What's the best way to get your running groove back after a bad week or two, when you miss a bunch of workouts and/or are forced to sharply reduce the length and intensity of your runs due to hectic workdays, a family situation, or
as was the case with me a couple of weeks agoa home relocation? I believe the best course of action to take when you decide you're ready and able to resume intensive training is to do one or two or perhaps a few "parachute" workouts followed by a "rust buster" workout. Let me explain.
A parachute workout is a workout that serves to slow the rate of descent of your fitness level, but not necessarily stop it or send it back in the right direction. After you've missed a bunch of training, you don't want to just jump right back in where you left off. It's better to be patient and first do one or more comfortable runs that are no more than slightly longer and more intense than the runs you've been doing (if any) during your detour from normal training. These workouts will serve to gently refamiliarize your body with the stress of proper training and help you regain your stride rhythm.
A rust buster is a workout that puts a hard stop to your fitness deterioration and turns it back in the right direction by administering a modest dose of very intense running. The great thing about very fast running is that it doesn't take much to have an effect. That's because you're "pushing your limits" almost as soon as you start a 200-meter hill interval or a 45-second fartlek interval, whereas it takes a while to push your limits in a tempo run. A few short intervals at 5K pace or faster are also better tolerated when your fitnes level has slipped than 20 minutes or so of threshold-pace running and are more beneficial in such circumstances.
I believe there's also a psychological benefit to going hard, but not long. When you head outside and burn your lungs and legs with some fast intervals you can almost feel the rust coming off, yet it's over with before you're forced to realize just how much fitness you've lost. If you do a moderately hard workout instead
something closer to race paceyou'll have your face rubbed in your inadequacy very quickly.
My recent rust buster was a session of 3 x 800 meters at roughly 3,000-meter race pace with 800m active recoveries between intervals. It hurt just a little and my split times weren't so bad. I was a little sore the next day and a little sluggish the day after that. It's been nine days now since my rust buster and I'm feeling more or less as fit as I was before the moving madness. Long live the rust buster!