Taking a Break

Up until yesterday, I hadn’t run for 2 weeks. 11 days to be exact.

There are a lot of potential responses to a break from running. Sometimes I think I’m failing for taking a break, that I must no longer be a runner. Sometimes I get antsy and moody because my normal stress-reliever and energy-outlet has been nullified. Sometimes I worry over the loss of muscle and VO2 Max that I’m sure is happening.

But in my better moments, I sit with the break (and sit during the break) and enjoy it.

You might take a break from running because of an injury. That, in my book, is the worst kind of break. You want to run but you physically can’t. If you can, find another activity – elliptical, stationary bike, swimming – whatever you can do to stay active and pretend you’re close to that bliss we call running. Sometimes, though, you can’t even do that. In that case, take the injury as a sign that you are supposed to take it easy in the working-out sphere of life. Use the time to invest in relationships, read a good book, do a DIY pinterest project, look at pictures of cats on the internet. Okay, maybe not the last, but hey, if it floats your boat…

You might take a break from running because life with all its demands and requirements gets in the way. Maybe you’re a mom and your kids are sick this week and dad is on a business trip. Maybe you’ve got a term paper, 3 tests, and roommate conflict. Maybe you don’t have “much,” but it feels like a lot and is getting you under. It is okay to scale the running back, or even stop completely. Life happens. And running is supposed to enhance life. Don’t let running get in the way of it.

You might take a break from running because you’re on vacation. Now, I’m the last person to advocate a “letting it all go” approach to vacation. You probably shouldn’t eat 3 slices of pie and never move from an armchair during vacation, or any other time, just because you can. However, vacation is supposed to be a respite. It’s a time and place set apart from normal life.

Recently, I went to San Antonio, Texas on vacation with my mother. The river walk downtown is gorgeous, and we saw a ton of runners. Needless to say, I wanted to join them. But you know what I did instead? I walked. With my mom. Enjoying the company, the view, and some tasty fajitas.

IMG_1588
On the river walk in San Antonio (but look at that path – it’s just begging to be run, isn’t it?)

Runners are some of the most driven, disciplined people. But sometimes we can carry that too far. We need to listen to our bodies and our lives, to physical, emotional, and mental constraints. Sometimes, it’s good to push past the whining, “But I don’t wanna run” voice in our heads. Other times, it’s completely normal, healthy, and appropriate to pull up a chair, queue up Netflix, and break out the pint of ice cream.

I like this helpful chart for figuring out if I need a rest day, or a break, no matter what’s on the schedule. http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/time-rest

Plus, a break doesn’t do as much damage as you might feel like it’s doing. Undoubtedly, a break will cause your VO2 max (the measure of the amount of oxygen your body can use) to dip. Many runners worry about any break at all for this reason. However, if you’ve got a decent running base (running for 4-6 months) and you take a 10 day break, there’s only minimal change in VO2 max. If you’ve got less of a running base, you’ll lose fitness a little bit faster. After 14 days, VO2 Max drops by 6%.

What this means is that if you’re taking a break for 2 weeks or less, don’t worry. You’re fine.

And that 6%? It’s not the end of the world. For example, take a 20:00 5K runner. After 2 weeks with a VO2 max depressed by 6%, the same runner now has a time of 21:05. Of course, this minute makes a huge difference. Minutes, even seconds, make a huge difference to a lot of us – ask anyone who just PR-ed. However, as for me (and my never-touched-a-20-minute-5K-running), I’m not going to let that minute ruin my vacation, put more pressure on my busy life, or make my injury worse.

Plus, during rest, your body will build up those muscles. You’re giving it space and time to repair all those micro-tears, and you can come back stronger. Most professional runners take a couple weeks off between training cycles in which they eat, hang out with family and friends, and actually gain a couple pounds. We’re not meant to be training beasts all the time. We can take breaks and not feel guilty for it. We can embrace all of life, running and not running, and be better as a result.

What do you do on your rest days?

  • I like to read a book outside, call my mom, and try out a new recipe to cook.

Do you like taking breaks from running or not?

  • I like it, but I usually still feel a little guilty on the first day. I’m working on that…

 

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