June 20, 2013

When to take a running break

Remember how that last 50K broke me. Afterwards (aka during -- like with each step), I decided that it was time for me to take a break. Not only were all of my toenails throbbing and pleading for no more torture, but my mind just needed a rest from worrying about anything that had to do with running. I wanted to take the running slate and wipe it clean and blow away the dust.

There was nothing broken or seriously injured (minus those toenails), so how did I know I needed to take a break? Well the obvious part is that I've been running like a crazy person for months and months. Although compared to some people, like all of my buddies running Western States, what I run in a month is like a wimpy weekly mileage total for them. But with me and my newness to the 50K and running three of them since February, my body was telling me that it was time to take a deep breath and just recover. 

In case you're trying to decide for yourself if it's time to take your own little running vacation, here are some of the key factors for me in deciding when to take a running break:

  • Natural downtime in your racing schedule. Because I don't have another race until the end of July (and it's just for fun, or so I tell myself), this was a great time for me to take a break and let my muscles and bones focus more on recovery for a couple of weeks. 
  • Your legs are fatigued. This was actually the determining factor for taking a break after this last 50K. From the first step, my legs felt sooooo heavy. I knew then that they just needed a break from the intensity. After a couple weeks of breaking, they already feel much fresher than they did at the adrenaline-pumped start line of that race. 
  • Before starting a new training plan. Starting a new training plan with fresh legs can help you build confidence from the start. In July, I'll start marathon training for Savannah. Even though I'm not racing that one (I'm pacing my buddy in her first marathon!), I'd still like to go into the training plan with fresh legs. 
  • When you're just not excited about running. I definitely had the feeling during this last race that running just wasn't fun that day. Did I feel that way for an extended period? Not really, but I wanted to take a break before I got to that point. It's sometimes easier for us to listen to the signals our bodies give us -- like, oh, my Achilles hurts so darn bad that I can't walk straight, so I should probably take a rest. Whereas, it's harder to listen to the mental voice that says that running is losing the magic for you. If you spot it happening, take a mental, meaning an actual, break from training. Hide your training plans and find other positive activities, like hanging with the family and friends, to fill your time. 

Source

  • If you're sick. Your body has a lot of clever ways to let you know that you are worn down. One of those ways is being more susceptible to illness. Here's a short and informative article on illness related to running activity. Either way, if you are sick, don't be afraid to take a break until you recover. 


  • Decline in performance. If you've been out there grindin' and haven't seen any improvement in your results lately, you could be suffering from a performance decline linked to overuse. Check out this article for symptoms of overtraining
  • You're on vacation. Vacations are the perfect time to take it easy on yourself and your training. Because vacation time is usually focused on family and friends, it's easy to put running into perspective. Running is definitely worthwhile and therapeutic, but it is not as important as your family, which is easy to understand when you're busy swapping stories with them about who wins the award for most tortuous older sibling. My older brothers used to pin me to the ground and spit in my mouth along with telling me that if I tattled on them I would get sent to be made into glue at the Elmer's factory, named after Elmer who told on his big brother -- of course. So they win. 
  • You have an injury. I actually forgot this one in my original post, and I had to come back and add it in. Unfortunately, this is the cause of so many of my running breaks. In my opinion, I could have avoided these forced running breaks due to running-related injury if I had taken more of the optional running breaks listed above. That's not a guarantee, but man, I just feel it in my stress-fractured bones. 

This article recommends taking at least one three- to four-week break per year. Sounds easy until you get into the thick of running things and realize that taking a break now would interfere with the almighty race schedule. So plan your breaks in advance and with as much care as you put into planning your races. Don't just rationalize that you will eventually get to that. 

And even if you haven't preplanned a rest, listen if your body is signaling for a one. That training plan will still be there in a few weeks, and you will probably be a lot happier to see it. 

By the way, I am the worst at this! There are so many for-fun races on my schedule that I forget that even when I'm just doing a race for fun, it still saps lots of energy from my legs. 

