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Pacing with P - On the importance of taking breaks

Pacing with P - On the importance of taking breaks
By Pierre • Issue #1 • View online
Good morning runners!
My last race was on March 1st, a little bit over four months ago now, and I’m starting to seriously miss it. There’s something special about the atmosphere in the corral, as you wait for the start of the race, shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of sweaty, smelly runners. The way NYRR staff greets you over the mic with their “Goooood morning runners!"—I haven’t really ventured much outside of NYRR races in the last few years— the national anthem, the whole thing! And then sure, the racing part is fun too, but the pre-race part, I don’t know, it’s a weird mix of excitement and anxiety that I really miss. And let’s be clear, I always know I’m not going for a medal or any form of prize, that’s never a possibility for me, and despite that, the idea of a new PR, of just leaving it all on the road is just pure fun.
I should probably get used to it though, I have no idea when I will race again, but not until 2021, that’s for sure. They haven’t canceled the Chicago Marathon (yet?!), but I’m not running it, no way, even if that means no refund.
EDIT 7/14: The Chicago Marathon was canceled a few hours after I sent this newsletter on 7/13, I will absolutely take credit for it!
This is the first issue of this newsletter, and I’m still debating what I can write about to make it interesting. I’m gonna be honest I don’t read The Morning Shakeout newsletter every week, but I do listen to the podcast on my long runs religiously, and Mario got you covered on the interviews of amazing people and so many other topics.
There are others too, Molly Mirhashem writes at The Kick, she describes it as "a newsletter that feels like the best conversations I’ve had with my friends and training partners during a long run”.
If you haven’t, please subscribe to both, they’re great.
On the bigger media front, you obviously have Runner’s World, but I don’t know, it feels like a lot of noise. It’s not really for me. And even the New York Times has their own.
I decided that the purpose of this newsletter would be to share things I’ve learned, very often by making mistakes.
I did not run track or cross country, ever, I never really exercised until one day I felt like I was too out of shape. And I stopped soon after that. I picked it up again, and stopped, again. Rinse, repeat, that lasted for a while.
I’ve always felt intimated by other runners. Maybe I haven’t met the right people, but it feels like there’s this idea that it has to be easy, I’ve heard too many people describe how effortlessly they’ve reached their goals.
That’s not the case for me, this shit is hard. It took me more than a year, and three failed attempts to break 1:30 at the half, from a 1:33 PR, more than a year, many many miles, for three damn minutes. Interestingly, going from 1h33 to below 1h30 is about 4% faster. Maybe I just needed faster shoes.
I trained a ton last year for the 2019 Marathon, at least for me, every single day, no breaks, for 17 weeks straight, averaging over 9 hours of running a week. I’m sure there were people who finished ahead of me and trained less. The point is, it’s not easy for me, and I want to be honest about it.
Each issue of this monthly newsletter will include an article, about something I learned, something I wish I had known and could be useful to other runners. This month we’re starting with the importance of taking breaks.
Finally, I spend too much money on running, there are things I’m happy I bought, some less so. I want to share that as well. From now on I committed to review everything I buy that is running related. Shoes, obviously, but also apparel, gels, watches, heart rate monitors and more. Food too! I’ve been wanting to review Daily Harvest for a while now.
Stay tuned.

