Runners are notorious for their commitment and stubborn dogmatic nature. This is an admirable approach, but it’s often the case that this, not knowing when to quit attitude, can lead to burn-out, chronic injury and general loss of perspective about the joy of running. Knowing when you’re done is a level of self knowledge that few runners seem to possess. I’ve been there, pushing, pushing, right up to, and then beyond breaking point.
In the workplace we are reasonably good at acknowledging that holidays and weekends are critical to avoiding burnout, manage stress and maintain balance in relationships. This can lead to more productive working patterns and ensure career longevity and happiness. In running there is a much greater reluctance to take regular scheduled breaks, fear of losing fitness or gaining weight are often cited as reasons behind the “keep going” mentality. But it’s important not to forget to take the time to relax and smell the roses.
Smart runners and coaches know that it sometimes pays to hit the reset button to avoid burnout, chronic injuries and as part of general athletic development. Coaches with a good grasp of periodized training and the psychological and physiological benefits of scheduling complete breaks and down weeks into training will most likely not have burnt out and chronically injured athletes.
Many top athletes schedule relatively long rest and/or down periods following periods of intense training and competition. This could take the form of a month-long break from running – an unthinkably long period of time for most runners. Extreme training at the elite level requires longer rest and recovery periods than for regular runners like you and I, but the theory is applicable for every runner, no matter what your level of ability.
The benefits of rest beyond general freshening up and repair of micro-trauma in the muscular skeletal system extend to recapturing the hunger to run. This rest period from running should not be replaced by frenetic cross training nor should athletes used to training at a very high level worry about gaining some weight during a break.
As most recreational runners and many others are self-coached you need to ignore those inner voices that only talk of sustained harder work leading to successful outcomes.
So what would a reset and rest period look like for an average runner? Late last year I hit the reset button. To give you an idea, I had a three-week break for the first time in two years of consistent running. In hindsight, I should have done it earlier. I wasn’t training super-hard or racing frequently and wasn’t injured, however I had developed a couple of niggles that were beginning to be annoying. Generally I was feeling flat and not enjoying my running that much, so taking a break was a logical thing to do.
The break was great and as it progressed I really began to look forward to running again, which is as good a reason as any to take a running holiday: a mental recharge is just as important as physical recovery. I also used this period to start easing into a more disciplined strength-training regime, something that I’d let slide as my working situation changed. When I commenced running again the minor aches and pains had faded in favour of renewed verve in my stride.
If you’re struggling mentally and physically don’t be afraid to smash the reset button hard and fast. Circumstances where you may decide to push the button include:
- General loss of motivation, interest and enjoyment of running
- Spending as much time on rehabilitation & recovery as running
- Accumulation of niggling injuries or pain that is not going away
- Completion of a hard and sustained block of racing
- Finishing a big goal race such as a marathon