Need a Break from Training? Don’t Feel Guilty!

Running on Empty mentally? Physically? Stop feeling guilty and come back when you are ready!
Running on empty. Mentally? Physically? Stop feeling guilty and come back when you are ready!

As you can tell from my (lack of) training logs lately, running has not been a priority. How can someone go from making her daily runs the most important thing in life for 3+ years to realizing she hasn’t logged a single run in a week, two weeks, a month sometimes? Well it wasn’t painless, and even now I wonder if I’ll ever be the fast chick I once was. Worst of all, I was riddled with guilt for a long time. I often felt like I should be out there training. ย But I can tell you that today I’ve run 2.5 miles in the past two weeks, and before that I’d have to check a log to tell you when I ran.

And I don’t feel one iota guilty about it.

If you are like I was and worry over every missed training opportunity or slow run, extra rest day or other blemish on your training log, I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. Today I share my experience in the hopes that you too can reach a place where a missed run or prioritizing other life experiences over running is nothing to worry about. Really.ย 

I think the problem with a well-engrained routine is that you often feel out of sorts if that routine has to change. In my case, I went from logging 60 – 80+ mile weeks with few rest days for 3+ years in pursuit of a sub 2:46 marathon. I religiously did my track, tempo, and long runs every week. I dragged my butt out onto slogs of runs on rest days. I ran 8+ miles at lunch with my crew almost every day of the week.

I was a slave to my run routine. I moved everything around to prioritize my key workouts and to make sure I got in my target mileage. This might have meant missing out on family get-togethers. It meant blocking out lunch time calls at work. It meant I spent the majority of my time with the same training partners week in and week out. Everything was focused on the next race, the next goal, the next workout, the next fitness level I needed to reach. To put it mildly, I was obsessed with achieving my goals.

But like a junkie I kept coming back, because guess what, I saw big time results! I went from a 3:05:57 PR in 2009 to a 2:49:53 in 2010. But I got greedy and despite improved fitness in 2011, I walked away with a hobbled together 2:51:59, managed to bring it around for a really good Boston in 2012, but just couldn’t keep the PF (planter fascitis) at bay. I was burnt out, injured, and frustrated. So I said enough is enough; it was finally time to stop and get this foot fixed!

And I waited, and I waited, and I waited.

And while I waited, I questioned myself. Is that heel pain still pain? Is it really unbearable? Maybe I can jump back to training. Every missed training day, my mind would dwell on the missed lunch run, the missed track workout, the missed tempo, and as time went by, the missed races. I have literally gone months without seeing people who for several years were my only social companions. And trust me, I felt guilty about that, too! If only I could suck it up, if only I was more motivated, if only I had a goal.

But the truth is that right now I’m just not ready to get back to training. Physically my body might be on board, but mentally it just isn’t there. And here are the reasons I don’t feel one ounce guilty:

1) I’m still fit! I’m cycling quite a bit, I swim occasionally, and when I want to run, I run. Am I my former super speedy self? Nope, but that’s ok, as long as I am healthy.
2) I am HAPPY. I am soooo much happier than any marathon PR day. Sure those days were awesome, but those are highs, and they came with lows. When and if I do get back into PR shape, I know it will be that much more satisfactory when done with the rest of my life and mood in balance!
3) I’ve come to grips with the fact that some days, I just can’t do it all. And sometimes work gets in the way, or house repairs get in the way, or a concert takes precedent, or cuddling is more important. While that was not true for me before, it is now, and I hope to never go back!
4) Reflecting on my injury, my stubbornness, and my training, I can confidently say had I not been so focused and had I valued other things outside of chasing the goal, I would have gotten in the needed rest and recovery that would have kept me fit, kept me mentally healthy, and kept my passion for running from fading. And I can say with confidence it would have allowed me to reach my goals. Lesson learned!

These days I'm not sure I remember what an indoor track looks like, and these running companions might not recognize the softer Pepper this chick has become the last few months ;)
These days I’m not sure I remember what an indoor track looks like, and these running companions might not recognize the softer Pepper this once speedy chick has become the last few months ๐Ÿ˜‰

So readers, I encourage you to learn from my mistakes! If you are in a rut right now, and you don’t feel like running, it’s ok! Cut yourself some slack. So you ran your tempo slower than last week, or a work deadline kept you from your long run? Get over it! There’s always next week!

