The Importance of Taking A Break

May 15th, 2012 | Posted by Lindsay Runs in Blog Posts

I love running, but sometimes, I love not running even more. It’s hard to believe it’s been just about a month since the Boston “Speed Can Kill” Marathon, and about 2 weeks since I trudged through the Big Sur Marathon to complete the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. In effect, besides those two days of running 26.2 miles, I’ve run exactly 6 times, only 15-30 minutes each, in the last month. Yay!

Less running, more drinking with friends!

I am a strong believer in periodization of training cycles. Part of this has to do with competing through high school and college. The seasons were clearly defined: Cross Country, Indoor Track, and Outdoor Track. We always took about two weeks of rest in between, give or take depending on practices. Breaks were natural, built-in, and welcome after a hard season or race.

After my LAST college race. I took a whole 3 months of NO exercise after that, and it was glorious.

It’s a little more difficult in the ‘real’ world of running, where there are fun races just about every weekend to sign up for, and no coach setting your competition schedule or telling you when to work out and when to rest. Unfortunately, I think too many runners get caught up in racing and training year-round without a break in between cycles and no real concept of periodization, and ultimately end up burnt out or injured. I get it, there are so many awesome races and marathons to sign up for…it’s easy to want to do them all and do them all right now.

But that’s also the awesome thing about the ‘real’ world. YOU control your training! YOU control your rest! YOU control your goal races. I know everyone is different, so I’m not saying you’re doing it wrong if you don’t split your training into cycles. Everyone’s bodies handle training differently, and everyone has different motivations for running and racing.

However, I really don’t think most people benefit from racing week after week, almost entirely year round, never allowing themselves to peak for a smaller handful of goal races. Instead, it’s just a steady stream of mediocre races at less-than-your-full-potential. I don’t think it’s physiologically or psychologically possible to be in your prime racing shape year-round. Of course, the type of races you do will influence this: training cycles differ in duration if you’re running 5Ks versus running marathons. I do firmly believe that periodization allows me to perform at a high level, while keeping enjoyable and injury-free. I love to race, but I love to race fast more. That means being patient and having 1 or 2 kickass races a year, over dozens of mediocre races.

I’m not a coach, so I’m not going to tell you how to structure your training. Again, it depends on the timing and length of what you’re racing. Google “training periodization” for a better guide than I’d give you. But from my personal experience over the past 3 years of post-collegiate racing, I select a goal race and build my schedule leading up to that. For a marathon, I start to focus on building my base about 4+ months out from the race. As the weeks pass, I steadily increase my mileage. I might schedule in a few races during training, but I use these races as workouts or fitness indicators, not goal races. About ~3 weeks from the marathon, I begin to taper. After the goal race, I take as much time off as I feel I need to recover: physically and mentally. Entirely ‘off’ is key: no physical exercise of any type (besides walking, that’s kinda inevitable..) Sometimes I need a little less than two weeks, sometimes it’s a month.

If you’re not longing for a break after a really hard few months of training or an awesome PR in a race, you’re probably not training and racing hard enough. If you’re back rocking workouts and long runs a week or two after a goal race, I don’t understand you. I’ll be chilling on the couch, not lacing up my running shoes until I’m fully longing to run.

I wouldn’t still be head over heels in love with running after 11 years of competing, chasing PR after PR, if I didn’t rest. It’s one of the most important pieces of the puzzle, and an often neglected one. If I trained hard, all year round, I’d never be able to peak accordingly to run a 3:03 (and soon, sub-3:00) marathon.

Another great part about not running? You get to focus on other areas of your life that got a little less love during your hard training. Like friends, family, and work! Lucky for me, my busy work season just started to kick in after Big Sur. Between personal and work trips, I am traveling every. single. weekend. in May and June. Bring it on, and see ya never, friends!

Sun Valley, Idaho for the Idaho Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Association Conference

Boulder, Colorado as a sponsor of the Blend Retreat. Gorgeous view from our hike!

After Boulder, I was lucky enough to hang out in Denver for about 2 hours with my college roomie Emily before jetting back home!

And then I went to Dallas for the Team USA Olympic Media Summit

...Where I got to meet Bernard Lagat and was a HUGE runnerd.

