Gimme A Break!

AJW's TaproomBack in early October, after returning from his whirlwind trip to Alaska, Bryon Powell wrote an excellent column on the importance of taking a planned break from training. In the column, he spoke of his years running and the benefits he has gained from taking these planned rest periods to re-energize both his body and his mind. At the time I read it and thought, This is great and just what I need! It’s time for me to take a break. I even commented on the column about how much I was looking forward to my break.

But, alas, running got in the way of my break. After finishing the West Virginia Trilogy in early October, I fully intended to settle into a nice stretch of unstructured training. But, wouldn’t you know it? Just then, my wife Shelly asked if I wanted to do a half marathon with her up north. So, we did. I hadn’t done a road half in years and it hurt even more than I thought it would. Then a friend suggested I do a great little trail 25k in West Virginia at the end of October with free beer at the finish. Couldn’t pass that up! And finally, a group was assembling at the JFK 50 Mile on the weekend before Thanksgiving to celebrate Ian Torrence’s 200th ultra finish, so I had to run that, too.

Then, finally, it was Thanksgiving and the holidays, the perfect time for my much-needed break, right? Not so fast. Because, of course, I started counting up my miles and vertical feet for the year. My annual ritual of seeing what I could squeeze out of the last month of the year was on in full force and so I continued, just running for the joy of it and stacking up the miles right up until New Year’s Day. And for some reason that I can’t fully explain, I just kept on going after that until, finally, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I said to myself, Now, now is the time!

And here I am. As you read this, I am now 12 days into my three-week break from structured training and I feel great. Sure, I’ve tacked on a few pounds, but after my experience at Hardrock in July when the doctor told me I was too lean, I figure that’s okay. I have gotten outside a little bit every day, mostly for relaxed walks around town and have, occasionally, slipped into a jog for a mile or two. I miss running, for sure, but it also feels nice to sleep in a little bit every day and take care of other things in life with the extra time I have. I feel a few of life’s inevitable niggles slipping away and I have energy and focus that were lacking there for a bit. In short, this break thing seems to be working.

A few of my friends have asked, “Why a three-week break? Seems a bit long.” And perhaps it is. But for me, with over 25 years of running on my legs, I figure longer is better and if in that third week I feel like a horse in the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby, I’ll chalk it up to smarts and rest just a little bit more.

I have some big plans for the year ahead and I am looking forward to pushing myself more than I have for the past few years, so I figure I need to be ready, physically and mentally. It feels like this time off will do this. Don’t get me wrong, February 6th can’t come soon enough, but I have to believe that the mental benefit of forcing myself to not train may ultimately be more beneficial than training, as counterintuitive as that seems. I’ll keep you posted!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Alpine Beer Company Captain StoutThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Alpine Beer Company in Alpine, California. Earlier this week, I had a chance to sample their Captain Stout, a chocolate oatmeal stout that is simply delicious. Weighing in at 6% ABV and 30 IBUs, it is the quintessential breakfast stout with just the right kick. Not too much chocolate and just a touch of coffee. Yum!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you taken a break from running this year? If so, what was your break like? Did you take time off from running entirely? Did you do other sports? How did you fill your time?
  • Has your time off from running evolved from year to year or as the years progress? Maybe as a result of your current health, the aging process, an increase in the number of races available in winter, an increase of recreation users on trails making them snowpacked and runnable even in winter, or something else?

There are 11 comments

  1. Andrew

    I am just getting back from a break and I really enjoyed the time off, really enjoyed over eating and having a few drinks at christmas and now really enjoying getting back into training eating well and being fit again. It is good to get a balance

    Do you do your running first thing in the morning? If so what time do you wake up? Sleep or lack of is my main enemy to my training and trying to fit running in around work, family and life!!!

    Enjoy your break – you definitely deserved it

    1. AJW

      Thanks Andrew! I am predominantly a morning runner. I like to have the highlight of my day first thing. That said, during these last two weeks I have luxuriated in bed until almost daylight. And that’s been amazing!

  2. DJ

    I’ve learned this the hard way. After my 4th ultra last year, which was also my first 100K in October, I should have taken an elective break. I ran injury free all year. It was great. But I seemed to recover quickly from the 100K and just felt really fit. This is where I got stupid and starting chasing PR’s on a bunch of my favorite, local routes. Those frequent, intense efforts resulted in what is likely a Baker’s cyst and possible meniscus tear in my left knee. Getting an MRI next week – been on a forced break since mid-December. I will never make this mistake again. Enjoy your break – you’re healthy – and can’t wait to track your running this year.

  3. Andy M

    Hmmm, first Pam’s article and now this. It must be winter. Perhaps ’tis the season not just for the beer of the week but the beer of the day …

  4. John Vanderpot

    AJW — we share the same passion, the same profession, and even a couple of friends, don’t tell me you’re also a morning beer guy?

    Happy Friday,


      1. John Vanderpot

        (I currently live in the woods just outside of Alpine, Ca., should you be headed this way any time soon, send word, fix ya right up!)

  5. Dave Lee

    Most years throughout my 45-year running career, I’ve taken the month of December off. It began in college, after a hard XC season, followed by a big Thanksgiving day race, I really felt I needed the rest before I began training for Spring track. Now, I don’t train as hard or as much, so it’s mostly a mental break and a chance to allow all the niggles to heal and allow my mind and body the opprtunity to WANT to run again. Training long and hard can become laborious for both the physical and emotional self. The break allows both to regroup. There have been years I have been tempted to stay on through and finish the year as Andy did (last year, I ran a Winter Solstice 50k and finished 2nd as a 53-year old), but I generally end up injured in January or or February as a result, so this year, it was December off, and back to running on January 1 with a mile, 5k, 10k triple event to start the engine again.

  6. Sandy Stott

    Yes, to the break and it legworn wisdom; walking…ambling really…seems good short-term substitute. Now, if only I could eat like a walker rather than a runner. Still, whatever gets gained will melt in the rising light.

    Thanks for the piece/reminder.

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