Most importantly, if you need a break, take it. Running is not going anywhere permanently (unless you want it to) and it will come back when you are ready for it.ย Just a little pep talk from Pepper to say, bag the guilt and get back to what you love when it is right for you.


A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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  1. I definitely needed this post – it’s hard for me to gain perspective sometimes, but I can’t let running dictate how I feel about every other part of my life (which is really good). I’m going to wait to run again until I really want to (which might be tomorrow and it might be next week) and take this off-season easy!

  2. I burned out really badly my senior year of high school. I had trained hard through the summer leading up to senior year for cross country, and didn’t take any down time at the end of the season. I jumped straight into off-season AAU/USATF cross country and then went full-steam to train for track. Instead of base-building, I kept doing weekly track sessions (including a memorable one at 8p (dark) in the snow). The season was a disaster, and in retrospect, I should’ve quit the team when I got injured at the start. But I kept pushing on, and then jumped into training to join a D1 college team. I made it through the first week of practice and a time trial where I ran a full minute slower for 3k than I had months earlier, and then finally walked away for awhile.

    I’ve come around to accepting that a break can be a very valuable part of training. I started suffering from some burnout a couple years ago, and then didn’t run at all for 3 months (iirc) when life got busy. I had my best year of running ever following the break.

  3. Hey, Pepper, it’s Alison T…from the Steelhead days. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve never commented on Salty Running before, but I am a frequent reader. You guys do a great job with this blog!

    This is such a timely post for me! I will never be as fast as you are/were, but over the past year I have gone from a middle-of-the-pack runner to an almost guaranteed age-group placer (in 5Ks and 10Ks, at least). At first, it was fun! I never thought I’d be able to run “fast!” But it’s gotten to the point where I’m constantly flirting with injuries, including PF, pulled muscles, and knee pain. Thankfully nothing has been major, but I also ease up at the first sign of pain and take rest days. However, my nagging aches and pains only seem to flare up after a race or a hard workout, never an easy run. So I’m forced to face this dilemma: go back to being a slower runner, avoid injury, and do it for the love of the sport — or risk injury and burnout to meet my goals? When I started to get faster last summer, I thought it was the only thing that mattered. Now I’m reevaluating. I have a 5K in a week and a half, and after that, I think I’m going to take a break and just run for the sake of running this summer. It’s reassuring to see someone at the elite level who feels the same way. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hey blog twin. Sorry to hear injuries are plaguing you! It’s definitely a fine line once speed is added to an already stressful life. I’m interested to see if my foot stays well once I do start back up some intensity. (Fingers crossed!) But in the mean time it is nice to have a base in triathlon and the option to cross train and still be competitive if I can’t sustain the high intensity training!

      If you find you are missing the speed maybe try backing off the number of intervals/race distance for awhile and see if that helps keep those injuries at bay? Maybe you just need a bit more build up!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this! I have this battle with myself from time to time and really try to strike a good work/life/running balance. However, I know I can get carried away with goal times and pr’s to the point where it will sometimes disrupt that balance. I agree that setting a huge pr is an amazing high, but being balanced and enjoying the sport needs to be the focus and hopefully if I focus on that balance goal times will come!

    1. Looking back I really can’t believe how out of balance my life was. If I had the luxury of running for a career I’d say that is ok, but I don’t ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m actually pretty lucky injury and life changes struck when they did or I think I would have a much bigger life and career hole to dig myself out of!

      Goals and PRs are great but they are so easy to get obsessed with ๐Ÿ™‚

      Good luck keeping the balance!

  5. Pepper – This post makes my heart happy:). I am just so happy for you that you are fulfilling your happiness in other realms of life! I have a close friend who is in a burn out mode. She is taking a couple weeks off. I am a creature of habit and I am lost without my routine. Fit wise, I think I am still working towards some PR’s and trying to maintain a balance. With working full time and having four young kids, it is so easy to get burnt out. But, I find that I have become a champion at striking a balance.

    1. Thanks Michelle! It is nice to find yourself in more balanced happy place, especially after making huge changes to get there ๐Ÿ™‚

      I can’t imagine full time with 4 kids and running like a boss. You are doing great!

      Here’s hoping your friend finds her balance too.

  6. Awesome post. I have these feelings about triathlon sometimes too. You definitely hit the nail on the head. When feeling burned out it is okay to take a time out or scale back your goals or just not have goals. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks Pam! Hope you and Steve are doing well! Maybe I’ll see you at a tri this summer if I can just get myself into the pool!