The most important thing you can do as a runner is listen to your body.
That took me years to figure out. Years of overtraining and burnout and injury—all because I silenced the only thing I truly needed to listen to.
It’s easy as a runner to be so goal focused that you steamroll your body in the process. We think that the only way to our goals is to be overly-committed to them. We fall prey to “no days off” and “how bad do you want it” culture that we miss the warning signs.
It took me completely bottoming out with overtraining to decide to take time off. And by the time you decide to take time off because you’ve ignored your body for so long, it’s not a decision so much as a necessity.
Your body is always talking to you. It’s your choice to either listen to it or ignore it.
I think somewhere along the way, listening to our body has been seen as weak. Or that listening to our body would somehow get in the way of our goals. This makes no sense because the only way to get to our goals—the fastest way—is by working to and listening to our body.
Feeling guilty for taking time off is common. In the workplace, for example, studies show that even though Americans have more paid time off than ever, they are taking less time off and citing ‘guilt’ as the reason. Research has also found that creativity and learning sets in when we are taking a break after the long periods of grinding away at a problem or project. That’s why you get that brilliant idea after you’ve stepped away from the task. And we absolutely know that improvements in physical feats as well can only happen after you’ve given your body time to repair and recover.
So it’s wild to think that we’d ever feel guilty about taking those breaks. You never need to feel guilty about listening to and honoring your body. You should feel guilty for ignoring clear signs your body is giving you and not acting in its best interest.
Once I realized this, running became extremely simple for me. If I felt good and like it was productive for my body, I ran. If my body was under the weather, needing extra recovery, or if my mind wasn’t on board or feeling burned out, I gave my body the rest it deserved. Doing this doesn’t set you back, it propels you forward.
Running is a very simple equation. Stress + rest = growth.
We simply cannot improve if we put our body through too much of the stress and not enough of the rest.
And during times that call for extra recovery, don’t be afraid to give it to your body. We aren’t machines. We need to coddle and work with our body to get the end result we want.
What Taking a Break Looks Like
After marathons, I take a full two weeks off. This is advice I heard from the world record holder in the marathon, Eliud Kipchoge. I figure if it’s good enough for him, someone whose job is to master peak performance, well then it sure is good enough for me!
That full two weeks is actual rest. It’s not cross-training to make up for the fact that I’m not running. And I’m fueling fully during this time too. Our bodies need the rest and nourishment to come back from those races recovered and stronger.
During sickness, I have played the game of trying to see how quickly I can come back to it at full strength and I’ve been burned. I know how long things can linger if you try to push yourself when your body is not well. Now, I am very generous with the time I take off if my body needs it. Fitness isn’t lost that quickly and it truly comes back just as fast if your body is healthy. Once I stopped operating out of fear, and started operating from a place of confidence and trust in my body, I embraced whatever full rest was needed to heal from sickness. I’m playing the long game here, so a temporary break is nothing in the grand scheme of things.
I took almost eight months off from running postpartum. I’m not scared about the journey back to fitness now because I’ve been fit before and I know how to gain that fitness and I know that it comes back quickly. The best way to build fitness is to be healthy and strong. You want the foundation to be solid. Rest is part of getting your body healthy so you can build from there.
Running is a gift. We run out of the excess of energy and health, it’s not meant to be done out of deficit or in a way that tears down our health—physically or mentally. Recalibrating my relationship with running so that I wasn’t emotionally dependent on it or my worth defined by it helped me to make the smart choices for my body and ultimately for my performance and success because I wasn’t operating out of disordered thinking.
You deserve wonderful running that you enjoy and that enhances your life. The best way to do that is by honoring your body in whatever season you are in and embracing the rest if that is what your body needs in this season.
And remember, you can be happy for people even when you’re taking a break because others’ succeeding while you’re in a pause has no impact on your future success. Your body will repay you for treating it kindly with better performances and you’ll enjoy running more when you’re feeling healthy.
Your best days of running are ahead!