Should You Take A Break From Running?
Most of the time, running is an enjoyable endeavor. It’s the reason we all don our running shoes, tally those daily miles, and strive for distances that may seem ludicrous to the average person. But what do you do when running ceases to be enjoyable? When should you consider taking a hiatus from your running routine?
Certainly, there are life circumstances that necessitate an extended break from running. The postpartum period, the recovery phase after stress fractures or severe injuries, post-surgery rehabilitation, recuperating from a significant illness, and other medical reasons undeniably require several weeks off from running. However, this discussion centers on when you find yourself contemplating an extended break from running due to reasons with a less clear-cut timetable than “take x weeks off for healing.” This post explores the idea of an extended running break resulting from a need for mental respite or due to overtraining.
Many runners are apprehensive about taking a break from running. They’ve invested months, or even years, in training and honing their fitness. The fear of an extended break is that it might undo years of hard-earned progress. Nonetheless, there are circumstances where evading a break at all costs could place you in a more precarious situation, particularly if you’re grappling with burnout or overtraining.
Conversely, there are accounts of runners experiencing breakthroughs following an extended break. One of the most notable examples is Desi Linden, who took time off from training in the summer of 2017 and then clinched victory at the Boston Marathon in April 2018. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that (a) the extended break wasn’t the sole factor in her triumph, (b) she engaged in several months of rigorous training between the break and the race, and (c) like most elite runners, she possesses exceptional genetic predispositions that influence her training response. Not everyone will rebound as swiftly from an extended break, and such a hiatus doesn’t serve as a magic solution for instantaneous racing success.
So, what’s the best course of action? How can you determine if an extended break would prove detrimental or advantageous to you?
Do You Need A Break From Running?
Several signs indicate you might be in need of a break from running:
1. Overtraining Symptoms: If you’re experiencing symptoms of overtraining, such as a waning interest in running, loss of appetite, diminished libido, profound fatigue, and a substantial performance decline, a break is in order.
2. Inadequate Recovery: If you find it challenging to make a full recovery from an illness or injury due to your training, it’s imperative to consider taking a break. Your health should take precedence.
3. Lack of Enjoyment: It’s natural for runners to have periods where motivation wanes, but if you’ve reached the point where you despise every mile and can’t wait for your runs to conclude, it may be time for a running hiatus.
4. Mental Stress: Running should promote positive mental well-being and be an enjoyable endeavor. If it’s causing you undue stress, fostering negative self-esteem, or negatively affecting your mental health, it’s likely time for a running break.
5. Intuitive Break: Sometimes, your body intuitively signals the need for a break. Listen to your intuition; your body often knows best.
How To Take A Break From Running
When considering a break from running, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach; it’s about finding what works best for you.
1. No Set Timeline: Avoid putting a strict timeline on your break. Give yourself the freedom to abstain from running until you genuinely want to lace up again. Whether that desire returns in a couple of weeks or extends to several months, it’s crucial not to limit yourself with specific deadlines.
2. Explore New Activities: Taking a break from running doesn’t mean taking a break from exercise altogether. Experiment with alternative activities like trying a different workout class, exploring sports such as swimming or cycling, taking leisurely long walks, or embarking on hikes.
3. Scale Back Mileage and Intensity: If you opt for a modified break, reduce the intensity of your runs significantly. Remove any strenuous workouts like tempo runs or speedwork, and cut back on the number of running days and overall distance. Release the pressure to adhere to a fixed weekly running schedule or cover specific mileage. Keep it short, easy, and light, without tracking pace or distance.
4. Race-Free Period: During your break, refrain from scheduling any races. While races can be motivating, they won’t address burnout. Release all the pressure to train and compete, even if it means backing out of a race you’d previously registered for and perhaps began training for. Prioritizing your mental well-being is more than acceptable.
5. Disconnect from Social Media: If social media platforms like Strava or Instagram have added unnecessary stress to your running journey, consider taking a break from them as well. Remember that social media should enhance your life, not burden it.
How Do You Decide To Take A Break From Running
The choice to embark on an extended break is a highly personal one. Your unique sense of how you’re faring mentally and physically is what truly matters in this decision-making process.
Don’t dwell on concerns about losing fitness or potential weight gain. Instead, prioritize what’s best for your mental well-being and overall physical health. If you’re uncertain, you can begin with a one-week break to gauge your feelings. If you find yourself eager to run during this period, consider opting for a modified break. However, if the break brings relief, and you don’t miss running, feel free to grant yourself an extended hiatus.
Sharing your feelings with others can be beneficial. If you have a coach, engage in an open conversation with them about your intention to take an extended break from running. A supportive coach will stand by you, regardless of your decision. Likewise, communicate with your running group or running buddy, informing them of your need for a break. You’ll receive their support and won’t feel as though you’re letting them down.
Resuming Running After a Break
If you’ve taken more than four weeks away from running, it’s essential to recognize that returning to your previous training intensity isn’t a wise choice. Attempting to pick up where you left off could heighten your risk of injury or burnout, which won’t aid your recovery from an episode of overtraining.
For those who took a two to four-week hiatus, the recommended approach is to begin with easy runs, covering roughly 50% of your previous mileage for a couple of weeks, followed by 75% of your mileage for another few weeks. If your break extended between four to eight weeks, start by easing back with approximately 33% of your former mileage, all at an easy effort, for about two weeks. After this initial phase, gradually rebuild your mileage over the course of a few more weeks.
If your break exceeded eight weeks, your initial step should involve a few weeks with no more than 33% of your prior mileage. Carefully rebuild your base over several weeks before reintroducing any faster running. Even if your break wasn’t prompted by an injury, the process of returning to running resembles the gradual progression typically followed after recovering from an injury.
Final Words – Should You Take A Break From Running
The decision to take a break from running is a personal one, influenced by your unique physical and mental well-being. Listen to your body and mind, and don’t dwell on fears of fitness loss or weight gain. Focus on what’s best for your overall health.
Taking an extended break from running might be challenging, but it’s necessary in some situations. Your running pursuits will patiently await your return, and sometimes, a hiatus can lead to remarkable breakthroughs in the long run.
Resuming running after a break requires a thoughtful approach. Your time away should dictate the pace of your return. Remember that taking time off and rebuilding is often the smartest way to ensure sustained progress and prevent injuries or burnout.
When you’re in doubt, consider seeking support and sharing your feelings with a coach, running group, or running buddy. Your well-being is paramount, and taking care of your mental and physical health is a step in the right direction.