It can be scary to think about stepping away from running after you’ve put in all of the time and effort to build a strong base, but sometimes your body just needs a break. In fact, sometimes not running can be more beneficial than forcing yourself to get out there; especially if you’ve hit a plateau.
“Time away refreshes the body, mind and soul,” confirms Lisah Hamilton, coach and founder of The Conscious Runner. “It is important for runners to take two or more weeks completely off per year to progress further the next year.”
How do you know it’s time to step away, and what should you do with all that time off? We talked to some coaches to find out how to make the most of your break from the sport and why some time away may reinvigorate your training.
SIGNS IT’S TIME FOR A BREAK
According to José Miranda, co-founder of Educated Running, burnout actually includes psychological and physical symptoms. The most recognizable sign is the lack of excitement or motivation when it comes to training or getting out the door for a run.
“It becomes more difficult to get out of bed for early morning workouts and to do all of the ‘small’ things — like stretching, core and mobility exercises — which go a long way to preventing you from becoming injured,” adds Miranda. “With regard to physical symptoms, you might have a harder time than usual falling asleep at night and, during workouts, you might become tired more quickly than usual.”
While it is normal to have a few days when you’d rather stay in bed or just skip a workout in general, you’ll want to be conscious of whether these signs happen regularly. If you’re feeling blasé multiple times a week, you may want to make some changes to your current routine.
“It is important to be able to identify when you might need a hard reset,” explains Brendan Gilpatrick, head cross-country coach at the University of Maine at Augusta and a coach at Dirigo Endurance. “After a big race I like athletes to take some down time, reduce running volume, recover and think about where they want to go from there. Post-major races are a great time for an athlete to shift training volume time into some of the things that may get less attention during training, like relationships with friends or family.”
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR TIME OFF
If you’re not running but absolutely crave movement, the good news is you can still get up and work out while on a break. You can, of course, just take time off altogether, but it is a great time to pursue other interests and discover other workouts you may not have time to try during a typical training season.
“Running breaks are a great time to explore something you might be interested in but were previously unable to set the time aside for it,” shares Gilpatrick. “During a running break I took time to visit a local indoor climbing gym. This turned into not only a new hobby, but also a great way to strength train in a way that ultimately benefited my running when returning to training.”
Of course you don’t want to do workouts that will overexert you too much; it is a great time to do yoga and try other low-impact fitness options. You can also take the time to work on your ‘mental game’ and listen to podcasts or read books that will help you build up your visualization and mental toughness.
“The point here is to not use the break to try to maintain or increase fitness before starting up again,” urges Hamilton. “It will defeat the purpose of the break altogether. If you find you need more than two weeks to recharge, as the weeks go on you may gradually do more and more workouts — including some runs — until ‘officially’ starting up again.”
BENEFITS OF GETTING REST
As stated above, taking a break from running is a great way to reset your brain and body to reach new levels in your running. Though it may seem counterintuitive, time off can really help you progress. In fact, Miranda explains you don’t lose much fitness in two weeks, which is the amount of time both he and Hamilton are in agreement on as a great length for a break.
“Indeed many studies show that your aerobic base largely remains intact after a few weeks off from running (presuming you have finished at least one full training cycle up until that point),” he confirms. “Furthermore, running requires a lot of concentration and it is a high-impact sport. Whatever you lose in fitness is worth the mental and physical recovery you gain.”
If you’ve hit a plateau or are experiencing any of the signs it may be time for a break, often taking some time away from the sport can help reduce any setbacks you are experiencing. In addition, it may help you rediscover why you fell in love with the sport in the first place.
“At the end of the day, running should be fun; never lose sight of this,” concludes Miranda. “Your training will challenge your physical and mental limits — so of course running won’t always feel fun — still, your general impression of running should be one characterized by enjoyment. If at any point this is not the case, then you should reassess your training.”