Give Yourself A Break!

The hammock
Sometimes you gotta take a break. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Runners come in all shapes and sizes physically, and we are also mentally diverse: we are good at so many things! We are dedicated, passionate, and driven, qualities that are instrumental in helping us achieve our goals. But we can also be extremist, overly critical, and obsessive. As a result, one thing many runners struggle with is taking a break. I’ve heard (and used) every excuse. Here are a few of the most common excuses and why you should silence them, in favor of the rest your body and mind crave.

I’ll get lazy

You have a very real fear that you will enjoy having free time, and I am right there with you. Like all running fears, you have to face this fear to get through it.

This year, during my 3 month break (NO running) I was legitimately concerned not only that I wouldn’t be able to, but that I wouldn’t want to run competitively again. Was I destined to permanent slothdom? No, I just wasn’t ready to return to running yet.

Give yourself a time-frame for your break and your expected return. I recommend at least 2 weeks completely off every year, but pro runner Bernard Lagat takes 5 weeks off. If you’re worried you’ll never get off the couch, put a goal race on your calendar 3-6 months out. That way, once you are feeling rested, you’ll be motivated to get out the door again.

I’ll get fat/slow/out of shape

You know what? You just might. You might gain a few lbs. You might feel out of shape when you return. And if you try to set a PR at the end of your 2 week break, you will probably be disappointed. But the great thing is: all those things are temporary!

After 3 months of no running, it took me another 6 months to build a mileage base. On average, my easy pace was 90 seconds to 2 minutes slower than usual. I was running slower than ever before. But 6 months and 10 days after completing my first 3 mile run of 2012, I set a 10k PR. Five weeks later, I set a road 5k PR. I lost fitness, but I gained it back. Along with a renewed enthusiasm for running.

After a layoff, short or long, you need to temporarily adjust your expectations for races and workouts. Instead of trying to hang with your old training buddies in your first track workout back, meet them at the track to do your own workout. Or stick with time-based intervals on the road. Before you know it, you’ll be motoring along and wondering what you were so worried about in the first place! And the only extra weight you’ll be carrying is pounds of mental strength.

What will I do with my free time?

I’m jumping into stereotype-land here, but as women runners, I think it’s even harder for us to give ourselves breaks. A lot of women are used to multi-tasking, planning the next responsibility before the current one is complete, and cramming as much as possible into every single day. The thought of not spinning our gears at 100 mph all day every day can be scary! All the more reason to slllllllow down.

The biggest breakthrough of 2012, for me, was regaining balance in my life. I thought I was doing a good job balancing the demands of work, life, marriage, family, and fitness. My running break made me step back and look at my priorities again. I took up gardening, learned to swim the butterfly, traveled, and even learned to sew a skirt! Not to mention, I tried a new job, took a yoga certification class, and became a better conversationalist. And none of those activities took away from my strength or goals as a runner.

Make a list (if that’s how you roll) of 5 things you’d like to do during your break. Only one catch. None of them can involve running. Take a vacation that doesn’t include a race. Buy a Zumba package. Drink more wine. Do something you don’t typically do because of your devotion to running.

Let loose now and you’ll be ready to train smarter and harder when you come back!

Take some time off. Let loose and eat some cake. Literally or figuratively:)

Do you have a formal “break” schedule every year? How do you fill your downtime? What scares you about taking time off and how do you cope?

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I'm a pediatric physical therapist by day. Running mostly early am miles as I balance life as the mom of a toddler. With PR days in the past, my primary running goal is to be a lifelong runner. With 20+ years behind me, I still love the sport and I am truly grateful for every day I get to run.

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  1. I took a mini-break last week–only ran 22 miles, and even that was too much! Spent more time swimming. I thought it was necessary because I start training this week for my upcoming races. For me, my brain just needed to step away from the mileage. It was great and much needed! I could probably use another week or 2 like that. My legs feel refreshed!

  2. So important! But please remind me how much I need the break when I’m tempted to re-start after the first week off. Good idea about picking up another activity during the free time. I SHOULD plan to clean the house but in reality I will probably work my way through more seasons of Gossip Girl.