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Take a Break (Really)

This time of year, it can be hard to find time for running. Short days, holiday parties, social calls, and work commitments can cause havoc with your best laid plans. Rather than get frustrated, I suggest that you embrace slacking off. Before you check me for a head injury, hear me out: sometimes –– particularly after a busy fall season of marathons and turkey trots –– it makes sense to TAKE A BREAK. Hit the snooze. Shut it down. Take some time off.

Take a cue from this guy

Last December, I also advocated taking some time off to allow one’s body to recover from the stresses of training. Time off can help us shake niggling injuries and remind ourselves that running is a joy and not a job. (Even when it IS a job, runners still need to rest. Elite athletes usually take a break at the end of their seasons to recover from the stresses of training and racing. Ageless track ace Bernard Lagat is convinced that hitting the couch and not counting calories for five weeks at the end of each year is the secret to his longevity.)

This guy rests. You should, too.

I really should have taken last year’s advice. Like so many of us, I feared that I’d get out of shape and blow all the progress that I was making towards my long-term goals. (It’s a common problem. Matt Centrowitz, this year’s Olympic gold medalist in the 1500, has been known to negotiate his break down to days rather than weeks.) So, instead of relaxing by the Christmas tree, I tried to extend what had been – up to that point at least – a great year. Predictably, I got injured and my body insisted that I stop. Ho ho ho.

Don’t do what I did. Have a firm talk with your fear and remind yourself that recovery is an important (and probably under-valued) part of your running routine. If that doesn’t work, bargain with your unease and set some rest goals. If you regularly train three or four times a week, I suggest taking an easy weekly run to help keep your running muscles engaged. If you are an everyday runner, try going easy twice a week. Merely switching over to hard cross training probably won’t accomplish your recovery needs. You can, however, substitute your twice-weekly easy run with moderate cross training or another athletic activity. 

How long should your rest cycle last? It’s up to you. Some find that four or five weeks of lighter-than-average running works for them. Others discover that a month of downtime mediated by occasional runs and some cross training will do the trick. Don’t be afraid of too much rest –– between seasons there probably isn’t such a thing.

Remember, it’s not just a break for your body but for your spirit as well, a pause that will help revitalize your motivation and increase your enthusiasm for running. Just about everyone who does this sport will sometimes feel an odd “blah” feeling that is difficult to shake. This can be a symptom of overtraining: a physical breakdown of the body that begins to manifest itself in more emotional ways. Are you feeling irritable? Are you starting to think of running as an onerous chore? A break will help to restore your enthusiasm. 

Finally, as we find ourselves at the turning of the year, a break offers us a period of reflection, a space to think about what we have accomplished and a time to plan anew. With that in mind, next time, I’ll discuss how goal setting should be an important part of your off-season break.

What kind of breaks from running have you taken? Do you find them helpful? Tell us all about it in the comments.

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