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.