I have to be honest, I am still riding high on last week’s race memories. It’s funny how the memories change over time, and you have a more difficult time remembering all the struggles in detail, but the feeling of crossing the finish line is still so fresh. Unlike my most recent races, after the Bandera 100k, I decided in advance that I was going to take a running break after I finished. Not all runners need running breaks after every single race, but there’s a lot of benefits to programming them into your schedule every now and again.
Since I wasn’t planning on getting back to running immediately, I had a small list of things that I wanted to try to tackle in the time after the race. I spent most of Sunday sleeping and eating and walking around like a zombie. I tool Monday off work, and got so much taken care of. My car needed to be unpacked, there were so many clothes to wash, and there were definitely a few things in the house that needed to be cleaned after not doing anything other than race stuff for several days. I took a few short walks during the day, because I’ve found that it helps me feel a little less like a 2×4 after previous races.
I decided to start trying to move around a little more intentionally on Tuesday. I woke up early enough to get in about an hour of walking in the morning before work. It was actually pretty relaxing to listen to my podcast, watch the sun come up, and not worry about running or paces. I got in a little more walking and stretching during lunch, and I was honestly feeling pretty normal by Wednesday. Once Wednesday afternoon rolled around, I knew I felt good enough to do a quick 30 minute kettlebell workout at home. It was a nice way to ease back into working out after a 3 day break.
Thursday, I made it back in to the CrossFit box for a pretty solid workout that included some short springs. Normally, I go for broke on anything shorter than a mile, but I just kept it steady and challenging. By Friday, I was missing my morning runs, but decided to give my body one more day and settled on another walk before work. By Saturday, I was ready to go. And it felt incredible. My run wasn’t long, so I let myself sleep in. I waited until the sun was up and it wasn’t too cold, and I kept the pace nice and easy and just enjoyed my morning.
My plan right now is to ease back into running, and significantly reduce my overall weekly mileage. I don’t have any set plans, but I don’t think I’ll go beyond 50 weekly miles any time soon. Not having a race on the calendar feels really weird. The past few years, I was chasing a BQ time for a few marathons. I took some small breaks in between, but I always had a back up race in mind even before my original race went down. And then the pandemic hit, and I knew I wanted to take on the 50 mile distance….and then I fell down the damn ultrarunning rabbit hole face first. I have zero regrets. I’m so happy with what I’ve been able to do, and I feel amazing about it. But I’m also feeling good having no plan right now, and just being a more normal human being. At least for a little bit.
Making sure to incorporate running breaks is so important and has so many benefits; even if it’s not always easy to press pause. Be warned, if you never press the pause button yourself, your body will do it for you eventually. Most of my clients over the past few years have had questions on the specifics around running breaks, and why they’re so important, so today I’m answering some of the more common questions I’ve gotten.
What Is The Difference Between Running Breaks and Recovery Days?
To put it simply, the amount of time and cadence. Recovery days should be scheduled very regularly; at least once per week. And they only need to be 1-2 days to serve their purpose. They allow your body to rebuild and damaged muscle tissue and gain strength. Recovery days are built into your training program. Running breaks, however, are a full stop to your running program for a more extended period of time. The amount of time your running break should be is highly variable. Some runners need about a week, some runners need upwards of a month. If you’re towing the line (or have crossed it all together) of overtraining, it’s likely that your break will need to be longer. Having a running coach can help you figure this out.
Do I Need A Running Break?
The short answer is “probably.” Runners who have been training for less than a year or two, or runners who run very low mileage are typically the only two groups of runners who don’t need the occasional running break. If you’ve trained moderately hard for longer than one to two years, chances are you’re going to need a running break, if you don’t already. Running is a healthy activity, but running week after week, without any significant pause can lead to overtraining syndrome, overuse injury, mental fatigue, and plateaued performance. If you want to avoid these things, then yes, you need running breaks.
Related Post: Recovery Weeks
When is the Optimal Time to Take a Running Break?
