You’re at peak confidence and start running a little faster. And faster. And faster.You’re basically flying right now. This running thing is so easy, you guys.
8. Until suddenly, disaster. What the hell is this... a stitch?
It takes you completely by surprise. How could a superior athlete like yourself be suffering with a stitch so early in the run? Especially after that entire minute of warm-ups!
9. Your body’s playing mean, but you persevere and you push through the pain.
You might be sick in the process, but it’s a price you’re willing to pay.
10. Until you’re suddenly and inexplicably overcome with exhaustion.
OK, so maybe you went a little too hard too early. But you remember how to run, right? Why is this so hard?
11. So you give in and grant yourself a moment to recuperate and revive.
All the while reminding yourself of the stuff you should have gone over before you started. Like how to breathe during a run, the importance of pacing, and why you should definitely go easy if it’s your first time back out there.
12. You use some tough love tactics to push yourself back out there and try again.
Belittling yourself is not motivational or fun, but yelling wildly in the middle of a park in order to get your legs moving definitely is.
13. You use mental bribery in order to keep going.
Like, come on, body. Just 10 more minutes and I’ll give you pizza later. I promise.
14. And then you figure out the mathematical equation to finish this run free from shame.Run for three minutes. Walk for two minutes. And repeat.
15. It feels like everyone is giving you pitying glances right now...Sweat, heavy breathing, a bad case of red face, and an anguished facial expression make for a traffic-halting combination.
16. But you’re also completely cool with that, because you’re basically dripping with success right now too.
Or, yeah, you know, sweating like a pig. Whatever you want to call it.
17. You struggle through the final few minutes.
Yes, there are earthworms moving faster than you. And your whole body is on fire. But my goodness, you’re going to finish this.
18. Until you basically give in and sit down in the middle of one your final strides.
19. Before dragging your tired ass back home.
Is it normal for the human body to feel this weak?
20. But it’s all totally worth it, because now you can bask in your victory.
It’s an endurance test, guys. Mentally, physically, and even on a strange existential level. Running is something that gets easier over time and with practice. But that first run back out there? Yikes. It really is something else, and it can take a few days of frustration to get past. But just keep going, champ. The payoff is totally worth it.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, blogger, and musician based in Liverpool, UK. She’s the cofounder of the irreverent pop culture blog and podcast Clarissa Explains F*ck All and the bassist for d-beat punk band Aüralskit. She’s currently working on her first novel and slowly completing her debut poetry collection. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.