The year is drawing to a close, and with that, XC seasons are ending, countdowns to goal races are ticking and the natural break in our schedules for the holidays is approaching.
But our bodies only know stress. And require a break to heal, refresh and get stronger for the future. Yes. I’m talking about the thing we HATE so much as runners. Not putting the shoes on for some amount of time. Even when FL is moving into our favorite weather providing relief from the oppression of summer.
“But I just got a HUGE personal record. I can’t stop now!”
‘Track season is just around the corner! I have to stay fit if I want to be faster!”
Well. “Running isn’t linear.” “Fitness takes time.” And “You can’t be be at peak fitness at all times.” Coach says these things because there are real benefits every athlete receives from breaks in training:
1: The wear and tear of hard peak training has a chance to heal.
2: You get a mental break from the daily grind of training.
3: Opportunity to spend time on other forms of fitness such as other sports or strength training.
4: It lowers your risk of injury and keeps you on the life-long running path.
5: Prevention from burnout and overtraining syndrome. These are the trickiest. Because they build gradually over time and can bring down runners for a long period. Sometimes in a career or lifestyle ending way.
Don’t believe me? Here are some impressive life-long runners that have consistent results, remained generally healthy, and utilized breaks from running systematically year over year.
Roger Sayers: Ran a 17:29 at the 2019 USATF 5k Championships at age 61. 45 years competitive.
Deena Kastor: Ran a 59:15 at the 2019 Cherry Blossom 10 Mile at age 46. 35 years competitive.
Meb Keflezighi: 15 years as a top competitive marathoner. Retired at age 42. By professional standards – a long marathon career.
How long should you take off? Here are some general recommendations:
If you are/or have a high school cross country runner – a week is pretty standard among the top coaches. Picking up the weights when you are ready to start working on track will build strength to add resilience to growing bodies.
Finished a marathon? Think about two weeks. If that makes you twitch, plan on nothing for a week, and consider swimming, biking or some other low-impact ways to start moving in that second week.
How often should you take time off in a year? This can be variable from runner to runner based on their training load and race schedule but a good rule of thumb would be 2-3 times a year. Or, at the end of major training cycles.
Consider running breaks as your insurance policy. A little bit of premium now to keep doing what we love so much for a long time to come.