I have not been running very long, but since I started, I have not been able to stop. Before I even considered running competitively, I still ran close to 3,000 miles a year. That’s a lot of running, especially for a weekend warrior.
Since I have upped my mileage and have been training to compete in some of the country’s toughest races, I have learned the importance of taking breaks. Not total sit on your butt and do-nothing breaks, but consistent recovery weeks in the middle of training cycles. I learned the hard way last year when I was sidelined with chronic fatigue and mono. I did not let myself recover, mentally or physically.
Since my little episode, I have been taking breaks in the middle of training cycles, and loving the results. How does taking a break work? I typically train 3-4 weeks “on” and 1-2 weeks “off”. What I mean by “on” is usually somewhere between 80-100 miles with varying vertical gain and two speed work sessions per week. My “off” weeks usually consist of 35-60 miles. During “off” weeks there will be no speed work (maybe one day I will do 10-15 strides). All of the running will be done at a conversational, easy pace. I use this time to run with friends I haven’t seen in a while or to explore new trails. If I don’t feel like running that day, I won’t. These numbers will be different depending on the runner, but I will sometimes cut my mileage more than 50% during “off” weeks. If one week of recovery was not enough, I will work in a second week as needed.
Why take breaks? For me, it is to give myself a physical and mental break. It allows my muscles to recover and for my mind to let go and to actually miss running. This is the best way for me to maintain motivation and to get back into some hard training. Since I have been taking planned breaks, I have not been injured, sick, or overly fatigued.
This past year I trained pretty hard through the winter to get ready for the Pemberton Trail 50k. I ran an average of 85 miles a week for three months, working in my rest weeks accordingly. After my recovery weeks, I found that I was fresher for key workouts, and could not wait to get up and run every morning. I never got “burned out”. This was the first time in my running career that I was disciplined in letting my mind and body recover. On race day, I ran a personal best for the 50k in 3:33, good enough for 2nd place. Needless to say, I will keep taking breaks and hopefully keep enjoying the benefits!