On Taking a Break

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?

There are 16 comments

  1. AJW

    Bryon, thanks for the thoughtful and, in my case at least, perfectly timed column as I am currently heading into a much needed month long break from training. Good for the body and for the soul!

  2. Michelle M

    I preface my comment by saying I am not an ultrarunner, but rather a consistent runner for several years. After an event in June, I took the summer off from running as I was feeling defeated from nagging hip flexor and IT band problems. I’ve recently started running short distances again, and the years-long hip flexor issue has all but disappeared (at least, for the time being). It feels good to get back out on the road or trail after the break, and I’m encouraged to look ahead to events to train for.

  3. Brandon

    I decided to take a break from ultras late last year as I wanted to focus on building my new business. The break was originally going to be a few months of unstructured running over the fall and then start back strong in the new year. Unfortunately, there was a death in the family that derailed my race plans for this past spring, which when derailed the rest of the year, and so forth.

    While I kept up running I’m now working on getting my mojo back. My plan is to sign up for a couple lotteries in December, see what I get, and then reset my goals around that. I will say that is has been nice in recent months trading my early-morning Sunday long run (usually started at 6am) for pancakes and coffee with the kids and a shorter run in the afternoon. I went for a dawn patrol run this past Sunday and couldn’t recall how fresh my headlamp batteries were. That shows how long its been.

    Breaks are good and can refresh body and soul. But I think if they’re too long (either planned or otherwise when life gets in the way) it can be hard to get back into the game. One benefit is getting excited again at the thrill of adding mileage and seeing early morning wildlife. One step at a time.

    1. Pacer1

      Love your post! Since embarking on a long needed break from training for several reasons, I have found that weekend family time is amazing. I feel a little guilty for missing out on it for the years that I did. I am no longer willing to let these precious years pass by. At some point my children aren’t going to want to spend the weekend with me and at that point I can pick up those long runs and epic races again, but for now time is far too precious. Besides, I can train enough during the weeks to pull off decent 25-50ks if I need to race, and heck, one less runner in the lotteries…

    2. Burke

      I like this post. I always take a month long break in the spring of the year. But this year, we had a death in the family during that break. After that, it seemed to be one crazy event after the other that kept me from getting back into a groove that was not a rut. I am just now getting back to a regular routine of consistent, focused running. As you said, it can be hard when the break goes longer than expected. Good luck; you are not alone.

  4. Daniel

    Thanks for the post Bryon, this is my first year run longer distances and I’m not racing from mid-December to mid-January, and after a full year of training I was considering taking a longer break. This article confirms it.

  5. Andrew

    I am also on a break and enjoying not having the pressure of the weekend long run. Now more family time.

    Only worry is my waist line!!!

  6. Josh R

    Taking one month completely off. Its Mud Season so its perfect time to fatten up for winter and do some fly fishing and photography of the yellow aspens and snowy days!

  7. CasualMarathons

    I am not an ultra runner – I’ve actually only ran a couple marathons – but I find that I really like to plan an entire week off somewhere in the training. I always feel amazing the first run back and it re-invigorates the training. If I am following an 18 week plan, I just plan for 19 and add a week off in there to refresh!

  8. Lauren Steinheimer

    Great article!
    I typically take a break around the winter time holidays. I want to get into cross-country skiing. The past couple of years, I try to focus on strength workouts and building muscle, with easy/short runs or hikes once or twice per week.
    The downside is, I’m usually not in shape for a nice spring distance race. This year, I’m planning to head south for the winter and slay some gnar in March!!

  9. Jason

    Early this year here in Tampa Bay I just ran the fastest 13.1 miles ever even though it was supposed to be a marathon due to windy conditions and flooding. Anyways, I was excited to see how fast I could do the shorter distances, but I had a nagging sharp heel pain that stopped me from walking normally. A few weeks after the half the pain finally showed up at the start of a run and stopped me in my tracks, so I stopped running with the intention of waiting until it heals and goes away.

    In the mean time I started biking and even did a few 100s for the first time in my life, but without running I slowly lost cardio and my biking even slowed down – or it was the summer coming back maybe? After two whole months of no running it was still giving me trouble. I was getting depressed and so finally my cheap gene broke and I went to see a doctor – actually found a foot doctor who is a runner himself. He told me to start running again as long as the pain isnt too much. After a few visits and a month of shockwave therapy it finally started to go away, but the treatment left me with some residual soreness that is still going away. The soreness is just like plantar fasciitis so its easy to treat, and is nearly gone.

    After the two month or more break it took me at least two long months to be able to just run 9 miles without killing myself. The biking didnt help keep me keep my cardio but maybe if I did more biking it would have worked? Im still trying to get back to where I was and I think Im nearly there, but taking this unplanned extended break stole many months of good running from me. Next time Im seeing the doctor first :)

    That is my experience with an unplanned break. Maybe it will give someone with an injury hope that injuries can actually go away; I was starting to think I would live with this heel pain all my life.

    Other than that I started running regularly, or more than one weekend every once in a while, just 2-3 years ago. I’ve found that I always have to take an easy week after 3-5 weeks of heavy mileage, 60-70 miles/week. This was not always planned but it always helped my aches and pains go away.

    Currently Ive been doing better at keeping a steady 50 miles/week, so maybe those breaks where needed because of over training or not training correctly.

    I am obsessed with getting fast and so I am studying up on this alot and really appreciate the article and hearing from others on this site.

    Enjoy your running everyone :)
    Congrats on Hardrock Bryon :)

  10. Tara

    Thanks for the article Bryon. Very well said.
    As a side note, were you and your family at the Seattle Trail Running Film Festival? I’m pretty sure I saw you all there on Saturday and was hoping to introduce myself and chat with you, but you left before the films were over. Anyway…hope you had fun and please know that I really appreciate and value this website!
    Tara Vanselow

  11. Will Thomas

    Great post that I’m sure many of us need to read. It’s been refreshing not racing for the past year and instead focusing on other things. After seven years of running 100 mile races, this year has been a relaxing sabbatical. Looking forward to some future lottery luck to get back to racing.

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