Elite women at the 2018 NYC Marathon, between mile 8 and 9 in Clinton Hill. I was volunteering at the water station, amazing experience, would do it again.
Elite women at the 2018 NYC Marathon, between mile 8 and 9 in Clinton Hill. I was volunteering at the water station, amazing experience, would do it again.
On the importance of taking breaks
I am coming off of a 5 week break, zero running, none. I wasn’t injured, I simply decided to hit pause. Prior to this, the longest break I had taken was four weeks, when I sprained my ankle, about 97 seconds into a squash match back in 2018. Haven’t played squash since, if you’re wondering. I had to look all the way back to early 2015 to find a longer break, at the time my knee was acting up and I had to do more strength training and wait for my knee to slowly heal. Essentially I never intentionally took a break in the six-ish years I’ve been running.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to brag in any way, if anything it’s the quite the opposite. It was not smart at all, and nothing to be proud of. For a stretch in 2016, 17 and 18, I even ran every single day. In hindsight, it was completely useless. I caught the flu in early 2018, but because I didn’t want to break my streak, I kept running. I wish someone had told me how stupid this was.
At the end of the day, no one forced me to run, I did it because I enjoyed it, or I thought I did. I would run when I was sad, to feel better. I would run when I felt great, it would put me in an even better mood. I went through a very tough breakup and running allowed me to keep my focus on something else, and stay afloat.
I don’t know when, but at some point running became a key part of my identity. People would ask what I did outside of work, the answer was easy “I run”. I had pretty low self esteem before running, people have explicitly called me a couch potato in the past, called me fat, it affected me, a lot. Running helped with this.
Taking a break meant jeopardizing all the gains. At least it felt like it. I have described it as some form of addiction, and looking back it totally was.
My ankles started feeling really stiff in the spring, I wasn’t recovering as well as I used to. It felt like a burnout, and let’s be honest, probably not just a “running burnout”, there was very likely more to it, but it made running an insurmountable task.
Add Covid-19 to the equation and now you have a recipe for failure. The idea that even if I might potentially be safe I could still catch it and spread it to my wife or others added a whole new layer of stress and anxiety.
Up until this point, by virtue of being a white man, I had always felt safe while running, regardless of the time of day, whether or not cops were around and would perceive me as a threat or pretty much anything else. This safety wasn’t here anymore. And as it was made painfully clear by articles like this one on Outside by Alison M. Desir, my privileges had shielded me from this, and I had no idea how to deal with it.
So, why am I sharing all of this. Because I’ve also heard the opposite, people saying: “Oh, I haven’t been running that much or at all, I need to get back to it”. And I think we need to be better at removing this guilt. This mindset of “the more you train the better”, or “not training is bad, why aren’t you training more” is harmful.
Jack Daniels talks about avoidance versus rest in his book Running Formula. It’s a simple concept, you need to rest, it is part of training. The line between good and beneficial rest and avoidance is really thin, and from my own experience, it takes a lot of hard work to understand how your body works, what it needs and optimize for it. The point being, more training does not always result in better output. Smarter training does.
As I was writing this issue, I stumbled upon a very interesting thread on Reddit’s /r/running, about mental health and over training. There is a lot of information, out there, on the topic, and reading it really hit home, especially the stress and depression parts. And while I understand that depression is very a serious disorder, that would require an actual diagnosis, something I did not get, I can also confirm that I absolutely felt depression-like symptoms.
I don’t have a solution to this, but I do have advice. Talk to people around you, it’s harder at the moment with Covid-19, but it’s still possible. Pay attention to how you feel, physically and mentally, if you’re willing to, journal, it really helps to see trends. But more importantly, remind yourself that you need breaks, even if you don’t think you’re above it, you do.
And a break from running does not mean doing nothing, there are tons of other things you can do with the time you’ll get back. Me? I picked up Yoga with the NTC app now that it’s free for all. And when races resume, if you haven’t done it, you might consider volunteering at a local race, instead of running it, it’s a ton of fun!
Stay healthy, stay happy & run if you can.
In the reviews corner
I’m just getting started with the reviews on my site, there are still a lot of things I want to review, about my now almost defunct Scosche arm band heart rate monitor, my latest Garmin watch and the amazing apparel from Path Projects, to name a few. Stay tuned, more content coming soon!
Here are three recent reviews, all positive, if you need new shoes, definitely consider the New Balance Propel, if you search long enough you might be able to find amazing deals. I got mine for $35!
And here we are with our first issue. If you have feedback, please do not hesitate and reach out. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, or one email away (hello@pjam.me). Or even better, let’s follow each other on Strava!
Did you enjoy this issue?
Pierre
By Pierre

Monthly newsletter, about running. As someone who went from zero to addicted to running, I share all the things I've learned along the way. I might not answer all the questions you have, but I'll try.

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