And get to hear the First Lady Michelle Obama speak!

Yeah, it’s been busy, and I’ve come to appreciate my bed at home more than ever, but I wouldn’t have it any other way right now. I’m in a very exciting place in my career, and though traveling to events primarily on the weekends isn’t the most awesome way to maintain a normal social life, I absolutely love my job. I’m working more than ever, traveling more than ever, and sometimes I can barely keep my head on straight, but it’s so rewarding to feel so challenged and get the opportunity to do some very cool things.

I’m traveling to San Francisco the next two weekend, but for FUN! This weekend is my sister’s college graduation (wahhhh how do they grow up so quickly?!), so I’m looking forward to a weekend of celebrating with the family. Then I’ll return to CA for Memorial Day Weekend with three friends for a little Napa Valley getaway. At least there’s a bit of fun squeezed into my schedule. And maybe some running, too….maybe.

What’s your viewpoint on periodization in your training? Do you like taking breaks after races, or are you more of a year-round racer? Favorite place you’ve been lately?

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23 Responses

  • Ali says:

    I love this post. I feel like it’s basically your way of saying you want to coach me. That’s what you were going for, right?

    Really though, this was a great read. You’re clearly a smart, seasoned runner and racer, and that’s why you do so well on the course, time after time. I admire your work ethic during training and, more so, during the recovery periods.

    When is our first workout as Coach Lindsay and Ali On The Learn How To Run Better?

  • Celia says:

    I didn’t run in high school and college and got sucked up into the whole marathoning thing whose culture doesn’t necessarily encourage breaks (at least that is the way I feel). I think I would perform better if I did focus on a few races more. I keep intending on doing that in the future.

    Your job looks awesome. I am very jealous. I would love to love my job.

    I am going to San Fran Memorial Day weekend too!! :) So excited!

  • Caroline says:

    Beautiful photos, especially the one of Colorado! I totally agree with needing “seasons” of running. It clicked a couple of years ago for me, that I can’t run all. the. time. So now I try to have one “big race” a year and make that training cycle my season.

  • This is an awesome post! I think sometimes when we are all on training cycles we forget how much time they take out of our normal lives. Taking that break and having time spent in other areas of our lives is so important! Sometimes we all get sucked in and forget to take that time for our selves and our bodies and RECOVERRRR!

  • Stacy L. says:

    I think this is one of the reasons why I haven’t yet trained for a marathon…I’m so scared of what would happen to me if I COULDN’T run. Granted, I’ve taken a month or a few weeks off here or there to nurse an injury, but I find I’m so much less sane on the days I don’t run – even if all that means is 3 slow, steady miles to simply break a sweat.

    As I (begin to) consider running a marathon – and what that means (will I run more than one? two? three?) this idea of periodization is something I’ve thought about. Definitely a great write-up and perspective, though I’m not quite sure I’m ready to give up my mornings in Central Park just yet.

    Loved this post…thanks for sharing this!

  • Meggie says:

    I definitely believe in taking breaks. If I don’t, my body and mind break down. I was actually thinking of when I should take a break again the past few days. For Nov thru early March I was focused on climbing out of injury. Now that I’m “training” again, I’m having a good time racing and running, but also know I can’t sustain this forever. At some point, I’ll need a break — I think maybe September or something — run a few more races throughout the summer and then take a break in the early fall. Hmm, we’ll see.

    I agree on periodization — with tennis, it was always like the fall and winter was where you worked on new things or making changes, the spring was spent getting sharper, and the summer was mainly competition. You can’t be in competition mode all year. Or, at least, peak competition mode.

    Great post!

  • Robyn says:

    Yes! I REALLY needed to read something like this right about now, thanks a lot girl—really well-written, and you offer up some great things to think on. I did a marathon just over a week ago, am still feeling some kinks, and have been already freaking out about my inability to jump into high mileage and training mode. And why? I totally agree with you that some of the magic and fun of marathon training is because it’s something you aren’t doing all the time. If we did it all the time, not only would mental and physical burnout occur, but the whole marathon experience would just be watered down. Thanks for offering this perspective…it’s great to hear such a seasoned and FAST! runner say something besides how many races and miles they can run in a month.

