As much as I love running, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as the first few days after a race when you are able to take some guilt free rest days. Earning those sedentary days makes them all the more satisfying. After weeks and months of training, lounging on the couch when you would normally be running feels like an unexpected day off work.
These few rest days often turn into a couple weeks, and before you know it, it’s been a while since your last run. But there’s no need to panic – sometimes taking a break from running is just what you need to improve your performance. After finishing a 25k and a half marathon in the past three weeks, I’m granting myself a break from running and creating my own running off season.
So why take a break from running?
Contrary to our initial instinct, it actually is possible to gain fitness during the running off season. After training and running consistently for months on end, taking some time off from running helps our bodies reboot. The change in our workout regimen challenges our muscles in new ways. This sudden change prevents our muscles from adapting, which is what often happens after we’ve been running for a while.
There are a few reasons you should consider taking a break from running.
To start – if you are injured or sick, you will definitely benefit from taking time off from running. As difficult as it is to accept a forced or unplanned break from the sport, you can use this time off to your advantage. Getting injured or coming down with an illness is your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break. Listen to your body and give it the rest it needs to heal, or you may wind up being forced to take even more time off in the future.
Another time to consider taking a break from running is immediately after a race or long training cycle. If you’ve been training for months to complete a goal race – whether that means getting a PR in the 5k or running a marathon – the days immediately following your race are a great opportunity for some time off. After weeks of running, allow your body some days (or weeks) to recover from all those miles. Create your own off season after a race; dedicate some time to recovery and building a base for the next season.
The tricky part about these breaks from running, whether they are forced or chosen, is not letting all of your hard work fall by the wayside. While you will probably lose some running fitness while taking a break for more than a few weeks, you might actually gain fitness elsewhere that will make up for it. Making the most of the running off season comes down to being intentional about your time, and finding a balance between recovery and strength.
How to Stay Fit During the Running Off Season
Staying in shape while taking a break from running doesn’t have to involve anything drastic. Simple actions such as trying new workouts or eating smart recovery foods will go a long way. Here are a few suggestions to make the most out of your time off and stay fit while taking a break.
Decrease the frequency of your workouts, but keep the intensity.
Rather than working out 6 days a week, cut back to every other day or just 2-3 times per week. Those complete rest days provide your body with some extra recovery time, while maintaining intensity on the days you do workout keeps your muscles strong and avoids the loss of too much fitness.
Try new cross training or strength training workouts!
When you do fit in a workout, don’t be afraid to try something new. Over time your body adapts to your regular workouts (which is why they start to feel easier the more often you do them). Once your body has adapted, it is no longer gaining as much strength each time. Trying a new workout guarantees that your body will reap the benefits. Use this time to experiment with sports you haven’t played in a while, different equipment at the gym, or some high energy at home workouts.
Focus on your weak spots.
If you’ve been running for a long time, you’ve no doubt discovered a few weak spots. Do your hips get sore every time you complete a long run? Or maybe your knees ache after logging many miles? Whatever your weak spot, do a little research to find some exercises that will help increase strength in this area.
If your hips and glutes are really lacking in power during your hill workouts, try incorporating these targeted resistance band exercises to increase their strength. Maybe you’ve neglected arm workouts while you were focused on mileage – try out some dumbbell workouts. Now that your mileage is lower during the running off season you have no excuse to skip the strength training.
Listen to your body and be flexible.
If you planned to take a two-week break from running but your knee is still aching during your first run back, continue your running off season for a few more days. Be flexible with your return; don’t ruin all the recovery gained during your break from running by getting excited and returning too soon. You should wait to return until you’ve been pain free for at least 3 days in a row. Always listen to what your body is telling you. Spend your time strengthening your body until it is ready to run again.
Plan your return.
Since you’ll likely have more time during your running off season, use it to plan for your return. Decide on any goals for the future – whether that means signing up for your next race, determining a new speed goal, or aiming to run a certain amount per week. Take your time setting up a schedule for your goal. Plan enough time to be able to gradually rebuild your running base and come back slowly. Use this time to make sure you are being smart about your return and allowing yourself plenty of time to recover.
Once we stop looking at these breaks from running as a time to be lazy and lose strength, we begin to see that the off season is a time to try new things, increase your full body strength, and give your legs the tender loving care they deserve. Just because you are not running doesn’t mean that you still can’t be actively working towards becoming a better runner.