Notes from an unintended running break: It’s ok to press pause

Runners schedule their day around ‘the run’. The length of the run, the type of run, and feelings towards the run all contribute to what runners eat that day, the people runners spend time with, and what activities runners do the day before and after a run. Naturally, this becomes a part of a runner’s routine. The run often takes priority, and the day is scheduled around it. What could possibly be ‘wrong’ with this? Running is a form of physical activity with obvious health benefits. It’s natural for someone who is dedicated to running to schedule their run at a time of day that would be the most enjoyable and worthwhile (i.e., I know if I do a morning workout there’s no way I will be able to hit the paces I’d otherwise be able to hit later in the day). But, while running itself can be healthy, and it’s good to prioritize being active when possible, I challenge you to think about what your reaction would be in the following situations:

What thoughts and emotions would you have if…

…you wake up the morning of a long run and your digestion is off? 

…your friends ask you to go for a walk when you plan on going for your run?

…it rained and the temperature dropped leaving the ground nice and icy the night before a morning speed workout?

If those situations prompted feelings of annoyance, guilt, a fear of missing out, frustration (anger?)…then it may be time to consider taking an intentional break from running. 

I had never thought of intentional vs. unintentional running breaks until getting injured. I had never taken more than two days off from running in a row. And, with ‘run streaks’ gaining popularity, many runners are becoming hyper-focused on running every day. While this is a lifestyle that works for many and has physical and mental health benefits, what happens mentally when you’re forced to take time off due to a physical injury? The mental health challenges associated with unintentional running breaks can be just as challenging as navigating the physical injury. The challenges can be even harder to navigate if you’ve never taken time off from running before. This is where intentional running breaks come in! Why not take a break from running when you’re healthy? Picture your relationship with running like your relationship with your partner you’ve been in lockdown with…having alone time is healthy, and making sure that alone time is scheduled before things get bad can be even healthier! 

Taking an intentional running break can help:

  • Reduce your chances of experiencing burnout
  • Expose you to other forms of physical activity
  • Re-set your gut health if running was a stressor
  • Reduce your chances of physical injury
  • Allow you to focus on the other relationships in your life!
  • Mentally prepare you for if you do have to take an unintentional break in the future
  • Maintain your healthy relationship with running

When was the last time you took a week off from running? Two weeks? If the answer to that is never: I challenge you to think about the thoughts that come up when you think about taking an unintentional break! Does this idea make you anxious? Scared? Guilt-ridden? If so, it might be time to think about what an intentional break could look like. Think about what you would spend your extra time doing. You could try a new activity, spend more time with family and friends, focus on mobility and strength exercises, or cook something new. Ultimately, voluntarily taking some alone time from running can help to keep you mentally and physically strong, while also preparing you for if you ever do have to take an unintentional break in the future.