  • chacha says:

    I agree with periodization however, I don’t know that for me it works to do no physical activity at all for several weeks. I think you can accomplish a good marathon recovery by taking an easy 3 weeks (like no speed work/tempo, low mileage, etc). I used to take the summer off (no running at all) between seasons in high school and I think that actually really hurt me. Maybe because it was like 8+ weeks, I don’t know. But it was like starting from scratch every August.

  • Krisan says:

    Preach it, sista! (Oh my god, I can’t believe I just typed that. I’m sorry.) But in all seriousness, you are correct. My situation is proof of that. I spent last year running far too many mediocre races without resting and now I am paying for it with a lingering injury. I am a cautionary tale! When I can finally return, I’m going to abide by the Lindsay method- train for the races that are important to me and take as much rest as I need to following them!

  • Forced breaks happen sometimes too. :) I know taking an (injury) break will be better for me in the long run, and I hope all this time off will help me come back stronger later. I also agree that if you’re racing too often, you’re clearly not racing hard enough! I watched the 10k in Central Park last weekend and commented that if you look good at the end of a 10k, you’re doing something wrong. Because I look like I’m about to vomit, haha.

    I miss you, friend! But all your travelling looks amazing and I love how excited you are about your job. (And those sound like some pretty awesome trips as far as work trips go!) Would love to see you soon!

  • Dina says:

    I like to take a short break in between A races. It is more mental than anything else. Following a training plan can be grueling and having time to take an extra class at the gym just for fun or sleep late on the weekend is important to do sometimes.

  • Kelly says:

    Love this post, Linds! As someone who didn’t run in high school or college (a “late bloomer”, if you will), I really still have no idea how these things are done sometimes! But I do know that I can get caught up into doing a lot of mediocre races just because they’re there, rather than really concentrating on a goal race. I would love to structure my training and rest more like you do and hope to incorporate your wisdom into my plans this summer/fall. You so smart :)

    I’m so happy for you re: your job and the amazing things you are getting to do. You deserve it, lady! Have so much fun. And if you haven’t been, go to Quintessa Vinyard in Napa. Amazing! And they give you cheese.

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  • Pedro says:

    Hi, I strongly agere that after a period of months hard training our body but specially our mind needs period of let’s say “relaxed” training. It’s hard to wake up 7 am a sunday after other….to do a long run…

    After doing last marathon , april15 (Paris) I ‘ve run a 12k trail race just for fun with friends and a half marathon last sunday. Now it’s time to do more work-outs at the gym, stretch, do spinnning class and run no more than 40′ slow pace once per week. Take your shoes with you and do run if you travel I think it’s convinient to race at least one per moth to maintain some “competitive” level but also I like to cicle on the road, do mountain treks and beginning August start again a prep. period.

    Have fun!

  • Marc says:

    Great post lindsay! I can’t say enough about what Villanova has taught us…
    I coach so many people online who haven’t figured out that you can’t race 12 months a year!

  • sofia says:

    um, word. that’s all.

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  • Nicole says:

    I think this is brilliant and a wonderfully-timed reminder for me. I’m just getting back into racing after eight years off after my college xc days, and I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to set up a training schedule and goals without the structure of a formal season. It seems obvious now – stick to what I know; “season” length periods of running, culminating at a particular race (“state”, if you will) followed by rest followed by my next “season”. I’m super excited, now! Off to dig out my training schedule!

  • RoseRunner says:

    Hi Lindsay! Megan’s blog put me here. I am a year-rounder, and have never taken a break, injuries aside–and that usually just means a period of biking/elliptical/walking/etc. I think one of the main reasons I don’t face “burn out” is because I don’t follow any tough training plans. I just run….easy when it feels right, harder when it feels right, and then when race days come along I just work it extra hard. It seems like runners face burn out when they are stuck facing the pressures of a schedule. Much more pleasant to just….run…..without a plan…

  • Chels R. says:

    Love the new blog look, Lindsay!

  • Rena says:

    I haven’t run long enough to be a specific kind of a runner, but I’ve definitely burned out and ended up dropping out from my first ever marathon. After a month of playing around, I think I’m ready to lace up my sneaks again. Rest is awesome!

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