8 Reasons You Should Take Time Off From Running

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.

I do run around 90 miles a week, but my body is also trained to do so, and I take my recovery runs VERY slow and easy (don’t, believe me, check this out).

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.

After a few weeks of easy running, start adding in fartlek runs without a GPS watch or some light hill workouts once per week, and increase your long run before gradually resuming previous mileage.

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.

recovery, rest

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  • I realllllly hate that you were so close and yet we didn't get to meet 🙂 This is a great article!!! I don't know why we have such trouble convincing people that our bodies need more recovery post race.

  • People who don't run/exercise regularly can't grasp how we may find it hard to take time off. Enjoy your rest period, you so deserve it….I don't train specifically for the few races a year that I run but I do need to remember to take complete rest days. Most of the time, I end up with very easy workout days (one or two a week) mixed into my harder/longer runs. Even if it is just a 30 minute walk, I find it relaxing/rejuvenating.

  • Two great posts in one day! You are awesome! I love this one and this is such a good reminder.. not only with running but all workouts! (:

  • This is great and such a good reminder! I've done 2 half marathons over the last couple weeks and it may be time for a little running break!

  • I absolutely love that you wrote this post! Rest has become such a four-letter word among running bloggers and if YOU can do it, so can others. Wise words!

    And congrats to Alfred–way to go coach and athlete!

  • It's the easiest thing to do but yet the hardest! The most I took off was a full week from all exercise. I was so antsy that I needed to do something, anything! Great tips as usual Tina!

  • well i think you'd know i agree 100000%! and you are so wise for doing this!! you are a great athlete and coach!

  • Thank you for this post! It came at a great time, where I'm about a week and a half from starting my next training cycle and I've realized that I'm feeling burnt out. Although I didn't really run a huge goal race last cycle, I did a lot of smaller races, and tried to keep up a decent mileage base for a Fall half. I was thinking about running light this week as a “rest”, but I think I might just take it off instead after reading this. What a great post, Tina!!

  • Really good advice. I think you're right about runners being afraid to take off some time for rest and recovery even when they are injured. This of course leads to more injury. Thanks for sharing. Wish I had done that last winter before ending up with a stress fracture.

  • PREACHPREACHPREACH. It's a hard lesson to learn, but always best to learn it the mentally hard, rather than the physically hard, way.
    Congrats to Alfredo!

  • What great information! I definitely agree that taking time off is important, especially after the exhausting training of a marathon. Have a fabulous Monday!

  • This is such a fantastic post! I learned the hard way coming off my first marathon, and was injured a month later from not enough rest and recovery. Now I take that time seriously! Well- I would if I were actually “racing” these days. 🙂

  • Congrats to Alfredo! This is so true. I actually love taking time off after a marathon. I really need it. I take at least one full week and sometimes two depending on how I'm feeling. And I love the word “niggles.” It describes the slightly less than nagging injury perfectly.

  • I agree, the most important training advise of all… recover! As my good friend Alison says, a properly recovered body is more efficient than an over trained one” I have read a lot on the topic, but it's nice to hear from an elite, such as yourself, who's actually applying this into their training.

  • I completely agree with these tips! After my marathon I mentally (and physically) needed about 2 weeks off to recharge and like running again. Recovery is critical for athletes!

  • Great advice Tina! I think it's important to give yourself a break and a little recovery time. Especially when we work so hard towards a goal, it's nice to have some less regimented time afterwards. After my big race coming up in July I plan on taking a week off for some relaxed camping with the dog. Can't wait!

  • It's like you are reading my mind and posting EXACTLY what I need right now!! This post is fantastic. Last week I did keep moving, mostly because between work and the kiddo, exercise is my sanity, but I really tried to take it easy the best I could to allow myself to recover.

  • Tina, you obviously know this was a timely post for me to read! 😉 You're a great coach, clearly. (Oh, and congratulations to Alfredo!). Also, I had no idea that 'niggling' wasn't a word Americans used often! ha ha ha, I'm pretty sure I've used it several times to describe running almost-injuries.

  • I have finally learned to EMBRACE the rest day and a time or 2 throughout the year for longer periods of time! Great read Tina!

  • Oh, you have addressed my biggest weakness!! I'm awful about taking days completely off ever. I always try to say it is OK because I'm not an elite or even racing much these days.
    Enjoy every second of your rest!!!
    And, did you really eat a chicken sandwich crusted with Oreos? I can't even think how that would taste?

  • I feel like what really scares me about taking time off after the season ends is the weight gain. I already eat like a mad women so without the running, I'm going to balloon right up! Do you ever feel cranky during your off time? I go crazy during tapers so I'm not sure how I'll fair with 1-2 weeks off!

  • I know….a few days apart! Thanks so much Amanda. I think it is critical, and I hoped people would see that if I can take a week off, and I am very OCD about doing everything I can…then anyone can!

  • Yeah, I think thats it. If you do enough, and push yourself enough when it matters, you have earned some time to rest. I am glad you listen to your body 🙂

  • Thanks so much Danielle 🙂

  • Thanks Laura, yes I think so…especially as you have a few extra lbs bouncing around inside you 🙂 So excited!

  • Thanks Amanda, yes that is to true, people are terrified of it, but I cannot even begin to explain how much even a few days can help!

