How Taking a Break from Racing Can Improve Your Running
It is very easy once we start racing to want to keep racing, record faster times, and run longer races. It is part of the mindset of an athlete to keep pushing ourselves to improve our bodies and our metrics, however sometimes pushing ourselves can have the opposite effect. Runners often need to take a break, and there are ways to listen to your body and work around a racing and training schedule to help improve your running.
It is important to note that breaks that are too long can cause adverse effects to your fitness, so it really is a skill runners should master throughout their racing career. This includes a decrease in your VO2 max and in longer breaks, a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in your heart rate. However, these effects can be relatively easy to undo and improve upon after the break.
Negative effects that harder to undo are the effects from running too much. Every time we work out we do damage to our muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, whether on purpose or as a common side effect of pushing our bodies. Weight lifters are in the business of damaging muscle tissue, but then they immediately start to repair the tissue. Runners often have a recovery period after each race. But there is not much focus on exactly what we are recovering. A break from racing will allow your body to repair any unnoticeable damage that may have been done from an extended period of running. The following are guidelines to consider when choosing to take a break from racing.
Take a Long Enough Break
Every runner knows the importance of recovering after a run, but normally we recover just long enough to repair surface tissue damage done by the recent run, but the deeper muscle damage, as well as skeletal damage, which is often overlooked until we show symptoms. Research  shows that skeletal damage usually takes three to four weeks to repair, and may take 8-12 weeks to repair for more severe damage.
A break for about a month should suffice for most runners. It can be scary to step away for your training for that amount of time, but it is necessary to improve and succeed.
Timing is Important
You should know when you plan to take an extended break long before you actually take the break. Usually this decision is made a few months ahead of time when you are training for your last few races and you have an opening for a break. Deciding it early will allow you to determine when you should be able to race again.
Listen to Your Body
If you are going through constant soreness or pain that is uncommon for you, it may be time to take a break. I know that this sounds like common knowledge but so often we ignore the signs our body gives us in order to get out there and train for one more race. This actually happened to me once. While training for a half marathon I noticed a slight pain in my right foot. Instead of taking a week or so off to let whatever was happening heel, I decided to continue to train and ended up injuring my foot more and having to sit out the half marathon. Had I just rested my foot instead of putting more stress on it I may have been well enough to run the race en though it may not have been my personal best.
This unfortunately is all too common among athletes across the board, where we notice something wrong but think we can push through it, but ultimately end up injuring our body even more.
The Healing will Improve Your Running
Not only will you substantially reduce your risk of serious injury by allowing your body some time to heal, you will also improve your running in the future. The wear and tear on our muscles and bones does not allow for our bodies to be performing at their maximal level. If our muscles are not working at 100% then our performance will not be as great as it could be. By giving our bodies the time to heal and fix themselves we may see improvements in our running in the future.
The Motivation Factor
Motivation is key to running. Being motivated to set a personal best while running a race or even just to get to the finish line is what pushes us to become better runners. On occasion runners lose this motivation and become complacent in how well they are running, or don’t feel like running is giving them the satisfaction it once did. This can lead to lackluster performances and slower times.
Taking a break while motivation is waning is a great way to get into a better headspace and re-motivate yourself to become the best runner you can be. Often times spending time away from something you are losing love for will make you realize how much you truly do still love it.
Stay in Shape
Taking a break doesn’t mean to sit around all day and not move a muscle, it simply means taking a break from intense training. Consistent light work outs as well as the occasional jog are both great ways to keep your fitness levels up while still allowing yourself to heal from the intense training. When getting back into training after your break, work your way back up to 100%. Don’t just jump right back in where you left off.
 M. J. Warhol, A. J. Siegel, W. J. Evans, and L. M. Silverman, “Skeletal muscle injury and repair in marathon runners after competition” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1887882/