Time off? On Purpose?! Why You Need a Scheduled Running Break

During your break you can swap track loops for carousel loops like I did last month!

Recently Salty wrote about overtraining and Cinnamon and Ginger have posted about forced time off due to work obligations and injury scares, but today I’m going to talk about choosing to take some time off from running. That’s right, the site dedicated to serious women’s running is recommending that you … stop running. On purpose.

I know. I know You’re probably thinking, “OMG, I am going to get so slow! I’ve worked way too hard to let my fitness slide!”  Nope, not true. In a standard break of 2 weeks, Dr. Jack Daniels estimates I will lose just 30-40 seconds from my recent 18:19 5k time. 4 weeks off? Just 70 seconds slower. That’s as soon as you start back, mind you. In the long run, I believe a break will make you faster!

So keep reading. I promise not to make this boring and you might just come away from this one scheduling your next break from training!

Taking a break may make you faster eventually by helping to maintain your health and ward off injuries. After a long season your legs need the time to recover in order to be ready to build yourself stronger for your next goal race. Let any niggles heal. Your mind has also been working hard to push your body so it deserves a break from the stress, too.

When should you schedule a break? Generally, I pick a couple goal races each year, or a series of goal races. For example, this fall I planned the Columbus Marathon as my goal race, with a few fun 5ks following in November and then a 2-week break early in December. Check out my training logs to see how it shook out. I already have my next break planned for sometime in the hot summer months. Here are a few scenarios to help you pick your downtime:

  • Following a goal race. You’ve worked your body hard and it needs some time to recover. Same goes for your mind.
  • When you’re on vacation. Spend more quality time with your travel companions, sleep in, and enjoy the sights without stressing about squeezing in a workout.
  • When you have a scheduled medical procedure. I cringe when I hear about people grinding out miles the day after wisdom teeth removal.
  • When you have low motivation. Personally, I have a hard time enjoying running mid-December due to the onset of cold weather, oppressive darkness, and the fact that goal races seem to be far in the future.
  • When other life demands are high. Shift your running energy  into work or family during your break.
  • When you haven’t taken more than a few days off at a time in a 6-12 month period.
Take a break from running while on vacation so you can relax and have fun with your friends without having to worry about squeezing in miles.
Take a break from running while on vacation so you can relax and have fun with your friends without having to worry about squeezing in miles.

I recommend taking a solid 10 days-2 weeks off twice a year. Some people may be able to get away with just two weeks yearly, but keep in mind that many elite and collegiate runners take even more time off. Also, running continuously may predispose you to injury or burnout — which will cause you to take time off anyway! I haven’t been injured in the last 10+ years and I attribute my health in part to regular time off running.

Now for some fun stuff — what to do during your break?

  • Learn a new skill. The past couple summers I planned my break around continuing education conferences. One year I signed up for a community writing course. Pick up a cookbook and try a new recipe. You’ve got time!
  • Cross train. I’m actually not a huge fan of the traditional bike/swim/elliptial trifecta during a planned break. Instead I think it’s a good idea to let your body and mind fully de-train. Rather than targeting the aerobic system, I’d suggest something that works on a runner’s typical weaknesses. Try yoga, weight lifting, rock climbing, or a self-defense course.
  • Give back to the community. Volunteer for the race you are missing. Donate blood. Bike along with a friend on her long run. So many options here!
  • Complete your household to-do list. I don’t know about you, but my home could always use a good cleaning.
  • Take care of yourself.  Fit in the dentist, optometrist, and primary care appointments. How about a haircut and mani/pedi,  too?
  • Get a life! That social life you’ve been neglecting – how about it? Stay up late without worrying about your long run. Use that extra 30-60 minutes a day to call a friend to catch up. Make or buy a special treat for your partner.


When is the last time you took a planned break? How often do you take breaks? 

I'm a 20-year veteran of competitive running, USATF certified coach, mom of a toddler -- and still trying to set PRs. I write about training from 5k to marathon, motherhood and competitive running, and the elite side of the sport. The 5k is my favorite race (16:56 PR) but I've got a score to settle with the marathon.

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  1. This is great and really important! I used to always take a week off after my goal race (always a full marathon) and then another week of whatever running before starting to build back up. When I was good about it, I’d experience a bump in fitness about 6 weeks after the race! The times I thought I didn’t need it or tried to rush back I felt burned out for weeks or got injured. But I don’t think we should limit it to full marathons. I like the idea of doing it no matter what your goal race. The brain and the body need a break sometimes!

    Also, I now feel better about this month of sloth I’ve had 🙂

  2. I think time off is important for your brain and your body. I took a week off in November after my half iron, and it was mostly for my brain. I was so mentally drained from having to follow a schedule for so many weeks, I just needed the break. Looking back, I should have taken off 10 days. I was sad when it was over, but I was also mentally refreshed.

  3. I do think this differs the older you get. I train with a large running group, some of us are in our 20s, some are masters. I think the older you get, the more frequently you need to take SHORT breaks or cross train, simply because it takes longer to recover. At the same time, it becomes a much worse idea to take 10 days to two weeks off – you simply can’t come back from it the way someone younger can. I did take 10 days off after my last marathon, simply because I was REALLY beaten up – it wasn’t optional, but necessary. It’s two months later, and I’m STILL regaining my fitness. My fellow masters runners have noted something similar.

  4. Darkwave, thank you for this comment! So interesting and important! Now that you mention this, I do see my masters friends following this pattern and I’m going to ask them about it.
    p.s. Just nominated you for comment of the month.

  5. per your suggestion, I am taking a forced break from June 6-12. Yes, its only 6 days but i have to start somewhere… I think in the end it will be good for me. Although I must admit, i’m really tempted to run with CRC on Saturday but I’m going to have to resist. Plenty of time to do this…