When writing, I follow a certain rule:

If I’m not making progress for 15 minutes, I step away.

I put down the keyboard and go for a run or work on a new project. Anything but continue to stare at the stalled page.

I set this rule because I regularly found myself in a loop of inefficiency. I’d rework the same sentence for 30 minutes, or flip back and forth from writing to Facebook or YouTube because I couldn’t focus on the words.

That loop is ineffective, frustrating, and a complete waste of time.

So now, I step away.

Applying the ‘Step Away’ Rule to Running

For the past five days I was on vacation in Rhode Island. We visited family, played Catan, went to a Sox game, drank beer, and swam in the waves.

It was beautiful.

But one thing I didn’t do was go for a run. Not a single mile.

The past few weeks of running have been rather intense for me. I’m wrapping up a 4-week vertical gain challenge, and it has taken a physical and mental toll I wasn’t anticipating. By the time we boarded a plane on Saturday for the beach, I was beyond ready to leave the mountains.

For the four of five days leading up to the trip, I dreaded each run and climb — including the one I woke up early to get in the day we left.

The runs weren’t efficient, and they had lost their purpose.

I needed to step away. Even if just for a few days.

Why It’s Difficult to Step Away

The problem with stepping away from writing, running, work, or any other project is that you’re at least in part admitting defeat.

Admitting that you’re stuck, frustrated, or tired, and that not doing it is better than continuing on.

So instead of taking a break, our stubborn asses tend to grunt through it …

… “I’m going to build this IKEA furniture now, no matter how long it takes me!”

… “I’m not going home until this paper is written!”

… “I’m not never going to skip a training run, even if my body is crying out to stop!”

I’ve said each and every one of those at some point in my life.

Even when it no longer makes sense to continue, it’s still difficult to put something aside and let it rest.

Why You Need to Step Away

But sometimes the break is just what you need.

By stepping away, you’re removing yourself from the challenge or task. Even if it’s just for a few minutes (while writing) or a few days (when training), that distance between you and the task can be profound.

It can:

  • Prevent boredom and burnout from the repetition.
  • Give you a new outlook on what’s important or what you really want.
  • Refocus your goal.
  • Examine what’s working and what isn’t.
  • Reduce the frustration, making it more exciting and fun when you return.
  • Give your body a chance to rest and reboot (running).

But just like anything else, there’s a strategy to taking breaks that produces actual benefits.

5 Rules for Stepping Away From Your Running

If you’re going to take a break from running, here are a few rules to follow:

1. Keep the break short and defined.

Set a start and end date to your break … taking just the weekend off, or a break for while you’re on vacation.

Don’t leave it open ended or your likelihood of restarting reduces significantly. By setting a restart day, you’ll subconsciously prepare for the first run back.

2. Stay active.

Short breaks are good opportunities to spend a little more time on the couch, but not an excuse to hibernate. You can bike, swim, hike, practice yoga, or walk around town while still giving giving yourself a break and keeping your muscles engaged and active.

3. Drop running completely.

I’m not truly stepping away from writing if I’m switching back between my newsfeed and WordPress. You’re not truly stepping away from running if you’re still lacing up.

Let it go completely for the short period of your break. Don’t spent much time thinking about it or going on short runs. This is your chance to stop, so let go and don’t feel guilty.

4. Don’t skip your peak weeks or key workouts.

As tempting as it may be to pick the toughest week on your training plan to take a break, don’t. Those weeks are too important. Choose a few days during a down week or average week if you need to, but don’t use this post (or idea) as an excuse to skip one of your key workouts.

5. Don’t make a habit of taking breaks.

Breaks may be just what your training needs, but don’t make a habit of taking them often. Use them sparingly to keep their effectiveness and maintain consistency.

Step Away From the Running Shoes

… Or at least don’t be afraid to.

Returning back to the mountains last night from Rhode Island I was completely refreshed and ready to finish out the 4-week challenge. Almost immediately I hit the trails feeling strong, rested, and most importantly, happy to be there.

Stepping away — or taking a short break — isn’t admitting defeat or weakness. It’s admitting that you’re working hard and pushing yourself and could benefit from a short escape.

The next time you feel like you’re in a rut or completely over worked from training, put down the running shoes and step away for a short break.

They’ll be waiting for you when you get back.

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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One thought on “Step Away: How to Refresh and Rejuvenate Your Training

  1. Excellent blog post Doug. I stepped away on a 7 day trip to Cape Cod a couple of weeks ago. (beautiful area – my first time there)

    I did not run one mile. Just walked the beaches, walked the towns, visited Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.
    Leading up to that trip I was on a training burnout! It all worked just like you said. I came back rested, refreshed and ready to go. Next up for me is Table Rock Ultra 30K.

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