Of all my Secret to Success posts, I honestly think this is one of the most important, and one of the most overlooked factors when it comes to peaking for the races that you care about the most.
I am gonna be bold and say that it is okay to not run for 2 weeks to a month (at least a week) in a year, ESPECIALLY if you have raced a marathon, I would say it is CRITICAL.
Sure, if you have a big race coming, running after 2 weeks off because of an injury will result in you will losing some fitness, but not as much as you think. If you are smart about it, you can still get back into running and get to the start line healthy, which at the end of the day, should be goal number one for every runner.
I know there is that real fear as you return, and it is impossible not to wonder if you will ever get back, trust me, I know and talked about it here.
But I really believe that taking a break from running after season is really important, and off season training for runners should include rest after a half marathon or marathon, followed by some base building of just easy running, gradually increasing back to your normal mileage.
Even if you are looking at recovery after a 10k race, I am sure I am not alone in experiencing the calf soreness after those 5ks and 10ks. It can really mess with your body, and no amount of post race recovery tips or anti-inflammatory foods will help them get back to normal soon enough.
A lot of runners are terrified to take even a few days off after the season for fear of loosing the fitness they have worked so hard to reach.
The reality is actually the opposite……especially after a tough training segment followed by a “balls to the wall”, all out effort in a half marathon or marathon, your body will go further into breakdown if you do not give it some time to repair.
How Often Should I Stop Running After A Race?
At least twice per year, I will take 1-2 weeks of complete rest from running.
This means no running, no cross training, no exercise whatsoever, just time to be a “normal person” and allow your body to reset and repair.
The best time to take this time off from running is after a major race, as that is where you have done the most damage to your body, and allowing it some time off, will help to recover quicker and allow you to feel energized and excited once you do get back to running.
However, if an injury crops up that requires a few weeks off, and it does not seem like your race can be possible due to the time off, use that time as a reset.
Take 1-2 weeks off of complete rest, and then start to cross train for the remainder of your recovery time.
Now, you might be thinking:
But you are an elite, of course you need time off, your training is way more intense than mine.
Yes and no.
Actually, a lot of “recreational runners” end up overtrained because of running too fast on easy runs and pushing too hard. My training might be time consuming, but we also take recovery very seriously.
I believe every runner should take time off every year.
Time Off Running Doesn’t Mean You Aren’t Committed
I may love my running, but when you put your heart and soul (as well as your body) into the season, you NEED that time off.
Honestly, for me it is almost more important emotionally than physically, and I embrace the extra time and laziness that comes with it.
You have heard about how people study better when they take short breaks regularly right? Well, it is a similar concept for exercise. Here are the 8 main reasons you benefit from taking time off
- Recovery- This study found that in the 7 days after a marathon, your skeletal muscle cells are in necrosis…..meaning they are inflamed and dying. If you do not allow your body adequate time to recover, it is not going to be able to repair itself fast enough, and it will take you a lot longer to feel better.
- Injury risk- If you are not able to recover, you are putting your exhausted body at a risk of something major going wrong. It is better to take a few days off now, than take a month off in the future when your body breaks down.
- Refocus- Regardless of whether you reached your goal or not, you put your body through a tough training segment, followed by pushing it to the limit. Taking time off allows you to reflect, and think about what you want in the future.
- Emotional recharge- If you really did do everything you could have for your season, in addition to physical, you will also be emotionally exhausted from the intensity and energy you used to focus on your goals. I find that especially if I use vizualisation for weeks prior to the race, my mind is exhausted as it has essentially run a race 10-30 times.
- Niggling injuries have time to heal- Most runners have some kind of ache or pain that gave some trouble during the season. This time off allows it to fully repair. Your body can direct all its energy to repairing it, rather than splitting its healing efforts between repair from training as well as repairing the issue. Note: I know niggles is a weird word for my American readers….but I am not sure of the equivalent….twinges maybe?
- To get the full benefit of training cycles- Your body cannot reach the next level without rest periods in between. Being able to rebuild your training base helps you reach that next level.
- It gives you time to work on ROM (range of motion), and flexibility. That means you can start the next training segment on a good note!
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder- If you take more than a few days, you will be surprised by how quickly you are itching to get going again. It gives you a whole new appreciation of running.
How Much Time Off Should You Take After Running a Hard Race?
As I have already mentioned, I take 1-2 weeks completely off running. The exact amount of time depends on how I am feeling, and how long the race was.
That means no running, no cross training, no core, NOTHING.
And you know what?
I thoroughly enjoy this time.
I am aware I will lose a little fitness, and gain weight during this time, but it is healthy to gain weight at the end of a season.
If you have really dedicated yourself, done all the little things, then you have earned some time to let go, do nothing, and eat whatever the heck you want!
During the season, I allow myself some food each day that I crave, but this is the time to go for whatever your heart desires…..if you want ice cream for breakfast followed by fried chicken for lunch, and a cupcake for dinner, DO IT!
It is not healthy for your body to stay at racing weight all year around, so a few extra pounds is not going to do any harm, it will come off again within a few weeks.
How to Return to Running After a Break
After the time off, gradually build back up mileage; the first two weeks are just easy runs, with a few days off each week.
Be aware, the first few runs you may feel uncoordinated, out of shape, and….well, just off, but that will disappear within a few weeks
Your body will be so much better off after you have given it time to completely charge down. It will thank you in the long run by bringing you back to where you were in less time, and going beyond that to make you even stronger!
If you need even more convincing, I wrote a more recent post on why time off is so good for runners, especially after a marathon.