For this particular rest period, I took two weeks off. Did I run at all? A few times, but I made sure to keep it very fun and easy. Very, very easy. I ended up with about four easy runs total during the two weeks. This article gives some recommendations for how to stay in shape during a break period. Or if you're feeling like it, just pause everything and don't worry about losing or maintaining fitness. I didn't run distance for over 30 years, and my body caught on fairly quickly. Three weeks of resting will not kill you, but it just might make you stronger. 

When was the last time you took a running break? 

Do you schedule breaks on your race calendar? 

How often do you take breaks of two weeks or longer? 

What's your favorite activity during your running breaks? Reading and yoga. I made a little more progress on my nightstand's stack of book over the last two weeks. 

22 comments:

  1. My Dad use to pin his brother to the bed and lick his nose.

    I plan to take July off from races except for the one I can't skip.

    Usual read paranormal romance/urban fantasy (not twilight)





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  2. I think this is a great post, covering a subject I have not read about before. Thank you!

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  3. Great post and the burnout/joy has been my biggest factor for taking the step back. I've been in a funk for awhile but getting out of it!

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    1. Yes, it's easy to slip into a funk and just try to push through it instead of taking a deep breath and a step back.

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  4. We take one day a week off. Other than that, I never take off unless I am injured or sick. I love being outside, so if I am burned out on running, I will usually break out my iPod and add some walking into the run. It relaxes me, and lets me know that I don't have to run "full out" all of the time.

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  5. Usually take 7-10 days off at some point during the year. This year it will be done in late summer.

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  6. I am the WORST for taking breaks. I love to race far too much. I try to take a couple of weeks off of running after any A race. I will continue to swim so I'm at least doing something. I also try to lay off the weights during that time period but it's hard because I know when I go back, it's going to hurt. I try and schedule an easy week every 3-4 weeks in my training but it doesn't always work out that way, ha ha.

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    1. I like that idea of scheduling an easier week in the mix.

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  7. Gosh, this is such a great post. I inadvertently took a break for the month of May. I was still running periodically, and I even ran a half on June 1st, but it was the slowest half of my life because my body had refused to run fast or far for the whole month. I did feel frustrated, but I just couldn't do any more than that. So I took a break... but my body chose it. And I feel so so much better now.

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    1. That seems how my June is turning out. The body is taking over and calling the shots!

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  8. I just took a break on purpose. Didn't blog, didn't read blogs, and I didn't run. I set a date to get back to it and I stuck to that date. I expected to go out on my first run after the break with heavy legs but, in fact, I went out like a rock star. I was shocked. I seriously doubted taking the break but I am glad I did it. Now I'm getting back in to all of it and have a renewed excitement for it.

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    1. You really did that up right. Glad you were feeling even better after the rest! That inspires me to do it more often.

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  9. I have been feeling a little off in my running lately and focusing on strength training is helping me feel active. Although running is the only thing that really shakes out the cobwebs and helps with my moods.

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  10. Usually I only take running breaks when I'm injured - however, I have been taking a few weeks off running this time because I was starting to hate running. I did lots of other challenging workouts during the break and now I can tell my body is ready to run again.
    Hard to take the breaks but sometimes for the best!!

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  11. I took a week off of running, but only 2 days off of crosstraining, after my half marathon.

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  12. Blah. I am so ready for a break. I've known this for a long time and have still pressed on. This is a great reminder.

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  13. oh girl, I've been battling a break since Boston....finally almost out of it (in a casual way!)

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  14. I think breaks are really important to avoid mental burn out as much as physical burn out. I know that towards the end of a training cycle, I just want it over so I always try to have at least two easy weeks after a goal race. I'm four days into a mini-break after Sunday's half-marathon and I am loving it. I love being guiltlessly lazy AND I really want to go for a run, so it's clearly recharged my batteries. I'll be doing easy 4 milers and a little trail running for a few weeks, just to perk me up again!

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  15. I am just coming off about a month break. One week was completely no running. Then I have just been running easy since. My next marathon training starts on Monday!

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  16. I maybe should be taking a break this week... but... I am struggling. We'll see if it's still storming ridiculous in the morning.

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  17. I am a big fan of taking a running break in the summer. I took an impromptu 6-week break from early April to mid-May when I was in between half marathons and instead of feeling like death when I ran the half in May my legs felt pretty rested and I had several miles where I felt really strong.

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