Taking a Break from Running—and Coming Back Refreshed


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?

5 responses to “Taking a Break from Running—and Coming Back Refreshed

  1. I totally feel this one… in March I was training for a May marathon … I immediately cut my miles and also began working in my pantry while my 3 & 4 year old ran around me asking for food every 45 minutes.. I needed to keep running to keep from gaining 100 lbs but more importantly I needed to keep running for my own mental health. I made an intentional decision to shift my daily runs from a goal oriented competitive exercise to a stress relieving mental health daily checkup… my speed slowed as did my playlist… pounding beats were replaced with a lot of Nathaniel Radcliffe type easy listening. I let myself take in the scenery. For me, it was important to listen to my body and make purposeful change.

  2. I didn’t run regularly for over a year, and recently I have started back at it. I am slower, but I also realize that I’m enjoying my time more than before. Instead of running to train, I am running for me, and I realize now that’s what I was missing before. I also miss the “calm” I created within myself only after a run can do. Slowly I am back at it, and enjoying every step.

  3. After running a PR half marathon in January and then a PR 10k mid February, I realized my identity was rightly wound in being a runner. As part of my practice for Lent this year, I gave up running for 2 weeks. I wasn’t sure if I could go that long without running and I wanted to ensure I still felt like myself! Turns out to have been the best thing I could have done for myself- I fractured my ankle trail running in June! It was no walking for 4 weeks and then took 9 weeks before I could start running again. I’m so thankful I took that time off in February- I knew it was going to be hard not running most of the summer, but I knew I could do it after taking the time in February.

    Way to go Kate!

  4. I’ve never taken that long a break, but I do think that many runners cling way to tightly to their identity as a runner, and think they must run no matter what — and then running becomes just another stressor, which no one needs right now! I just pulled back this year. No need to train hard, no real races, and I think my body was ready for that.

    Good luck on your 50k!

    Sometimes we need to break up with something to realize how much we love it.

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