by Kate Walton

I was sitting in a bag chair next to the dugout of one of my daughter’s first softball games during our time of COVID when I realized I needed to take a break from running.

To recap: in early 2020 I was having one of my best training cycles preparing for the Missoula Marathon using the Train Like a Mother Heart and Sole plan. As my family sequestered, I stuck strictly to my training plan with the slim hope the race would run. When the race director made the understandable call to cancel I did the Yeti Ultra 24 Hour Challenge in early May to cap my training. After taking a week or so to recover from the Yeti I had the best of intentions to continue to follow the plan; I would just shorten the long runs a bit.

Through the rest of May and early June those intentions began to wane and running started to feel like a chore for the first time in well…ever. For the last dozen years, I haven’t purposefully taken time off from running except in the case of race recovery and injury. I’ve trained in the heat, the snow, when I had a race on the calendar and when I didn’t.  While I certainly won’t say every run was awesome, to paraphrase Dimity, I was always glad to have run. And that day in June I had to acknowledge the creeping realization that feeling had gone missing.

Being a typical BAMR, I made a plan: I was going to take a month off from running. I would still walk, hike, do yoga, strength train and stay active, but would only run if I really, really wanted to…And for a month I didn’t want to.

I’ll admit: A month without running miles felt a little strange. I kept the time for exercise in my usual daily schedule, I wore my workout clothes and posted my activities to Strava, and I didn’t gain or lose any weight. Most days I walked for about an hour listening to audio books and podcasts, just enjoying the time outside ad alone.  Several days a week I did online strength training videos. For me this struck a balance of forward movement and gentle fitness while honoring my need for a break.

This story doesn’t necessarily have a tidy conclusion. The time off wasn’t a game changer. More like a gentle reset during a time when everything feels upside down, inside out and uncertain.

When the month-ish was up I felt ready to ease back into a running schedule. Our family took a socially distanced, outdoor activity focused trip to Breckenridge, Colorado and a couple of mornings after we returned I decided it was time to go for a run. I had a growing worry that if I didn’t get back to it the break might stretch on…. And I was missing truly running. Running my usual 3-mile loop felt like something I wanted to do. I was ready to get back to it.

I didn’t come back stronger than ever. I didn’t come back with a renewed sense of purpose.  I started back gradually; my pace was at least a minute slower than my usual easy pace. I started by running two miles easy, then walking another mile or two several days a week. Walking isn’t running and my fitness had declined, but the miles on my feet and the time doing strength training videos in front of my computer meant it didn’t feel too bad.

Plus, for me, there’s nothing that beats the feeling of an easy run on a beautiful morning. Running a route that is so familiar and well-worn I can barely recall making the turns along the way. When I started back, chasing that feeling propelled me forward.

After a few weeks my running fitness returned to an easy baseline. I started to enjoy having run again. My edges were smoothed out a bit and I was glad I listened to my instincts instead of being stubborn and burned out.

Perhaps this story has a tidier conclusion than I originally thought.

Inspired and encouraged by my friend and fellow BAMRBassador Julie Patno, I have signed up for the Arches Ultra 50K in Moab, UT at the end of January. Ultras and trail races are among the first to safely return and are naturally smaller, socially distanced events. Mad Moose, which is hosting the event, has been successfully hosting trail races during this phase of COVID and I have a reasonable degree of confidence 1) the race will be held and 2) I can safely travel and participate.

I am kicking off the Train Like a Mother Ultra 50K Training Program this week with new coach Coach Christy Scott (hear her on the AMR Trains #15 Podcast) and am really jazzed to be back on a schedule.

I know we are all finding our way in a year where it feels like the rug is being repeatedly pulled out from under us. I don’t usually need a race to stay motivated to run, but when this idea was sparked I couldn’t believe how much my spirits lifted. Connection with friends, the opportunity for a road trip, the chance to fill in my calendar with runs aimed toward a goal, an adventure in my future when so many days run together with sameness and uncertainty.

I may have found myself staring down a 50K without taking a break this summer, but I’m glad to have the brief stop to remind me how much I love to just run.

Have you taken an intentional break from running recently? How did it go?