I’ve been a runner for over 35 years of my life. Honestly, I have run thousands and thousands of miles over the years with not many breaks. Should runners take a “vacation” from running? If so, when should those breaks be? Secondly, how long should those breaks be?
The thought of taking a break from running for more than a day or two is difficult for me. I love running! I am also pretty competitive so the idea of not training is very hard. No serious runner wants to lose any of their fitness. We want to build on it! Yet, taking a vacation from running could be exactly what your body and mind needs.
A typical training cycle for me might be around 16 to 20 weeks long. These weeks are high mileage. For example, I ran around 110 miles a week when I was training for the Boston Marathon in 2020 (it was canceled). The intensity of some of the workouts during the week also put tremendous stress and wear on my body and mind. The training made me a stronger and faster runner but it wasn’t something I could sustain indefinitely. My body would eventually break down with injury on the horizon.
During my off season or weeks I am not particulary training for any specific races I still put in around 60 to 70 miles a week. In years past I didn’t ever really take a “break” or “vacation” from running. I might take a couple of days off but I was always afraid to go for a whole week or couple of weeks off. How much fitness would I lose?
During this pandemic it has been good that a lot of races have been canceled. Double this with the fact that winter has set in here in Michigan and I have the perfect recipe to take a vacation. I timed this years vacation from running to be after my 100 mile ultra. PERFECT! I needed some time off my feet from the high mileage weeks and the 100 mile race that taxed my body and mind. You could almost say I was forced into doing something wise for my body and mind.
To give you more details, my feet needed some recovery from plantar fasciitis and my right knee was also not doing well. Sometimes injuries will force us to take a break from running. However, the idea with taking longer breaks from running shouldn’t always be the direct result of injury or burnout. Taking at least 1 decent length break a year might be something we all incorporate into our plans.
I find a great time of the year for taking a vacation from running is in the late fall or winter after your last major race. Most of us might have spring, summer, and fall races. Winter races do happen but we don’t usually run for PR’s. In my opinion, it is harder to take winter as serious. Training is more difficult because of weather and runners are more prone to struggle with illnesses like the cold and flu.
This winter my “vacation” went well. I did not run for over a week nor did I do any other form of exercise. In the second week I ran a couple of days but they were easy and low mileage runs. I did some biking as well that week. Honestly, I didn’t lose that much of my fitness. A month later and I am already running some great workouts similar to times I ran before my vacation from running.
Some of the other pros of taking a break. Letting your body heal and recover from races and hard training. It allows you to have a mental break from the training. It gives you time to evaluate the years training and races while coming up with a new plan to tackle the next year. I was also able to catch up on some sleep and spend more time with the family. Lastly, by resetting my mind and body, I was able to start back into my running with the mentality of enjoying my runs. There was no pressure to perform maximally knowing that I have time to gradually build back to a solid base before going into my next hard training cycle.
Taking a vacation from running is definitely something every runner should think about. I’m not saying that we always need to have one each year but depending on what you need and how long you have been training at a high level, a vacation from running might be rejuvenating and needed. I know running in the mornings helps a lot of us function better throughout our day and “not” running makes us feel really weird. Most runners are probably more casual and recreational in their running so a long vacation from running might not ever be needed. Yet, as a more competitive runner I find them as helpful and useful in my yearly training plan. Sometimes the way to progress forward isn’t to train harder and run more but to take a decent break and allow your mind and body to heal and in this you become a stronger and more healthy person.