    Thanks, he has definitely earned it 🙂

  • Yep, so true! I am weird in that I do not really get antsy unless i have to take more than 10, but a week is perfect for me 🙂

  • Yep, I didnt need to wonder what you would think 🙂

  • yep, I think you should. Make those shaky legs today be your reminder to take a week. Or at least a few days before you begin your next segment….you can do it 🙂

  • Thanks Deborah! It is amazing how much runners wil try and dodge even a few days…mostly with weight concerns, but your metabolism takes a while to slow down, so you will still be fine. I am sorry about the SF, but hopefully you learned a lesson to prevent it in future 🙂

  • Yep! It took me many years to realize how important it was, but now I look forward to it, and enjoy every second. Mostly like I said for the mental aspect. thanks so much 🙂

  • Yes it is! Thanks so much kim, have a wonderful week!

  • Thanks Laura, yep…sometimes those lessons we learned the hard way, are the best lessons. I am sorry you were injured, but It solidified the importance of rest right? You have more important things to be focusing on….so special 🙂

  • Thanks Karla, he did great 🙂 I am glad to find another person who enjoys it. I really enjoy doing nothing…..and it means I want to get back into it after that time. Right? Niggles is such a good word…..you dont have an equivalent 😛

  • Yep! That is a great piece of advice right there! Overtraining wrecks a lot of seasons…and makes injuries more likely. Thanks for your support my friend!

  • Yep, you are right, and I am glad you listen to your body!

  • Thanks Ursula! Definitely, that is what truly makes the difference for me! Camping sounds like a great way to relax!

  • I hope you are taking some time this week to relax after your marathon, your poor body needs it, then you can attack the next one 🙂

  • Thanks Carly 🙂 Yes, you are right on time for this. I love the word niggles, but glad to hear you use it also….not just a British thing then!

  • Yay! Takes time right, but once we learn it…so worthwhile 🙂

  • You need to sometimes my friend 🙂 Even if you are not racing much, or elite, your body is only human, so it is okay to take a few days, you will come back refreshed 🙂

    Yep, I really did, and I loved every bite!

  • Do not worry about the weight gain. Like I said, your body cannot and should not stay at the same weight year round. I gain around 5lbs, but there is nothing wrong with that….and I mean that! Besides, your body will thank you, and it will fall right off when you start again. Give it a try 🙂

  • I completely agree with the need to have time off, and I really like your points here – very well thought out! But .. oreo crusted chicken sandwich? Call me crazy, but that doesn't even sound that good!! :). Glad you indulge when you want to, though!! Good luck with the rest!

  • Another great post, Tina. I love that you are so grounded even though you are performing at the highest levels. I agree this is so incredibly important, and taking a break allows us to come back stronger and full of more passion. I'm running the Chicago Marathon too and hope we'll get to meet in person 🙂 xo

  • I was planning to take 5-7 days off training after my goal race, then got injured and couldn't run my goal race :(. I've never actually taken more than maybe 3 days off after a race but this is a really good idea. I am planning to take a full week off next time, because I noticed after my injury initially happened… I did not miss running for 7-10 days at all and I really *enjoyed* the break (obviously not the circumstances and timing, but still). I thought I'd miss running more than I do, but now that I think about it, my body really needed a break.

  • Great advice! I'm always impatient to get going again, but after facing an injury I am definitely going to train smarter and following this advice post race is definitely going to be incorporated!

    I can't wait to follow your training on your way to Chicago! I feel like a first marathon is such a learning experience and now that you know what you could have done better I have no doubt you will rock it!

  • Resting strengthens you, not weakens. I think it's so important to rest. Great tips. I love these posts you've been posting on running 😀

  • I feel so much better after reading this post!! I am almost done with my week off of running. Last week I felt burned out from running and I really wanted to take some time off. Now I'm ready to get back going again! Absence really does make the heart grow fonder! It's so weird to have all of this time that would normally be spent running!! Thanks for this Tina! btw, love the new header!

  • Thanks Megan! Hahahah thats what a lot of people say, but I LOVE sweets, so it was perfect for me 🙂

  • Thanks so much Jesica, that is lovely to hear, and YAYYY! How exciting! Yes, I definitely hope so!

  • You definitely should! even if you do have injuries, I find that it helps refresh the mind, especially if you cross trained during that injury period. Hope you do take one 🙂

  • Yeah, a lot of people are, but I think you will find it helps 🙂 Thanks so much for your support Erin, I hope you blog a little more so I can follow your journey too!

  • You are the queen of slowing down, and I knew you would have something good to say. Thanks so much!

  • Yes! So funny we took that time together, and yes I feel ready to go too now 🙂 YAY! Thanks for commenting, I was wondering what people thought!

  • Great advice Tina! I took a week off after my first half marathon and slowly eased back into it. I feel great and ready to dive into a new training routine!

  • Thanks Kris, that is so wonderful to hear someone else who believes in it too! I totally agree 🙂 Glad you made the most of it, and I am sure you will run even better for it!

  • I'm thinking that I should have taken this advice. I ran three days after the marathon and then continued to run in the following week. Then two weeks after I started to feel a new knee pain. So now I'm in PT and it looks like I may not be able to get back into training at the end of June as I had planned. I took the advice of a seasoned coach who told it was a good idea to do a shakeout run after the marathon. I think I knew I needed more rest, but coming off a huge PR I also wanted that “permission” to run. I wish I had just stuck with my gut and rested.

  • I take a week off after a big race… I maybe run 3 miles 1-2 times just to get out some lactic acid and go to yoga but other than that, just focus on letting my body rest!

  • Great post! I like that you mentioned emotions. I’m bad about post-race blues, so I bet it helps with that.

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