On Taking a Break

Why and when to take a significant break from running.

By on October 5, 2016 | Comments

While I think consistency is one of the keys to improving one’s running, I also believe it’s important to include breaks in one’s running. I’m not talking about a rest day here and there, but, rather, a period of a few weeks or even a few months each year when running is put on the backburner and structured training is off the table.

Why Take a Break?

To start, it’s nice to give your body a break. Whether it’s your muscles, your connective tissue, your endocrine system, or your bones, they can all use some time to more fully repair themselves. You can certainly work through niggles as your running season progresses, but this is a time to get rid of them both the rest and, if you can stay motivated, a bit of more active rehabilitation.

While most of us derive great joy out of running, there’s something mentally refreshing about taking a break from active training. Whether or not you follow a rigid training schedule, many of us have some sense of desire or obligation or other sort of motivation to put in the training, to run the miles. That’s awesome. It can also be tiresome after six or eight or 10 months of effort. Stepping away from training can lessen that compulsion. What’s more, we can come back to running with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. We start fresh. We have new goals. We get to see the quick gains that come in the first few weeks of training. We’re stoked to simply be running once again.

At the same time, you can indulge in other aspects of your life, be it another sport, catching up with family and friends, completing a big project around the house, or, *gasp*, relaxing. It’s amazing what you can do with all the extra time you have on your hands when you significantly pare back your running.

When to Take a Break

There are two primary types of planned breaks.

The first comes in the wake of a focus race or particularly grueling event. You prepare for months, test yourself, and, then, give yourself a well-deserved break. For many, that can mean taking a rest after a late-summer or autumn focus race. In that past, I’ve used both the Leadville (late August) and Wasatch (early September) 100s as the start of an off season that started with a couple weeks of full rest followed by a couple months of low-volume, structure-free running.

If you don’t have a particular event to serve as a trigger for rest, you can always plan a season-based break period. Many folks will use the winter, with its shorter days and colder weather as a time to take a beather. The busyness of the holiday season can give another reason to stop focusing on training, even if you continue to do some light running. Perhaps you live where there’s a particularly rainy month or two that’s simply a chore to train through. Maybe skip it next time! In the hottest of climates, the summer months might be a good time to lay low.

There are, of course, unplanned running breaks, as well. Perhaps you come to a time when you react prudently to an injury or a bit of overtraining and ease off your training. If that break is substantial enough and, especially, if it causes you to miss your final target event of the season, you can make lemons into lemonade and use that time as your break, even if you decide to tack on a bit to give yourself as long a break as you would if you planned it.

The same goes when life just happens and forces a break on you. Sometimes, you’ll have the desire and motivation to ignore that blip and roll on with your running season. Other times, the shit-happens break will be a gaping chasm. Often, the difference between the two is simply a matter of perspective and that’s just fine.

For example, the past two years a few weeks of planned recovery and, then, work has kept me from any real training in the eight to 10 weeks after running the Hardrock 100. Last year, I ignored that down time and rolled right into the 250-mile Ultra-Trail Gobi Race, as I was aiming for a fun adventure at the latter event. This year, things played out exactly the same after Hardrock, but with more performance-oriented goals heading into a return to UTGR this year, I ended my season early. My mid-July through September down time became my annual break. Soon, I’ll start training again and I’ll do so happy and healthy and looking forward to my season to come!

Getting Back to Training

In the coming months, I hope to share a bit about how I go about getting back into the swing of things after some time away from training.

Call for Comments

  • Do you purposefully incorporate a significant break from training during your year? If so, when and how?
  • Have you ever used an unscheduled hiatus as the end of one season and the start of the next? If so, how’d that work out?
Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.