I’m back on here after taking some time off to fully enjoy the holidays with family. I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and great start to the New Year!
Today I’m going to discuss why its a REALLY good idea for runners to take breaks in between training cycles. This may seem rather common sense to all runners, or most runners, but I also think the expectation, whether perceived or not, is that in order to be a “good” runner, we need to run year round. And although there is some merit to “run more to improve”, there is such a thing as too much as well.
Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that running year round is bad, or wrong, or that you should stop. I am saying proceed with caution, train smart, and if you need a break don’t feel guilty about taking a month or two off.
With that said, my training cycle pretty much falls between March-November. This means I take December, January, and February off from training. During this time I average 2-3 runs per week and they are all easy runs and often with the jogging stroller. I find that during these months I am the least motivated to wake up early to run in the bitter cold and dark. I am also not a fan of cold weather in general and my physical and mental state becomes “hibernate like a mother bear” versus “become speedy like a gazelle.” And instead of going against my nature and feeling guilt, shame, or frustration for not completing scheduled training runs, I don’t train. I still run…a little. But I don’t have a drawn out plan with a race in mind.
I bet you’re asking: “But Randi, don’t you lose some fitness?!”
Yep. Yep I do. And quite a bit too. I average a couple runs a week, but there are a lot of weeks where I don’t run at all. So of course I lose fitness. Statistically its on the order of about 10%. For those who like numbers like me, if I’m running a tempo pace of 9:00/mile I can expect my tempo pace when I resume training to be around 10:30/mile. So I do lose a bit of fitness and speed and I’m okay with it. I go into these breaks knowing and expecting this.
But (you knew a “but” was coming), one great thing about taking breaks between races, is that I have found I bounce back pretty quickly. I spend about a month to 6 weeks focusing on building my base mileage and then I add in tempo runs, and then finally add in speed work. And you know what? By the time my base mileage phase is done, I have easily dropped my time by one minute per mile. Because during this time, even though I am keeping my runs easy, I am building up that fitness that I lost during my hibernation. So in the grand scheme of things, runners will lose some degree of fitness during a break, but they will also build it back rather quickly.
So what do I do during this break?
CHECK IN – During this time I keep my runs easy and relatively short around 3-5 miles. I don’t focus on getting fit or getting faster. I use this time as a “check in” with my body. I ask myself:
Am I tired and lacking physical energy? Why?
Do I feel well rested? Am I getting enough sleep at night? Am I sleep well at night?
Am I eating well to fuel my body and recover?
Am I staying healthy during flu/virus season?
While running I check in as well and ask myself:
Are my quads tight? Are my IT Bands stiff? Are my Hamstrings tender? How are my calves?
Do my knees hurt? Hips? Ankles?
Are my shoes old? Is it time for a new pair?
Would I benefit from a massage?
Do I need a chiropractor adjustment?
ENJOY RUNNING – It’s so easy as runners to constantly push our body’s limits. We’re disciplined, hard working, dedicated, and really really stubborn. Breaks provide a perfect opportunity to step outside the competitive box of running (and I don’t just mean elite competition, I mean personal competition) and slow down to really enjoy running. To enjoy the experience and the process.
PREVENT MENTAL BURNOUT – Breaks are not only physical. Its a great way to take a mental break from the rigors of training. Its a time to step back from early mornings, hitting set paces, and following carefully outlined training plans.
Often I see runners suffer from mental burnout. They have fallen out of love with running and continue pushing themselves hoping it will return. They want to love it, but to find that spark, the joy of running, is hard. And quite honestly, sometimes just stepping away for a period of time is all it takes. But I think fear of getting slower, gaining a couple pounds, muscle definition lessening, and losing fitness prevents runners from really embracing a break.
PREVENT INJURY – Outside of the mental benefits there are a million physical benefits as well. Our bodies are incredible. They are able to adapt to training quickly and efficiently – we were designed this way. But sometimes we push too much and we get injured. I call injuries the “no turning back zone” meaning that once you’re injured there is no going back. You can’t go back and run an easy run at an easy pace, or slow down your tempo run instead of pushing the pace. It’s too late at this point, and proper rest and rehabilitation is what your body needs now. The best way to not get injured is to avoid it all together, and good way to do that is to take a break and allow your body ample time to fully recover.
Please keep in mind, everyone is in a different place with their running. My goal with sharing this is that you will come to embrace any season of running that has you slowing down and simply enjoying it. Every run tells a story, even the runs during our breaks.
Run, or hibernate, on my friends!
I’m curious, do you train year round, or do you take a break?
If you train year round, how do you avoid injury and/or mental burnout?
If you take a break in between training cycles, when is it and what do you focus on?