It’s okay to take a break from running!
We now live in a society that pushes athletes and fitness enthusiasts to push hard all year long. Youth sports have competition during the off season, so there really is no off season, and we can find a road race just about any month of the year. There are different motivations behind this kind of excessive overtraining. It may be driven by fear of losing fitness level, wanting the training-high to continue, or simply because not running for two weeks seems unimaginable. Whatever the reason for not scheduling time off into training, I would like to encourage anyone who struggles with this that time off may lead you to greater performance and fresh training in the long run.
The benefits of longer rest periods (more than a week off after a hard training season) should convince any runner that it is worth it. Below are just a few:
Repair of soft tissues – many soft tissue injuries can be avoided when rest is scheduled into a training program.
Repair of bones - stress reactions occur in many runners due to the repetitive nature of the sport. Stress reactions are micro fractures in the bone that don’t show up on x-ray and may not produce any symptoms.
Prevents burnout – if anyone has experienced burnout, they will heed this advice and schedule time off after every major race! Burnout is when the body has stopped benefiting from the principle of overload and begins to break down. Longer periods of rest are the only remedy to recover from burnout. Some may experience their running has gone stale right before burnout sets in.
Psychological rest – as addicted as some may be to running, resting the mind from running is necessary. Letting go of the desire to run for just a week or two will help any runner come back with a fresh new love for the sport.
Prepares the body for the next training cycle – it is important to schedule out training into segments and then plan longer rest periods between those training cycles. If the plan is to train for a spring marathon and then do several shorter races over the summer, schedule a few weeks of rest after the marathon so that the body can heal up for the higher intensity training required for 5ks and 10ks. No matter how good your fitness level is, it will only decline if you continue to train hard without this scheduled longer rest period.
How much time off depends on the distance and intensity of the goal race for your training season. After running a hard marathon, it can be as much as 26 days off…using the days per mile formula (take a day off for each mile raced). For someone who could not imagine taking that much time off after a race, take 1-2 weeks off and start back up with cross training and very light, low mileage running.
Taking time off of running may be very difficult for some. Especially if training has been good and the last race was a PR. Sometimes runners experience the blues a bit after big races and continuing to train will help keep them feeling more positive. However, it may be the worst thing you could do for your future training. When you come back to training, ease into it and enjoy every mile. You will be so glad you took the time off.