Once again, the answer to this question is very individualistic. Some athletes need to take multiple running breaks a year, other runners take them after a handful of training cycles. If you program time between training cycles to run slow, easy, and short, you can probably go longer without taking a full break. If you’re running back to back cycles, you’ll need to schedule running breaks more frequently. While I can’t tell you how often you need to take a running break, I can tell you the perfect time to take one.
Actually, this answer is a two parter. The perfect time to take a running break is before the wheels fall off. Meaning, before you’ve crossed the line into overtraining syndrome or injury. If you start to feel burnt out, or have a small injury that just doesn’t seem to get better, take a running break. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll have less no run time if you take a break proactively, rather than reactively. It can be hard to see the window of opportunity, though. Again, having honest conversations with a running coach can be helpful here. The second part of the answer is that right after a race is a perfect time to take a running break.
All runners need to recover after a hard effort like a race. So if you’re having issues during a training cycle, and recognize that it’s been a while since you’ve put your running shoes anywhere other than right by the front door, plan to extend that post-race recovery a little longer than usual. While it’s ideal to take a break as soon as you recognize things aren’t functioning optimally, few runners are interested in scheduling a break while training for a race. But don’t miss that golden window of opportunity and jump right back into training if your body is yelling at you.
How Long Does a Running Break Need to be?
Like I mentioned earlier, the amount of time a running break needs to be will vary from athlete to athlete. The best rule of thumb here is that if you take breaks more consistently (at least once a year), you can probably get away with 5-10 days. If you tend to put running breaks off as long as possible, you need to give yourself at least a week, if not more. If you’ve found yourself injured, hormonally imbalanced, or having some other running-related issue, I’d recommend giving yourself 3-7 days AFTER all of your symptoms have resolved to ease back into things.
And here’s a few extra little helpful bits of information on running breaks. It’s not likely that you will loose much fitness if your break is less than two weeks long. This means that runners who want to stay as fit as possible for as long as possible should try to make sure they are taking running breaks often enough for short breaks to be sufficient. You also don’t need to start from scratch when you resume running. While it’s a good idea to ease back into things, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your body readjusts to training consistently, especially if you’ve been training for a while. Spend a couple of weeks rebuilding that running base before you move into hard workouts, but don’t doubt that running fitness comes back fairly quick. Especially for those who are patient.
This Weeks Workouts
Total Miles: 6
Total Workouts: 3
How the Run Felt
Like I mentioned, this was the first time in YEARS that I have taken more than a couple days in a row off running. I’m so glad that I waited until I truly felt like running, because my one run this week felt glorious. I wasn’t stiff, I wasn’t sore, I had no tight spots, and the weather was perfect. I felt rested and excited to be outside, enjoying the morning. I kept my run slow, since I know it’s important that I make sure to keep my cortisol levels as low as possible as I continue to recover from my 100k. It would be easy to think that just because I’m feeling good, my body has recovered, but I know that it is a much longer process. While I’m happy to get back to running, I have every intention to keep my runs slow and easy until I feel like I want a change of pace.
How the WODs Felt
I wanted to keep my workouts pretty relaxed this week to make sure my cortisol levels returned to normal after the 100k. It was a little hard to not gun it on the 400m runs on Thursday, but it was a good decision. I was really amazed at the fact that my cleans on Friday didn’t feel as heavy as they have in the last couple of weeks. I guess not running all the miles before a workout means weights feel lighter. Makes sense, but was interesting to experience first hand.
What I’ve Been Listening To
Even though I haven’t been running this week, I’ve definitely been hooked on Relative Unknown. It’s hosted by a woman who tells her story of being placed in the witness protection program as a child after her father left the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. It is so honest and raw, and a completely wild story.
What Went Well
I’ve gotten a lot more sleep, stuff done around the house, and spent more time with both of my boys.
What Went Shitty
My allergies have been driving me absolute insane.
Plans to Improve Next Week
My non-plan plan: Run 5-8 miles 3-5 times this week, with maybe a 10 miler on the weekend. But holding it all loosely and just planning to run what I feel like when I feel like it.