THE IMPORTANCE OF TAKING A BREAK FROM TRAINING
It only takes a few days to get out of shape. When you stop running for just a week, your maximal aerobic capacity (max. VO2), one of the key running dynamics and physiological measurements, starts to decrease. Two to three weeks without training, and you will add a minute or more to your 5K time. More so, the stroke volume, which is the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat can drop by 10 percent and your muscles' aerobic enzymes may fall by 25 percent.
No wonder so many runners, including myself, are afraid of taking a break from training. In fact, the need for a recovery cycle after a race or entire racing seasons is the most important habit that many runners, again including myself, often disregard. The drive and excitement to move from one race to the next is simply too big. You can get away with this a few times, but usually runners get burned out, as the continuous training will weigh on their body. Furthermore, athletes may reach a performance plateau and fall well short of their true potential, simply because they do not allow a proper recovery phase.
After a brilliant few weeks of training in Austrian alps during December and January, I flew over to Spain and run the Barcelona Half Marathon and Sevilla Marathon with new personal bests. I was filled with excitement and signed up for the Barcelona Marathon, which was due to take place shortly after Sevilla. Unfortunately, my overexcitement turned into overtraining and lead to a muscle injury, which I carried with me throughout the summer. I had to cancel Barcelona and delay my training for Marathon Des Sables. Then, a few days after I returned from the Moroccan desert, I thought my legs had healed and I leaped into my program for the Eiger Ultra-Trail. When I was back in my routine, I noted pain and swelling in my ankle. I suffered a partly torn ligament in my left foot, which turned the Eiger Ultra-Trail into the toughest races I have competed in to date.
The moral of the story is that well-timed layoffs are needed and you should take them without feeling guilty. As a matter of fact, they can actually lead to big performance gains. Your muscles, tendons and bones get some time to heal and your body will recover and repair the damage that may have occurred during months of hard running.
After the Eiger Ultra-Trail, I took nearly six weeks off. My training plan was initially reduced to zero and then to minimal running, which allowed my body to heal. It meant that the pain from the injury and the disappointment from the result had vanished and I was able to rediscover my desire, motivation and passion to run. Since the middle of September, I have been following my regular training schedule. My body feels fully restored, my motivation has been recharged and my eyes (and legs) are set on Trans Gran Canaria in February next year.